Our guest this week is Josh Stine, CEO and co-founder of Seat Insiders. Seat Insiders is a concierge ticketing firm that makes ticket buying for sporting events, theater, or concerts unbelievably easy and cost-effective. Josh’s story was compelling because when you think of ticketing you immediately think of Ticketmaster and StubHub. And one has to wonder why you would want to take on those monsters of industry? But that’s the interesting part, Josh isn’t taking them on, he is filling a gap that those companies cannot address, the human aspect of ticketing.
Our guest this week is Josh Stine, CEO and co-founder of Seat Insiders. Seat Insiders is a concierge ticketing firm that makes ticket buying for sporting events, theater, or concerts unbelievably easy and cost-effective. Josh’s story was compelling because when you think of ticketing you immediately think of Ticketmaster and StubHub. And one has to wonder why you would want to take on those monsters of industry? But that’s the interesting part, Josh isn’t taking them on, he is filling a gap that those companies cannot address, the human aspect of ticketing.
In today’s episode, you will hear how important it is to maintain a learning mindset to maximize your opportunities. You will learn firsthand, from Josh, just how critical it is to establish great physical and mental health disciplines if you want to play the long game with your business. Josh’s story also discusses a topic that I do not think gets enough attention within entrepreneurship, and that is the topic of mental health. But like all Startup Story episodes, I know you don’t want to hear from me, you want to hear from our founder. This is Josh Stine’s startup story.
“You need to have really sound physical and mental health disciplines if you want to be able to go the distance.”
—Josh Stine, Seat Insiders
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Special Guest: Josh Stine.
The Startup Story - Josh Stine
Josh Stine: Hi. My name is Josh Stine and I'm the co-founder and CEO of Seat Insiders, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: If you've been around The Startup Story podcast for any length of time, then you know that I begin each episode reading a review that was posted in iTunes, and I always mention that you should include your business or brand in that review so that I can give it a plug in an episode. Our review count is outstanding and we're holding a solid five star rating, so thank you to all of you listening. But to my surprise, not very many entrepreneurs are mentioning their brand in the review for a free plug. The reason I mention the idea of including your brand in the review is my way of giving back to you for taking the time out of your day to write a review for us. One thing I did not realize is that it would actually prompt me to research and inquire about your startup.
Well, one listener did plug their brand and from everything I can tell online, his story was really compelling and in fact, his story is the featured startup story this week. All that to say you never know how exposing your brand can play out, so make sure to leave a review on iTunes and to include your brand in the review so you can get a free mini ad in an episode. I read one review each week, and giving you some visibility to our tens of thousands of listeners is the least I can do as a thank you for writing the review. Your reviews make a big impact when it comes to being discovered on iTunes. Another way you bring your brand to our listeners is in episode advertising. If you have a business that is of value to businesses and entrepreneurs of all stages, then please visit thestartupstory.co/advertise. Explore advertising your product or service to the growing Startup Story audience.
Now, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Josh Stine, CEO and co-founder of Seat Insiders. Like I mentioned earlier, Josh left a great review on iTunes and it piqued my interest. Seat Insiders is a concierge ticketing firm that makes ticket buying for sporting events, theaters, or concerts unbelievably easy and cost effective. Now, Josh's story was compelling because when you think of ticketing, you immediately think of Ticketmaster and StubHub and then you have to wonder, why would you want to take on those monsters of industry? But that's the interesting part. Josh isn't taking them on. He's filling a gap that those companies cannot address: the human aspect of ticketing.
In listening to Josh's startup story, you'll hear how important it is to maintain a learning mindset to maximize your opportunities. You'll learn how critical it is to establish great physical and mental health disciplines if you want to play the long game with your business. And you will hear how powerful self awareness is when it comes to your mental health. One of the things that I believe makes The Startup Story unique is that I'm not a journalist and I have absolutely no desire to be one. I'm simply an entrepreneur like you and have an incredible curiosity to hear from other entrepreneurs about how they got to where they are today. For that reason, I never send our featured founders questions ahead of time. I do that so that you and I share the same experience as we are hearing our founders startup story together for the first time.
What I love about that process is you never know what is about to unfold as two entrepreneurs simply unpack one entrepreneurs journey. I share this with you today because Josh's story discusses a topic that I do not think gets enough attention within entrepreneurship, and that topic is mental health. But like all Startup Story episodes, I know you don't want to hear from me. You want to hear from our founder.
Josh Stine: Entrepreneurship wasn't something really I even thought about until my senior year of college. Really never knew a lot of entrepreneurs, so I grew up in State College, Pennsylvania where Penn State's main campus is. Both my parents work for the university. They're very close to retirement, but they have stable jobs. I think their expectation was okay, we're going to have these great kids. They're going to go to State College which is a particularly really great school district, and they're going to be prepared for life, right? The expectation of course is you're going to be the first generation in your family to go to college.
So I did that. Went to college. Was really fortunate to even get into Penn State. It's a particularly competitive state school, very large, very competitive once you get there. The expectation was you're going to get the stable, high paying job and be successful right out of college. And that's exactly what I did. I feel some sense of success in that regard, but I worked extremely hard in life to get to that point.
James McKinney: But growing up, real quick Josh, what did you think you wanted to do? Maybe entrepreneurship wasn't on your radar but what did you think you wanted to do growing up?
Josh Stine: Definitely technology. I kind of gambled of course with sport. I played soccer my whole life so it's kind of fun to be in the sports business now. But originally, you followed Apple and Microsoft and all the tech companies, you're like wow, that could be me someday. I could be part of these amazing companies. That's not what I ended up doing, though. I ended up doing cyber security in college because I realized that every company is getting hacked and there's a huge opportunity here, and it's something I actually… I took a class in high school. They offered kind of an intro to cyber security class. That's where I discovered-
James McKinney: In your high school?
Josh Stine: Yeah, in my high school. It's no longer being taught because it was like a special funding kind of state program kind of thing. I think they need to obviously return to it because we have a lot of challenges around cyber security. But that's where I kind of discovered this major at Penn State, followed through on that, and then realized hey, I could kind of do whatever I want. I could go work for the tech companies. I could go work for banks. I could go work for law firms, go work for consulting firms. Really the opportunities were endless. Okay, I'm going to experiment a little bit, do some internships, figure out what I like.
It was kind of the end of my sophomore year where I discovered the big four consulting firms. They're really the biggest employer for our major. They're getting a lot of the top talent right out of school. So I was doing what most people were doing. I was actually, I started a consulting club in our college at Penn State and recruited a lot of people to the industry. It's high reward, high pressure, but would I change a thing? No. It made perfect sense for me out of college. So my junior year I did my first internship with PWC. I loved it. Ended up getting a fulltime offer and then joined them fulltime. I had an offer waiting for me literally a few weeks after I completed my internship. So my senior year, it was like what's the point? I've made it. I've got the dream job. So this is actually where that entrepreneurship kind of comes into play.
James McKinney: Actually, hold on a second, Josh. Actually, in hearing your story a little bit, I think there's some seeds. I think our episode a couple weeks ago with Meghan Asha from FOUNDERMADE, she talks about the breadcrumbs of life, like there's certain things that's just kind of plant. You talk about starting a club on campus. And for those listeners that maybe are young listeners that are in school or the ones that are kind of reflecting back on their journey and evaluate whether entrepreneurship was for them, part of what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur is the ability to see a gap and want to create something to meet that need.
You were on campus and I guess there was no club for consultancy, so you wanted to create that club. But my question is in that, and I actually see some entrepreneurial traits, and I'm sure now that I've brought it up you probably look back like there are some entrepreneurial traits to that, but why did you want to create that club? Going into it, what was your thought and process and your outcome that you wanted?
Josh Stine: Well, you know I think ultimately I realized that sure, a lot of people are going into this industry. They're going to get the job maybe no matter what, but hey, they have many years where they can start preparing to be successful in this industry. Just be the big four is maybe the major employer doesn't mean that's where you have to work. If you develop these consultancy skills, this consulting mindset in college, the opportunities are really endless. You can even start your own. That's the thing. You learn the skill set, you don't have to work for the man. You can start your own. You can find your own clients and specialize in whatever your expertise is, whether that's coding or cyber security, or graphic design.
That mindset is applicable to so many industries. I had so many people that joined the club that maybe they were entrepreneurs, or they did want to work for big four, or they wanted to work for a smaller company but they knew that the mindset was applicable no matter what because you're a consultant. Every day you're thinking outside the box, kind of no different than an entrepreneur. It's just a lot of times you have a more stable paycheck. But still, you're working incredibly hard to deliver that excellence to your clients.
James McKinney: Yeah. And I wanted to bring that up again just for the listeners, because I think sometimes, and one of the things actually I've really heard numerous times in the times that we've had our founders on, it's the recognition of the small things. The small victories, the breadcrumbs. Entrepreneurs have a tendency to always be thinking big picture and down range, which is necessary but at the same time there's a lot of the details that we can miss, and the details of life, the details of our journey. It isn't until we stop to reflect on those things to think wow, that actually, that was pointing to this moment this whole time and I never saw it. I think the idea of starting something on campus.
Again, Penn State is a huge school, so for those listeners that are unaware of Penn State, it is massive. So I think seeing a gap and starting a club on campus is one of those breadcrumb moments that were kind of leading you towards entrepreneurship whether you saw it or not. So you were saying that your senior year is really when you started getting that inkling that entrepreneurship was going to be your life, so let's talk about that. How was that?
Josh Stine: Yeah. So the university over the past few years, and especially when I was in college, so I graduated in 2014, a lot has changed since then. They now have an incubator and all these things that they're offering students, which is amazing. But back then, there wasn't a whole lot of coursework, classes that you could take. There was like one club on campus you could be involved in if you were into startups. It just wasn't that common. But when I was a senior, they introduced a few new entrepreneurship classes in my college. I was like, "Hm, I have some room in my schedule, maybe I should take these. I'm always into business and technology. Maybe I'll learn something. Maybe I'll make a connection." But I just realized consulting, entrepreneurship, they go hand in hand.
So I was like, "This could be a really good experience for me." So I took them and that's where I met my favorite professor. I actually just got off the phone with her last week and she's like just blown away by the story. But it all started really in her classes and just really basic, "Oh, here's pivoting. Here's testing your idea." Just really basic entrepreneurship concepts, but making me realize that wow, it's not rocket science to start a side hustle there, here or there. It's just this class really opened my eyes, made me realize that maybe I could do some things actually on the side while I'm doing consulting. Quite a crazy thing to think about and the whole experience was. So I started in August of 2014 in consulting fulltime. At the same time I started, I was getting into these side hustles and things like that, and was working.
James McKinney: What were the side hustles? By the way, I love the side hustle. There's so much passion that comes from the side hustle because it's something you want so badly for yourself, beyond the 9 to 5. It's something that usually is birthed out of, again whether it just be a need to pay down student debt. Everyone has an origin story to their side hustle, but what were yours?
Josh Stine: It all really actually we have to take a step back and go back to college, because this is where I met my current business partner today, Nick Keesey. I met him actually by chance at one of my part-time jobs that had nothing to do with technology or anything. It was just like at our student union building, working at the information desk. He's like, "I'm going to get a job here too." A lot of times, we would have shifts together. So we'd chat and I was like… I found out he was an entrepreneur ultimately. So this is really where we kind of became friends and kind of had a relationship on and off throughout college. But I didn't really work with him. I didn't really understand tickets or anything. I was just like, "Oh, that's a really cool business idea. How does he do that?"
Then, turns out he takes the same entrepreneurship classes that I take my senior year. I learn a lot about his business. He's like one of the only people in the class that actually has a successful business. I'm like really impressed. So we just, we collaborated a lot on different projects in class and stuff. We just kept in touch and then ultimately after college, he hired me part-time to do social media marketing and advertising and stuff. So this was Happy Valley Tickets at the time. This was the company that he founded a few years back. I was doing that for a couple of his what we call his retail brands, so different websites, different domain names for tickets basically. This was back when it was very possible to do that and you could compete really with anybody.
But then other side hustles that I got involved in with him too was we were doing digital marketing consulting for small businesses. So he actually created that business out of a college class as well. He took like Google ad words and then he got a client out of that. Then word of mouth spread. We had a bunch of clients and we were doing everything from Google ad words to social media, to SEO, you name it. This guy's got all these businesses but to scale them, you need partners ultimately. So I got involved in a small way, but eventually it just became more and more and more.
James McKinney: I love that because I think one of the interesting things about our current state when it comes to college is we hear a lot in the entrepreneurial world it's not necessary, and it's 100% true. You can go from high school, create something. You can create a business in high school and you hear about it all the time, whether it be a for profit business or a nonprofit. You hear stories all the time of teens creating things. When I was launching my mobile startup, gosh now I think eight years ago maybe, there was a story of someone out of London, a teenager out of London who wrote a bit of code and Yahoo bought it for $100 million because it had something to do with news curation.
You hear these stories where people can do things at a young age. The reality is, college is not necessary, but if you are going to go to college, I truly believe the highest value that college brings now is the community and the network, like the people you can meet. Obviously, when it comes to my kids going to school, if they want to go to college, great. If they don't, great, let's figure that out. But if they do, pick a school that has a network because that network will stay with you for a very long time if you capitalize on the four years throughout college. It sounds like that is definitely something you did at a very large university, you capitalized that moment.
Again, that's where that relationship with Nick came to be was in college. So you started doing these side hustles, but you're still working with a big four and the consulting side, in the cyber security world. At what point in your story do you start now contemplating it is time to leave the security, no pun intended, of a big four consultancy, and start doing something that has zero security whatsoever, and that is entrepreneurship.
Josh Stine: I'm going to get really real with you, James. So six months into my consulting career, really actually battled a lot of anxiety, mental health challenges. I got put on a really high profile project. The firm was like, "Josh, he's ready for it," right? And I get there and I'm like not prepared at all. It's not something I'd really ever been involved in. Not sure really why I was selected. And I'm just like dealing with anxiety I've never experienced ever before in my life. I realized this is really not for me. I'm travelling every single week. I'm working 60-70 hours. The pay is great, the perks are great, but is this my future? Every new project, every high profile thing I get put on, is this something I'm always going to have to battle? If you ask any big four consultant, of course, yes. Everybody battles these things.
I hadn't really experienced it up until this point and so this was like I think December, really just a few months into my career. It was pretty eye opening. I worked incredibly hard to get to where I am today. I helped the firm recruit maybe 50 people. I was so gung ho on consulting. I was like this is the path for so many people. And I think I didn't really focus on myself. I was so focused on helping others explore this career path and make sure other people are successful that did I really ever stop to think that this is for me? Maybe not, right? But I knew that it was going to help me grow no matter what. I knew that it was going to unlock doors, whether that was with entrepreneurship or going private industry, which is I think what a lot of people do. Six months in, I'm kind of living the typical consultant lifestyle. You're almost spending everything you make. You're trying to impress everybody around you. I was living in Washington DC at the time, that also doesn't help. Everybody's trying to one up each other. You never have enough.
That's really the thing. It's like you can work your way up to partner and you're still, you're never going to have enough because you're always going to want more. I was like this is not who I am, this is not where I come from, this is not what I believe, and it just doesn't make me happy. You can pay me a million dollars a year, it's not going to change the experience for me. So that's where I go down the road of I need to get out of debt. I've got these student loans, I have car loan. How can I get rid of these risks so that maybe I could consider that entrepreneurship fulltime? I took actually a medical leave from the firm. That's how bad the anxiety was. Got therapy, got healthy, really turned my life around. Was in kind of the worst physical health at the time too. Like I said, working 60, 70, 80 hours a week minimum.
I developed my exit strategy. I said, "Let's get rid of the student loans first, because that's the one thing you know you can't just write them off and get rid of them. You have to pay them. They're there forever." I was like I couldn't see myself risking it all in entrepreneurship while having this huge burden over my head. So this is where I really took advantage of having that stable income. I was able to really reduce my expenses. I moved to a cheaper apartment. Really cut back on the drinks and eating out, and kind of all the consultant stuff that you do. I was paying more than 50% of my income towards student loans. Got it up to 60-70% kind of at the height of it, and then yeah, I was ultimately able to pay off $23,000 in student loans in 10 months.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Josh Stine: Yeah. It's like, and I did that at 23. It was just like really… I'm really privileged to be able to do that, and I understand that I had a great income out of college. Didn't have I think the debt that a lot of people do. I was able to just kind of hack my way out of it thankfully. To be able to do it in such a short time frame and to be able to really think about an exit strategy, I think it's an incredible privilege. But I paid off the student loans. Built a six month emergency fund. Then went on a vacation actually, because I realized I'm working nonstop, I need to go do something. I left the country. And that is actually where I realized this would be pretty nice to just be able to travel whenever I want and not have to go back to work every single Monday.
At this point, I was actually, I pivoted in my career at PWC. I pivoted from commercial to public sector, because I was in Washington DC. That was part of me actually coming back to the firm was me realizing that I don't like the travel. It causes a lot of anxiety, and that's where I went and worked for public sector, so the federal government. It provided a lot more balance for me. It allowed me to focus on my financial goals. When I left the country, I went to the Caribbean and they said, "You have to delete your email. You can't take it on your Smartphone because your client's the federal government, for cyber security reasons." I said, "Okay, I'll delete it." And they're like, "Yeah, you can't take your laptop. You can't check it." I was sitting there on the beach with my girlfriend and I was like, "Wow, this is like freedom. This is what it feels like."
This was like January of 2015. We come back from holiday break. I think I'm going to quit in two weeks or three weeks. I get back, I do like a week, make sure the client's in good shape. Then I go to my team. I have a coach and a buddy. We have a coach, mentor, buddy kind of system. I go to the lowest level person, I'm like, "Yeah, so I'm thinking about just leaving." "To do what?" And I was like, "I don't know. I really don't know." I didn't have like really that much of a plan, but I had time to make decisions because of my strong financial practices, getting out of debt, building that emergency fund, kind of having some money to maybe invest in a business as well helped. But it was quite crazy, the whole ride.
James McKinney: That is an amazing stretch that we've covered right there, and there's so much rich stuff there for people to glean from it. You're young. I mean you're 25, 26?
Josh Stine: I'm 27. Just turned 27.
James McKinney: Just turned 27, so one of the things that I'd like to unpack, and again there's a lot of things that happened in your six months out of college where you are hired on in a big four. There's the idea of trying to keep up with all those around you, and really caring about public opinion and the personas that you want to put out there. There's a lot that we can unpack. But the thing I want to focus on and it's really, part of it's my own curiosity but part of it also I believe that there are listeners that couldn't even put a finger on it if they tried. I think a lot of it has to do with we don't know what it looks like.
You talk about anxiety. What did that look like? Because again, I actually believe there are people out there that don't even know what it is. They're just hating life. They don't have a name for it, there's not a vocabulary for them, because they didn't experience it. You didn't grow up with this, right? You talk about you had a great childhood and your college years were exceptional, but it was shortly into your professional journey that you started recognizing something. How did you identify it and what does it look like, so for our listeners that maybe have a 9 to 5 or maybe even are entrepreneurs and they're battling this, but if they don't wrestle with it then obviously it could go down a very dark path if you don't deal with it. How did you identify it?
Josh Stine: The way I identified it was literally after, I mean for this big project I got put on, I realized my hands are real sweaty. The second day I woke up to go the client. We were just doing training at the time, but second day I got there, I like felt like sick to my stomach. When I woke up, I could tell just my heart was beating quite fast. At the time, I really didn't understand what was happening to me. I thought oh, I have the flu or I'm sick. I never thought that I wasn't cut out for it, right? I just thought maybe I'm sick. Maybe I need to go home and rest. It's not going to impact the client in any way thankfully, so maybe I'll just go home. I went to the doctor. I got like medical tests done. That's how messed up I thought I was. I was perfectly healthy, thankfully. I've always been very fortunate in that regard.
James McKinney: So your anxiety was physical manifestations. Sweaty palms, fast heart rate. You felt nauseous all the time, so it as actual physical manifestation of your anxiety. I assume everyone is different, but for you, it was very notable and that's what drove you to the doctor to figure that out.
Josh Stine: Yeah. That's I think the most noticeable, but the main thing really became like even after I got off this project, I had been feeling this the whole time it turns out. I'd wake up and I'd be anxious. I don't want to go to work. What am I going to be put through today? What kind of thing is going to be thrown on my plate that wasn't planned for? How many hours am I going to have to work? Just nonstop thinking of how bad is it going to be. I think we all do this, whether you're an entrepreneur or consultant, high performing professional. We let our mind really think about the worst, not the best things that can happen.
I developed a lot of practices, some of which I still do today, some I don't, but the main thing was journaling. So I'd carry a journal around with me when I went back to work, and whenever I started feeling these things, I would write them down. I realized how silly our minds can be. It plays games on us every single minute of every day, and if we don't recognize that, you can never correct it. So I was just working nonstop, just going and going and going, and never stopped to really take care of my health at all.
James McKinney: Oh, man.
Josh Stine: Really dangerous I think for new college grads, whether they want to be an entrepreneur or consultant or whatever it is. If you don't have really sound both physical and mental health practices, good luck because it's impossible to find the success that you want, no matter what that is doing, if you're not taking care of yourself.
James McKinney: That was unbelievable, Josh, and I think this type of dialogue needs to happen more. Much like The Startup Story itself, there's a level of transparency that we're trying to bring to entrepreneurship so people can have a full understanding of the challenges and not just the social media perspective of entrepreneurship where you sit in front of a Lamborghini that's not even yours, or standing on the entry way of a charter jet, again not even yours. But this idea that entrepreneurship is just something that you can turn easily, and if you're not achieving massive levels of success, therefore you're a failure.
I love unpacking these stories that are real, that are authentic, because people need to understand entrepreneurship is not linear, and it's going to have a lot of different faces to it. One of those faces is anxiety. I think until people are talking about these things and they're transparent and authentic like you are, Josh, I think it's just going to keep getting buried. It's going to keep getting viewed as a sign of weakness. I am so grateful that you brought that to the table for our listeners.
Again, for our listeners that are battling this, again in our show notes we're going to have a link to Josh's LinkedIn. Reach out to him, connect with him. Have the dialogue. This is what entrepreneurs… So when I say entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, it's not just in the business sense. We reach out and connect for all kinds of things, and here you have an entrepreneur, Josh Stine with Seat Insiders, that's talking about his journey. And part of that journey is anxiety and mental health. Reach out, connect, discuss that some more. So thank you for that.
James McKinney: Before we continue on with this week's episode, I want to take a quick moment to spotlight a new partnership a former founder that we've had on the show. Goli Kalkhoran, with the Lessons From a Quitter podcast. One of the common threads in most entrepreneurial journeys is that they started with a job, a regular j-o-b, and realized they wanted something else for their life. That common thread is exactly what makes the Lessons From a Quitter podcast so compelling. So if you find yourself stuck in a career and think there's no way out of the path that you're on, then make sure to listen to Lessons From a Quitter podcast found on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. All right. Now let's get back to this week's startup story.
James McKinney: I'm not going to lie. There is part of me that it's like wait, anxiety was a concern so I'm going to go start my own thing. There's a part of that for my own self, like how does that make sense? So let's get back to your story where you now realize I don't want to work for big four anymore. You like the freedom of travel, you like the freedom of being disconnected, you had the financial discipline and had the ability to kind of leave the organization without really knowing what your next steps were. So when did you know, again you had your side hustles at the same time, you didn't give those up correct?
Josh Stine: No, I worked them the whole time.
James McKinney: Yeah. So now you've left the organization. You have your side hustles. It is that point where the side hustles became the main hustle? What is that journey to Seat Insider?
Josh Stine: I quit and I told Nick, I said, "I'm going to quit. Can I just come work for you fulltime?" He said, "I can only pay you $1000 a month." I was like, "Okay, sure. I'll do it. Whatever." This is not something I would recommend for most people. Very dangerous stuff, but I really wasn't that involved in the daily business of, at the time, brokering tickets. We were really just… we were a very small fish so the business when I joined it was a six figure business. Was really quite small. We only were doing really select events. A lot of Penn State actually, football, other sports, things like that. But I joined and I said, "Nick, can you teach me? Can you teach me how all this works?" Because at this point, I really wasn't involved in that part of the business. I was really focused on growing our websites and things like that, and marketing and other things. I never had a chance.
Nick, so thankful for and is just an amazing partner to work with today. But he gladly taught me everything that he knew. He's been doing this his whole life actually. It was his dad's business and then he slowly took it over from him when his dad passed. He took it really to a whole new level and that's why he went back to college. He met a lot of us there, but yeah I joined. There was a few other of us at the company at the time too. One actually joined right out of college too, so it's pretty interesting. Like I said, it was a pretty small business. It wasn't really… he had other businesses. It wasn't the main thing. I was like, "Why can't we grow this? Why can't we scale this up to being one of the bigger players?" That's exactly what we did.
So in less than a year after I joined, we took it to a seven figure business, just simply through expansion into new markets, new cities. Really drumming up our corporate clients. The main thing was we were really only doing sports at the time. We really didn't touch concerts or theater. So that really became my specialty in that business. We bought into so many big tours and theater shows. No matter what you think of ticket brokers and scalping, whatever you want to think, it plays a very important role in the industry and it's changed I think considerably in the past five years since I've really been in the ticket industry. But we scaled the business and ultimately, it was quite a ride. It was a lot of fun. We went to all the big events. College football playoff, national championships, Super Bowl, you name it our company was there working and doing very well.
It was a blast. I was like, "This is my job? This is like a dream come true." We were investing literally everything we made back into the company. Our salaries never really went up even though we were like… we were doing better and better every month for like two and a half years. Then we got to about the two and half year, three year point and it all came crashing down.
James McKinney: What happened?
Josh Stine: So we were at events we do every year, one of the college basketball tournaments. We do it every single year.
James McKinney: Like final four?
Josh Stine: Before final four, a conference basketball tournament, specifically we do ACC every year. We were there and this was in New York and we were there with our partners. Nick was getting to the tournament a little late, and ultimately some of our partners were really upset with him. They felt that Nick wasn't around enough. He just wasn't focused on the business enough. Just saying all these bad things about him. I'm like I can't believe what I'm hearing, this is news to me. This is not anything I'm aware of.
Ultimately, our now former partners wanted to go in a different direction. I have to be careful what I say here because it was pretty recent, but we ultimately decided to close the company. Really nothing could be salvaged other than the relationships and things like that. They kind of went on their way, Nick and I went on our way. Before that though we realized one of the employees attempted to steal tickets that he thought were his. Ultimately, we had to get lawyers involved and through many months of battles, we were able to just end the whole company. Everybody signed agreements. Everybody went away perfectly fine financially, but right at this point, I was personally owed pretty close to $150,000.
James McKinney: So you're 27 now, so we're talking maybe you're 24 at the time, 25?
Josh Stine: Yeah, I was 25 at the time, yeah. So I had everything I'd ever earned, everything I'd worked for, and then a ton of purchases that were put on credit cards and things like that. That's typically how you fund your investments is through credit cards. We weren't paying much interest or anything, it's just you have to buy tickets with credit cards. That's just the dirty secret. Yeah, I had I think the most of anybody.
James McKinney: Wow.
Josh Stine: And I wasn't even an owner. I had no agreements signed, nothing. It could have ended extremely, extremely bad for me and for some of our other employees, but like I said, I stuck around. I didn't have to. I stuck around to help Nick liquidate the company. He was the CEO of that company. I stuck around and I said, "I'm never going to get my money if I'm not here to make sure that everything runs smooth." We took over, we cut off access to a lot of the stuff through the guy who stole some of our inventory and tried to sabotage our business.
Everything worked out, but we spent this was like March of 2017, no March of 2018 sorry. We got everything taken care of. We liquidated all the assets, sold off all the tickets that remained, and made sure everybody got payment and reimbursements. Then we went on our own ways. But Nick, this is where the anxiety thing comes into play. Again, he was dealing with a lot of anxiety and pressure. He felt like his whole company was destroyed and it was all his fault. I stuck by his side, because ultimately I knew that this was not Nick's fault.
Nick welcomed me into this business and taught me everything. I'm going to stand by him and help him get through this, because I'm worried I don't know if he's going to get through it. It's really, really difficult. You're working with your friends and we're in the business of entertainment and fun. It's just a different culture. We just, we know how to have a good time and stuff, and it's like it was over.
James McKinney: Yeah. Let me ask you a couple questions about that season. The first being knowing your history with anxiety, knowing that you had $150K out there, you were leveraged, what was going through your mental processes during this season?
Josh Stine: I'd been through this before, and I knew and this is my consulting experience, I knew that it wasn't nearly as bad as we thought it was. We didn't really have good financial practices as a company either at the time. Just it wasn't a whole lot of budgeting and things like that, and saving for rainy days. We were just getting the high ultimately, but I knew I'd been in worse places I felt. I don't think anybody else thought they'd been in as a bad situation as this, and I was like I'm going to do what I do best. That's keep calm in a disaster situation. That's really where I stepped up. I thought and made sure that everybody was going to get paid and that we were going to sell off everything. I went through and audited all of our books. At that point, I didn't even know really the financial standings.
James McKinney: So what kept you level headed and calm given the history of anxiety in the moment was your perspective, right is your experiences before that kept you even keeled during this incredibly challenging time. I think that's a word of encouragement to those who are listening that have been punched in the gut numerous times. It's like those experiences are going to strengthen you for a future moment. Maybe it's a moment that they're sitting in right now and they're possibly thinking to themselves how does this keep happening to me? That's a great question to ask, but the other question is how have my past experiences strengthened me for this moment?
I think, again, man I'm super impressed at such a young… again, you're 27 now, at such a young age at 25 to have that perspective. But the second question I want to ask about that season you were in is obviously you were not… you had no ownership. You had leveraged yourself in the midst of it. You saw an organization implode because of we'll just call it partner dissent. What did you learn in that season that set you up for when Seat Insiders came to be? How are you doing things different now based on that season?
Josh Stine: Oh, I mean it's night and day how we even started the company. It's just night and day. So really our business back then was it was just purely a ticket brokerage. We would buy and resell up into the height of it we were doing $2.5 million a year.
James McKinney: What kind of margin, just we hear $2.5 million, but what kind of margin? It's got to be slim. I assume it's slim because you're talking about a massive market, right?
Josh Stine: It's gotten slimmer. It's gotten slimmer by the year, but it used to be we would aim to make 30%.
James McKinney: Oh, so it's much larger than I thought. I was not expecting to hear that.
Josh Stine: It can be. If you're hearing this and you think your tickets are worth 30% today, probably not, but back then the margins were definitely better. But yeah, during kind of when our business imploded, the ticket industry also changed a lot. It's really where a lot of teams and artists started to really dynamically price their tickets so that there wasn't a lot of room on them for the secondary market. So they got smarter and we saw that happen really from it was really the summer of 2017 to the summer of 2018 when we were finishing off the business. We just were like wow, the tickets, they've really increased in price and the margins have really, really imploded. That's why I think we both went in different directions.
We said, "Why don't we just focus on helping individuals?" because we were doing a lot of that, we had private clients and then we also had at the time, we had one really big corporate client. They really created that model for Seat Insiders today. We still do a little bit of brokering of tickets, but it's a very small part of our business today. Because like I said, and I think if you ask anybody in the ticket industry today, that's what you find is the inventory is priced so high that there's no room really to make any money on them anymore.
There's still exceptions, yes, but it's entirely different and so that's a few weeks later, as we're closing this company, I'm in DC still at the time and The Washington Capitals are on their historic Stanley Cup Finals run. I have a lot of clients in DC and didn't help that my business imploded, my whole operations, everything because I couldn't still… because we decided to close the company, I had no operations. I had no technology. I couldn't handle an order. And so I went to Nick and I said, "Hey, let's keep working together. Let's start a new company and let's just focus on what we do best, and that's working with people and companies."
So we setup Seat Insiders and made the website and everything, emails, really in like a week. Then moved a lot of our clients over. Because the way we feel, it's they're personal relationships ultimately. You can't really dish them out and sell them. Nick has his guys, I have my guys. It's just that's how it goes. And we took those relationships and we were all setup and ready to go then for when the Caps made, they made the finals. These were some of the most expensive Stanley Cup Finals tickets in history until this year. This year was crazy, but that'll do that when you're Boston and St. Louis.
Anyways, we were setup and ready for success. Overnight, we just moved on. We're not going to sit around and mope and just give up. This is how tickets used to be sold way back, before StubHub and all these websites came. Everybody kind of had their guy that they bought from, and that was your only way to buy tickets. Otherwise, you just weren't going. There wasn't really a robust resale marketplace. It was a very different marketplace. So we've kind of returned I think in the sense in that way, but we're really using next generation technology to do a lot of what we do today.
James McKinney: So let's talk a little bit about the ticketing industry and you talk about the next generation technology. Because when we chatted before to determine whether or not do we do an episode featuring yourself, one of the things that I thought was compelling about this is the ticket industry itself, because it's unknown to many people other than, again, I'm 41 so for me, my memories of ticketing are going back in the day where if I want to go to a concert, I was lining up outside waiting for my wristband, had no idea what number my wristband was going to be, but that number indicated my order in line and I hoped for a great seat. So now ticketing, obviously I know the StubHub's and the SeatGeek's and Ticketmaster and all those things. That's when I think of ticketing, that's what I think of.
But you brought up a great point is that back in the day, it used to be reach out to someone to help you get a ticket and get a seat. But you talk about the technology on the backend. So if I'm calling you saying, "Hey, I need tickets to game seven of Boston versus St. Louis, why would I go to you versus just going on Ticketmaster? What are you able to do and see on the backend that I can't see online?
Josh Stine: So you're going to pay a ton of fees. We don't pay those feeds. We have direct relationships with the rights holders, whoever owns those seats. So I can secure them at a lower price. Second, prices change, and this is where we're giving away the secret to our clients. Prices change a lot. If you don't have software to really watch, or you don't really understand that the Stanley Cup Finals tickets may change 30-40% over two days.
James McKinney: Wow.
Josh Stine: Well, yeah. They could go up, they could go down, but there's a lot of factors that play into that. So of course, I think most people that are buying maybe a Stanley Cup Final seat, it's a lot of times very corporate. Anything that's really expensive like $500 or more, a lot of times it's a very corporate purchase. But there's still a lot of fans that are spending a great deal. This is a once in a lifetime thing for a team like St. Louis or the Washington Capitals or whatever. All of our clients, they all trust us. At the end of the day, it's something that software can't do. A website can't do. I can look at a market and get an idea pretty quickly. To do it on your own, you would spend hours. You may not even understand what's really happening in the background. There's just a lot of moving pieces in the background. I could spend probably the entire day talking about this.
James McKinney: So really, it sounds like ticketing is a commodity trading, trading a commodity basically.
Josh Stine: Yes, it is.
James McKinney: Fascinating.
Josh Stine: It's more close I think to real estate than like stock market or anything because you're selling a thing that has a very limited supply, especially for the big events so prices can fluctuate very heavily. It's just a lot more volatile and there's a lot more moving pieces. The biggest challenge in the ticket industry is there's really not a whole lot of regulation, especially in the United States. In Europe where I'm calling you from, there's in the UK you can't resell football tickets, it's illegal.
James McKinney: Really? Oh wow.
Josh Stine: Yes. So there's a lot of consumer protections, but also there's a lot of regulations. We really don't have that in the United States, so what you find is that it's just a very complex market. I mean, so in the United States there's no consumer protections really at all. There's few laws here and there, but they're on like a local or state level. They really aren't enforceable by any means. It's very much kind of the Wild West. In the UK, well before I move on the UK, in the United States say you're a season ticket holder. You can do whatever you want with your tickets. You can sell them, you can give them away, you can go to the games, do whatever you want with them. In the United Kingdom, as an example, if you have season tickets say to Chelsea, one of the predominant power house teams in football in the world, you cannot resell your season tickets. You can list them for face value through the team provided exchange, that's all you can do.
James McKinney: Oh wow.
Josh Stine: Technically, you can give them to a friend but like still, you're violating terms. If you list them for more than face value anywhere, you could technically go to jail.
James McKinney: Oh wow.
Josh Stine: So like it's not things that we think about in the United States in that sense, whether or not which system is better it's always up for debate. But I think I'm much more a fan of the US marketplace because it's much more fair for fans. You can argue that fans do pay more. Sure, they might, but like how tickets work in English football, say you're not a season ticket holder but you want to go to a game. It's a points based system, so the more tickets you buy from the team, the more points you get. But to get enough points for the games… you want to go to Chelsea versus Liverpool, the marquis game, or Manchester United, you've got to have to buy a ticket for every single game, and you have to do it for each person.
So if you can't go to the game or you're from the US and you can't go to every game obviously, what are you supposed to do? You can buy hospitality or maybe you're a part of a supporters group and you have a way of getting the tickets directly, but for the most part it's a system that really it has a lot of flaws. Whereas the US, there's not a lot of regulation but I think maybe some is needed in some way. But it's like both systems are very, very different. Something as simple as selling a ticket is not an easy thing anymore.
James McKinney: That's interesting. There's so much I want to ask about that, but this is not the podcast for that. Fascinating in the industry, especially the difference between the UK and the US because I can see a lot of upside between the two markets, one versus think of it being a commodity, the other being an opportunity for a fan. I can see the value in both sides, but again this is not the podcast for that.
So as our time comes to an end though, I want to ask a very key question. In Seatinsiders.com, you went through a shutdown of a company. You saw it implode. You saw how the financials were run before. You saw a lot of things in experiment number one. What is it you're doing now and I mean at a tactical level, what is it you're doing now to help ensure the same thing does not occur to seatinsiders.com that occurred with your previous venture?
Josh Stine: We're not taking huge financial positions in things like we used to. It's very different in that sense. Mainly also because the industry has changed, but second we're also saving 50% of everything we make and it's just not touchable. It's just sitting there for rainy days. It's not something we really did as far as… we were saving for investments, yes, but we were not saving for if we're not making money. Cash flow I think it's like, what like 9 out of 10 businesses fail because of cash flow or running out of capital.
So Seat Insiders has also never raised capital. We don't want capital, we don't need capital. Yeah, I may be one of the only entrepreneurs you'll hear say that I feel like, but we don't want, and we actually that's something we tell our clients. We are not beholden to anybody. We do not have to guarantee a return. The things that we are able to do by not having investors is incredible. Of course, it would be nice to have a million dollars sitting in the bank. But for what? Our business model doesn't really need it anymore because when a client orders, we're getting paid immediately. Cash flow problems are always there, yes, especially in the ticket industry but it's not something that is as bad as it was in the old company. We learned our lesson, don't hedge yourself to death because death is most likely.
James McKinney: It's inevitable. That's awesome. Those are incredible learnings for anyone listening that is in a commodity space. Even professional services. Really any industry you're in, there's a level of financial discipline that you need to maintain. I think Josh gave some great tactics there. Maybe not everyone can do the 50% rule, but I think there are some good financial disciplines to be had that we just don't talk a lot about in entrepreneurship.
But as our time comes to an end, there's two questions that I ask every founder. One of those questions has to do with gratitude. Those who have contributed to our journey to help grow us, shape us, maybe lift us up in a time where we were at an all time low. But if we lose sight of those people, we can begin to think that we did it on our own. When we start isolating ourselves and silo-ing ourselves, and start really elevating ourselves beyond what is true or reasonable, it is inevitably going to lead to our failure. So my question to you is as you look back on your journey, who are the people you look back at with just immense gratitude for their contribution to your story?
Josh Stine: There's a few people, looking back at it. Definitely my parents. They set me up for success. They helped me get into Penn State and helped me start a successful career. That was their goal all along. Then they supported me when I wanted to leave corporate America and become an entrepreneur. Most parents would think otherwise, especially when your salary is $1000 a month. They were concerned, but today they look back at it and they're like wow, that was a really good decision on his part. My girlfriend Shana obviously, she's helped me through so many of these challenges in life, whether that's mental health or the finance game, whatever it is she's kept me really grounded. Kind of really kept me sane through a lot of these big challenges I've been through.
But I think most importantly Nick, my current business partner today. He took a huge chance on me. He welcomed me into his business, taught me everything he knew, and he trusted me to help him grow whatever business it was at the time we were working on. He trusted me. We weren't make a whole lot at the time, but it was like I was still getting a rush at the same time. I was like I'm doing this startup thing, and I'm loving it. I may not be making a lot of money, but yeah, Nick just so much gratitude to him. So thankful to have a partner like him today that we talk about all these things openly and stuff, and it's not something I felt like we talked about at all in the old business. So it's a really important thing to have. If you're going to have a partner, make sure it's someone that you really, really, really know and really trust.
James McKinney: That is awesome. I'm not going to lie. That is probably my favorite segment in all startup stories, just hearing people talk about those who have contributed to their story and the amount of gratitude they have. I think a lot of times you just don't do it enough and it's when we're asked that question it forces us to look. I love it, absolutely love it. So last question as our time does come to an end, and that has to do with mentorship.
The Startup Story is a digital mentor for many people. We've been talking to tens of thousands of people as we've been exploring your story, but right now I want you to just talk to one person. That person may be the frustrated entrepreneur and maybe it's the entrepreneur dealing with anxiety, I have no idea. Maybe it's the reluctant entrepreneur who maybe thinks that their chapter in life and their opportunity is closed because of responsibilities. They're married, mortgage, kids, they don't want to take the risk of entrepreneurship. Or maybe it's the defeated entrepreneur, the entrepreneur who's been punched in the gut numerous times. Maybe he's been part of a business that has dissolved. Maybe has been the reason that business dissolved, I have no idea, but whoever that person is, I want you to set aside all the others and just speak to that one person. What is it you have, who is that person you want to speak to and what words of encouragement or advice do you have for that person?
Josh Stine: Yeah, I think who I want to speak to is people that were undergrads, people who just graduated. Maybe they've thought about startups or entrepreneurship but never have taken any action to get started or research just anything. The question I ask is why haven't you started? I'm a great example. I was working 60 hour weeks and I still was able to find time to start something even if I was working with other entrepreneurs. I still was able to cut out just maybe an hour, an hour and a half everyday and then I could work more on the weekends too if I wanted. But just set some time. Put it on your calendar. You would be amazed the businesses that you can start, the side hustles that you haven't thought of if you just put some time on your calendar and work at them consistently, and just put your heart into it. It's really amazing the things, the side hustles I've done. So many but it's like, it's very achievable is what I would say, and I'm a living example of that.
James McKinney: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that approximately 18% of American adults deal with some level of anxiety. While this is not something that I personally deal with, I have people in my life that do, so hearing Josh's story about his perseverance and discipline in his business to keep his anxiety in check is inspiring, and one that I will be sharing with a few people close to me. That is the beauty of The Startup Story. There are so many incredible founder stories out there that can be of encouragement and motivation for another individual who has dreams and aspirations of starting a business. Maybe Josh's story is exactly what someone in your community or network needs to hear.
What do you have in your life that you need to develop systems for in order to move forward? Maybe you battle with an internal dialog that has you believing you're not capable of starting a business, or maybe your health patterns are so poor that you don't have the energy you need to put in the hours you should to make your dream a reality. Or maybe you've had so many failures in your life that you now just keep things a secret for others out of fear of rejection. Whatever challenge or obstacle you have in your life, follow Josh's lead and develop a system to overcome that challenge or obstacle. You will not defeat that challenge or obstacle without being intentional in your approach.
The reason I can state that with full assurance is because we, you and I, are surrounded by a culture of mediocrity. A culture that loves being average. We love the participation trophies and wear the mantra of bare minimum like it's a merit badge. The masses settle for good enough, and all of that bleeds into how we do things unless we are intentional about pushing ourselves to new heights. Here's the great news. The fact that you're listening to The Startup Story podcast should tell you that you're not average. You are not the norm. You're here pursuing growth because you know you are capable of more. You know that you have it in you to move on that idea you have for a business or product. Keep pushing forward and develop a system that works for you and don't stop.
I hope you found real value in Josh's journey and his willingness to share with us. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. Well, now it's our turn to give value back to Josh for the value he gave us today. In our show notes, you will see a link to his LinkedIn profile. Reach out to him directly and let him know one great takeaway you got from his story. Even better, if you are a frequent event goer, then checkout seatinsiders.com the next time you're looking for your next sporting event or concert ticket. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for Josh and Seat Insiders in a huge way.
Now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it. And lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our post to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start your story.
If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer, Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.