Ticktr: A ticket booth in your palm

BitDepth#989 for May 19, 2015

Matthew Talma and Stavros Lee. Photo courtesy Ticktr.
Matthew Talma and Stavros Lee. Photo courtesy Ticktr.

It started, as so many innovations do, with a small, niggling need.

After multiple experiences of long lines and sold out movies at the cinema, Matthew Talma knew that he and Stavros Lee could solve this problem.

In all fairness, the digitally enabled duo were already looking around at the sparsely populated local software landscape with a view to creating a solution that worked well on mobile.

“One night in December 2014, I went to have a glass of wine at Drink Wine Bar,” Talma recalls.

“It was pretty quiet so I pulled out my laptop and wrote the first couple lines of code of what would eventually become Ticktr.”

And so Ticktr was born and countless legions of local movie fans would never again suffer the agony of reaching the head of the line only to discover that the show was sold out.

Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

Matthew Talma is a native of T&T who, after beginning programming young, went to study Computer Science in Virginia. He met Stavros Lee at Electronic Arts, where they were both worked on computer games for three years, building, a long the way, a solid friendship.

After he returned to Trinidad to work with his family, he would reach out to Lee to work on projects focused on the service industry.

Lee, US born, attended the University of Michigan and after meeting Talma quickly understood and appreciated the concept of a Trini “lime,” which became the name of their development company.

“We just love movies,” Talma explained, “I try to go to the cinema every weekend.”

“Too many times I’d go and the show would be sold out. It seemed to be an easy problem to tackle. We started in 2013. It looked simple, but a lot of the infrastructure just didn’t exist.”

That’s usually the point where a great idea crashes into the wall of T&T digital development reality, but to the two young men, it was just another bit of code to reorder.

“Systems aren’t quite ready for Internet access,” Lee explains.

“A business has to be very safe and thorough in the way that money flows through them. There are nitty gritty infrastructure things that aren’t quite ready to go yet.”

While the two have bid plans for the project, they quickly understood that they had to start small with a laser focus to get the project off the ground.

Key to making the project a reality were supportive reactions from their partners in the project, MovieTowne and First Citizen’s Bank (FCB).

Anyone who downloads the app from either the Google or Apple app stores can browse current movie listings from IMAX, Caribbean Cinemas 8 and South Park Cinemas 10 though that helpful “buy” button only appears for MovieTowne Port of Spain and Chaguanas. The chain’s Tobago cinema will be added soon, and adding the other multi-cinemas and IMAX to the ticket buying choices is a key element of the future of the app.

Since its introduction, the app has been under almost continuous revision to solve code issues, improve integration with the application programming interfaces (APIs) that it needs to work and to resolve user interface issues.

In the first ten days of its release, the team issued revisions to the Android version of the software everyday.

“We spent a lot of time with the app making it slick and easy to use, but we learned a lot when people actually started using it,” Lee explained.

“A person would buy a ticket, go to the cinema and forget their phone. We had to build things into it to deal with some of that. We interact with people on social media and make adjustments to the app. It was a lot of easy feedback stuff, managing crashes when people make use of the app in unexpected ways.”

To be fair, the Android version isn’t crash free yet. When I tapped the icon for the new Avengers film, the software keeled over three times before it displayed movie times for cinemas, but that might just be Ultron playing up.

The team has made customer requests a priority, and responding to requests from users to be able to leave reviews and to share on Facebook are the top items on the programming to-do list.

The project has been self-funded by Lee and Talma, and the team takes a “convenience fee” on each ticket sold via the app, but expanding both the coverage of local cinemas and amplifying the concept throughout the region and into Latin America are part of the longer term business plan.

Talma and Lee also hope to leverage their experience working with the APIs at FCB and Movietowne to improve the infrastructure available to developers.

“Learning the MovieTowne API to integrate it into our tech stack was hard, but it was our biggest win,” Talma said.

“We had to explain to our partners that we were experienced in handling this sort of thing and to reassure them that we were handling their data safely and correctly.”

“We integrate with a lot of platforms and it was very important to us to gain that trust.”

“We want to contribute to the tech infrastructure of T&T, and we’ve solved some of the problems related to that and we’re looking into ways that we can make those services available to other people as well. We are in talks right now with other people and that looks promising.”

“It’s been exciting looking at the figures as new users sign up, and people begin to make use of the system.”

“We were in line trying it out for the first time from end to end, and there was a guy behind us who was using the app to redeem a ticket and it was great to be able to talk to him about the experience.”