But that’s something the three guys at a startup called Will Call are trying to change. The same way there are now mobile apps to help you find hotels at the last minute or flights, Will Call wants to be the place to connect promoters with extra last-minute tickets to sell with the spontaneous and the procrastinators among us.
Will Call isn’t widely available just yet. The app is still technically in beta but is set to go live with a “soft launch” for iOS as well as Android and Windows Phone devices sometime this week, for a few events every couple of weeks in San Francisco, where the startup is based. Eventually the service will be expanding to other large markets like New York City and Los Angeles.
Here’s what Will Call envisions: a quick, easy system that lets you decide last minute what to do tonight. Don’t have plans? Open your app and see a handpicked list of performances or concerts that still have tickets left to sell. There should be plenty too: Will Call says up to 40 percent of tickets for the average venue go unsold.
The back story
The company was founded by three friends who met in Seattle before moving to startup central, Silicon Valley. The trio consists of Donnie Dinch, whose background is in consumer packaging design; Julian Tescher and Patrick Tescher, brothers who are developers and — according to Dinch — can communicate “almost telepathically with each other.”
The idea came to them in the same way some of the best new business ideas form: from personal experience. Dinch says while hanging around Seattle working on other projects, the group wasn’t “satisfied with the amount of things we were doing each night. So we started building something to make plans at the last minute.”
One night during research, the three discovered that piles of tickets go unsold at every event. “We realized this was an industry problem,” he said. “In talking to friends, we realized this is kind of insane … and with a consumer-driven approach, we said, ‘OK, we can solve this.’”
How it will work
The plan is for the Will Call software to be totally vertically integrated so you make your purchase via the app, show up to the venue, flash your confirmation on your phone at the ticket taker, then (ideally) proceed to have the time of your life.
If you think this concept sounds familiar, you’re not wrong — Will Call is very similar to Hotel Tonight, which gives travelers a curated list of hotels by city that have extra last-minute rooms they make available at a discount. So you won’t be surprised to hear that Hotel Tonight CEO Sam Shank is both a fan and an investor in Will Call. (Other investors include a handful of angels, and Will Call participated in the 500 Startups incubator program this past summer.)
Dinch says the ticket startup is targeting a similar plan, but instead of boutique hotels, it’s starting with independent bands and performers in smaller venues. Importantly, the app isn’t a free-for-all — there’s a matter of taste involved. Dinch believes something fundamental has changed about how we consume music and follow artists, and he wants Will Call to be a curator of which live acts are worth spending your money and time on.
“When I was in college I’d buy an album and listen to it for three weeks straight. I’ve listened to 18 artists so far today. It’s hard to become a rabid fan of an artist now. Artists on tour have doubled since 2007 … there are a lot more club shows that fit in 500 to 2,000-person venues, so it’s harder to sift through what you like.”
The elephant in the room: Live Nation
Here’s what they’re not trying to do: replace Ticketmaster or be the next big ticketing platform (like, say, TicketFly). Will Call is supposed to be “additive” to the industry, not destructive to existing business models. The company says it has talked with LiveNation — which merged with Ticketmaster in 2010 to become one of the world’s biggest ticket sellers and event promoters — and came away with the impression that “they’re open” to new ideas, though no deals have been made yet.
The Will Call trio is also hoping consumers will be just as open. But the types of acts it offers right from the get-go will determine whether a large enough group agrees with what they deem worthwhile and interesting, and therefore whether their curated approach will catch on. It’s something Dinch seems well aware of.
“We want people to trust us. We want it [to be] a situation where you open up Will Call, you see an artist you’ve never heard of, but if it’s on will call it’s supposed to be good.”