Finding the Right Idea Is Like Falling in Love, According to This Entrepreneur
The CEO and co-founder of ticket disruptor SquadUP talks about finding that elusive product-market fit.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I'm Willie Litvack, CEO and co-founder of SquadUP, a mobile-first ticketing, event management, and audience engagement platform. We provide software to more than 800 customers including The Tribeca TV and Film Festivals, The Wall Street Journal, The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience and many more.
What inspired you to create this product?
My co-founder and I started out promoting live music events in college. As part of that process, we did everything: catering, sound, security and, of course, ticketing/access control. We looked around at the available suite of self-service ticketing products with the naivety and bravado that you can only have as a 21-year-old, and thought “We can do this better.” We built a really simple solution to support our own events, and from there developed a product vision to create a principally mobile-first product to support amateur event organizers.
Did it instantly take off?
We developed decent traction, but felt we were falling short of “true product-market fit.” From there, we started listening to our most valuable customers. They all wanted a truly white-labeled ticketing experience that kept ticket buyers on their website through the entire transaction and enabled customers to browse and purchase tickets to multiple events in a single transaction.
About three years ago we released our white labeled implementation and almost immediately we realized we had found the elusive product-market fit. There were times in the past where we felt like we had achieved it, but this was somehow different. There was no question, it was like falling in love, we knew with every bit of our beings that we had something special. Almost immediately we experienced a true inflection point, growing our transactional volume by almost 300% from 2016 to 2017.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
I think the fundraising approach is different for every company. There are certain founders and companies that have a fundraising “pedigree.” These are companies that fit the typical Silicon Valley mold of what a traditional venture company looks like. I would not put SquadUP in that category. For us, the most sensible way to grow the company was through free cash flow and new customer acquisition. So we stayed lean and hit the road, meeting with any high-value account we could get in front of. Over time, we built our customer roster up and the balance sheet started moving in the right direction.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think one of the biggest challenges a growing business can face is longevity. Entrepreneurship is a long road and it’s easy to get fatigued. You need to build a culture for employees where everyone works really hard but doesn't get burnt out. In order to develop this strategy, you have to put together an integrated set of policies and practices that make employees feel comfortable doing things like taking a vacation (we give unlimited days), working from home, and feeling supported in their work environment.
And we believe in rewarding people for good work. Every employee at the company meets regularly with managers for performance reviews and we evaluate compensation on an annual or sometimes even bi-annual basis. When our employees succeed, we succeed and we share that success through salary raises and promotions.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
Winston Churchill has always inspired me. In the face of outrageous odds, Churchill stood in front of the House of Commons in June of 1940 to explain to the world that there would be no British concession to the spread of tyranny in Europe. He said in part, "[W]e shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
The principal of never losing hope and never giving up speaks to me. I don’t mean to conflate entrepreneurship with the fate of the free world, but Churchill’s words have been a guiding light to me as we’ve grown the business despite the technological complexity and stiff competition. Throughout building SquadUP, we’ve had many moments where we felt it may be easier to give up -- but we’ve always dug deep within ourselves and avowed to never surrender.
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