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Meet Hillsdale's Alex Linebrink, founder of one of the nation's fastest growing private businesses

Posted at 5:04 PM, Aug 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-24 18:31:32-04

HILLSDALE, Mich. — Hillsdale native Alex Linebrink launched an event ticketing company for medium-sized events in 2014. Now, eight years later, they just sold their 6 millionth ticket.

The Hillsdale College graduate launched the Detroit-based company with co-founder Patrick Misch after exiting another payment technology company.

“There were guys like Eventbrite out there that were helping with one size fits all events, very generic events with one date, one time, one price point,” Linebrink said. “We thought that there were all these other events that needed more.”

Alex Linebrink
Passage co-founder Alex Linebrink working at his Detroit-based office

So, they started with Halloween houses. Linebrink’s dad’s birthday is on Halloween, and they would build a haunted yard that would get about 1,500 people a year. This niche category would be a launch pad for their small business.

“There were a lot of event categories that needed special stuff, bundles, season passes, up sells for merchandise and concessions, all these other revenue streams that some of the other providers weren’t handling,” Linebrink said. “When Patrick and I got together, we said, if we can do something to take care of the small to mid-size event categories, these niches, then we’ll be able to build a business around it, and so far, it’s worked.”

And, it has grown. Their company, Passage, specializes in ticketing for those small to medium-sized events, offering customized features for event organizers while keeping service fees low.

This includes a partnership with Detroit City FC, a minor league American Professional Soccer Club. Linebrink says sports is one of their fastest growing segments right now.

Detroit City FC

“We work with a couple hundred soccer teams and leagues across the country, some baseball teams and leagues, we’ve gotten into a little bit of football, a little bit of basketball, G-League basketball, so sports is really big for us, but also everything from concerts to virtual events, which really blossomed during the pandemic to food and drink festivals. That’s another big category for us,” he said.

Features include assigned seating, virtual queues, a pay-what-you-want price model, which is for nonprofit organizations to let them keep their price down and have people donate to their cause.

Passage also offers merchandise sales, season passes, concessions and non-fungible tokens. Linebrink says this allows event organizers to use one vendor instead of multiple vendors.

“I’d say the biggest benefit is lower fees,” he said. “I think that’s important. You might see on Ticketmaster, 60, 70, 80 percent fees, sometimes it’s nearly doubling your ticket price. When you look at the transaction at the end of the day, it gets super frustrating for the customer.”

In 2019, Passage’s revenue was $800,000 on ticket sales of $11.6 million rising to $2.4 million and $37.3 million in ticket sales by 2021. They expect their revenue to go up to $4.5 million with $65 million in ticket sales this year.

Over the past 12 months, they have made more than 5,000 events.

“It was slow growing to start, but we’ve really gotten our footing in the last few years, and it’s an amazing feeling,” Linebrink said. “Getting thanks at the end of the big season or a big year from an event organizer and them saying like, ‘hey, we don’t think we would have been able to run our business without your support and the extra functionality you’ve given us and the support you’ve given us,’ that’s awesome to hear.”

Linebrink has about 20 employees, mostly remote and from across the United States, including Massachusetts, Washington, South Carolina and even internationally with one team member in Sri Lanka.

Shane Smith came from Pennsylvania to work at Passage right before the pandemic hit and guided them through the thick of it.

“We actually worked with some pretty big acts across the country on virtual events and just seeing how in a time where there’s so much uncertainty and events weren’t doing in person business, to see that take off and then to see later in the year when we hit our hot season, and we had a bunch of haunted houses coming on having their best year ever and a time when events aren’t taking place that’s really when I saw, ‘hey, there’s a lot here and there’s a lot of room to grow,'” he said.

Staff working at Passage's office

Passage Marketing Director Kat Rembacki, who has been with the company since the early days, says it has been incredible to see how much they have grown over time.

“It was such a small team,” she said. “When we first started out, it was a real bootstrap startup so there were really just a few people. I think there was maybe three full-time, maybe four full-time folks from then, and we had started by serving haunted houses specifically, that was really the niche when we started. Watching that grow into how many haunts we service now, which is over 1,000 of them, and then branching into other event categories, from sports to escape rooms, food and wine festivals, all different kinds of events has been really incredible to see.”

It was recently announced that Passage has made the 2022 Inc. 5000 list for the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. Other companies that have made the list prior? Zappos, Under Armour and Microsoft.

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