His name has been inextricably central to the Tessitura message since it launched fully fledged into the ticketing marketplace in 2000, with its unique ‘not-for-profit’ business model and radical way of working with its co-owning users. I think he sees himself as a ‘pilot’ in the shipping sense, nudging with his experience and knowledge the Tessitura crew in the right strategic direction; others, including me, credit him as ‘captain’ leading and motivating the crew and keeping focus on their mission, especially good at articulating that “fitness-for-purpose” of the system as a solution and the Network as a community.

service levels in the 1990’s inhibited by the available technology

Tessitura, the system, came out of New York’s Metropolitan Opera (The Met). Like many other arts organisations, they saw their service levels in the 1990’s inhibited by the available technology, and their patience with their suppliers meant they were always behind the customer curve as the on-line wave broke. That turned to impatience, and, unwilling to wait for consultants and techies to fix it, they decided to develop their own in-house solution, creating a unified ticketing, CRM, marketing and fund-raising system. They appointed Chuck Reif as Senior VP of Technology and allocated a budget of $5M over 3 years to build their unified system. They succeeded where others failed. Chuck of course remains in charge of Tessitura technology.

Originally called Impresario, The Met wanted to achieve some return on their investment and licensed the system to a couple of other users, and even investigated the possibility of selling it. This is where Jack enters the system’s history in 2001. From a background in finance and marketing in international corporations, being involved in some start-ups and acquisitions, and having worked at Hotels.com to help take them public, he was running a venture capital backed Internet e-commerce solution, and was one of the people The Met talked to about the future of their system.

Jack was invited by The Met to facilitate a discussion with other interested not-for-profit arts organisations, leading to a meeting in Santa Fe with 35 people from 7 different arts organisations. Was there a business model that could work better for them, certainly better than the increasingly problematic investor-driven model that was causing problems for former market leaders in ticketing systems – evidenced for me by the difficult times with Tickets.com?

Was there a business model that could work better for them, certainly better than the increasingly problematic investor-driven model

That Santa Fe meeting drew up a mission statement which is virtually word for word in the Tessitura mission statement of today. There was a confluence of need, critical to their success, for arts organisations to deal with a changing world, changing communications, with Internet, email and new e-commerce models. The goal was about making arts organisations more successful by working smarter and working with an “enterprise solution”.

The seven organisations that were the early adopters of Tessitura invited Jack to form a new company with Chuck Reif, but not one that could be commercially morphed into something else. They set up a not-for-profit corporation with a Board from the users of the system, creating the co-ownership Network model. The Met saw themselves as helping benefit arts and culture while getting some of their investment returned through licensing, initially at a higher level than is now charged today.

It is worth saying that the targets for growth were modest, originally for 50 users, reflected in the Network’s decisions to be a virtual organisation, with Jack as the front man presenting the system and its business model to potential users, and Chuck and his team concentrating on keeping the technology at the leading edge. Users felt trust and confidence in the business model, but wanted the system to exceed their expectations, with core functionality as the key to meeting their needs.

The Network’s membership model is now based on variable licensing costs and annual membership fees according to turnover – in 14 years only 4 membership fee increases. Licenses are for a lifetime, unlimited, without charges per user or any transaction fees, and all Tessitura functionality is bundled in so Tessitura does not play the module game that some suppliers do (there are some add-ons available which are separately charged).

147 people on the Tessitura team worldwide, working in 8 countries

So in 2015 there are 147 people on the Tessitura team worldwide, working in 8 countries, with over 515 organisations using the system. The team did not include a marketing person until 2014. And over 200 of the user organisations in fact share their system with other organisations, such as the Wales Millennium Centre model in the UK; the largest of these has 14 regional theatres in Philadelphia sharing their system. Since 2001, retention has been over 99% for users and 85% for staff from their first employment. Tony Barnes has been regional operational director for the UK and Europe for 10 years now.

Jack reports to a Board drawn from license holders – small, medium and large – covering geographies, genres and skill-set, driven by a desire to lead innovation, provide great service, and keep costs down. That innovation is driven by a Member Advisory Committee, working with Chuck and the Tessitura development team, that prioritises the ‘road map’ for development. 70% of ideas come from users and 30% from the team, who spend their lives on the road with Tessitura users. They deliver a new release every year in a transparent process, with new code posted to a ‘sandbox’ so users can review and test, see every change, and help prioritise and identify enhancements. Some users then beta test the latest version as it goes through quality assurance. Hundreds of enhancement requests, big and small, are also submitted each year, and many of them are also added, in addition to the big road map-driven items.

by users, for users

Reflecting the co-ownership model, they chose to hold an annual conference from the beginning, driven by a planning committee of the users (apparently 200 people on it for this year’s this month) as Jack says “by users, for users”. This is now quite definitely the world’s largest arts and cultural conference, with much more than ticketing on the agenda, since it is cross genre, cross functions, cross geography, and open to all ideas. There are twelve concurrent tracks, covering all functions such as ticketing, philanthropy, web, CRM, marketing, etc.  Reflecting this, American opera singer Renée Fleming will give their keynote on August 18th in Orlando on topics for which she has long been a strong advocate – audience development, community engagement and arts education.

Indeed Tessitura is becoming a TEDx of arts and culture with its free webinars sharing knowledge on a global scale with the Innovator Series and posted on a Tessitura YouTube channel.

secret sauce

Unusually for a ticketing/ CRM system supplier, Tessitura has a VP of Community, headed up by Don Youngberg who leads what is effectively a full time community team.  Community is their “secret sauce”, since the Network has proved to be founded on sharing to help each other and make each other better. That seems to irritate other ticketing system suppliers, who see Tessitura relating to CEOs and Artistic Directors, and running a conference that attracts people from all parts of user organisations. There are also large regional conferences: in November, the Tessitura Network European Conference will be in Nottingham with likely 350 or more attendees; there will be an Australia/New Zealand conference in April 2016 in Sydney.

Tessitura has behaved differently from other ticketing systems from the beginning, since you might say it has been clear from the beginning that it is not just a ticketing system. Chuck Reif came to the UK for six months to install the first UK clients, working on localisation and specific needs. Given that users see this as mission critical, the “enterprise solution” has delivered both “out of the box” configurable functionality, and a platform on which users can build their own customer experience tools. So far they say the users have not found a technological restraint in Tessitura. And they continue to innovate to help arts organisations facing financial challenges and to enable audience development and to raise funds via philanthropy and memberships. Tessitura was designed from the onset to be equally strong for fund-raising as well. The biggest release in the history of their software is about to roll out to complete a major expansion of the system and the user interfaces.

Tessitura has added a small services division to help provide techie and database administration skills to user organisations, and now has an enterprise consulting division on marketing and fund-raising to help build the business capabilities of user organisations.  Jack says their success is partly because they avoid a corporate culture and focus instead on anti-bureaucracy and on collaboration, with themselves as partners, not vendors.

Jack talks well about the Tessitura Network and his belief that the right staff with the right business model can deliver the success the users want. With strong staff retention, they have a sabbatical system, with a 7 week paid break every 7 years to help staff re-charge and re-think. Jack seems to me to have been the Network’s leading salesperson since the effective consortium was formed, and he has certainly been reticent about adding marketing people (first one in 2014) and expanding client development functions (some churn in this function in the UK), and he remains careful about the solution and how it is presented. With the team all wearing their Tessitura logo dress shirts, focussed on the corporate mission and values, and with a coherent core message, and users that all have a good word about “their” system, you can see why arts and cultural organisations sign up to join something much more than a ticketing system.

How much credit do we give Jack Rubin for what has been achieved?  He has certainly made a big difference.

There will be some live streaming from this August’s Tessitura Conference, week of 17th August 2015: http://www.tessituranetwork.com/live

Roger Tomlinson

August 2015