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Q&A time with SeatPlan

by maria

Leading theatre tickets platform SeatPlan announced its 10-year anniversary earlier this month.

Considering its decade of success, we asked Founder, Ben Jackson to share his insights on this innovative, digital platform, its greatest achievements and what’s next for the growing business.

Tell us more about SeatPlan. What problems does it solve for theatre-lovers?

Founded in 2011, SeatPlan was established to help customers find the best seats for theatres and events across the UK. Theatregoers can use its interactive seating plans to browse thousands of reviews and photos of the view from different seats, all provided by real people.

SeatPlan also sells tickets to theatregoers, using multiple ticket suppliers to provide customers with the best prices and availability. Users have uploaded 75,000 seat view photos since its launch and the site now has 175,000 customers to its name.

How is it unique?

SeatPlan exists to give theatregoers more information about theatre seats than anywhere else. Theatregoers have always been asked to buy tickets blind without really understanding what view they will have until the night when they sit in their seat! Back in 2011, this seemed crazy to me and the same holds true now. You wouldn’t spend £200 on a hotel for a night without checking reviews and photos, so why should it be different when spending a similar amount on a pair of theatre seats?

The platform is also unique in that we offer financial incentives to our customers. SeatPlan Rewards enables consumers to upload photos of their seating arrangement when visiting a theatre, which they can trade for digital theatre vouchers.

We have already given away £35k worth of vouchers to our users since the scheme began, with the most rewarded user receiving £370 in vouchers.

How did you come up with the concept?

I entered the theatre industry by accident. I was looking for an opportunity after my last business (an affiliate-based hotel and holiday booking site called diytravel.co.uk) was battered by the 2008 financial crisis and recession. A chap in my office building described how theatre ticketing worked and gave me some pointers and inspiration for my first business concept. That conversation set me on my way.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face setting up and running your own business?

One of the biggest challenges is when you hire new team members and things don’t work out. You put a lot of time, energy and money into recruitment and it’s disappointing when you have to start again.

The impact of COVID on event-based businesses like ours was, of course, absolute. The entire industry closed; revenue went to zero. Two senior members of staff found new positions, we had to shed our office and I went through every expense, as we had to streamline the business.

However, there were some positives from the pandemic for me both personally and professionally. After the clean-up, it gave me a lot of 2020 off work which was handy as my son was a lockdown baby!

With the free time away from selling tickets we took the opportunity to rebuild our seating plan technology to handle complex venue layouts and bigger venues, all the way up to stadiums. We now have the best online seating plans for London theatre and are ready to expand to big venues and the USA.

What are some of your best moments?

The best moments are when you realise you have put together a winning team and see friendships form within it. And when we get feedback from users that they love what we do and the more random feedback that comes when we (the team) mention that we work at SeatPlan and the person we are talking to has used the site and loved it!

Another personal highlight for me was going from close to £0 in the bank after diytravel.co.uk and turning an idea in an industry I knew nothing about into a business that helps 400,000 theatregoers each month. And doing it all organically without external funding.

Any tips for those with a new business idea and how to make it a success?

Be prepared for highs and lows. There will be difficult times but remember to stay true to your vision and values. Identifying where processes can be streamlined, automated or even removed where possible will be a valuable time-saver, allowing you to focus on organisation, planning and execution.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will always learn something useful from them and ultimately, build better business expertise in the process.

What are some of the new business trends you expect to see next year?

I am hoping for the return of tourism from summer 2022 and the restoration of city life. I think the return will be partial and protracted, so many of us have become so used to WFH and staying in, that we are entrenched in it. But having watched The Book Of Mormon 2 nights ago in London, I can say that getting out is worth the effort.

Finally, what are your goals for 2022?

SeatPlan’s tenth year brought with it plenty of exciting developments and we’re planning to build on these in 2022. We will continue to fine-tune the website experience. There are always areas to improve and tweaks to be made, so our customers get the best possible experience.

In 2021, SeatPlan finished upgrading all its London seating plans, they are now the most accurate available online. We launched new show pages this year with a seat view tool that allows users to see all photos from seat for the chosen show. Users can filter by section and row and get an impression of distance to stage quickly. Any seat they like can be booked.

In 2022, we will begin adding even more complex venues to our platform including the O2 and Royal Albert Hall. Not only this, but we are finally expanding to seat plans for U.S. theatres – starting with New York- to help U.S.-based theatregoers book the best seats.

Find out more about the latest shows and how to book the best theatre ticket deals through SeatPlan here

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