Leveraging Growth Channels and User Discovery with SeatGeek’s Shoji Ueki

Jun 26, 2017

How do you effectively market to users in a competitive event app space? In this episode, SeatGeek’s Sr. Director of Growth Marketing Shoji Ueki shares with us strategies and tactics for gaining customers in the event ticket marketplace. He also goes over key performance metrics along with emerging UA channels.


Mobile Growth: Hey, we’re here with Shoji Ueki, he’s the Senior Director of Growth Marketing for SeatGeek. How ya doing, Shoji?

Shoji: Great, good to be here!

Mobile Growth: Awesome, well, let’s start off by, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your career, and how you got to SeatGeek, and what you’re doin’ over there now?

Shoji: Yeah, sure. So, you know, like you mentioned, I currently work at SeatGeek, which is basically an app and website where you can buy and sell tickets to live events – things like sports, concerts, and theater. Um, so basically, in the same space as Stub Hub or Ticket Master. And at SeatGeek, I lead the acquisition side of the marketing team, right now, so it’s been about six months, and before SeatGeek, I was at Overhead, which is basically in the restaurant pickup and delivery space. Very crowded space.

Shoji: And overhead was recently acquired by Square, and I led growth and sales over there. So the growth side was more focused on acquiring users, and the sales side was more focused on acquiring restaurants and other merchants for the platform. And before that, I was at a mobile gaming startup called ‘Kiwi,’ where I also led growth.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. So, in your career, you’ve personally gone from those gaming apps to the food pickup delivery and to live event ticketing now, but what are some of the differences in how you approach growth marketing for each of them?

Shoji: Yeah, sure. So I think the overall growth framework is the thing. You know, so in all cases, it’s about finding the right kind of favorable growth – [inaudible], whether it’s paid channels or viral channels or whatever it is, and I think the need for content experimentation and thinking about it in terms of a funnel is the same. But obviously some of the strategies and considerations are different. So for example, I would say that, when I was at Kiwi with gaming, we were much more selling more like an escape or a time filler, right? Where – whereas with Overhead and SeatGeek, they’re much more kinda like utility apps, in the sense that they kind of serve a specific purpose.

Shoji: So given that, things like optimizing discovery in the appstores, and opitmizing our ranking was much more critical – our appstore ranking was much more critical in gaming, and a lot less important with SeatGeek and Overhead, because you know, with SeatGeek for example, someone is not gonna decide to buy and save Laker tickets just because they saw your app in the appstore, or it’s not super likely. I think another consideration is just that the usage patterns are pretty different. So, you know, for example with gaming, there’s kind of like a daily use app with food delivery, it’s kinda more weekly use.

Shoji: And now with SeatGeek, it’s probably monthly at best, if not more like quarterly. So just a much longer funnel now. Which sorta means that we have to really focus on either capturing that intent, and you know, when somebody’s interested in buying a ticket to a ball game or something like that, and also just be much more thoughtful about how we use – kinda how we move users through that funnel. And kind of relate it to that, you know, at SeatGeek, we’ve been pretty focused on things like discovery, or trying to be their resource to help users find events that they may be interested in.

Shoji: And probably the last thing is that, it’s obviously very different degrees of being sort of real world and local, so for example, with Overhead, and the growth team there, we had to work really closely with our logistics teams and our driver ops teams, because we can only grow as quickly as we can grow supply, and to some of the real-world factors like drivers being late or bad weather, have a huge impact on the user acquisition side. Which were things that definitely didn’t have to work out as much went out, as in gaming.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. Have you learned that different UA channels are better for [inaudible] verticals, and if so, which channel did you find is more – is better for UA, for each?

Shoji: Yeah, I think for sure. I mean there’s definitely a sense of, you know, that fit between the channel and the product. You know, so for example, SEM and SEO are pretty big for us at SeatGeek, and at Overhead as well, right, because a lot of it for those two are leveraging interest in other things, so leveraging, you know, people’s interest in Dodgers tickets or a specific restaurant. Um, something like this is not – wasn’t really big or that important for gaming, just ’cause the product is different.

Shoji: I think another kind of difference might be, you know, with Overhead for example, we had a referral mechanism that worked quite well, and it’s something that’s probably a little bit less effective for SeatGeek, just because the frequency of usage is not the same as it is for kind of the food pickup and delivery type of app. And then beyond that, there’s obviously that kinda like longtail of mobile ad networks, that definitely found tend to work better for gaming, and a lot of the inventory is other games and things like that as well.

Mobile Growth: Have you found that any particular channels just completely do not work for any of those verticals?

Shoji: So, I think that for these – the companies that I’ve been in, at least, probably something that’s more like a – a peer viral kinda channel, right? It might not be the best kind of channel product fit for that, right? ‘Cause none of these are super naturally by our products, like Facebook or What’s App? Beyond that, there’s – you know, it’s gonna be specific – specific, say, I’ve never seen things like that that probably aren’t gonna work well for any of these, but may for some other kinda product.

Mobile Growth: Great. All right, so let’s talk a little bit about the SeatGeek brand. At SeatGeek, you’re trying to take on the established companies like Ticket Master and Stub Hub, so how do you approach this from a brand differentiation standpoint?

Shoji: Yeah, so, those who definitely have a lot of just name recognition have a big advantage there, which helps a ton. Probably most people have heard of Ticket Master and Stub Hub. So I think it’s about trying to focus on where we think we can win, right? So one of those areas that we focus a lot on is just the technology and user experience side. You know, we try to really be kind of a tech company first, and I like to think that we have the best product and user experience in the industry, and I think that matters a lot, especially for a lot of younger users who have high expectations for products that are just gonna work really, really well.

Shoji: So I think that’s one thing, and I think beyond that, just having much more of a sort of like a fan focus. The fact that Ticket Master and Stub Hub are big, kinda corporate public companies or part of public companies have their advantages there. But I think that probably is more of an opening for us to be more of like a hipper, kind of authentic brand, right? One that’s more sort of fan-friendly. And I think this can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, right? Whether it’s in the product and having features that you know, we believe are just really good for users, even if it’s something, for example, where we’re telling users that specific tickets are maybe not a great deal, right? Whereas another one is.

Shoji: And then also, in terms of like how we market to users, and try to leverage some of the advantages we have there.

Mobile Growth: Interesting. Yeah, it’s one of the features that I like the most about SeatGeek is the good deal, bad deal differentiation.

Shoji: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. The deal score feature.

Mobile Growth: Yes. Are there any specific targeting strategies that you’re using to take those bigger companies on?

Shoji: Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything like super profound there. You know, obviously, leveraging a lot of the general targeting strategies like lookalikes and things like that, and targeting people interested in competitors. I think a lot of our targeting is based on people who are interested in specific other things that are on our platform, right? So, targeting Dodgers fans or Knicks fans or things like – or Beyonce fans or things like that. And then using that as a way to get somebody interested in our product as well. And also, leveraging interest in things that are perhaps a little higher up in the funnel.

Shoji: So, for example, a big source of traffic for us, and something that we’ve invested a lot in, is seating charts for different venues, and just trying to put together a really nice, kind of interactive seating chart so you can really see what the view is from that seat, and all that. And this is just kind of a – kind of a cheaper way to drive in traffic of users who are gonna be like in that sort of purchase decision, but maybe slightly higher up in that.

Mobile Growth: All right. Are you taking creative out directly against those competitors, such as like iTunes store, search ads, when someone searches for Ticket Master or Stub Hub apps in the appstore, or anything similar to that and other channels?

Shoji: Yeah, I mean, we’re doing – we’re doing that to some extent, in the app stores and on SEM. But you know, it’s kind of incremental, right? And we’re also gonna bid on our own brand terms, just one of those things you have to do, I suppose, to protect your brand.

Mobile Growth: All right, so have you gained market share, versus your main competitors?

Shoji: Yeah, I mean, we’ve definitely been gaining market share, over the past few years. But at the same time, Ticket Master and Stub Hub are still huge, and still much bigger than we are.

Mobile Growth: Yeah, for now.

Shoji: For now, yeah.

Mobile Growth: And what actions do you think – what’d you say?

Shoji: We’re working on that!

Mobile Growth: yes. So, speaking of working on that, what actions do you – do you feel best help you to carve out that piece of the pie?

Shoji: Yeah, I mean, so you know, I’ve only been at SeatGeek for six months, so far so, you know, I wasn’t part of a lot of this until recently, but I think some of the stuff has been definitely the user experience aspect, and the technology aspect of it that I mentioned earlier, and just really focusing on having a better product and a better user experience than some of those bigger players, and being really focused on that. And I think that also, like I mentioned earlier, just utilizing some of the advantages that we have of being smaller, right? And not having – you know, with Ticket Master, they have a ton of name recognition, but it’s not always, I would say, like positive associations, all right?

Shoji: So, for us, not having the baggage of that is a big advantage, and we can become much more of a fan-friendly brand and build a lot of that brand equity up over time. And I think that the last one is just trying to utilize channels, where we think we’re best placed to take advantage of it, right? So, an advantage of this, for us, would be social media influencers, so that’s been a big channel for us, and a big kind of growth channel for us, and it’s one of those things that because I think we are smaller and more nimble and just have much more of a quicker moving kind of orientation than Ticket Master or Stub Hub, we’re able to experiment with this, take chances with it, and move much faster on it than some competitors are, right?

Shoji: So we can go from having – whether it’s a new kind of playoff match being announced or a new tour being announced, midday to by the end of that day, having some influencers promoting us with – for that, within a few hours, and it’s something that’s much harder to do if you’re kind of a big, public company.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. So, let’s just finish up with a few last UA questions: How do you think about the interplay between brand and direct response marketing?

Shoji: Yeah, so I think that the interplay is really important to us, especially at SeatGeek, and probably at SeatGeek more than some of my previous companies, just because it’s a much higher order value product and much less of a kind of impulse purchase product. So a lot of it’s really just thinking about that purchase funnel, right? So, how can we first try, to build awareness and consideration and then get users to try us by installing the app or creating an account, and then making that purchase, and then hopefully making a lot of repeat purchases after that.

Shoji: So, you know, and a lot of that awareness and driving that is really important for some of our direct response channels, right? So when we’re trying to drive Facebook app installs, for example, and I think another thing here is the trust aspect, right, given that our order values are usually in like the hundreds of dollars and can be in the thousands, especially when it’s something like the playoffs or the Super Bowl, it’s really important that we have that level of recognition and trust among people who are gonna potentially purchase from us.

Shoji: And I do think that that’s something that does hurt us a little bit, relative to Stub Hub and Ticket Master, just because even if you don’t particularly like Ticket Master, you at least – you kind of know they’re a real company, right? And that it’s probably – you’re not gonna get completely screwed over. But if you’ve never heard of SeatGeek, then you might not know that as much, right? Especially because the ticketing industry is, you know, has – can be known for some like sketchiness and things like that. So these are some of those considerations and could be driving a lot of that over, and branding is really important.

Shoji: But at the same time, we’ve historically been more of a direct response oriented company, and I think we will always primarily be. I don’t think we’d ever be a kind of peer brand driven company, and I think that kind of approach is probably a little less of a great fit for a marketplace, where we’re not really selling first party goods.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. What do you feel are the most important KPIs that you’re tracking righ tnow?

Shoji: Yeah, so I think I’d like to think of them in terms of sort of scale metrics, and then ROI metrics. So in terms of scale metrics, these are the ones that we’re trying to maximize as much as possible. So the main one’s the company level, in GTV or Gross Transaction Value, right? And so really trying to maximize kinda sales on SeatGeek. And then for me, and my team, given that we’re focused on the acquisition side, how we help SeatGeek drive GTV is by sort of driving in users, right?

Shoji: So, with that, we’re focused on two things: Physical acquisitions and activations. So, acquisitions for us is something like a new app install or somebody creates an email account on SeatGeek, right? And then an activation for us is when the user makes their first purchase. So I would say that’s sort of like the “North Star” for our company, is GTV. And then for my team, specifically, would be kind of activations. So, that’s the scale side. And then we have our ROI metrics, right? And there’s basically three main things here.

Shoji: So the first one is just the – the LTB of our users. The other one’s the – the opposite side of that is the cost, kind of our cost per acquisition. And then kinda putting that together, just our – our payback period. So we are, we’re currently operating on basically a two-year payback. And so it’s all about kind of, for my team, maximize the activations within that constraint of our payback period.

Mobile Growth: Great. So, what determines success for you, like when you’re analyzing that KPI data, what are the baseline measurements that you’re hoping to be above or below?

Shoji: Success is really about that – maximizing that scale, right? As measured by GTV or activations. And we have some targets around how quickly we wanna be growing and based on [inaudible] and a lot of that kind of stuff, where we think we should be every month, and so it’s really about trying to hit those targets and hopefully exceed them. And then doing so in a way where we’re also hitting our payback constraints.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. Just a couple more, then I’ll let you go. What would you say are the most important considerations for how mobile growth teams should approach UA?

Shoji: I think – I think the first is just really approaching UA and growth as a process, right? So it’s all about, you know, experimenting and iterating and learning and testing new things against and kind of going through that process over and over again, right? So I think really ensuring that you have a solid kind of experiment process, and continually iterating on that to get really good at experimenting and learning, which hopefully will lead to growth as well.

Shoji: And I think that there can sometimes be a tendency to try to seek out silver bullets, right? But you know, those are probably really rare or likely don’t exist, and so it’s more about the process. And I think kind of related to that, really about investing in a lot of the analytical framework, and understanding what the main kind of goals are for the team for the company and what kind of constraints are and getting really clear about that, at the team level and then also the company level as well.

Shoji: I would think the third thing is really just focusing on scalable channels, and channels that are gonna work not just kind of one-off, but things that can be sort of like growth roots as well. And I think the last one is just really, it’s kind of a obvious thing, but just really making sure that the product market fit is there, and hopefully if you’re part of a real growth team as a company, then the company is already at that stage, but I think there’s a lot that the mobile growth team can do to help move and ensure that the company is focused on that, right? So ensuring that the right kind of metrics are in place to measure that, and that they are where they need to be.

Shoji: So, things like retention or converter rates, that they are competitive, relative to whatever the right competitors are, and then also probably measuring some qualitative factors, that can help measure whether that product market fit is there.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. So, the last one, you know how everyone’s looking for these emerging new UA channels to see which ones they can try out – what are some of the new emerging UA channels that you’re currently using or testing and what has been your experience with those?

Shoji: I think one of them, that I kind of mentioned earlier, is for us, and it’s not super new but just social media influencers. They’ve been a big kind of growth channel for us, and I don’t think that’s something that’s necessarily right for all products, but I think they – they do happen to be a pretty good fit for SeatGeek specifically. Now, it’s really because we’re trying to sell tickets to live events, right? So a lot of that’s really selling the experience of kind of being there live, and so we can try to sell a user on that in a Facebook ad, or something like that, but really, if we can show that influencer, it’s just so much more powerful, right?

Shoji: An example would be last year, during the rough periods, we worked with an influencer who wanted to surprise his dad – they’re both from the Chicago area, and lifelong kind of Cubs fans, and he wanted to take him to the World Series game. So we kind of got them tickets for that, and he put together this awesome video where you could see just how happy his dad was to get those tickets, and what it was like to be at that event live and have, you know, a crowd cheering around you and – and all that happening, and it just allowed us to get kind of that point across, and in a much more real and sort of authentic way than we could with traditional ads.

Shoji: I think another – another channel for us that’s been a good growth channel, that’s sort of related in a way, has been podcasts. Again, you’re kind of somewhat relying on personalities who are sort of influencers as well, so you know, Bill Simmons and Bill Simmons’ podcast would be an example, but we’ve – we’ve kind of been pretty aggressive in working on sponsorships with just tons of the sports podcasts, and starting to expand beyond there as well, to other things that we think could be a good fit for our userbase.

Mobile Growth: Yeah, I heard you on the Ringer podcast, yeah.

Shoji: Yeah.

Mobile Growth: All right, great, well thank you very much for this awesome, awesome information you shared, and thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate that, and I’m sure listeners do, too.

Shoji: Yeah, of course, thanks for having me!

Mobile Growth: And there you go.