Fast Company

Ex-Ticketmaster Chief Nathan Hubbard Was Better Suited For Twitter All Along [Updated]

Social spending, the holy grail for Twitter, has been Hubbard's focus for years.

Quick quiz--who's Nathan Hubbard talking about here: Ticketmaster, the company he left just days ago; or Twitter, the company he just joined as its first chief of commerce?

"We're the most social commercial site on the web. We’re an e-commerce and content business, which is the holy grail of this generation."

If you guessed Twitter, where Hubbard will now be responsible for developing a crucial missing revenue stream for the company potentially heading toward an IPO next year, you're wrong. That's Hubbard on Ticketmaster, from an interview with Fast Company in 2011. He's been thinking about shopping--and buying--via tweets for years. He saw Ticketmaster in a way that no previous executive had, in the way he described in the quote above. It was a perspective that he shared with Ticketmaster clients when he took his executive team on the road to share the company's new tech-focused, data-driven strategy. That's all part of the reason why Ticketmaster's loss is Twitter’s gain.

"I spent the last bunch of years working on how to monetize people's passion," Hubbard told Fast Company today. "I learned a ton. The work we did in social was the cornerstone of my belief in serendipitous commerce and these impulse passionate moments. Twitter is the place where those live."

When Hubbard first took the reins at Ticketmaster in 2010, critics focused on his inexperience running a large enterprise, one with some 3,000 employees and 10,000 clients. But as we reported in our profile, “Rocking the Most Hated Brand in America,” Hubbard proved to be a quick study with a keen eye for applying technology to a stagnant industry. For nearly three years, between his undergrad days at Princeton and Stanford's business school, he was a touring musician (one half of the acoustic duo Rockwell Church). He understood the musicians' need to fill empty seats at a fair price to loyal fans. And for the former head of ticketing for Live Nation (and before that of Musictoday), he also understood Ticketmaster's quandary as the longtime fall guy for fees set by others--arenas, promoters, and artists.

After meeting that year with Mark Zuckerberg, who was more than eager to develop new revenue platforms at Facebook, Hubbard struck a deal to integrate Ticketmaster and Facebook. The first-of-its-kind interactive seat map allows customers to see where their Facebook friends are sitting at a concert or game. After buying tickets, fans can share their purchase on Facebook, an alert that Hubbard told me led to an additional $5.30 in ticket revenue.

Results like that must have been music to Twitter’s ears. If Hubbard could do that with just tickets, imagine the potential revenue with a broader range of retail partners. Social shopping in the estimated $370 billion e-commerce space could be the real showstopper.

"As CEO of a company that was selling 60 percent of the inventory that was for sale, I was always searching for a partner that could help us sell more," Hubbard said today. Now he's on the other side, offering retailers a solution for their inventory problem. "I look at Twitter as the world's greatest distribution and awareness platform."

[Photo by Ben Lowy]

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2 Comments

  • Anthony Reardon

    Hah! You got me. My guess would have been he was talking about Twitter.

    Let's talk about this projected $370 billion e-commerce and content holy grail. They call it that because it is elusive. Despite everything that has been tried so far, nobody has really been able to figure it out.

    I think you are on to something by pointing out he was a musician aware of the "need to fill empty seats at a fair price to loyal fans". It's too easy for arenas, promoters, and artists to look at their own profit motives and miss the differential advantage. The same is true for web companies looking to monetize.

    You can say that a social alert app resulted in a marginal sales increase, or you can look at it in terms of the experience enjoyed by end-users. If your friends are going to a concert, you are more likely going to want to look into it, and especially to go if you know for sure you can be together.

    I wonder what Twitter will do now. Is it the paid tweets at the top of trend searches? Is it the real-time engagement during media events? If you are applying the traditional business thinking to the new "digital" media, then perhaps you can get some margins along these lines, but I don't think you get the holy grail.

    Best, Anthony