Entering the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB) in late July, there’s an unmistakable energy in the air as young graduates work side by side, some deeply immersed in their screens, others squabbling over a notepad. Five young entrepreneurs sit together at a table, engrossed in a serious discussion.
Co-founder and CEO of Launchbox company Ticketchain Jake MccGwire is friendly and shakes my hand. He begins by introducing me to the rest of the team: co-founders Kevin Murray and Zach Diebold and developers and contractors Tadhg Riordan and Geoffrey Natin.
The lads are relaxed and comfortable around each other. The cohesion within the group is indisputable. MccGwire and Murray met at an internship in Deloitte the previous summer. The two have a mutual interest in technology, which motivated them to enter a blockchain hackathon. Both are recent graduates of economics and management science and information system studies (MSISS), respectively, and so were somewhat concerned by the level of expertise required to partake in a hackathon. “We were actually quite self-conscious about our lack of technical skills”, MccGwire recounts, “but were just kind of hoping that if we showed up and pitched our idea someone would join up with us”.
And just that very thing happened. Enter Diebold, a recently graduated student of the computer science master’s program, who, together with several others at the competition, built the entire ticketing platform in 48 hours. The end product was so successful, the team took home first prize.
With some cash in hand and an ignited sense of purpose the trio regrouped several weeks later and decided to take the idea further. They met with advisors, other young entrepreneurs and experts to help them along the way. After entering Trinity Entrepreneurial Society’s Dragons’ Den in March and placing second they yet again found themselves with even more funding to persevere with their platform.
To add fuel to the flames, increased use of e-tickets has allowed people to print multiple copies of the same ticket and sell them on to unsuspecting customers
Just as their business grew, so did the team. Two new recruits came in towards the end of the academic term: Riordan and Natin. The duo are both currently pursuing master’s degrees in computer science, where they both specialised in blockchain technologies.
Blockchain technology is a system of exchanging objects of value – like money, tickets, stocks – where there is no intermediary or centralised regulation. Instead of all transactions being recorded privately – like they would be in a bank – blockchain makes everything publicly available and thus, almost impossible to tamper with. Every time a transaction is made on the network, a block of data is added to the blockchain and is accessible by every user in the system.
Today the national events market is almost completely dominated by Ticketmaster and the traditional paper ticketing system. One person buys a ticket and is free to sell it on with little to no regulation of the price. It is the traditional model of supply and demand where, if one event has piqued market interest, price soars and vast profit is made. To add fuel to the flames, increased use of e-tickets has allowed people to print multiple copies of the same ticket and sell them on to unsuspecting customers.
To battle this, the students behind Ticketchain have used the technology of blockchain to create their platform. Under this system, tickets are contained entirely within the application and there is public knowledge of their movement from one individual to the next.
The platform is self-contained in that it is both the primary and secondary market. People buy their tickets and then re-sell them within the same application. This platform then obliterates fear of ticket fraud and removes the issue of ticket-touting as re-sale value is always capped at a certain percentage of the original price.
What really makes this business special – and what it always comes down to in every startup – is its team. Of the many “keys to success” for a business venture, every entrepreneur will agree that a solid, cohesive team is one of the most important. We discuss their group dynamic and company culture. “We’ve a good flow I think”, Diebold remarks. “We’re tracking how tasks are being done and what everyone else is doing.” MccGwire adds: “Yeah, there hasn’t been a day since we started that anyone has gone home before six.”
Today many startups in the tech industry tend to outsource their app development, which is undeniably appealing to low-budget entrepreneurs looking to cut costs. However, the approach that Murray, MccGwire and Diebold took by employing their developers has facilitated continuous feedback on the platform as it grows. Riordan and Natin in turn then help with the business side of things and provide different perspectives for an array of important company decisions. To them, this relationship is Ticketchain’s most distinguished strength.
“You’re not just building a product, you’re defining how things are going to be done within the business as well”, maintains Riordan. Murray agrees: “If we had outsourced our platform, it would have come to us two months later and even if it completely fulfilled all our requirements it would still not be right because we have changed since two months ago. We are constantly changing and Tadhg and Geoff change with us and adapt to our growth.”
There hasn’t been a day since we started that anyone has gone home before six
So I turn to the team and ask them the big question: What is it that’s changing and where are they going? Murray smiles: “We are talking now about building animated QR codes rather than static tickets to avoid screenshots. So we had Geoff dedicate two weeks to learning how to use React Native [a platform for developing applications on mobile devices] and building dynamic QR codes and is now capable of doing that on his own.” Murray continues: “He is working with Tadhg on this now and together they both learned this completely new language for the project.” By using cutting-edge technology and the most innovative approaches, they are one step ahead of bigger companies who are still using legacy languages and mainstream software development platforms. The team is moving full speed ahead as they have now completed their platform and begin their security trials this month. Come September the team is going to be working with various other organisations on Freshers’ Week events and are aiming to continue on this trajectory throughout the year.
“We’re potentially looking to partner with a large Irish company”, MccGwire confides “and there is a huge amount of potential there to deliver a solution to their clients which would be huge: almost over a million tickets a year”. It doesn’t stop there either. The team have a motto of approaching every opportunity with a “yes-we-can” attitude, working out logistics only after they have agreed to a task. Most often, this method works out in their favour and they have been growing exponentially as they continue to push their capabilities to the next level. The energy and enthusiasm this team has is infectious. Leaving the GMB I was instilled with a renewed confidence in the future of student business ventures. Ticketchain is one of the many startups to arise from within the gates of Trinity this year alone and is one of the many promising ventures to keep your eye on.