Ben Sebborn is co-founder and director of Skiddle, an event discovery and ticketing company that he set up at university alongside fellow co-founder and director Richard Dyer.
We found out what he gets up to in a typical day, why he believes in long walks and downtime, and why he looks to other sectors to find out how they’re pushing the boundaries with new technology.
(As always, check out the Econsultancy jobs board if you’re looking for a change of scene)
Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?
Ben Sebborn: I’m the CTO and co-founder of Skiddle – we’re an event discovery and ticketing service. My role is looking after the technical aspects of Skiddle, including the website, mobile apps and business systems that lie behind it. I’m also heavily involved in looking after our team of 45 staff.
E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
BS: I sit at the top of the company, alongside Richard Dyer, my co-founder.
E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
BS: Much of my job is about problem solving. Being an innovative, tech first company, many of the problems we (or the event promoters we work with) encounter may not have been solved before using technology. We’re essentially a marketplace, between event organisers running events and
customers who want to discover and buy tickets, so we’re always looking for ways to help that connection work better.
Ticketing is also a very unique industry in that we have to deal with very spiky traffic when events go on sale. Being able to keep a system working effectively under these conditions requires a very good understanding of cloud computing and its capabilities – something that’s changing on a weekly basis.
And finally, as a manager and leader it’s important to balance all these technical skills with people skills, to ensure our team is motivated, rewarded and happy.
E: Tell us about a typical working day…
BS: I start every day with a walk around the local countryside. I live in the Forest of Bowland, so amazing scenery to set yourself up for the day.
After I arrive at work at 8:45, I grab a brew and check any emails that have arrived overnight. This may include issues with our cloud hosting infrastructure, so any issues here are dealt with straight away. If we have an event going on sale, I’ll be glued to NewRelic showing how everything is performing.
The rest of the morning is spent catching up with my Head of Development on how new tech projects are progressing, and in one-to-ones with our management team. We like to have monthly meetings to ensure everyone
is aligned with our company mission and on track to achieve their KPIs.
At lunch, I walk around a mile into the local village, which is a great way to get some fresh air and refocus. I, alongside many of our staff, cook lunch fresh at work in our kitchen, which is a nice communal area.
The afternoons are mainly spent meeting with different departments to discuss upcoming changes to our services, as we have to adapt very quickly to the industry. At any one time we’ll be rolling out a handful of new features. As we grow as a fast rate, we’re constantly redeveloping how we work to ensure we’re working smart and automating as much of the leg work as possible.
I finish work in time to pick up my daughter from nursery at 4:30, and then I’m at home for the evening. I’m a big believer that we need downtime to ensure we work at our best, so I spend most of my evenings cooking food and enjoying with my family, playing with my daughter and maybe
watching some box sets on Netflix.
I also have another business offering health consultancy (happyguthappyskin.com), so some evenings will be spent chatting to clients via Skype.
E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?
BS: I love the fact that every day is different, and there’s always new challenges that need solving. The speed at which we’re growing can be a rollercoaster ride, but it’s very rewarding.
The area I find most challenging is leading an ever growing team, which I know is the same for many co-founders – you spend years studying skills in preparation to do your job, but when you are a business leader, often that side of things is something you have to quickly learn on the job!
E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
BS: We track our growth very closely, as this year we’re aiming to sell an extra £15M of tickets, grow our team, open new offices and launch new features. The last 12 months have been a big focus on making our KPIs transparent across the business, from board level down to the guys answering the phones (who do a great job!).
It’s very true that ‘What you measure, you can manage’, and this has helped focus our management team. Every department has their own set of KPIs that are relevant to their jobs, and our development department create their own KPIs to monitor the new services we put live.
E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
BS: Being on the cloud, AWS is always open, as we tinker with servers and services. I use New Relic every day to dive deep into performance metrics, and this is hooked up to Pager Duty as sometimes you need something louder than email to alert you to a problem!
We also use optimisation tools such as VWO to continuously tweak our UX and conversion rates. Slack is invaluable for communication – I’m so glad internal emails are a thing of the past!
E: How did you end up here, and what might you do next?
BS: Skiddle was a university project, so very much set up to fix an issue that we identified – not being able to find out about events easily. I didn’t set out to work in ticketing/events, but it’s been very enjoyable. No current plans to change this!
E: Which digital experiences or ecommerce sites do you admire?
BS: In general we find the ticketing industry is quite behind the times. This is presumably because most of the big players have been running for decades and have quite a lot of technical debt due to legacy systems which slows down their adoption of new tech.
This is changing as the importance of being agile is recognised, but rather than looking up, we tend to look sideways at other sectors for inspiration. I’m a big fan of the travel industry: companies like Booking.com are an excellent example of pushing the boundaries and I will often look at how they are using new tech, or solving problems.
E: Do you have any advice for people who want to work in your industry?
BS: It’s a fairly easy industry to get into, as most people who are involved in events or ticketing have worked their way up, coming from a background of loving music. We’re always looking for new members of the development team, as recruitment in the North West can be difficult, so if people would like to try their hand in the industry, get in touch.
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