At the end of May, StubHub, a subsidiary of Ebay, bought the Spanish online ticket resale startup –founded in 2009 by Jon Uriarte and Ander Michelena– for 165 million dollars.
A least two months have passed since the sale of their company, Ticketbis, for 165 million dollars. Curiously, it was sold to the American company from whom they copied the idea in 2009. Is this the closing of the circle? "Yes, it could be". Ander Michelena apologizes for calling just a few minutes after the time agreed for the telephone interview. He talks like someone whose feet are firmly on the ground, in spite of having just closed a sale of such colossal proportions.
He says this year has been very hard –a year of negotiations in which only a small group of people inside the Spanish ticket resale company were aware of the interest of StubHub, a subsidiary of the global internet auction giant Ebay, in the Spanish startup.
“People just didn't understand why we weren't launching any new ideas. We told them we had to wait, without going into much detail, and they didn't understand anything. There were moments of real tension. There was also tension between the employees and within the small group that knew about the negotiations, including Jon Uriarte, his partner and the co-founder of the company.
The first offer from StubHub totally failed to convince the two Basque entrepreneurs, who had founded Ticketbis after meeting at Vitoria airport after a weekend of festivities. “My father drove me to the airport and in the terminal he stopped to say hello to someone who was also there to drop off his son. That's how I met Jon, who" –he says, laughing– " worked in the same bank as me in England, in Morgan Stanley. We'd never come across each other in London –there are thousands of people working in the bank–and we met in Vitoria thanks to our fathers”.
That was the start of the friendship that led them both to return to the Basque Country and set up the ticket resale platform. Six years later they've sold it.
What has changed in the Spanish startup ecosystem in these last years? Michelena sees many positive aspects: “In 2009 entrepreneurship was practically non-existent. There were very few entrepreneurs, but now events like IN3 serve to stimulate interesting projects, and we're beginning to see an investment ecosystem thanks to business angels. The market situation is another factor, as there's so much volatility in the stock exchange that people are looking for alternative investments, which has had benefits for venture capital. There’s also now increased access to VC by public funds”.
Michelena highlights the arrival of “the second generation of entrepreneurs, who are hungry for success and are reinventing the ecosystem. We're seeing a feedback attractor effect, and there's money out there”. Money was the stumbling block in the first offer from the Ebay subsidiary. The US giant, from whom they copied the model of online purchase and sale of tickets, contacted the Basque entrepreneurs, and had to make a second offer to convince them.
“They were very interested, as we provide service in 47 countries and have a turnover of around 100 million dollars”, says the entrepreneur, who claims that “you often don't need to have a brilliant idea –you can take an existing model and just do it yourself. The way you do it is the key to success”.
With regard to the controversy surrounding their model of ticket resale –there are complaints about the high prices sometimes paid–, he says: “There is no controversy. The resale is legal –the users agree on the price and the only thing we do is facilitate the sale between users by putting the two parties in contact with each other. The price is fixed by the buyer and seller and the law of the market”.
What are the company's best and worst moments? “Hmm… Being an entrepreneur is a rollercoaster. I remember the first sale, when we could finally breathe again after we saw that it all worked, and the first contact with the company that finally bought us. And the feeling of failure when we saw the first offer. The negotiation was very tough”, says the entrepreneur.
So what now? “Both Jon and I are under contract to stay on three more years at Ticketbis. We're looking to see how we can organize the work of our team with the new team in San Francisco. I don't want to think about the future”, he says.
When asked if he's seen any attractive international companies lately that could work in Spain, he says nothing springs to mind, but he looks to the future with optimism. “We're 15 years behind Silicon Valley but that's only normal. The good news is that every day we're nearer Berlin, London and Paris. We'll soon catch up with them”, he concludes.