Small tech com­pany rein­vents it­self af­ter pan­demic out­break

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - AMANDA STEPHENSON astephen­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/aman­damsteph

A Calgary tech com­pany whose rev­enues evap­o­rated in the wake of COVID-19 has avoided mass layoffs by piv­ot­ing to an en­tirely new busi­ness model.

Show­pass, an on­line event tick­et­ing plat­form, was one of this city’s most promis­ing tech­nol­ogy firms prior to the pan­demic. With 50 em­ploy­ees work­ing out of its Ram­say head­quar­ters in south­east Calgary, the com­pany had been look­ing for­ward to a ma­jor ex­pan­sion and hir­ing spree in 2020.

“We were grow­ing triple dig­its year over year, which was ob­vi­ously re­ally great for our size of a busi­ness,” said CEO Lu­cas Mccarthy.

“We did a pretty sub­stan­tial fundrais­ing round last year, fin­ished it up in De­cem­ber, and we broke records in Jan­uary, broke records in Fe­bru­ary, and we were on track to break records in March.”

But COVID-19 pub­lic health restric­tions and the can­cel­la­tion of pub­lic events and gath­er­ings brought the Show­pass win­ning streak to an abrupt end. Nearly overnight, the com­pany ’s earn­ings evap­o­rated.

“We re­al­ized that for the next six to 12 months, there will be zero rev­enue,” Mccarthy said. “That’s a re­ally tough thing to grasp and un­der­stand af­ter you’ve been build­ing this great busi­ness for so long.”

De­cid­ing that layoffs were “not an op­tion,” the Show­pass ex­ec­u­tive team looked to reimag­ine their busi­ness. They con­sid­ered mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios — in­clud­ing get­ting into the food de­liv­ery busi­ness — be­fore ul­ti­mately set­tling on their new plat­form, an on­line mar­ket­place that con­nects ta­lent with fans and sup­port­ers in a vir­tual set­ting.

The new plat­form is de­signed specif­i­cally for the phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing era, and seeks to ad­dress the pent-up hunger for so­cial­iza­tion as well as artists’ and per­form­ers’ need to find new ways to make money in the ab­sence of in-per­son events. Via the new Show­pass site, coun­try music artists like Aaron Pritch­ett and Ge­orge Canyon are of­fer­ing up pri­vate on­line con­certs for sale. Top Chef Canada win­ners are of­fer­ing vir­tual cook­ing classes, while the head som­me­lier from the Ritz-carl­ton ho­tel chain is sell­ing on­line, in-home guided wine tast­ings. There are also co­me­di­ans of­fer­ing pri­vate “liv­ing room par­ties,” as well as tour guides of­fer­ing vir­tual tours of the African sa­vanna and other ex­otic lo­cales.

Ex­pe­ri­ences are priced ei­ther per per­son or per group, and the money goes to the per­former; Show­pass gets a cut of all rev­enues earned. When you pur­chase an ex­pe­ri­ence, you can in­vite friends and fam­ily to con­nect vir­tu­ally and make it a group event. The site of­fers pur­chasers a chance to browse all the ex­pe­ri­ences on of­fer, as well as a way for per­form­ers and hosts to cre­ate their own event for sale.

Mccarthy said the Show­pass de­ci­sion to rein­vent it­self was “dras­tic,” but the com­pany had lit­tle choice. Many of the ex­ist­ing COVID-19 re­lief pro­grams un­veiled by govern­ment so far don’t make sense for tech com­pa­nies, whose needs are dif­fer­ent than bricks-and-mor­tar busi­nesses.

“A lot of the com­pa­nies that aren’t in tech are prob­a­bly a lot bet­ter off than us, hon­estly,” Mccarthy said. “But we got to have one of the most crazy, unique brain­storm­ing ses­sions I think we’ll ever have the op­por­tu­nity to have. How many com­pa­nies get to go to their staff and say, ‘If we were to start a busi­ness from scratch to­day, what would that busi­ness be?’”

Mccarthy said the fact that Show­pass has been able to pivot so quickly demon­strates the po­ten­tial of Al­berta’s sec­tor and the role it could play in an even­tual eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

“It’s easy to see a 50-per­son com­pany and say, ‘Oh, they’re not that big,’” he said. “But we can move re­ally quickly and scale quickly. You just can’t do that with as­set-based busi­nesses. So if we want to re­cover as an econ­omy, the quick­est way to do that is to sup­port our tech sec­tor.”

JIM WELLS

CEO Lu­cas Mccarthy says Show­pass’s dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion dur­ing the pan­demic shows how quickly tech com­pa­nies can pivot.

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