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Backstage at Stagedoor

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

It’s all about who you know – a couple of chance encounters led Michael Hadjijoseph (left in photo, Investment Finance and Risk Management, 2011) to start Stagedoor, a theatre discovery and booking app that puts all of London’s shows at your fingertips.

They are raising their second round of funding now. We chatted about the theatre community, building sticky products that people love and finding your role post university.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

At Cass I found myself in an environment with a lot of very driven individuals and it was the first time I actually took academia seriously. I was determined to get a first and the environment of driven friends and caring teachers really helped me achieve that. I made some lifelong friendships at Cass and six years after graduation we still meet up all the time.

I studied Investment Finance and Risk Management and like everyone else in our cohort, I was expected to go into banking. I had done internships at a hedge fund and an insurance brokerage and I was interviewing with various big banks. It was around that time that I stared realising that I while I really enjoyed following the financial markets and investments, that perhaps my personality and key competencies were best suited to something more creative – something more purposeful.

Some close friends who I consider my mentors really helped me make the decision of not going into banking and embarking on journey in tech start-ups. I really loved how practical the course was. That really enabled me to get my job as soon as I’d graduated because of the analytical and Excel skills I acquired through my degree.

What did you do next?

A few weeks after graduation I made the decision to join a freelance marketplace start-up called peopleperhour.com. The founder, Xenios Thrasyvoulou, was and still is a mentor of mine. I started working there as a business analyst and whilst there I made the move towards product management. In that role you’re essentially the person who owns the KPI’s and the responsibility around a certain product. It’s a great role which combines commercials with engineering and design.

After almost two years at peopleperhour, I went back to my home country to test the ground but realised I felt I had a lot to learn. So in April 2013 I moved back to the UK and started working for onefinestay.com, an upscale, high touch Airbnb as a Product Manager. That’s where I feel I really became a proper product manager. Onefinestay was a brilliant experience which enabled me to see how things were run at a different scale. I stayed there for two years and in the meantime I also started Stagedoor – working on it early in the mornings and at night.

How did you get the idea for Stagedoor?

While I was in Cyprus, some common friends introduced me to two people that were running a theatre company, a brilliant director called Paris Erotokritou and Yiannis Gavrelides, a tech entrepreneur and investor. They were both very knowledgeable of London’s theatre industry. He described how there was nothing really bringing all of the theatre information in one place and that it’s quite a full time job staying up to date with everything that’s currently on. There wasn’t really anything making it easy for theatregoers to decide what to see.

Myself and Co-founder Alex Cican together with Paris and Yiannis decided to group together and work on solving this problem. Alex and I being proper product geeks, started immediately designing different solutions taking inspiration from other discovery apps like Vivino (wines), Foursquare (bars/restaurants), TripAdvisor (hotels/restaurants), and Artsy (art).

A couple of months later, following a lot of research and user testing sessions we had a working prototype so I decided to move on to working at it full time and to start fundraising. By January 2016 we had raised our first round of funding from angel investors raising €230K.

What is Stagedoor? Tell us a bit about where you are at the moment!

Stagedoor is the first social theatre discovery app in the world. It’s an app to help theatregoers find the best show to see. It does that through analysing their personal preferences and adding in recommendations based on their friends. Users can discover shows, add shows to a smart wish list and follow their favourite actors, writers, directors and venues. It’s simple to stay up do date and we’d like to believe we are making it easier to visit the theatre more. The next stage in the development of the app is to add the ability the book seamlessly.

Since our first funding round closed in January 2016 we have grown to a team of six. We now have tens of thousands of users and developed our prototype into a fully fleshed product that’s sticky and that theatre goers love to use. We see a lot of engagement, with many hundreds of reviews being posted every month. We were featured by Apple on the App Store as one of the best new apps in 2016, which is something we’re really proud of. We’re also very proud to have just been approved for a EU Innovation grant for €135K which gives us an excellent boost and that extra bit of credibility to attract new investment.

One of the biggest successes so far though was being the official app for two of London’s biggest festivals, Camden Fringe and Vault Festival. That was really cool and helped us get a lot of visibility.

The really brilliant thing is we are seeing a community forming and that’s meant we can facilitate offline experiences where our users can meet up, watch a show together and then grab a drink to discuss about it. Stagedoor has a strong, passionate community around our product, something every early stage start-up dreams of.

In this next phase of the company we will be focussing on commercialising the product, growing to 100,000 users in London and be ready to launch in NYC. To do this we will be opening our second round of funding raising €400K. Currently we are speaking with a lot of strategic investors and angel investors who are passionate about theatre. We’ll also be opening a small part of our investment round to our passionate user base giving them a chance to own a piece of the company. It’s going to be an exciting and challenging year ahead.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

One of the biggest challenges, which always gets underestimated, is building a good product. There’s a lot of digging, researching and listening to our users involved to make a product people love and find easy to use. It’s a constant learning experience for us when it comes to understanding the user’s needs, iterating and improving the product.

Another big challenge is tapping into the theatre industry networks, understanding the politics and positioning ourselves in a way where all industry stakeholders look at us positively. For venues and theatre companies we act as a new channel to reach more people and sell tickets to their shows. For actors we are a place where they can build a following and lastly for theatregoers we are a community and a tool through which they can discover amazing new shows. As you can imagine, positioning ourselves in the middle of the ecosystem bringing everything in one place has been complex.

Do you have any advice to pass on to students at Cass?

Advice is a strange word because everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for someone else. I think people learn as they go and unless they experience something themselves, it, it won’t really mean anything to them.

I’m happy with how my career played out and one recommendation I’d give to any students who are aspiring entrepreneurs would be to invest the time working for other start-ups (perhaps a small one and a slightly bigger one) before starting their own. Unless you feel ready, go for it! You’ll know soon enough.

Some other recommendations:

– Always surround yourself with great people and have mentors. These people have been where you are before and will guide you
– Listen to the signals and try different things: keep an open mind. Trying something is the only way you’ll find what you like and what you’re good at. You have nothing to lose.
– Network: Opportunities won’t just land on your door. Be out there and create them for yourself. You never know how the dots are going to connect. That’s the way I met my co-founders! I was organising an entrepreneurship conference and they were attendees. We chatted and it led to Stagedoor. Being out there is very important.

Finally it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: The Gibson (cocktail bar) or Ain’t Nothing But a Blues Bar
Favourite holiday destination: A Greek island, probably Mykonos – or maybe San Sebastian in Spain.
Must-check every day website: Our KPI’s page for Stagedoor.
Dream travel destination: LA, I’ve got a friend out there who I really must visit!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese! With wine. Followed by a little chocolate.

Download the app, follow Stagedoor on Twitter or participate in their next funding round here.

Header image features L-R Alex Cican (Co-founder & Chief Product Officer), Niki Campbell (Head of Content), Michael Hadjijoseph (Co-founder & CEO)

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