Imagine Eventbrite and Ticketmaster but with lower booking fees, highly competitive technology, an incredible customer service team, and not to mention, has an amazing cause. That’s Humanitix, a ticketing registration platform that donates 100% of its profits to education programs around the world, and Humanitix CEO and co-founder Adam McCurdie is here today to talk to us about how Humanitix creates a meaningful impact and why Humanitix is one of the frontrunners, if not the frontrunner, in the events ticketing space.
Something interesting about the Humanitix co-founders Adam and Josh is that they actually shared Josh’s salary while bootstrapping and building Humanitix. Adam shares that this definitely required a lot of trust in each other and included setting some rules and boundaries in their friendship in order to make it work. Apart from having a great partner, he also told us how integral having a good team is. A testament to this is the fact that despite not being able to provide equity, they have zero churn with their engineering team, which is one reason they’re able to constantly innovate and offer the best quality product in their field.
So much was discussed in this episode, including how they raised initial funding from philanthropists and what they promised them in exchange for their money, how they convinced event hosts to make the switch to Humanitix, why people use their product not just because it’s impactful but also because their technology is exceptional, and so much more. You won’t want to miss this episode.
Maiko Schaffrath 00:00
This episode is brought to you by Content Multiplied. It's not a secret anymore that content creation is really important, but very few people talk about the importance of consistency, and I myself have really struggled with that consistency. And for that reason, I looked for a solution, and Content Multiplied was a really good one for me. Since using them, I've been able to focus on what I enjoy the most which is recording podcasts while Mhyla and her team are really taking care of everything else. Whether you have a podcast, you're holding keynote speeches, you're doing a YouTube series, you're writing a blog, a newsletter, a book, the Content Multiplied team can really take whatever you're producing and repurpose it into a series of micro content. And suddenly, you have dozens and dozens of pieces that can be shared for you, and Content Multiplied even takes care of that for you. Unlock your content superpower with Content Multiplied and go to contentmultiplied.com today. That's contentmultiplied.com. Thanks, Mhyla, and let's go into the show. You are listening to Impact Hustlers, and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems. And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems such as food waste, climate change, poverty, and homelessness. My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one, or by taking a small step, whatever that may be, towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems. In today's episode, I speak to Adam McCurdie, founder and CEO of Humanitix, an events ticketing platform, which donates 100% of profits to education programs around the world which are supporting the world's most disadvantaged kids. Founded in Australia, now based in Denver, Colorado, Humanitix has now raised more than $1 million to charities they support, and it's great to have you on the show, Adam.
Adam McCurdie 02:34
Thank you. Great to be here.
Maiko Schaffrath 02:37
Thanks for joining me. First off, tell us a bit more about yourself, and why are you doing what you're doing with Humanitix? What's been the journey that led you to this point in time?
Adam McCurdie 02:48
Sure. I mean, growing up, I was always very inspired by my grandfather. He was a very successful engineer. He invented the earth leakage system, which stops people from getting electric shocks in the minds. And then, he was a lead executive at Commodore Computing 64 and the Amiga. He was always building things, creating things, super curious, and I was always inspired by that. So, I studied engineering and mathematics at university and was always looking at something I could apply myself to that was different, that contributed to the world, that led to a fun, exciting, and colorful career, but one that wasn't just dominated by trying to accrue as much wealth as possible. That's very much my motivation for how on earth I ended up doing Humanitix.
Maiko Schaffrath 03:45
Alright. We'll talk about how Humanitix works in a second, but what struck me is that you're specifically donating your profits to education programs for disadvantaged kids. Is there a particular reason why that's a cause that you care about particularly?
Adam McCurdie 04:01
Yeah, so basically, our whole journey has been how to allow Humanitix to create as much impact as possible. We've been teaming up with some of the cleverest foundations in the world, most namely the Atlassian Foundation, whose mandate and focus on their research are finding the most effective charities in addressing disadvantaged in kids all around the world, predominantly through education. It was through interactions with them and other philanthropists that we really started to understand the power of education and that it has multi-generational effects, significant impacts even on the environment, and it's long-lasting, and it's sustainable. And so, that's one of the many reasons why we decided to, for now, focus on education. But as we continue to grow and hopefully start to give more and more money, that can start to expand as we start to engage with more partners to understand more cause areas that we can be making impact on.
Maiko Schaffrath 05:05
Okay. Yeah, give us an overview of how Humanitix actually works. How does the platform work and, I guess, what type of platform would you be replacing? Is that platforms like Eventbrite or Ticketmaster? Tell us a bit more how does it work and how you're different from existing platforms out there.
Adam McCurdie 05:27
Sure. Humanitix is a events ticketing registration platform. An event organizer would typically use Humanitix in replacement of Eventbrite, although there are many other Software as a Service ticketing platforms like Eventbrite. But typically, they would use us instead of that kind of platform. The type of event organizer that we service is wide ranging. Ut's everyone from tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people at a music festival, or a conference, or professional networking events, all the way down to a 10-person yoga class or a 10-person meditation retreat that an entrepreneur is taking people out to have an experience. But then, there's also private schools who do a lot of ticketing, universities that we do the ticketing for all their different alumni events and graduation dinners, all these kinds of things. We don't play in the Ticketmaster/ticketing end of the spectrum, which would be massive stadiums with Ed Sheeran and Beyonce and the Denver Broncos. That's a very different game of ticketing. We play in everything else in that self-service events ticketing platform. I think the reason why event organizers are just in droves now switching to Humanitix is because our booking fees are lower than the competitor, so everybody's saving money, because our whole attitude was that we felt booking fees were too high in the industry, so we've managed to reduce them, which everyone appreciates. Most importantly, our technology itself is incredibly competitive. We're offering features and promotional tools that the others aren't. Our customer service is second to none. We're fanatical about customer service, which has been something that's heavily neglected by the ticketing industry. You're an event host that's looking for guidance, looking for advice, looking for a bit of a sanity check on the way that you've set things up, and we are fanatical about helping you. And then, the biggest point of difference is, is that we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and we give away 100% of all of our profits that we make from booking fees into funding children's charities that make the most impact in local communities. And so, as an event host, you're now getting a better platform at lower fees with better customer service, and just by nature of your ticketing partnership, your event is now having this awesome philanthropic impact. So, we've created the biggest no-brainer in events ticketing, and I think that's the main reason for our success and growth to date.
Maiko Schaffrath 07:59
Got it. So, from what I gathered also preparing for this, it seems like, again, your focus is not just on the social cause but also just making sure that you provide the best possible experience to event organizers. I assume most event organizers that are signed up to Humanitix really care about the causes you support, but even if they wouldn't, let's assume they wouldn't, is the strategy to just be a better product anyways? How does that work?
Adam McCurdie 08:30
Yeah, exactly, and that has been our "philosophy" since day one. We didn't want to be an ethical social enterprise that relies on the customer to use us purely because we're the most ethical. We thought that this would have runaway success and growth if we are, by far and away, the most ethical, but also we don't rely on that. We aim to be the best product tool for the event hosts business. I think us achieving that is the reason why we've had such success. I think it's been a very healthy thing to keep in the back of our mind. It's why when you look at our entire team, it's half engineers, product people, designers. At the end of the day, what makes our organization grow and create impact is by attracting event hosts to switch to Humanitix. And to get an event host to switch to Humanitix, particularly the bigger, more complex, sophisticated events that have more booking fees as a result, we have to come to the party with a very compelling piece of technology, not just a far more ethical model.
Maiko Schaffrath 09:38
Love it. I think that's what I see sometimes in that space that social entrepreneurs are often very focused on the social costs that they want to solve, which is great. Obviously, that's the reason why we're doing these things, but sometimes forget that the user experience is so powerful and you've still got to focus on that, because if you can convince people that don't even care about the cost to still use your platform and still have a positive impact, I think that's super powerful. So, amazing. I guess there's an elephant in the room- yeah, go ahead.
Adam McCurdie 10:13
Sorry, I was just going to say we have a few funny anecdotes of that where we'll be demoing an event organizer, and they say, "Look, I like what you do, but I'm not really aligned so much with the ethical side of things. You can do what you want. But to be honest, this is low booking fees, and this is a better platform, and I've heard all about it, so I'm in and good for you. That's great that you guys donate all your profits away, but I need these features that no one else is offering that you're offering. That's good for my business. So, sign me up. I'm a new customer." I think that is critical where you win customers like that, not just on the ethical side of things.
Maiko Schaffrath 10:53
Love it. I guess there's an elephant in the room though in that you have lower booking fees, you're giving away your profits to charity, and you have the best platform, according to you, obviously. How do you make that happen? Basically, isn't the challenge that you have a potentially tiny budget, you want to obviously optimize your impact, you don't want to eat up the whole booking fee to improve your platform, but how can you try to be the best platform and at the same time, have a lower booking fee and give away your profits? How does that tension get resolved in your head?
Adam McCurdie 11:36
Sure. Firstly, we recognize that booking fees in the industry of ticketing are heavily inflated. So, reducing them and still running a feasible business was very achievable. And so, if we could do that, we did, and that's why we've done that. When it comes to then building a piece of technology that is compelling, we've been around now for six coming up to seven years, it's taken six, seven years of product and engineering and design efforts. You can imagine for us to, as aggressively as possible, race to being the most useful and valuable ticketing platform to an event host who's running any type of event big or small, and that's been a journey. We started off with a very basic ticketing platform pilot prototype. As a result, we were only able to service very small basic events, events that are just selling one ticket type for 50 people, and they wouldn't notice the fact that we don't have all the features that the other guys have, because they're not using all those features. Slowly, over time, we've continued to build and build and build out the product, and as a result, go after and attract more and more sophisticated event hosts. We've just stayed on that path, and we've listened to the customers all the way throughout. I think so much of it was that at the beginning, we had to build the events for our event hosts. And so, we'd really understand what matters to them, how they set up their events as things get more sophisticated compared to building the platform that we've got today, which is completely self-service, where you as an event host can log on, create your account, build your own event, pull your own reports, do everything yourself, reach out to us for support if you need, but you're the master of your own destiny. When we built our very first prototype, it wasn't so self-service. We had to really do all the nitty gritty work for event hosts, and I think you learn a lot, and you get a lot of scar tissue through that process, but that's where we've just remained laser focused on building this platform. I mean, the maybe another big question on that that we had at the beginning was, can we attract the right talent in engineers and product people to build this platform that needs to be super competitive and be the best without an organization that can offer equity, like a typical startup could offer? And would that be enough to attract talent? And it turns out that the answer is overwhelmingly yes. In six years, we've had zero churn in our engineering team. It's phenomenal. That's been a continually growing engineering team, and it's because there is a fortune of people, talented people switched on who are craving a beautiful combination of challenging work in engineering in this case combined with real, genuine purpose and contribution back to society. Our engineers are loving it, the fact that they can be building complex, sophisticated seating map technology that translates to us winning big venues, which translates to putting thousands of disadvantaged kids through school who would have otherwise not had the opportunity to do so. When you see that lining up enough, that has been far more valuable as it's turned out than offering equity, because we were very worried about that at the start where our intention and what we've done is set Humanitix up as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so there are no shareholders, there is no equity, there is no opportunity to sell this business and make a lot of money as a result, but it turns out purpose trumps that.
Maiko Schaffrath 15:24
Love it. Let's dive deeper into that, actually, and your decision-making around being a nonprofit. On the Impact Hustlers podcast, I think most of the founders we have are definitely founders of for-profit ventures, but we've had a whole mix of founders of pure charities but also founders of hybrid models, where sometimes, there's a for-profit company that's working hand-in-hand with a foundation or a charity, and then they take advantage of both models. You just said initially, you were worried about attracting the best talent, because you can't give them equity. What other factors did you consider when you chose the type of legal form that you should have? And what did actually then make the difference for you to choose the nonprofit model?
Adam McCurdie 16:21
Well, with a business like ours, ultimately, the way that we create impact is by running a business, generating a profit, and giving it away to the most impactful charities that we can partner up with. By introducing shareholders into that mix, that would naturally dilute the amount of profits that we're able to give to our partner charities, because we'd have to be paying shareholders a dividend and justifying growth and profitability, while simultaneously giving another portion of that profit away to charity. We always thought that if possible, the cleanest and potentially most impactful organization structure is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is a charity, meaning that there are no shareholders expecting their return, and the model is clean. It also can reduce skepticism of our model where, "Well, how much are you keeping for yourself for the profit? When are you going to sell this to Eventbrite or Ticketmaster? What's the game here?" By setting it up as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, as a charity, that completely addresses that understandable concern. What's interesting is that when you have a model like ours, the mechanics are very, very similar to a traditional for-profit business that's trying to generate a return for shareholders. It's just that in our case, we've replaced shareholders with the world's most disadvantaged kids who we provide an education for. In the same way, Humanitix wants to be as successful and as profitable and acquire as much market share as we can and delight our customers, and as a result, make as much profit as we can. It's just that it's not for them the end result of giving it to shareholders. It's for the end result of giving it to the world's most disadvantaged kids to have access to quality education. That's why I think this is such a unique and interesting model, because it has the same drivers of capitalism. It has the same sink or swim features of the market that if you don't come to the party with a quality product and something that's a fit, people won't use you and you won't make profit. But what is our obsession with driving shareholder wealth? You can, as we've proven, run a beautiful company that creates phenomenally high-quality products, that produces a lot of profit, and as a result, achieves all this impact and funds the organization itself. Because just like a regular company, we use revenue to fund our operation. That's what the philanthropists who initially funded us were so excited by. We've just replaced shareholder wealth with children's charities, and we think that that has huge, exciting potential for the future.
Adam McCurdie 16:39
Love it, love it. Again, let's dive deep on that point, on having a revenue model embedded into what you do. The cliche picture of a charity is they depend on outside donations, and every year, they have to raise a certain amount, and the donations need to increase every year. You got kickstarted by philanthropic money, I think from Atlassian, amongst others, that have funded your initial development, but then you have a revenue model that makes it possible for you to be sustainable and not depend on anybody donating money to you as an entity. Talk us more through that and how that works.
Adam McCurdie 19:54
That's right. At the beginning, obviously, we need to raise seed capital because, well, we don't yet have revenue and we need to hire people to build a phenomenal product to produce revenue. And so, we raised that money, and the only way we could raise that money was philanthropically, because obviously, we didn't have any equity to attract a venture capitalist with. The venture capitalists said, "Sorry, guys, but we only give money in exchange for equity, and you guys don't have any equity." We didn't want to raise debt, because I don't think we would have attracted a very nice interest rate on just building a website from scratch. And so, philanthropists were our people. And so, luckily, at the beginning, we attracted the Atlassian Foundation, who are a massive, beautiful foundation. They're the foundation of the company Atlassian. We won the Google Impact Challenge that was a million dollars’ worth of philanthropic prize money. That's Google who travels around the world looking for the most socially impactful ideas to fund. And then, a range of high net worth, individual philanthropists came to the table to fund us and support us at the beginning. The pitch to them was that, different to most charities, if this works, we won't be coming back to you for more money, because to a point, typically in the charity sector, the way that you continue to fund your operation is through annual donations given from the public donors, foundations, philanthropists, etc. But in our case, we said if this works, Humanitix should be able to use your philanthropic money that you're giving us as seed capital to produce a ticketing platform that attracts enough event hosts, produces enough booking fees, and therefore can both fund itself and produce a big profit that we then give to our partner children's charities. And so, in that sense, it's a form of venture philanthropy, because we're saying to the donor, "With $100,000, we're not coming back to you for more, but we're hoping to leverage that $100,000 into millions of dollars every year from profit in booking fees that we're going to capture into children's charities," which is a whole new way to think of philanthropy, leverage, and sustainability in the charity sector.
Maiko Schaffrath 22:12
Love it, love it. Let's talk about some of the lessons learned in your journey. I'm always keen to cover lessons learned, especially for early stage founders that are listening to this. You are actually a first-time founder. This is the first company that you have started. I mean, any founder is constantly learning a million lessons and making a million mistakes and learning from it, and I'm sure there's loads that we could be talking about. You told me in preparation to this that one of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome was actually bootstrapping the organization, bootstrapping the business with your co-founder, Josh. You actually ended up with quite an interesting agreement where you were sharing Josh's salary to bootstrap the business. Tell us more about that.
Adam McCurdie 23:05
Yeah, that's right. The first lesson is find a really good co-founder. I don't know how solo founders do it. I'm still amazed. So much of my journey and what I've been grateful for is finding a phenomenal co-founder in Josh. We'd been friends for years, best friends, and we had similar ambitions to what we wanted to do with our careers and our lives and set up something like Humanitix. And so, we did. We both were working our jobs and trying to build and create Humanitix and pilot these types of businesses, this concept in our spare time outside of work. But naturally, we realized that this is not really going to give us the shot that we want. We need to focus on this full-time. The problem was that we wanted this to be a charity, so raising money at the beginning, was very, very difficult. We couldn't raise money. We didn't really want to raise money, because it would have been a philanthropist's dollar that we were terrified of wasting at that stage of the of the business. Instead, what we said was, "Well, okay, let me give up my job, give up my salary, and focus on Humanitix full-time," while at the same time, Josh would stay in his job, so that we could then share his salary and use additional funds to bootstrap and seed fund the beginnings of Humanitix. So, in that way, we'd be making the same financial sacrifice. It's just built on a hell of a lot of trust, and it allows one of us to focus on Humanitix full-time, which would give the organization a much better shot at being successful. Obviously, the challenge there is that this is on a handshake. We've been best friends for years, and the concern is that we're going to screw up one of the most beautiful friendships ever by, let alone getting into business, we're going to get into business on this hairy arrangement of sharing a salary. But we shared a salary for 16 months while we got Humanitix off the ground purely on a handshake, building a pilot ticketing platform, winning event hosts. It was 16 months later that, eventually, we had attracted so much success in the events ticketing industry, that Josh left his job to join me full-time. At that stage, we still hadn't raised any money, and we continued to build out the platform, continued to attract more event hosts. It was then maybe three, four months later, that the very first individual philanthropists saw what we were doing and said, "You guys have proven something very, very interesting here. I believe that if it scales and grows, this thing can do a hell of a lot of impact," and that's when we raised our first money. It was about two years into the journey that we that we raised our first dollar philanthropically.
Maiko Schaffrath 25:57
Just a really quick break from this episode to let you know a little bit more about our podcast producer and content agency, Content Multiplied. With all the moving pieces of a business, you can't be stuck managing and creating new content all the time. That's why I've started using Mhyla and her team at Content Multiplied. It's really an all-in-one content management and repurposing solution that can handle all your content needs. Visit them at contentmultiplied.com today. Contentmultiplied.com. Okay, let's get back to the episode. Well, there's two questions coming up from this. Let's cover the first one. You said you know Josh since high school, so I assume there wasn't a lot of trust there. He wasn't a random person you met at a startup event. I think that's probably a big reason why this worked. Did you ever have to fear that the friendship could suffer from this type of arrangement and how did you manage that, like moving from friends to co-founders and suddenly having financial dependency on each other?
Adam McCurdie 27:12
Right. The answer to your question, absolutely, there was a lot of fear that we'd screw up our friendship. It's a really good thing that we were friends, so that there's pre-existing trust and understanding of each other there. But on the other hand, there's a lot of risk in screwing up a really good friendship. And so, we had many, many conversations right at the beginning when we were taking the plunge for me to leave my job and us to start sharing a salary. We were very upfront about it. We said, "Look, the worst thing that could ever happen here is for us to lose our friendship. If we ever feel like that's happening, we need to communicate and be upfront with that and respect that and perhaps pull away from setting up Humanitix if it gets to that." But the other thing is, we set some pretty clear rules. The one was that if things are bugging someone, you must raise it early, you must raise it even immediately, and you must raise it directly to the person. So much of where trust breaks down in a relationship is where I might do something that upsets you or ticks you off, and you bottle it. And then, I keep doing that, because I'm not aware of it. Three months later, I then do something else. You might explode and say, "I'm just really upset about all these kinds of things, this thing that happened three months ago," and all that kind of stuff. We had a rule that if it ever happens, that's on you for bottling that. You can't bottle, something that you're upset about. Secondly, where you're directing your feedback needs to be directly back to the person. Often, that can be very difficult, even when it's small things, small, annoying things. They really add up over time, and that's what's important to raise early. But what we often do is instead of raising it directly to the person, we talk sideways, otherwise known as gossip. We have a big group of friends, which we're all part of. And so, one of the risks is that I'm doing something that's upsetting Josh or Josh is doing something that's upsetting me, and we're now telling our friends sideways or telling other people that we know sideways about the frustrations that we have with each other rather than going directly to the person, to me or Josh, to communicate what's bugging us. Once that happens where you talk sideways, that is the most destructive thing ever, because then now, the whole relationship and the trust is broken, because you're now trying to defend yourself about what the other person might have said or didn't say about you. We hit that right on the nail on the head. We have to be direct, clear, and immediate in our communication to each other, something that we've really upheld. I think that was a big part of why we were successful in such an arrangement with a handshake of splitting a salary. The second thing is that we recognize that things won't always be even in terms of contribution to Humanitix. At times, the business will be leaning more on my skills and more on my contributions, and I'll just be getting luckier and giving more to Humanitix. And then at other times, Josh will be giving more to Humanitix and getting lucky and the skills that Josh brings to the table are being used more by Humanitix at the time. It's easy to get upset with this type of arrangement, where one feels, "I'm giving more," or, "They're giving more," or, "It's not quite even," and just to acknowledge that straight up front, that this is going to be a journey that has peaks and troughs of contribution between us. But overall, we're incredibly passionate, we have a great work ethic, we have complementary skill sets, and we need to trust that over the long term, this is going to be roughly even in terms of what we contribute. Ultimately, who cares? We want to build this thing into being the most beautiful, impactful social enterprise and not get caught up in minutiae of petty arguments around who's done more or who's done less, which is another source of what we thought would be some pretty traditional angst in a co-founder relationship, particularly when we were sharing a salary and things are financially unstable.
Maiko Schaffrath 31:28
Back to a sharing a salary, it does require quite a lot of creativity, but also some conditions being met. First of all, that you both are able to live from one salary. That needs to be high enough to even be able to do that. I think in recent years, we've seen a lot of different new innovative models for funding startups and for allowing entrepreneurs to take the leap. There have been models like Entrepreneur First, for example, I don't know if you're familiar with that model, but where basically, you'll get a stipend for starting a company, so your living costs are covered for a few months, while they also help you find a co-founder. And then, if you're successful, you get actually the first investment and Entrepreneur First benefits from that. That's been a massive impact in a lot of countries where they are active now and starting companies, but that just works with the equity model where they benefit from you actually being successful in the long run. Do you think something like this is missing for nonprofits? Is there need for a new model of allowing people to start nonprofits like you did, even if they don't have access to their friend's salary or savings or a rich family?
Adam McCurdie 32:52
Yeah, a couple of things come to mind. One is that the way that we made it work on one salary, firstly, was that, and we were fortunate enough to be in this position to do so, we both moved back home with our parents. That was an incredibly humbling move to do that, but we wanted to make this work, and we were willing to sacrifice it. My girlfriend, who I'm actually about to marry in a month and a half from now, was my girlfriend back then, and incredibly understanding and supportive and just thought that this makes a lot of sense, making these kinds of sacrifices. We were both in the fortunate position that we had loving, supportive parents that we could move back home to albeit that's not a very sexy journey, but we were happy to do what it took to make it work. That's how we made it work on one salary. To answer part of your question of, is there an opportunity here for more capital to be going into nonprofit founders to have living expenses, etc., I do see some of it. There are things like the Meyer Innovation Fund and whatnot in Australia and some others here in America, but they're few and far between, and they're designed to ultimately listen to an entrepreneur who's got a nonprofit idea, and give them an amount of money that would be able for them to survive and seed fund the organization for six to 12 months, but they're very few and far between. I think that would be a very impactful way to do it. But also, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs. You find a way to make it work. There's that element as well, that there's fewer resources than we want to believe that are actually necessary. Most of the rest of it is a combination, as you would know, of luck and scrappiness and getting out there and giving enough things a go and giving it a try until a fit is found, and money plays a smaller part in that, I think, than we'd want to believe in those early days.
Maiko Schaffrath 35:08
Did you have that entrepreneurial energy in you all the time since childhood? Or do you feel like you had to learn a few entrepreneurial skills as well along the journey to be able to get where you are now?
Adam McCurdie 35:23
Definitely both. I've always had that entrepreneurial itch. I remember when I was at university and we're coming to graduation, and I'm just hearing murmurs about everyone just saying, "Just as long as I get the grades to pass and get a job, that's what I'm hoping for. Just as long as I get a job, I'm happy with the outcome of my degree." I remember hearing that and not realizing at the time, but that was very foreign to me. Of course, I wanted a job. Of course, I wanted to have an interesting career and fend for myself, but I was more interested in learning skills and seeing what I could make, or do, or create, or build, or something. I didn't quite have that same focus on, just find a job. That was the first time that I recognized probably I was a little bit different to many other people in my degree, which I was studying engineering at the time. To be honest, I think teaming up with Josh, teaming up with a good co-founder was so much of what gave me the oomph and the confidence to go for it. I'm very doubtful as to whether or not I would have actually had the stones to go at it myself and go at it completely alone, because I think that's a whole other level of entrepreneurialism. I want to think that I've got that. Maybe I've got that in myself, but I don't think I'm at that kind of level. And so, for me, personally, finding a really good co-founder, finding someone with complementary skills that gel, Josh has also got phenomenal entrepreneurial talents, and being able to work with each other and feed each other. It's so exciting when I'm working my ass off to try to get us wins and get lucky and all this kind of stuff, and I get into the dining room table, which is our office at that stage, and Josh comes in with a big grin on his face, and he's got this win and he said, "Oh my god. I met this person, and so and so, and now, we've got this and that." That really boosts you, and I couldn't imagine if I didn't have that, where occasionally, you get this Josh coming in with this big smile, and occasionally, I'm coming in with this big smile excited to share my news with Josh of something that I've brought that that can really help us win. I thought that was such a key part of the journey and why, still to this day, we're having so much fun doing what we're doing. It's not a lonely journey. I think that really matters, at least for my personality.
Maiko Schaffrath 38:02
Love it. So far, on that journey that you've been through, what has been the most difficult time for you? Has there been a defining moment for the business or challenging time? I mean, you went through COVID as well. So, I assume there's a lot of challenges around that with physical events not happening. What's been your biggest challenge so far and how did you overcome it?
Adam McCurdie 38:30
Yeah, definitely right up there is COVID, February, March of 2020. At the time, in January and February of 2020, Humanitix in Australia, New Zealand is exploding. Event hosts across the board are loving the product, they love our service, we're making all this impact, we're coming close to giving a million dollars a year of our profits into funding children's charities. That is when we successfully raise money to expand into the US. And so, myself and Josh travel to the US on the 27th of February of 2020. Now, we're looking at the different cities that we can perhaps set up our headquarters in and really sniffing it out of how we might go about this. We were supposed to stay in America for a month traveling East to West Coast. halfway through the trip, it's mid-March now, and the spread is happening. COVID is locking things down, and we decided to cut the trip short and quickly head home. We watched over the space of three days, Humanitix go from doing a fortune in events ticketing, now getting close to a million dollars of profits a year to charity to over a space of three days, dropping to zero and then going into negative revenue, because we're giving out more refunds in tickets than we're selling in tickets, and that was terrifying. You've now got lockdowns happening across the globe, and event hosts very uncertain. We've got thousands of event hosts on our platform who are very unsure of what to do. We've got this beautiful team that we've built that has the most phenomenal culture and filled with people that are passionate and part of our family and love what we do, and it was terrifying. We get home and repurpose our entire sales team into account management, because we said we've got thousands of event hosts right now that are seeking guidance, that are seeking support, real support at a time of complete uncertainty where they're watching their livelihoods go up in smoke. We need to help them with communication strategies, different strategies with maybe postponing the event, offering gift cards with our gift card feature, other ways to retain revenue, to see this out for however long the lockdowns last. But then, at the same time, we've got this issue with watching our balance sheet now shrink every week. You're thinking, "Well, how much runway do we have at zero ticket sales and how long does zero ticket sales continue? How long is this going to go for?," with just complete uncertainty, and that's terrifying. And so, luckily, we were able to reduce half of our team, including myself and Josh down to 80% salaries for a few months, keeping the entire team together, giving a fortune of love to all of our event hosts to help them during a tough time. And then, things started to open up. The industry started to return. Live events started to come back. By the end of 2020, our ticket sales were ahead of where they were pre-COVID, and that was because word then started to spread that Humanitix was treating its event hosts with all of this love and helping them with refund strategies. We were refunding our booking fees when they were giving refunds to not leave a sting in their attendees’ mouth. Whereas we found out that other ticketing platforms were reneging on payment terms and really putting on the lawyer hat when dealing with their event hosts and just firing thousands of staff, so the event host who used to be dealing with somebody had no one left to deal with, completely left and exposed on their own. And so, word then spread that that's how we handled ourselves in the pandemic, which was terrifying when it first hit in 2020, and that then led to us having all of these event hosts saying, "I've actually been looking at you guys for a couple of years right now, loving what you're doing. But I'm ready to switch now, because, yeah, I got burned bad, and I heard the way that you responded and behaved in a very difficult time." Obviously, then, with the delta wave and whatever, there's been some wobbles. But we're far ahead of where we were pre-COVID and continued with the engineering team to continue to build out the platform to make it continually get better and better for live events on the assumption that live events would come back. Thankfully, we were right, because as it turns out, people are really craving to have a good time together and have a shared experience, which is beautiful to see.
Maiko Schaffrath 43:29
Big kudos for you for mastering that so well. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been during that period. We don't have much time left. A very quick question as the last question is, if you imagine the world and 10 years from now, how does the world look like if Humanitix succeeds? If you continue to succeed, how does the world look like?
Adam McCurdie 43:51
I think the world looks like a place that people understand that there are other ways to adopt capitalism in a more compassionate sense. We can have a more compassionate form of capitalism that we can still continue to make money and build things and live the thrilling life of trying to run a business and grow a startup, but at the same time, find more equitable ways where the huge upside of a company's success in a capitalist market leads to not just success of the people in the organization, but also to the lifting of the floor through which no one should be able to fall through. I think with successes in 10 years of platforms like Humanitix and businesses like Humanitix, hopefully, that will be a great example for others to follow and copy which we're already starting to see, which is great, in other industries, where you think, "Well, hang on a minute. How important are shareholder values and wealth in the grand scheme of things?" It's not the be all and end all of the capitalist engine. It's just one aspect, but it doesn't have to be everything.
Maiko Schaffrath 45:03
Amazing. Thank you, Adam, so much for sharing your journey, for being vulnerable, for sharing the challenges and your amazing mission. Thanks very much for sharing that all of us and really good to connect with you. Thanks, Adam.
Adam McCurdie 45:17
Likewise, thank you. Appreciate it.