Insight: Keep yourself alive

Mark Farrugia and Stefan Debattista, founders of ShowsHappening.com and ShopShape

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Stefan Debattista, co-founder of the successful ticketing website ShowsHappening.com opens up about the freefall that their company is in and new opportunities they are trying to create.

ShowsHappening is the culmination of 8 years of dedication to the product that my business partner Mark Farrugia and I built and to our customers that use it.  We started small, focusing on non seated events, and went from strength to strength by consistently iterating. Over the years ShowsHappening was entrusted with the ticketing for some of Malta’s biggest events including The Phantom of the Opera, Malta Eurovision, Michael Mc Intryre, X-Factor, Bla Kondixin, Joseph Calleja and Andrea Bocelli concerts among the others. Remember that life?

Two years ago, in January 2019 I was working remotely in Bali after a positive 2018 year: 917 events listed, 340,942 unique visits, 1,857,206 page views and 107,953 tickets. 

We grew our team from two to four by adding a front end developer and a designer to our payroll and spent the year continuing to improve our product based on our clients’ needs.

One year ago I was also working remotely in Bali after another great 2019 year: 1,094 events, 500,971 unique visits, 2,752,155 page views and 229,566 tickets. 

Bali? What are you talking about? Isn’t this The Malta Business Weekly?

The sudden rush for the world to embrace remote work is at least a blessing in disguise. We have always been firm believers in the freedom to work from wherever you like. And Bali is the best place in the world for it. The island offers vibes and co-working spaces unlike any you’ve heard of before along with nature, surfing, tropical weather, and a startup and digital culture. A route that I always wonder why Malta did not venture down instead of mainly sticking to the gaming industry.

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Working on the X Factor seating plan at Dojo Coworking in Bali

Back in Bali I remember sitting on a roof terrace, Bintang in hand, chatting with Mark about COVID-19 hoping that no events would be cancelled. 

Here we are, one year of COVID later and this time I am not in Bali. 2020 was a terrible year and the first time we made a significant loss after year-on-year gains. Our saved cash won’t last much longer. We are in survival mode. Mass events were the first to shut down, and will be the last to open up. 

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We are doing our best to ride out the wave and use our time to focus on our product. We’ve reduced our salaries and are happy to be receiving the wage supplement, however, this is not enough to stop the bleeding. 

New ShowsHappening Front End

Since we don’t have many ongoing events we have been able to use our time to rebuild the entire front end of our website, and thanks to the great job by our development team, ShowsHappening got a fresh new look in the first week of 2021 including many new features and a blog which will contain stories, news and posts about the event industry in Malta.

Socially Distanced tickets

A few organisers are finding ways to host events that adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. Either in small groups or by socially distancing and limiting the audience. We’ve helped by releasing features to allow customers to easily pick dates and time-slots, and for the organisers to easily manage these bookings. This feature was used by G7 Events in their very successful Magic Illuminated Trail and is now available to use when setting up an event on our platform.

We also developed an algorithm to ensure social distancing is maintained when selecting audience seats. This feature is being used for one of the first major events of the year despite this difficult time. From April 17 until May 11, the InClassica International Music Festival will take place in Valletta, featuring over three weeks of consecutive evening concerts at the Mediterranean Conference Centre and Teatru Manoel, welcoming leading classical musicians from around the world. 

New Customers

Since there aren’t many events at the moment we are onboarding new types of clients in Malta and Gozo that organise travel, sports and recreational activities and classes such as Ferry Rides, Tourist Tours, Windsurfing, Surfing, Abseiling, Dancing, Yoga etc. These types of listings can make use of the daily time-slots that we built for The Magic Illuminated Trail.

ShopShape

During the year we also had a few requests from friends and clients asking about whether we could build their online shop. We decided to embark on a new project to help shops go online by building a new system for retail, using our experience in the ticketing space.  We have also applied for some Malta Enterprise support measures. 

ShopShape (www.inshopshape.com) is designed for retail businesses – from vintage clothes to grocery stores – to set up a professional online shop with no upfront costs or development time. Businesses can sign up, add their shop inventory and branding and start selling to customers through their website instantly.  ShopShape was launched in December 2020 and we are now onboarding our first clients to open the first shops. 

There’s a brand new day on the horizon

Although we are trying, the fact of the matter remains that the event industry that we built our company on is currently having an extremely difficult time, as are we. We can only hope that our conservative, debt free approach together with some help from the government will be enough to get us through these difficult times.

We’ve entered a brand new year. Covid-19 vaccines have not only been approved by the European Medicines Agency, but are being disseminated and administered as we speak. In the words of Queen and Elvis Presley: ‘Keep yourself alive,’ ‘There’s a brand new day on the horizon’.

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