A QUALITY THAT CATCHES MY ATTENTION: Being direct without being rude. SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME LAUGH: “I’m here live, I’m not a cat.” ONE OF THE HARDEST TIMES IN MY LIFE: The failed acquisition (and quitting of my previous job) that ultimately led to the creation of TodayTix. WHEN I WAS A KID, I HAD WANTED TO BE THIS WHEN I GREW UP: A Broadway Star.
Setting a new stage for a new experience
FORGING A NEW PATH OUT OF OLD LINES. Merritt Baer recalls standing in a line very early in the morning, waiting for student rush tickets to see a show. He was 27, a Broadway and West End producer, and wondering why this portion of his industry was so miserable. It was the age of great mobile convenience, where companies like Uber, Airbnb, Seamless and OpenTable were really taking off. So why did the theater industry have websites that looked like they were built in the 90’s?
“The theater industry is inhabited by people who have been around for a very long time, and the idea of making great leaps to achieve change is rarely heard of,” Merritt says. The industry has generally not been very friendly to millennials and newcomers, either as consumers or people trying to make a career in it. The key is finding a business partner that complements not just your skill sets, but also your personality. “We often come at challenges in different ways, but arrive at the same solution.”
Merritt decided to go all-in. He reached out to his friend Brian Fenty, whom he had met in theater camp when they were 12. On their first day of brainstorming, they came up with seven ideas on improving the industry. Idea number four was mobile Broadway tickets, and that’s how TodayTix was born, with Merritt as president and Brian as CEO. TodayTix now has over seven million users globally, and has sold over hundreds of millions of tickets.
PASSING THAT FREEDOM FORWARD. The theater industry has always warmly accepted LGBT people and so Merritt being gay man was never an issue as he sought to create his venture. However, it was only until he began producing shows that he accepted he was gay. He dated women back in college, and although he felt he was different when growing up in the 90s, he could not place a finger on it. “Growing up in Florida didn’t give me the room to question who I was,” he says.
Similarly, his experience as a mergers and acquisition analyst at financial advisory firm Lazard was challenging. “It was soul-crushing working for a lot of management who didn’t care about the humans who worked for them,” he says. When he left in 2009 to work for ticket exchange and resale company Viagogo, it was a wholly different world. From the first week, Merritt’s boss told him that she believed in him, rather than wanting him to echo her views. “That freedom and autonomy fostered an entrepreneurial spirit that I just wanted to replicate,” he says.
That freedom can only be possible when a company lets its employees know it embraces them wholly, including their backgrounds and identities, Merritt says. “When you have your own company, you call the shots and you make it easy to be you,” he notes. Then, one has to ask: do you keep the doors open for others around you to be who they are too?
Merritt understands that just as TodayTix is seeking to transform how a whole new generation experiences theater, it is also seeking to be part of the conversation that promotes openness and acceptance, from consumers to investors. “There’s so much of who you are in the DNA of your company, and we’re proud to be promoting LGBT pride,” he says.