A Comedy Platform? Why it didn’t work (and probably never will)
On Thursday, May 26th, I went on stage screaming and claiming I was going to change the comedy world and even called it a revolution!
Last weekend, only 4 months later, I already decided to pull the plug on said project.
During a 30-minute keynote, I brought attention to a platform I just launched: Alegrify (the comedy network).
The platform basically intended to solve three main problems related to the comedy scene:
- People are not able to find comedy shows
- Venues aren’t getting the audience they should
- Artists (comedians) need more recognition
This project actually goes way back. The first code I pushed was on February 16th, 2021. Back then, the project (as well as the website) was called “expat.barcelona”. The intention was to show events, as well as other things to do for ex-pats in Barcelona. I wrote a more technical blog about this website some time ago.
When starting the website, I ran into a first major problem: how do I get comedy or poetry shows on there? I just became active in the comedy scene in Barcelona and desperately wanted to know about more shows. This information was a nightmare to get. It was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Some comedians would post about their show as a story on their own Instagram, and that was it. It felt like they didn’t even want some audience at their shows.
Around the same time, I started a WhatsApp group for ex-pats in Barcelona to find events. This was an easy way to start marketing some of the shows. I would follow comedians on Instagram myself, and whenever they shared about a show on their personal Insta, I would try to find the RSVP/ticket link and send it as a message to the group.
This became very time-consuming, so I decided to automate things a bit. I wrote a little web scraper, that could get the information of an event page (usually Entradium at the time) and automatically generated the images that could then easily be sent through WhatsApp.
I called the tool “Ostrich”, which architecture laid the ground for what later would become Alegrify. I started using the information that was added through Ostrich, and started also listing shows on expat.barcelona, which later became event.barcelona.
Once I told some comedians/organizers about Ostrich at the time, there was no interest. From what I understood, things were fine as they were and why would people need to put extra effort, when things currently work?
The WhatsApp group and event.barcelona had a slight success, but I needed a larger reach. How can I market this and engage more people? I found out that the domain englishcomedyinbarcelona.com, which was previously owned by some comedians, was available for sale.
There was already a Facebook page and other social media linking to this website, so this seemed a great opportunity and I bought the domain. Not long after, the original owner of the domain showed himself, and that led to some arguments. In the end, he let me use the domain (I mean, I legitimately bought it 🤷) since it would help the community.
To make my life a bit easier, I started to double down on the web scraper. I started supporting more types of ticketing websites, as well as scraping lists of events. That way I could automatically start following comedians’ shows since they didn’t want to do the effort of adding the links themselves.
The website started to gain more and more content and got more and more views. However, this was just a simple page that links to other pages. It was just showing scraped data. It didn’t seem very valuable to me and I needed more to make it a real success.
During the lifetime of this project, I switched from a static site to a fully dynamic web app. This way, I opened the door for more features and innovation, but this also drove up the cost. Luckily at the time, Shopify gave me 100 USD in Google Cloud credits for “free time/hobby projects”. That’s how in the first months, I didn’t actually spend money.
I needed something bigger, to provide actual value and eventually make money. So I thought. That’s why I decided to reuse a name of a mental health app I built once (Alegrify) and use it for a new “comedy network”. That way I wasn’t limited to just showing shows in Barcelona. I could list shows, comedians, and jokes,… and in theory, make them accessible all over the world.
I started listing profiles for famous comedians. I created pages for venues, and respectively list their shows. I started building connections between comedians, venues, and shows. At this point, all data was basically still coming from other sources, which caused a huge pain. The providers of ticketing that I was dealing with had at times very poor SEO, which made it for me nearly impossible to get all info properly.
Also, the content written by showrunners was at times very poor. It wouldn’t list the names of comedians most of the time, and some shows would have different pricing in the description than on the page. The amount of data-related issues I ran into was surreal.
I started playing around with artificial intelligence and leveled up the scraper to try to identify which of the information was correct. I didn’t give up!
I started merging information if the show was described on multiple platforms… I didn’t give up!
One time, I even tried to run image recognition algorithms on comedians’ Instagram stories in an attempt to figure out which names were on posters of shows. That obviously didn’t work, but I didn’t give up!
I didn’t give up until I did…
Somewhere around the end of 2021, I decided that it was no use. Why did I have to put all this effort into something none of the performers seemed to care about anyway? Sure, there was some audience that wanted to know about shows, but it shouldn’t be this hard to get the information.
That’s how I decided to shut down Alegrify only shortly after building it, to then slowly go into my yearly “end of the year depression”.
“Can you build us a website?”
In January of 2022, the comedy clubhouse in Barcelona just reopened in a new location. One of the owners asked me if I could build them a website. I was immediately thinking back to the venue pages on Alegrify and asked him what he needed. The needs seemed to be similar to what I built earlier and proposed they use my platform for their website, so I could keep it free as long as I was working on the platform.
That was my first mistake. There was no contract, no promise of pay ever, no proper agreements. We agreed on “it will be free as long as the platform is unstable”. But how long is that? What is stable?
I brought Alegrify back to life and started to add a possibility to run parts of the platform as a fundament for the bar’s website: thecomedyclubhouse.es
Due to the overengineered web scraper I already had, shows would automatically be added to their website, no matter which ticketing platform is being used.
“Can you build me a website?”
At the beginning of the year, a comedian came up to me, asking if I could make him a website. I thought that if I played my cards right, I could also get him to use the platform and reuse components to build him and potentially many more portfolio websites.
That way, I would have the comedians on my platform and they would provide me with user-generated content. This seemed way more valuable than scraped content.
So, I agreed but explained the situation. I was working on a platform and he could use it as an advantage for his website.
Now that I was starting to get users, I needed to figure a way out to make the platform valuable, or in other words, how would I ever make money with this?
I explored many options, but nothing seemed to make a lot of sense
One way I could make money would be to ask bars for a monthly fee. The idea was to have multiple bars use the same product, and that way, I would be able to cover the costs, which were going up rapidly.
However, I was only going to be able to do that once I had a proper product that multiple bars could use.
Another way I explored, was to charge a premium fee to comedians. Premium features would’ve included a web domain, more themes, and more advanced features.
Unfortunately, I never reached a level of quality where comedians actively used these pages, even for free
Ads were another way, but I was very hesitant as it could scare visitors away, as well as ads don’t generate that much anymore due to adblockers and ad blindness.
I wanted a high-quality service, not one that would be completely filled with ads.
Commission on tickets
I would’ve loved to make better integrations with existing ticketing platforms such as Eventbrite. I was even hoping to one day take a commission on their sales. I was leading visitors to their checkout in the end, no?
Unfortunately, at the time, most of the shows were on Entradium, a platform with tons of ads and close to no third-party integrations. Of course that also led to them being significantly cheaper than e.g. Eventbrite, which was why many preferred their services.
The most promising idea I had, was to allow businesses, and organizers,… to book comedians through the platform. That way I was going to be able to charge a commission on those bookings and pay the bills for the rest of the platform.
You don’t wanna work with me? Fine! I’ll compete against you
Since I had many problems with data integrations AND needed a way to monetize, I decided to build my own ticketing platform. That way I could take a commission on tickets that were sold through the platform.
It also allowed me to create a seamless experience for users, where they could buy tickets immediately, without leaving the comedy clubhouse website. This would, from my perspective, drive up sales.
The bar agreed that they would use my ticketing system, and that way I could cover some of my costs. They did however ask me to charge a similar fee as Entradium marketed at the time: 1%.
The ridiculous fun of making money
Making money online, at least in a legitimate way, is way harder than it seems. You need a business, or at least a tax number. Everything I did up till this point, I did as a hobby. Now things were starting to get real.
In order to receive the money, you also need a payment gateway. To get to this “1% requirement” seemed impossible. Stripe for example charged 1.4% + 0.25 EUR per transaction (+ possible extra costs for some payment methods). I looked into many many many other options but always came back to Stripe as their service was great, met all my expectations, and were actually one of the cheapest that wanted to provide services to me.
But Stripe’s transaction costs were already larger than 1%, so I decide to sell myself a ticket on several ticketing platforms. This is how I found out that most ticketing services charge way more than they advertise. This is because
- Most of the time payment gateway transaction costs are not included
- Taxes are not included
- You need to meet special requirements to actually fall into that category of pricing. (e.g. from XXX %)
Even after all of that, Entradium was in some cases of small amounts of money, still cheaper than my transaction costs.
I went back to the bar with all this information, explained to them in a spreadsheet how much they would pay in costs in each scenario, and promised them to only take 1% myself (which later changed as transaction costs depended on multiple factors), and forward we went…
At this time, I was rebuilding similar functionality that WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix had already in their services for a long time. Adding ticketing, I also felt that I was building an alternative to EventBrite, but I wanted to keep it simple: only focussing on one scenario and only for comedy shows.
However, then the market kicks in, and your consumers start yelling at you. “The other system had recurring events, I need this”. “There are so many bugs”. “I need this feature”. “How do you achieve this?”. “Have you thought about discounts?”
That was only on the ticketing side. Then people also needed more features and fixes on their portfolio websites.
At the beginning of the summer, I started to get so many complaints and requests that I decided to quit my full-time job and work on this project full-time. When these many people are this engaged, that’s a good thing. Right? Right? Right?
Live Comedy App
Since I still wasn’t attracting enough audience for the shows, I decided to create a new app: the live comedy app. I reused the existing services to show comedy shows in major cities around the world.
I noticed that the art festival Fringe in Edinburgh received a lot of complaints for not having an app. This was a golden opportunity. I made sure to list all comedy shows at the Fringe and promoted the app as a guide to see all comedy shows at said festival.
After only a few shares on social media, someone started threatening me. I didn’t use the API he wanted me to use and therefore warned me that it would be taken offline. Since I didn’t take a random internet troll too seriously, he filed a legal complaint to the App Store to get the app removed.
Although the data that the API was serving was exactly the same and although he himself didn’t own the data and although everything I did was as far as I know completely legal, I still decided to remove all the data and started obtaining it manually instead, for the sake of argument. I was only adding shows of comedians who filled in a form themselves. This of course largely reduced how many shows I could display as well as the potential interest in the app.
During the festival, I gained around 500 installs, but the app was specifically built for the festival. I started adding city listings and made more and more improvements. One month after the festival, I made an app where people could find shows, buy tickets, tip comedians, and so on.
I still love the app, but ever since the Fringe festival ended, more people uninstalled the app than the new installs I reached. This is mainly because they might not be living in the cities that I’m covering.
Now we’re several months later. The platform became bigger and bigger, but the number of users didn’t go up a lot.
I created a monster that is almost an alternative for EventBrite, Wordpress, and a bunch of other services combined, with the difference it only has half of the functionality and half of the quality of those existing platforms.
I’m in a situation where I need to maintain services that are usually maintained by thousands of people. I’m on my own. Everything depends on me. Handing over became impossible now, as everything depends on me. I did everything by myself.
Every day, new problems arise that I have to fix. Some are related to the product, some are related to GDPR, and some are related to legal obligations in running a business. I need to solve all the problems, while not even having half of the information or skillset.
I’m making “around 1%” on ticketing, which right now drives 20 EUR/month in revenue. My costs are hundreds of euros a month PLUS I need to pay myself as I quit my full-time job.
Investors are nowhere to be found. I never found that business partner I was looking for. My personal savings keep on draining.
When I compare the bar website that uses my software to a template on Wix, I like the Wix template more…
I’m pulling the plug. Again. I need some rest. Having a regular job doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
- As a tech startup, which is what I intended to become, you have to focus on one service, that can help a lot of people. I offered many services, some of which never even properly helped one person.
- I CAN NOT do this on my own!
- Change takes time. Not everyone is immediately open to innovation.
- Comedy is a very complicated market. There are lots of complexities and people want different things.
- You should always listen to your consumer, but also be a skeptic if your solution would work for another consumer.
- Be straightforward about your pricing. If people feel it’s too much, maybe they're not the right consumer.
- Be conscious about what you can deliver and think about how you will maintain those services.