Philip Chorney | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Philip Chorney


The Charm City Bluegrass Festival, founded by Philip Chorney and Jordan August in 2012, received the 2016 Event of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. It also was named Best Festival of 2015 by Baltimore Magazine. The fifth annual event takes place on April 29 in Druid Hill Park.

The Mistake:

The first year we tried to self-produce everything and do everything on a shoestring budget, because it felt like that would be the best way to get our feet wet with the event and help build the business. So we did all the ticketing ourselves through PayPal and Excel spreadsheets — we didn’t have a ticket scanner or fulfillment options.

We didn’t have a good way to track guests, or an organizational method within our spreadsheets to streamline the entrance process. And because we didn’t have ticket scanners, we couldn’t validate or confirm that each of the ticket sales was unique. That held up the entrance line and created a backlog of people trying to get into the event.

You have to provide an excellent level of customer service and professionalism.

The Lesson:

What we learned that first year is that as you grow and as you try to become more legitimate and get more recognition, you have to provide an excellent level of customer service and professionalism. That first year we weren’t providing that top level of customer service that we wanted to.

We learned that we really needed a company that could be our partner from a ticketing and fulfillment standpoint for the event, and all of our events that we do as a business.

We turned to MissionTix, who became our ticketing provider in year two, and that changed the tide of our event. We’re able to provide scannable tickets, hard ticket sales, and discount codes. We have reporting from an analytical standpoint on the source of our sales, and can view web traffic so we could analyze what is our biggest conversion channel.

Trying to do it on our own that first year was our biggest mistake, but we turned that mistake into one of our biggest accomplishments, which was working with MissionTix and finding that right partner to be able to provide all those services to really grow the business. In year one, we could have gone with a ticketing partner and we just chose not to for simplicity. We thought it would be easier, and sometimes that’s not the way to go.

From there we’ve been able to provide excellent customer service. MissionTix handled our gates so we didn’t have to have our own staff working the gates. MissionTix comes with professionally trained staff who operate the scanners and put on wrist bands, and provide point of sale on site for the festival and really fulfill the obligations to the patrons.

Now with MissionTix we have an organized way to track festival and guest attendees, as well as artist’s guests. We’re able to put in a guest ticket via online fulfillment. And if there’s an issue on-site, MissionTix can look them up and verify that yes, they’re a guest, or yes, they’ve purchased a ticket.

Your first contact is ticketing and your gate — that’s the first thing that people see when they come to your festival, or your event or venue. If that’s not organized, patrons feel like everything else isn’t organized, and it creates questions of authenticity, of legitimacy and of customer service. People talk, and referrals are a huge source of any business. Providing that top level experience is incredibly important.

The Charm City Bluegrass Festival is on Twitter at Philip Chorney @CCbluegrassfest.

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