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Bootstrapped First, Raise Money Later: Manick Bhan, CEO of Rukkus (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Jun 7th 2016

Manick Bhan: Just a few years after that, you had these rumblings of the next big tech boom. When Facebook went public, it was an incredible experience to see a company that had grown up quietly and become so huge and valuable. At the same time, that same roommate who infected me with the finance bug ended up going to tech.

A year after leaving Duke and working on a tech company, he sold it for $10 million. It was clear that there was an opportunity in tech. I didn’t really understand that until he sold his company. He helped me understand what’s happening in technology. At that time, I wasn’t a technical person. I was always good with computers. As I said, taking things apart was my forte. I didn’t have all the skills I needed but I had the curiosity. Now, I’m the CTO of Rukkus and I can code in almost any language.

At that time, I didn’t know how to do that. This was maybe two to three years ago. I saw this huge opportunity looking at the Groupon IPO and working with eBay. We were raising funds for them. Their CFO was speaking with us saying, “If you guys are trying to price our deal, why don’t we let people bid on it. Why are you guys just speaking to the investors and then deciding amongst yourselves? Why don’t we just let technology do it?” Today, it sounds so simple and obvious, but on Wall Street, that’s not how things are done. It was a moment of clarity.

Because of the way that this business has evolved, it hasn’t embraced these technological advancements and this way of thinking. That’s not how it happened but it should have had happened that way. That also told me a lot. I realized that this was probably the right time of my career to take a little bit of risk and try something new. I left Goldman. I’m still close to my bosses there and they were very supportive of me.

Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking?

Manick Bhan: 2013. They gave me some seed capital to help me get started. Probably at that time, they were skeptical. Frankly,  I didn’t really know what I was doing. I founded a company called Rukkus. We sell tickets to popular sports and theatre events across the country. If you want to see the Yankees play or Justin Beiber, or go see Hamilton in New York, these are the kinds of events that we ticket for. Working closely with Ticketmaster, I knew a lot about this industry. It was one of those industries that is still very lucrative.

Sramana Mitra: Given all those other players, what was the opportunity to do a new company? What did you identify as the gap in the market?

Manick Bhan: The gap existed in two ways. One, mobile was a new frontier around the same time that everyone understood that Instagram was becoming very popular. People liked to buy tickets on the phone. People like to buy tickets last minute. There were no apps at all to buy tickets. That was one big problem. I realized that even the other ticketing sites were clunky and difficult to use. They’re not well-built and they’re very old. These are 15 to 20-year-old companies. They make a lot of money but they’re from a relatively early era of the Internet.

At that time, even the startup ecosystem in the ticketing space was very young. They also had different business models. We didn’t really know what our business model would be at that time. One thing that I knew very well is that this secondary market which we deal a lot with is incredibly dynamic. There are a lot of people who monetize it really well and make a lot of money. The margins are wide. I wanted to get in there somehow but I didn’t know exactly the manner in which we would do it—whether we would become a trading house and do trading on our own, or build a consumer-based platform.

Early on, we started to study the space and became students of this ecosystem. Technology has changed a lot in the past three years in the way that people operate in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and the manner in which you acquire new users. All these have evolved tremendously. This is a great thing for startups like us because it means the old people in technology have to keep up with the trends. They have to continue to improve how they do things. Otherwise, guys like me can sneak up and beat them to the punch.

Ticketing is so dynamic. You have new events announced all the time – new tours, new concerts. That was such a huge opportunity for us to try to push them out because everything has to be rebuilt all the time. A lot of those things attracted me early on and they’re also the reason why we’ve been as successful as we’ve been.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapped First, Raise Money Later: Manick Bhan, CEO of Rukkus
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