Tim Raybould was a member of the Philadelphia tech scene before there really was a Philadelphia tech scene.
In 2008, Raybould took a risk by leaving a good, steady job at PWC and accepting a position with a small West Philadelphia startup called TicketLeap. Founded in 2003 by Chris Stanchak with the aim of changing the way people and organizations think about ticketing, TicketLeap lets users create a customized event page, sell tickets online and spread the word all from one platform. Within a few years, the company had attracted a sizable customer base and more than $1 million in funding. Lured by what he saw as a rare opportunity to get into a startup at a time when there weren’t all that many to go around, Raybould arrived as CFO in 2008.
Just a few years later, Stanchak stepped aside — and handed the reins over to Raybould.
In the three years since taking over as CEO, Raybould has been working to grow the firm amid an increasingly competitive landscape — while also learning (on a daily basis, he says) how different life can be as the man in charge, as opposed to the second in command.
With his company preparing to roll out beta testing later this summer on a new platform that he hopes will push TicketLeap into the future, Raybould took a moment to reflect on his three years in charge, his efforts at building a new and stronger culture, and the state of startups in Philadelphia.
Right move, right time:
I met Chris through that early Philadelphia startup community. Basically, his company was growing and he needed a finance person. To me, it seemed like the right opportunity at the right time. I knew I wanted to transition from PWC and do something on the more creative side of things — something that was going to be a bit more fulfilling. But while I knew I wanted to make that transition, the list of startups around in Philadelphia in 2008 was pretty small. I mean, you started with a pretty small number in the first place, and then the number of startups that were actually hiring was even smaller, and the number of startups actually looking to hire a finance person was, like, maybe one every five years. It was a rare opportunity, as a non-engineer, to join a startup in Philadelphia.
Lessons from the top:
In February of 2013, Chris left and I was placed in charge. It was definitely interesting. I had been with TicketLeap for a few years, and the team was the same, but it was a new role for me, and it was a more complex transition than I thought it was going to be. I thought I was already a fully invested member of the management team when I was CFO, but once I became fully responsible for all of the company’s stakeholders — the 25 people who worked there, the 50 people who had invested in it, the thousands of people who used it — it just became all consuming. Since then it’s just been a constant and massive inflow of learning, and I really think that’s just the most concise way to put it. I learn something new every day.
The broad challenge that as a team we are trying to tackle is making this company successful, and it’s a challenge that has a lot of complexities to it. It’s not a simple, binary thing. It’s a complex problem that involves not just me but lots of other people, and not just the people who work here — it’s also about how we fit into the wider world.
The culture conundrum:
I think about culture a lot. Now, it’s not my favorite thing to be responsible for, and that’s because it’s hard. I’m somewhat logical and analytical, and culture is definitely not that way. It’s hard for me sometimes to wrap my head around that idea: how do I impact our culture? But it’s obviously something worth thinking about. We recently did a completely reset of our values … and really took our time to think about what was important to us.
In our case, we didn’t approach that question as to what our core values are, but rather, the idea was getting at what it was we were uniquely obsessed about, compared to other companies. And we came up with independent thinking, taking ownership and an ambition to make things better. Those are true. We live those out in the way we structure our teams and the way we provide our team with autonomy. We also judge performance around that and look for those values in the people we hire, because we want to make sure we all share the same values.
Time to step up:
I honestly don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the status of the Philly tech scene. Sure, I like the fact that we have a community that actually exists now, and I like that I find many of the members of that scene to be friends. As far as ‘grading’ that scene or opining about how strong it is … that doesn’t really matter to me. What I’m trying to do is making TicketLeap successful, and that’s not dependent on the tech scene in Philly.
I would like to see Philly become a great place to launch a startup, and the best way for me to help make that happen is to just focus on keeping TicketLeap growing. The one thing that has been common since I started working in this scene is that everyone has always said, ‘Man, a few years ago, the tech scene was so small, but now look at it.’ That’s been true since 2008. It just seems like we’re always on the cusp of something, that we’re just about to be great. And I guess eventually that will be true, because eventually we will have a breakthrough success story. But fact is, we don’t have one yet.