The story of every successful growth company is an adventure, with no two alike. Or so we thought until in this year's Inc. 500 we ran across not one but two companies--ShowMe Tickets (No. 308) and Coast to Coast Tickets (No. 359)--run by sets of brothers who have had pretty much the same experience. Both businesses were set up in the same three-year time frame to sell concert and sports tickets at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and both became national online ticket brokers. But what ends up being interesting about these companies is not the many similarities, but instead the fundamentally different ways the founders think about business.
Brant and Brock Bukowsky, who started ShowMe Tickets in a dorm room in 1997, turn out to be classic scan-and-lock serial entrepreneurs. That is, they keep their eyes open for business opportunities, push full throttle when they see one, and move on when things peak. This ethos is perfectly captured by ShowMe's mission statement, which appears to have been translated from the original Klingon: "We will unite behind a common purpose greater than work itself--to crush our competition...We will dominate any industry we choose." It seems to be working out: Last year, ShowMe grossed more than $22 million.
Mike and Jason Randall, on the other hand, are more the business-as-chess types--patiently setting up their board so that they can make bold moves down the road. Mike founded Coast to Coast in 2000. Last year, he enticed his brother to leave a blue-chip career in investment banking and consulting to sign on as CEO and to bring Wall Street know-how to a bare-knuckles business. "A concert ticket is basically a future," Jason explains. "It's a right to exercise a contract but not an obligation, so you can apply a risk model that includes the amount to outlay, the time remaining to the event, and the risk of a nonsale, and you can come up with a pretty good algorithm for expected profitability." Well, duh, who doesn't know that?
Coast to Coast, which grossed $2.6 million in revenue in 2004, will likely top $8 million in '05, which suggests that the Randalls will grace the Inc. 500 again next year. ShowMe won't be back, however. In August, the Bukowskys sold out to industry giant TicketsNow. They are now focusing on two newer ventures, a mortgage company and a real estate development business.
So is it just pure coincidence that brothers ended up starting companies in the same small industry in the same small place at the same time? Not exactly. "The real commonality," explains Jason, "is that Mizzou was a great place to get started in this business."
Look at it this way: You wouldn't be surprised if MIT students spawned dueling biotech companies around the same time, or if Stanford kids launched two Internet businesses. Those schools have gathered a critical mass of expertise at opportune times. In the same way, the University of Missouri appears to have built a critical mass of activity around ticket sales. The community was just the right size--big enough to provide a strong local source of and market for tickets, but too small to attract established brokers. And the timing was perfect, given that companies were just beginning to go online. It was, perhaps, inevitable that these two businesses would emerge all at once .
But how, then, do we explain John and Bob Marshall, brothers who started yet another Inc. 500 company, Everyticket.com (No. 121)--but this one in Miami Beach? Answer: We can't.