Friends + baseball tickets = an epic idea

Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, co-founders of Epic Seats.
Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, co-founders of Epic Seats.

If you’re dying to go to the sold-out Lady Gaga concert or get a seat on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl, a Seattle start-up has your back. Epic Seats helps clients buy and sell tickets to all major concert, sporting and theater events throughout North America, and specializes in hard to find tickets, premium locations and sold out events. But what’s more epic than the seats is the company’s commitment to providing exceptional service.

While living in Chicago, Scott Barrows (BA 2000) maintained his Cubs habit by buying extra game tickets and reselling them on eBay. As luck would have it, his longtime friend and fellow CIE alum James Kimmel (MBA 2005) was doing the same thing with Mariners tickets in Seattle. The two decided to pool their assets—two $10,000 credit cards—and started Epic Seats together in 2003. Two years later they competed in the UW Business Plan Competition, making it to the Sweet 16. In a marketplace that included hundreds of other companies selling the same product, Barrows and Kimmel knew they’d need to differentiate themselves early on and focus on their core competencies: customer service and innovation.

“Our number one goal has always been to be the most customer-centric company in our industry,” says Barrows. “Many companies choose profits over clients, and we’ll always do the opposite.” Kimmel echoes that sentiment. “Any brand equity we have as an organization is directly attributable to our customer base and what they say about us to their friends and associates. For seven years we have relied on referrals and positive word of mouth as our primary form of marketing,” says Kimmel. One need only do a quick search for Epic Seats online to see their strategy is working; customer after customer raves about what great customer service they’ve received.

Case in point: about a year after going into business, Epic Seats purchased 16 ticket packages through a travel company for the BCS title game between the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans and resold 12 of them for a nice profit, holding on to four for themselves and a couple of friends. When they arrived at the hotel, they found the travel company had oversold the packages and was cancelling them, simply telling people they’d refund their purchase price. Rather than do the same to their clients who had brought their families to Pasadena for the game, Barrows and Kimmel scrambled to find new hotel rooms and plenty of tickets so their clients could all go to the game. “We ended up losing $20,000 and had to stay in a dumpy motel and watch the game at Hooters, but we just decided that was going to be who we are,” says Barrows.

Epic Seat’s other core value is to always be innovating and with two life-long entrepreneurs at the helm, it’s easy to see where that comes from. In recent years, the company expanded to include Epic Inventory Management, providing back-end operations—everything from customer service to order processing and shipping—to small and medium-sized ticket brokerages around the country. Epic is also gearing up to launch TicketsThatGive in June, a new venture that will allow charities and foundations to raise money via a promotional code for any ticket sales generated by their constituents.

Kimmel’s advice for young entrepreneurs is to “follow your passion and if you can make a living doing what you love, it’s well worth the risk of striking out on your own.” Barrows echoes that point, adding that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to fail. “I’ve had probably 11 start-ups, and this is the first one that’s been successful. I just knew that if I kept at it, eventually I’d be successful.”

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