The year of 2018 consisted of so many achievements and experiences, in many ways it could not have ended better. After lengthy negotiations and a transitional period we sold meuingresso.com to the Brazilian group EventMix. This is my story detailing the lessons that I learned in those 8 years of leading my first startup.
How it all began
It was 2011, I was working as software developer and had just founded Verticis Web Studio, a year prior, along with my friends André Brunelli and João Zica. I also met Bruno Eustáquio, an aspiring entrepreneur full of ideas, and also the experienced and inspiring Paulo Costa.
At the time Brazil was living in the heydays of collective buying websites, and in one of our conversations on how to conquer the world we had the idea of creating a platform to sell online tickets for entertainment events. During that time there were no self-service options for small & medium producers which we saw as a great opportunity to start our first venture.
In early 2011, after some brainstorming sessions and some work, we already had our brand and some platform prototypes: RockBee was born!
The first version of the platform was launched in July 2011 and we quickly gained traction in the event market in Brazil.
Pivot, Wayra and meuingresso.com
Right from the first year of operating we detected an issue in our business model and therefore a great gap in the market as well: there wasn’t at that time a self-service platform for selling tickets (EventBrite and other players were not yet active in the local market). In 2011 we were selected alongside 500 startups in Brazil to be accelerated by Wayra Brasil, Telefonica’s startup accelerator.
We received an initial investment which enabled us to develop the first version of the platform, which was launched in 2013, whilst we were inside of the Wayra Academy. After 5 years of operating we had a stable product and we were still looking for ways to grow even more.
In early 2016 we conducted a survey with our customer base and found that perhaps our brand, an English name that did not directly link the product to our audience could be a possible evolution point. We then decided to start the hard process of rebranding and brand positioning. We completed market research, many brainstorms and after a few months of work and negotiations, we launched meuingresso.com:
Since then the business grew considerably resulting in us operating events for more than 15,000 people. By 2017 we sold more than R$4mi and had built a customer base in excess of 100,000 users.
Growth, expectations and future
Despite having sustainable and healthy growth, some points began to make us consider a possible sale. Our profits were now directly related to investment in marketing and operations, and problems with logistics grew (outsourcing equipment, hiring support staff). As CEO and technical manager, I no longer felt that I would be able to make the necessary changes to enable the company to continue growing.
Besides that, after 7 years leading the project, I felt like I was neglecting my career as an engineer/software manager after spending the past 5 years improving and bringing the best technical solutions to the platform. In fact, there was a growing consensus that we were not fulfilling 100% of the project’s potential.
In 2017 I was invited to lead a team of Frontend Developers in Berlin, Europe’s leading tech & start up hub. I thought that this was the right time and the perfect opportunity so I accepted the challenge. During this period meuingresso.com operated normally with me continuing to make technical decisions in a reduced capacity.
As early as 2018, the brand was getting stronger, and the demand for closer care increased. On the other hand, career opportunities and personal growth in Germany only became more evident for me. In this context, in November 2018, we received an acquisition offer from our compertitor EventMix Group, who are responsible for most of the major events in the south of the country, and have a presence in several other regions of Brazil.
After considering several factors we decided that the time was right to sell the business after 8 years of trading. At the end of October, we began the transition, which was completed in early January 2019. The EventMix group decided to keep the same brand and operations unaltered. The group promised to add several improvements in tools and processes in the coming months.
1) Execution and timing are key. An idea has its value close to zero
When we had the idea of launching the self-service tool, Brazil was an unexplored market, and no platform had yet been launched. Due to some internal issues at the beginning of our acceleration process with Wayra and also due to our inexperience, it took longer than expected to release our first version. At that time, other platforms were launched on the market, and this had a major impact on our market acquisition strategy.
2) “Trust will not save you from infidelity”
At the beginning of our journey, we actively attended events and made many contacts and partnerships. This brought us excellent opportunities but also some problems. We had a mentor at the beginning of the project who helped us a lot, had access to all our planning, business plan and spreadsheets. He later declined our equity offer as an advisor but showed up later as lead investor of a competing startup. Nothing shook or discouraged us but it was a big learning curve.
We also met a renowned Brazilian investor who founded one of the country’s largest e-commerce platforms. He became a close contact who always made promises of future investments and partnerships but nothing concrete materialised. Over time he became a personal friend, even calling on my birthday and on special occasions. At one point, he made me the proposal that every entrepreneur would love to hear: I would act as a CTO for one of his projects, develop his platform, and receive $3,000.00 monthly and could still continue to meet meuingresso.com demands (RockBee at that time). I accepted the offer, and we started the project.
It was hard to juggle two positions at one time. In 9 months, the platform was finished and released. However, the payments were never made as promised. After I finished the initial version of the project, that initial nice friendship was disappearing, and different excuses for not making the payments were being made. By this point all of my calls were no longer being answered, he had blocked me on social media and he disappeared still owing me $14,000.
The lesson here is very clear: asking for help, having mentors, partnering and attending events is very important. But always be suspicious. Always sign NDA’s before sharing any sensitive information. Document everything, make small contracts, even informal ones.
3) Personal life
The entrepreneurial dream is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever experienced in my life. That feeling of being very close to something great and at any moment something unexpected could happen which changes everything. It is exactly this feeling that makes us believe that every effort is worth it, this includes sacrificing some aspects of your personal life, seeing it as “temporary” which could result in something truly rewarding in the long run.
Today I see that even if this time is even shorter and properly rewarded, this sacrifice is not worth it. Sleeping well, having well-earned leisure time and being close to family and friends is something that will certainly impact directly on the success of your journey!
Today I work as an Engineering Lead/CTO for one of Europe’s most prestigious tech companies. Directly involved in the development of startups. 2019 begins ending in a full cycle of growth and learning. A story of great gratitude.
Long live the “rock bee”!
🎉 🎸 🚀 🐝 ️️❤️