Russ visits with serial entrepreneur and Internet marketing guru Cliff Kurtzman. Dr. Kurtzman’s recent venture, MyCityRocks.com, is an online social networking venture that connects online social media with the offline world by providing local entertainment news and information. In December 2008, MyCityRocks was named one of the top ten most promising I.T. and Web 2.0 companies during the 6th Annual Rice Alliance for Technology & Entrepreneurship.
Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show, heard hear and online at TheBusinessMakers.com. And now it's time for the Aflac BusinessMakers flashback brought to you by Aflac. Ask about it at work. And for this morning's flashback we're gonna roll back to earlier this week when I sat down and visted with Dr. Cliff Kurtzman, founder and director of MyCityRocks. We're talking about connecting your online world with the offline world. We start by me asking Cliff, "Tell us about MyCityRocks."
Cliff: Well MyCityRocks is an online social engagement venture that connects with people online to help them do fun stuff when they're offline.
Cliff: We're about three main things: one is helping people have fun by enjoying local art, music, theatre, sports and cluture. Two is giving people a chance to give back to their community and make their part of the world a better place to live. We support a whole host of philiintrhopic causes around the city.
Cliff: And three is we enable people to represent their pride and their spirit for the part of the world they live in.
Russ: Ok. So I guess that means that you actually have customers and clients all over the United States?
Cliff: We sure do. All over the world.
Russ: Ok cool. Well it seams to me athat perhaps that first one, having fun and sort of connecting people that might normally be connecting in a social media environment online, how do yuo go from the online world to the offline world?
Cliff: We focus on making connections with people over social network sites and through search engines and then letting them know about fun things to do out in their community, whether it's attend a sporting event or see a national touring act in concert or to come on out and support a local band, or a philanthropic activity in their community. A huge young thinking generation that wants to get involved and wants to get involved and do so in a fun way but they just don't have the information they need to make the decisions as to what they can do and we provide them those connections and that information.
Russ: So, is it sort of like entertainment news from a local community?
Cliff: That is certainly a good part of what we do.
Russ: Ok. Would i see things their on MyCityRocks about my city that I wouldn't see in any of the other local medias?
Cliff: Quite probably, yes. If you came to Houston.MyCityRocks.com, and sign in, you'll get newsletters every week teling you what's going on in local fairs and festivals, highlights on local bands that are playing in the community and listings of local theatre and sports and major concerts that are coming through Houston.
Russ: Ok. You mention our own city Houston but are you in every city today?
Cliff: In different pieces of the company are implemented in different stages around the world. We also have a ticketing business that connects people with tickets to premiere entertainment around the world and that's very active all over the globe.
Russ: Wow, ok. Well I knew from a little research that ticketing was a very important piece of the business. Is that sort of part of the connection with this online social engagement that not only do you see who's in town but you can actually get connected to tickets to the events?
Cliff: Yes, that's very true. The audience we connect with wants to do things out in their community: sports and theatre and concerts.
Cliff: And we looked at their ability to do so and the secondary ticket market is one that is currently in a process of extreme transformation.
Cliff: And it was an industry that was on the very edge of ligitimacy and people would have to go to a scalper or a local broker and have very little choice in what they could get.
Cliff: But by using the internet we're able to make people all over the world compete against each other to give our members and anyone in fact that comes to our website an opportunity to choose the very best deal.
Russ: Ok. And you said secondary ticket market. Describe that for us a bit.
Cliff: There's a difference between a primary ticket and a secondary ticket. A primary ticket is what somebody gets when they go straight to a venue to buy a ticket to a sold out game. You probably can't get it there.
Cliff: So someone might turn then to a secondary market where somebody that has has bought tickets and isn't going will resell them or a professional seller will have bought them on speculation hoping to resell them.
Cliff: And so we pull together thousands of these people all over the world to offer deals to consumers.
Russ: And is that the way that MyCityRocks is monetised?
Cliff: At present that is our primary revenue stream. We also sell apparel that expresses community pride and spirit and have a few other things going on but tickets has become quite the predominate area.
Russ: Well, if you are this secondary ticket dealer, you're selling other peoples tickts, do you have a problem sometimes or a challenge in making sure that they're really valid tickets?
Cliff: Oh, yes. Managing over a thousand different suppliers that people associate with your brand, each one that has different business practises, is a continual challenge and over time we learn who is real and who is good and who isn't and of course provide guarantees to the consumbers that come through our site, it's extraordinary rare, I think I only know of two instances in tens of thousands of transactions where we've had to actually go in and provide a refund to the customer ourselves becuase we do provide that guarantee to anyone that goes through the site.
Russ: So if I actually had tickets to an event and I wasn't palnning on using them, would I come to you to say I want to offer these for sale or would I go to another third party that you partner with?
Cliff: You could go to our website and list them through our website and put them up for sale if you wanted to deal with that degree of speculation that they might or might not be sold or you could go to a third party that might buy them from you at a probably at a much lower price but then you would have certainty that you've sold them and then they would in turn try to resell them.
Russ: On your site perhaps?
Cliff: Very possibly.
Russ: Ok, it's an interesting market out there. So when you do a transaction you're kind of actually operating off of a fee, correct?
Cliff: Right. There's a service fee added on when people buy tickets through the site and we split that fee with one of our partners and then that becomes the main source of revenue in which we use to fund the operation of our company and we also plow a fair bit of it into local philanthropy.
Russ: Ok. Now i mentioned upfront that you got here not necessarily through a straight line. Why don't you give our listeners a little bit of the background of Dr. Cliff Curtsman.
Cliff: I came to Houston originally to build spacecraft. I have a doctorate from MIT in astronautical engineering and had always planned to go up on the shuttle some day. In fact one of my MIT classmates just came back from nine months in the space station.
Cliff: But I didn't have the eyesight to get directly into the NASA program and I worked helping to build spacecraft for a number of years. But in the begginning of 1994, I decided that I really had an entrepreneurial spirit and founded my first company, a company called Tinogra and Tinogra was originally expected to be an aerospace software development company.
Russ: Whoa. Cool.
Cliff: And we hooked up with the NASA technology commercialisation center and their job was to help us look at the technologies that NASA was using and spin them out commercially.
Cliff: And we saw then that NASA was one of the very earliest adopters of using the internet and the web to communicate it's mission out to the public and figured that busineses were going to start wanting to do that as well. So in the middle of 1994, we became the first online marketing company in Houston and the Houston Business Journal put us on their cover and then the New York Times did a story on us and then we launched the first Harley Davidson site on the web and CNN picked up on that and it just really took off.
Russ: And this was all online marketing.
Cliff: All online marketing.
Russ: So you'd gone from NASA and the space business to the online marketing business.
Russ: Ok. And that ultimately lead to MyCityRocks.
Cliff: Yes. I became very interested in how online communities grow and thrive and made friends with one of the founders of MySpace and knew him as the company was growing and looked at what MySpace was doing and saw an opportunity to take the kind of audience that they were connecting with and help that audience do fun stuff during the time that they're not on the computer but with all the people that they meet while they're on it.
Russ: And that raps up our discussion with Dr Cliff Kurtzman, founder and executive director of MyCityRocks. And that wraps up the Aflac BusinessMaker's Flashback, brought to you by Aflac. Ask about it at work. And now it's time for another Advantage Point. SO let's welcome Katie Laird.
Russ: You're listening to the BusinessMakers Show, heard here and online at thebusinessmakers.com. Stay tuned for Dr. Don Minnick, telling you how to survive in this economic downturn.