event online isn’t a great experience. Sites like Ticketmaster are the default, but are difficult to use and expensive. A startup called Lea wants to offer a more modern experience by combining event search, discovery, seat selection and payment all in a single application that works right in Facebook Messenger.

Yes, that’s right — Lea is a chatbot.

And while bots haven’t had the warmest reception as of yet, they’re increasingly becoming a common way for consumers to interact with apps and brands. But in the case of Lea, the chatbot-style interface may actually work better than using a ticketing website or dedicated app, like Ticketmaster’s.

According to Lea’s CEO Brian Canty, the original idea — back when the company was known as Ticktate — was to offer a concierge-like application for buying event tickets. Similar to Postmates, the company would send people to the box office to buy tickets on users’ behalf. But this idea didn’t scale, Canty explains. It was expensive and the box offices themselves pushed back because of their deep ties to Ticketmaster.

When the company joined 500 Startups in 2016, it was still self-funded, and in search of a model that worked. That is, one that still made it to find and buy event tickets while offering users the feel of the “high-touch, hand-holding” experience they seemed to like from before, says Canty.

Initially, Lea tried building a bot that used natural language processing (NLP, which understands language) to aid with users’ inquires about tickets. But after six months of testing, the team found that the technology on its own wasn’t matching up to user expectations.

“We decided to pull out all the NLP and just take advantage of the Facebook platform to build something that accompanies the fan throughout the full journey of going to an event,” explains Canty. “Everything from discovery — we pull in their Spotify information, suggest events based on their location and what their friends like — to a chat extension, Facebook’s feature for allowing people to chat in a group with a bot and make purchases,” he says.

The bot today works only with Spotify, but the company aims to support Apple Music and SoundCloud in time.

It offers users the ability to search for specific artists, bands and concerts, or they can leverage Lea’s discovery mechanisms to stay informed of events they may like. Every week, Lea pushes out an update with around five suggested events and then tracks those you click to improve its future recommendations.

When you find an event you like, you can make the purchase right from Messenger or your Messenger group chat, without leaving the app.

Every step the user takes in Lea is guided by the bot using prompts, but Lea hopes to add NLP back in to augment the experience in the future.

As for the ticket prices, they’re market-based. Lea — like StubHub, SeatGeek, GameTime and others — works with third-party ticket exchanges, which price tickets based on their current value. That is, if the event is sold out, they may be higher than the box office; if it’s not, they may be lower. Like competitors, it offers a large database of around 20 million+ tickets.

But Lea is hoping to sell consumers on the convenience of the chatbot experience, not necessarily by offering the absolute lowest ticket prices. That will depend on consumer adoption of chatbots in general, which is still a risky bet.

It also hopes to entice users by offering the full end-to-end experience in a single place.

“If you think about a typical ticketing company, discovery is done off-platform — like a Songkick or Bandsintown,” notes Canty. With Lea, the app starts with discovery, lets people plan in group chat as usual, then facilitates the purchase. “But after the purchase, there’s a lot that can still be done in the digital format — things that can be value-adds,” he says.

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Lea has a lot of plans in that area. It aims to generate revenue with third-party integrations for things like concessions, parking and merchandise sales in future versions, for example. (Today it only takes a 20 percent cut of ticket sales, so it needs more revenue streams.) It also wants to work with more platforms, like Slack, Telegram, WhatsApp, iMessage and SMS, voice platforms and others.

Though it’s still early, Lea is seeing some traction, notes Canty.

As of the third week in December 2017, the company had sold $500,000 worth of tickets and has grown to 23,000 users. At one point, almost half the users were repeat customers. (But this isn’t always the case — not everyone goes to concerts all the time, so repeat usage needs to be measured over a longer period of time.)

To aid with its development, Lea recently closed on $600,000 in angel funding from a number of notable investors.

The list includes Danny Zhang, CTO of Wish; Haroon Mirza, GP of Skyrocket Ventures, investor in SnapTravel; Vito Bialla, Bialla Ventures, investor in Freshly; Chun Han, director of Data Science at Yahoo!; Jeanne Lim, CMO of Hanson Robotics (creators of Sophia Bot); Hao Zheng, CEO of Plus.; and Seth Flowerman, investor in Ticketbis.

The app is available here for Facebook Messenger.



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