Episode 126: The Future of Live Entertainment with Evan Samet

Evan Samet


Harnessing FOMO and his love of live events, Evan Samet founded Ticket Insider – a secondary ticket reselling platform established in 2013. Juggling the rigors of undergraduate academia with growing and maintaining a business can be difficult, but Samet is here to tell you it’s worth it!

“The best time to found a business is in college. You don’t need to worry about how you are going to make a dollar tomorrow; you don’t have a family to support. Take the risk!”

Samet sold Ticket Insider to a company that cannot be named in 2018, and is now the vice president of purchase and market analysis for Key Investment Group.

In this episode, Evan and Jon discuss the future of the live entertainment industry, the challenges of running a business centered around in-person events, and how college is the best time to try to start a business.

Connect with Evan Samet on LinkedIn.

Check out this episode!

Evan Samet (00:00):

I would say, take a risk and take a really, really big risk, a lot of connections that you can make in starting a business and taking that risk will benefit you in the future.

Intro (00:13):

Welcome to Learning Life. And the thing that I’ve realized from the CEO to the NFL football player, to the janitor, we’re our toughest critics, and we’re hardest on ourselves. But you have to be willing to say and point out the things that need to be said. The only way to grab somebody’s attention is with a story.

Jon Tota (00:34):

Welcome to another episode of Learning Life with Jon Tota. My guest today is Evan Samet. Evan founded Ticket Insider in 2013 and now serves as the vice president of purchase and market analysis for Key Investment Group. Evan has an interesting story to share about running and selling his business. And he’s got a great perspective on one industry heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic: live entertainment. Evan stumbled into the live entertainment industry almost by accident back in college, then took off time to build up Ticket Insider as a secondary ticket reseller until the point he sold it in 2018. He’s got a lot to share about those early days growing the business and what the future of live entertainment looks like. So let’s get into it. Evan Samet, welcome to Learning Life.

Evan Samet (01:15):

Hey Jon, thanks for having me on the show.

Jon Tota (01:17):

So I think your story is very interesting as you and I have got to talk a little bit, but also you’re operating in an industry that is so heavily impacted by COVID 19. And just within the last, you know, we’re recording now in December. So the last nine months or so it’s been crazy in that industry. I know you’re working for Key Investment Group now where you’re providing these premium experiences for live entertainment. How’s it impacted the business there?

Evan Samet (01:45):

Well, it’s been very challenging for us because we don’t really have an exact timeline of when events are taking place in the future. Now, the one benefit is that a lot of the artists and shows have rescheduled their shows for 2021. So we’re going to be able to keep the tickets that we have and be able to give out the experiences that we have. But the hardest part for us has just been the complete unknowing of when events are going to come back.

Jon Tota (02:17):

And so for a business like yours, and I know you started up Ticket Insider and sold it just just a couple of years ago, and you can explain the industry a little bit, but I guess there’s a lot of risk in the industry because you’ve got to purchase tickets in advance and then resell them to groups of individuals in one way or another. How was that even operating right now? When, when you don’t know when the next event is going to happen?

Evan Samet (02:42):

Well, it makes it very hard for us to, because right now there’s a lot of tickets out there at really good prices because the willingness to buy tickets has gone down in the short term because of just the news that’s coming out and just that things are getting worse and worse.

Evan Samet (03:00):

So it allows us a buying opportunity for when things do come back, people are given the way their tickets for scheduled shows at lower prices so we’re really for our business, really trying to go through everything that we project in 2021 and 2022, and figure out where we can get the best deals. The downside is, as you just said, we have to hold the tickets for a while. And one thing that I explained to people is, you know, it’s not like a stock where you could buy it today and it has a value tomorrow and you could just get out of it tomorrow. You know, we need to then sell it to another person. So if no one’s buying tickets today, tomorrow the next month, the next two months, that’s something that we have to do and just sit on the inventory.

Jon Tota (03:43):

Yeah, yeah. And I know it’s, it’s an interesting position to be in and I want to talk definitely about where you see the future of the live entertainment industry and what things are working in the virtual world. But before we jump into that, let’s go back and learn a little bit about Ticket Insider. I know, as you were explaining to me, you kind of stumbled into this industry while you were in college and then took some time off to build the business up until the point when you could sell it. So tell us a little bit about the early days of Ticket Insider and why you felt like there was a need to build that business up back then.

Evan Samet (04:17):

So, I mean, you couldn’t have said it any better. I really did just stumble on the business. There was a show at a club around me where I was a student at Quinnipiac University and I had eight tickets from my friends and I, and I bought them for $10 each and I was able to sell them for $20 each. And I was like, wow, this was just doubled my money. That seemed pretty nice and easy. And I’ve always had a sweet spot for live entertainment. It’s always been my favorite thing to do. I always went to Yankee and Giant games growing up. My first ever concert was Bon Jovi at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. And I said, you know what? I’ve always wanted to, to start a business that I could see myself growing. And when I was in high school, I had a mini tennis lesson business.

Evan Samet (05:03):

And as someone who loved playing tennis, I learned that if I want to get into business, I want to get into business of something that I’m passionate about and live entertainment really fit that. So I went off a hunch and really took some time to learn about the business, learn about the entertainment space and the one thing that looking back on it that I realized at the time, and it’s now just getting more and more true, the fear of missing out and people wanting to be at live events and being able to get something on your snap story or your Instagram story is just getting more and more powerful than ever. And that’s just helping while I’m entertaining.

Jon Tota (05:42):

And so when you, when you speak about that now, and it’s totally different today than it was back then, when, when you first got started with the ticket industry, obviously currently, what we’re dealing with, what do you see? What’s working there actually, you know, are they doing concerts by zoom and things like that is that what’s engaging?

Evan Samet (06:03):

So the hardest thing right now is artists just like people who work in behind the scenes, in the entertainment business, they need to make money too. And streaming songs on Spotify or Apple music, or YouTube only pays the artist. I think a fraction of a penny per listen. So they could only make so much money from that. So they’re trying to do the virtual shows and I think they were working for around a month or two. I always, for people that asked me, just friends and family, I would say, it’s almost like the zoom happy hours you used to do that. Everyone used to do zoom happy hours. And it was the coolest thing for a couple of weeks. And then it got kind of old and you realize that the in-person feeling just wasn’t the same as the behind the desk feeling or behind the computer.

Evan Samet (06:50):

And so some artists are trying to do it and you’ll see them do it on rare occasions. And I would say too, maybe it’s because they need something to do, or they want something to do as well. But it doesn’t have the same impact as being at a show because I don’t think that, I mean, maybe subconsciously, but there’s so much that goes into a show that you don’t even realize. So when you think of an, an artist playing, you know, the lights, the background noise is that people around you cheering, you don’t get that behind the screen. And you know, it’s almost like I, people have asked me to, it’s almost like going on vacation. You wouldn’t go take a tour of a new country through a laptop. You would go to the country and take a look at it because that’s entertainment. For this entertainment, the behind the screen while it’s good, it’s not in comparison to what a live event would look like.

Jon Tota (07:43):

And so in your mind, there really is no scenario where, where there is a virtual event industry. It’s, it’s truly live entertainment, particularly the big events, sporting events and concerts. That’s got to come back to normal. And for you and starting as an entrepreneur in this space, and now kind of being in the more premium side of the business with, with Key Investment Group, what are some of the things, have you ever seen a challenge like this? I mean, obviously nothing to this scale, but what are some of the challenges that you had to overcome early on when you were just getting into this ticket resale space?

Evan Samet (08:20):

The hardest thing that I remember having to, to overcome was trying to get people on my team because I was so afraid because there was nothing I was doing when I was my own company. I kept very, very good records of every single show that was going on and sales data, but there was nothing that I was doing that I was proprietary that I could trademark. So I was afraid that if I hired really smart people that knew the live entertainment business, they would take the information that I had and go off and start their own business. So while I had family working for me and I had a lot of my sister’s college friends who had helped me make phone calls, there’s no one on my team that was challenging me about the industry. Everything that I had learned about the industry I had read online and everything that my team knew about the industry were things that I told them.

Evan Samet (09:14):

And I would go to these live conferences, usually in Las Vegas. And I would try to soak up information from as many people as I can, but I was afraid to shell out my own information because I didn’t want people to take advantage of me because the business has a lot of older people in it because entertainment has been around so long and it just keeps getting more and more popular. So I think that was my first biggest challenge. And my second biggest challenge was as tickets got more and more expensive, I would have to spend more and more of my own money. And as I talked about earlier, there’s a layout for shows. So I would spend X amount of money and I would have to sell the tickets for show a before I could buy tickets for show B and the constant, you know, just always not worrying about money, but knowing that I needed to sell tickets before I could then go buy new tickets until a point where I think I was two to three years into the business where I had enough, I had made enough profit in that time that I could buy tickets and have some more money in reserves.

Jon Tota (10:22):

Right. Right. And I guess that really depends on how you operate in that industry is how much capital you have behind you, how much risk you want to take on. And did you feel when you got to the point that you wanted to sell the business, was it because you saw a partner that could take ticket insider to the next level? Because they could take on more risk, put more capital into it. Was it a good opportunity for your employees and you, that was kind of unique timing? Obviously it looks pretty smart now two years later, because you wouldn’t be as happy talking on a podcast show right now, if you were, if you’re a long, a lot of tickets of your own money. So yeah. W who, I don’t know if you can share, but who acquired ticket insider, and why was that the right fit for you?

Evan Samet (11:05):

So I am unable to share, but the reason it was the right fit and I can get into that. The reason it was the right fit was, as I stated earlier, I just, you know, I, I didn’t invest enough of myself and I didn’t invest in human capital, which is the most important part of the business of any business is the people around you and the employees that you have working for you. And I had maxed out everything that I could do. I, I ran a business on a specific business model that worked for me while I was growing steadily around the last year of my business. I just flat-lined in growth. I couldn’t grow anymore. And I was unwilling to, to deviate from my business model because I had been unwilling to at all. And had I possibly hired people around me that were smarter than me, or hired people that knew more about the industry.

Evan Samet (12:03):

I could have pivoted and taken different risks, but I was so unwilling to take those risks because I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. So I think it became a place in my life where I knew I always loved the entertainment space, but I was ready to, to grow in the business and start making bigger decisions and decisions bigger than I was doing in my own company. And working with more tickets, more vendors, more promoters, more sports teams. And when the time came I had an offer and it was a good offer for me. And I didn’t know that that offer that, that would lead me to Key Investment Group. And it ended up being led to Key Investment Group by a mutual connection in the business was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Jon Tota (12:54):

Yeah. I think that’s interesting. And I’ve interviewed a number of college age entrepreneurs who stumbled upon a great business idea while they’re in school. And then they have that moment where they either, while they’re at school or they take some time off, they decide to build the business up. And I, and I think what you’re mentioning too, is that because of that, you weren’t trained to be a manager. You didn’t work at a large corporation for, you know, decades before you started a business and get all of that management training. So you tend to manage in a different way. You surround yourself and hire friends who are, as we all know, even more difficult to manage than the normal employees are. The only one more difficult would be family members, which you did that as well. Right. So for any of our listeners out there who are students and, or recently out of, out of school, and they’re looking to do this, what’s some of the lessons learned, what’s something that you would tell someone who’s got a great idea in college and they want to do this.

Evan Samet (13:54):

That’s a, that’s a really great question. Especially in this time, when there’s so much uncertainty going around, I would say, take a risk and take a really, really big risk because you’re not, your future isn’t dependent on it. And a lot of connections that you can make in starting a business and taking that risk will benefit you in the future. And I know this is kind of a long answer, but if you, if you take a risk, so I took, I put all my savings that I had when I was a sophomore in college, into the business. Now looking back on it, that was only six or $7,000. So yes, it was a decent amount of money, but I didn’t have to put food on the table for a family. I didn’t have to make rent. I didn’t have to support two kids. I was able to take a risk and really go for it because I didn’t have to worry about, you know, making a dollar tomorrow.

Evan Samet (14:48):

I was able to really see my vision at the time and see it through and take a lot of time learning and put, making money off on hold for a little bit, to learn more and more about the industry. And I was able to make connections in the business, which ended up leading me to key investment group, which helped as well. And you get work experience under your belt. So I know I have a family friend who, you know, was actually asking me something around that premises too. And I said, you know what, if you start a business and it doesn’t work, if you then interview for a job when you got to college, you can pitch to the recruiter or someone in HR. I have three years work experience. I’ve handled accounts, receivable, accounts, payable, client relations, anything that your business does, if it’s manufacturing, I’ve handled overseas, or I’ve helped manufacturing here in the U S you build such a wide skillset outside of the classroom that will put you ahead of your competition. If the business does not work, and if the business does work, then you could be the person looking to hire someone and who knows it could take off.

Jon Tota (15:58):

Yeah, I think that’s great advice. And, and it’s true. It’s it’s experience that you will never be sorry that you have. And I just know when, back in the day, when I got out of school, it wasn’t as easy to start up a business as it is today. And now I think the experience you can get as you stated, is, is really well worth it. So one question I have for you, and I think probably some of my, uh, listeners who have kids in college themselves right now would like to know, did you end up going back and finishing school?

Evan Samet (16:26):

I never, I never left school. I, I ran the business full time while I was a student. I would schedule my classes around when I’d have to call people. So I always made my classes, the six 30 classes at night. So I could call people and get tickets during the day and then go to school at night. I think finishing your education is incredibly important because I think it’s much harder to, to go back and finish. And one thing in college is you’re only in class 12 hours a week, 12 to 15 hours a week. So I think you have time to do both. And I think it’s very, very important because if the business doesn’t work, you don’t want to be having to go back to school at, at that age of 21, 22, 23, and then go for four more years. And I think there’s a lot of information that, that you can take from the classes.

Evan Samet (17:22):

At least from my business classes, they were a lot of information that I was able to take from my business classes that helped me in ticket insider, even as simple as, you know, my economics supply and demand, you know, it’s the same way with tickets. You know, everyone always thinks that, Oh, I’m just going to buy a ticket to the biggest artist in the world because that’s there, you know, that show has to sell for a lot of money. And I thought the same thing too, when I first started. But remember for those tickets for biggest artists in the world, their supply is going to be the highest. So if for whatever reason that artist has one hiccup, then it can end up being a horrible tour, which I saw two to three years ago with Taylor Swift. She was that biggest artist in the world.

Evan Samet (18:05):

Every person who was in the industry wanted tickets for her. And then she came out with an album that just wasn’t as successful as her previous two or three albums. And it was the single biggest loss that I’ve seen, just basic lessons that you could learn from school. And, you know, you have professors there who are willing to help you for the most part, or at least at my school, I had two unbelievable professors who were able to help me, uh, Dave Comcheck and Dr. Dale Dzerzhinsky and they were able to help me outside of office hours, just grow the business and just have two people there on my team. And it really, really made a difference for me.

Jon Tota (18:44):

Yeah, yeah, no, I think that’s great. Great advice. It’s good to hear too. I think it’s a common theme with a lot of the entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed who have started their business in college. They said the same thing, you know, you actually have a lot more free time when you’re in school than you would, if you were out working a 40 to 50 hour a week job. And so why not take advantage of all that free time? And I think you’re what you’re referencing is even more important too, is that, Hey, take advantage of all the resources, the professors, they access to knowledge that you have while you’re at a university, and then think of starting a business almost as a lab where you’re going and trying all of this stuff in the real world and getting that experience.

Jon Tota (19:25):

So I think it’s super cool that you did it and in your case that it worked out and was successful for you. And I think also your advice about even if the business doesn’t work, the connections that you make kind of in the way that after you sold your business, you were kind of led to key investment group. So my, my other question for you is now that you’ve kind of seen both sides running your own business, and now being part of, I guess, a startup that’s that’s scaled and done really well. And now it’s becoming a bigger business. Do you plan on going back and starting another business? Do you have another idea or as that need in your mind been filled and now you’re happy being part of something as opposed to being the founder CEO?

Evan Samet (20:07):

Well, it’s, it’s funny. I think that being a founder of a company has also made me a better employee because I understand what founders go through. And at Key Investment Group, I view it as it is my own company, even though I wasn’t the person that found it, and I’m not the CEO, or even on the C level, I have a very high level up and I make decisions for the company as if it was my own company. And I am ready to help grow Key Investment Group to whatever new heights that, that we think it can reach. I mean, the entertainment industry, while it’s been on pause, it’s ready to break out and I want to help to help grow it with my team. Because one thing about, I know this company is our company is basically our family. I mean, we’ve spent so much time working together so many late nights, so many early mornings, so many Saturdays and Sundays. I know there was a stretch in the early summer where my partner and I were working six, seven days in a row, you know, every Saturday, Sunday for two to three months. And it’s that bond that we have as a company, which I haven’t even considered starting my own company, because I am already with a company that I feel is my own company.

Jon Tota (21:28):

I think your point is, is a hundred percent correct. And I always feel like when I consult for a company or I volunteer for a nonprofit, even though it’s not my own company, I think that experience of knowing what it’s like to be in that position makes you want to give a hundred percent to support the leader of the company, you know, the position they’re in. So

Evan Samet (21:48):

I don’t even think that for people that are looking for jobs, I wouldn’t even advise someone to look for a job, unless again, unless you really need it financially. Now, maybe this is more for someone out of school. I wouldn’t even consider taking a job where you wouldn’t even want to be the founder, or you’re not so vested in helping the company grow. Because I know that work for me is fun. Work is if someone says, what’s my favorite hobby it’s entertainment. And that for me is work. So I wouldn’t even consider taking a job or taking a position where you yourself wouldn’t want to be the founder of the company and, you know, really help the company grow. And then the other thing about small business is you really, every thing that you do, every benefit that you bring to the company, doesn’t go unnoticed.

Evan Samet (22:42):

If you’re working at a big four or a company with a thousand employees, sometimes you’re working go under the radar. You know, I know when you, when I was working for key investment group, I was able to come and improve my worth, improve my value to the company very early, that it helped me raise myself to a high position in small business. If you come in and really, really crush it and go all out and come in as if you own the company and you really, really outwork everyone else, you can grow to a really high level in a short time.

Jon Tota (23:15):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think it’s, I think it’s great advice too, as you said, that if you wouldn’t want to be the founder of that company, if you’re not that passionate, then maybe it’s not the best position for you. Maybe it’s not something that you’re doing for the right reasons. So I think that’s a great takeaway. So my last question for you kind of a quick lightning round, I’m going to name a type of event and you tell me your favorite concert sporting event, whatever it might be that you’ve ever attended. Cause obviously I, I think you’re an expert all live entertainment. So best concert you’ve ever been to

Evan Samet (23:49):

Bruce Springsteen, citizens bank park, September 7th,

Jon Tota (23:53):

Best sporting event.

Evan Samet (23:54):

Yankees world series 2008

Jon Tota (23:57):

And best non-sporting non-music event. Anything.

Evan Samet (24:02):

Very cliche I’ll give you two: Hamilton on Broadway because it really was an amazing show and Green Day American Idiot because the singer from Green Day just happened to show up while I was there and play. And it was amazing.

Jon Tota (24:17):

All good ones, man, I’m a Yankees fan. I lived in New Jersey. So of course I like Springsteen. And, uh, and I agree with all of your selections across the board. So thank you, man. And, uh, appreciate you coming on the show. It’s great to hear your story, but also kind of your perspective on where we go from here with the live entertainment industry. So thanks for taking the time

Evan Samet (24:39):

To be here. Thanks for having me on Jon.

Jon Tota (24:41):

To all of our listeners. Thank you for being here every week. As you know, we have a new episode that comes out every Tuesday, so wherever you’re listening, be sure to subscribe, leave us comments. We’d love to hear from you guys and until the next episode, happy learning.

Jon Tota (24:58):

Hey everyone, Jon Tota here. I want to thank you for tuning into the show each week. We love our Learning Life community and are so grateful for your support. We’d appreciate it if you would take a minute to rate us and write a review for Learning Life, wherever you’re listening right now, your ratings and comments, help new people find the show so we can keep growing our community and bring great interviews on the topics you care most about.