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How 2 Theater Geeks Turned Their Passion Into a Hot Startup

Tom Huddleston, Jr.

On a wet, late-October evening, Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty sat in the audience of Tick, Tick ... Boom!-an off-Broadway musical about a SoHo waiter who pines for Broadway success before he turns 30.

The two men could relate.

Baer and Fenty, the founders of TodayTix, a mobile app selling theater tickets, met as teens at a summer theater camp. Theater geeks who dreamed of acting careers, they had both seen and loved Tick, Tick before, back in the early 2000s (Fenty, during its off-Broadway run; Baer, on its national tour in Florida). And they each gave up performing after college. “We both were very passionate about the theater,” Baer, the CEO, says. “But somewhere along the way, [we] realized that other people’s talents were continuing to grow, and ours were plateauing.”

Unlike many other wannabe actors, though, Baer, 31, and Fenty, 30, figured out a way to turn their passion into a business. Launched only three years ago, TodayTix is an app for last-minute theater tickets (tickets can be purchased for events up to one week in advance). It has already become a familiar New York sight, with its red-shirted agents delivering tickets to customers outside Broadway and off-Broadway theaters.

With nearly $16 million in funding, from a mix of venture capitalists and investors such as Shake Shack shak founder Danny Meyer and United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer, TodayTix now operates in 10 cities, including Chicago, London, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. It has sold more than 1 million in tickets so far and has partnerships with more than 400 theaters worldwide, focusing on moving unsold inventory.

TodayTix now sells about 5% of Broadway tickets.Waring Abbott-Getty Images

Even more notable, it has managed to attract young customers. According to the Broadway League, the average age of Broadway-goers is 44, while TodayTix says its average customer is 29. “We’re creating this next generation of theatergoers by making theater accessible” to millennials, says Baer.

In retrospect, TodayTix seems like a foregone conclusion.

Although Baer and Fenty drifted apart after attending the well-known theater camp, French Woods, they ended up following remarkably similar career paths after college. Fenty became a venture capitalist with Hamilton Investment Partners while also producing David Mamet’s Oleanna on Broadway in 2009. Baer worked at Lazard Frères and the European ticketing website Viagogo, and he also began producing shows on Broadway. He ultimately won a Tony Award for the 2012 production of Death of a Salesman.

In 2010, the two reconnected through another French Woods alum and began tossing around business ideas related to theater. With up to 19% of tickets unsold annually on Broadway, “there’s roughly $300 million of unsold inventory,” Baer says. At the same time, they both noticed the industry’s lack of innovation when it came to ticketing. Finding discount tickets online can be a cumbersome process, with many sites requiring codes and several steps.

Fenty and Baer’s goal: to sell tickets languishing in inventory at discount prices-and make it a simple, one-stop process. The result is an app that sells “week of” theater tickets, offering discounts and even some free or deeply discounted ticket lotteries. Another improvement: It takes less than 30 seconds to buy a ticket.

Service fees and other additional charges are also kept slightly lower-$7.50 to $12.50 per ticket in New York, $5 in other cities-compared with up to roughly $14 in extra fees at Telecharge, owned by the Shubert Organization.

“If you have TodayTix, you can scroll down the list, even if you’re not thinking about going to something, and your night might take a totally different turn,” says Fenty.

As executive chairman, Fenty is responsible for managing investors, partnerships, and business development, while Baer, the CEO, manages product, marketing, and operations. But the two work very closely. “It’s one of the benefits of having a cofounder that is a best friend, sounding board, and longtime part of my life,” says Fenty.

With headquarters in New York City, TodayTix now claims about 5% of all Broadway’s ticket sales, and at least 70% of TodayTix customers are millennials. “Consumers have taken to it very quickly,” says Ken Davenport, a Tony Award-winning producer and writer who has blogged about the need for the theater industry to innovate.

To be sure, TodayTix is still a relatively minor player. Some top Broadway theater owners haven’t made agreements with TodayTix, so when you purchase through the app, you can choose theater sections and ticket prices, but not specific seats. And some non-partner theaters on Broadway won’t even let TodayTix customers pick up tickets at the box office, which is the reason for the quirky, New Yorkonly work-around where TodayTix couriers in red shirts buy the tickets in person before hand-delivering them.

Still, as the company expands into new markets, Fenty and Baer speak of ambitious aims to tap user data so the app can make recommendations based on customers’ past choices and ratings, just as Netflix nflx does. “We’re opening people’s eyes to just how much theater there is out there,” Baer says. Fenty agrees, adding, “It’s funny the way the world works. But there’s no better path we could’ve had to get to this business.”

Favorite Theaters

THE WARNER THEATRE, Torrington, Conn.:
The stunning, over-the-top Art Deco theater, which opened in 1931, offers a mix of local community theater, regional tours, and rock acts, says Fenty.

LONDON PALLADIUM, London:

The London Palladium Theatre.Benjamin John-Alamy

Make sure to catch a West End musical in this iconic theater. Andrew Lloyd Webber, the owner, is an oenophile, Fenty notes, so there is also “a great bar upstairs.”

VIENNA STATE OPERA, Vienna:

Vienna State OperaLeyao Ying-Alamy

Even if you’re not a hard-core opera fan, it’s worth checking out this “gilded gem,” Baer says. Built in the mid-1800s, it features top-notch productions.

THE DELACORTE THEATER, New York City:
The Public Theater offers free Shakespearean productions, with A-list actors, in an open-air venue. “Always memorable,” Baer says.

A version of this article appears in the December 15, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Making It on Broadway.”

This article was originally published on FORTUNE.com