Jill Bourque: RushTix, venture capital and the live event experience

Jill Bourque

It occurs to me halfway through a wide-ranging chat with Jill Bourque, that VCs are to startup founders as music executives are to musicians.

Raise too much money or give your VCs too much equity before working out your revenue model, and founders can end up with nothing after five years’ hard work. Pick a good one at the right time in your startup’s lifecycle, and get access to the resources to help you reach your business goals.

It’s one of the reasons why Jill’s startup, RushTix, is not chasing funding any time soon. The live-event subscription service is still working on getting the product-market fit perfected, and she’d rather chase revenue before chasing capital.
Jill’s work prior to becoming a founder was in public relations. She supported a number of businesses through the dot-com boom and bust of the late ‘90s / early ‘00s. “You’d have businesses come in and tell you they wanted to sign a $10,000 per month [PR] retainer one week, and the next they’d disappear,” she tells me. “You’d go to their offices and they’d be locked up with no one there.”

In addition to slowing any need to build up funding, her experience from this period pushes her to get the product right over becoming known as a rockstar fundraiser. “Good stories come from great product, not slapped-on Marketing.” To help her along, Jill has a core group of RushTix super-users she consults on ‘Feedback Fridays’ with questions on where to take the business. Her weekly Q&A sessions have helped her hone the business, and work as a direct feed to users’ concerns.

So what is RushTix? It’s a subscription service akin to Netflix. Instead of subscribing to film and television content, every day at 11am, the service gives subscribers access to a limited number of tickets to a live event. (The service is only currently offered for San Francisco, but the plan is to expand it to the Bay Area and then elsewhere). As she explains, the idea behind it is to give people access to entertainment and events they’d otherwise not hear about, while also giving promoters the opportunity to sell tickets to audiences they’d not reach traditionally.

It also means a younger audience. Jill gives the example of the American Conservatory Theater, around the corner from where we’re talking. The ACT [Geary Theater] is one of the oldest theatres in the country. Much of the audience is made up of subscribers, who tend to be older and used to a single-theater-group subscription model. Younger audiences, however, tend to look for specific events – and the Rushtix model caters better to that.

The 11am release time has an addictive quality, too. Jill explains how even now, users start logging on and refreshing the site around 10.55 every morning, trying to find out what that day’s events are. She’d originally tried to secure more tickets for every event, but experience has shown the combination of the daily reveal with a limited supply of tickets has resulted in increased engagement.
RushTix started off as an idea from Jill’s experience as a theater producer and standup comedian. Following a failed first-go at the Founders’ Institute (it turned out her first idea wasn’t a good fit for the market), Jill came back in February 2014 with the idea of connecting San Franciscans to the live experience.

As she puts it, there’s a danger of the live experience – whether it’s standup, theatre, music or whatever – dying over the next period, and that would be a shame. “The live experience is a very human part of the experience,” she says. “There’s a sense of becoming community, something molecular” to it, which increases empathy and connects us together. Seeing an audience come together as one during her own performances is “a super-powerful thing.”


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