How having two CEOs taught one startup a valuable lesson

Songkick co-CEOs Ian Hogarth and Matt JonesSongkickWhen Songkick and CrowdSurge merged, the co-CEOs Ian Hogarth and Matt Jones got shirts with photos of each other on it.

As the proverb goes, two heads are better than one. Yet, when it comes to running a business, the idea of co-CEOs has been described as “flirting with disaster“. There’s simply not enough room for two at the top.

One startup has found a way to make it work, and having two CEOs has changed the entire mission of the company.

For the past seven years, Ian Hogarth was the sole CEO of his company, Songkick. But in June, his title changed to co-CEO when his band-tracking app merged forces with CrowdSurge, a ticketing platform.

Hogarth and his new co-CEO, CrowdSurge’s founder Matt Jones, even made matching t-shirts with each other’s faces to celebrate the occasion.

“For me, the co-CEO structure has been effective because I really understand the consumer side of the business — that’s what I spent the last seven years of my life doing — but Matt really understands the artists,” Hogarth told Business Insider. “And that dual structure at the top has really helped us negotiate what’s better for both, rather than defaulting to one.”

Six months into having two leaders at the top, a conversation with his co-CEO forced Hogarth to rethink how he described Songkick’s mission.

Songkick has always been about doubling size of the ticket industry. Pop stars like Adele and Taylor Swift that sell-out in minutes are the exception, not the rule, and approximately 50 per cent of tickets go unsold to concerts, Hogarth says.

As a single CEO, he would describes Songkick’s mission as taking the concert hall from 50 per cent full to 100 per cent full. “Let’s double the size of it by making our industry more efficient” is how Hogarth used to describe his company, he told Business Insider.

His startup would be what powered music lovers to easily find their favourite bands in their hometown and fill up the seats. But when talking to Jones and the CrowdSurge team, his description of Songkick didn’t match their view of the industry.

Songkick co CEOs on roof of Songkick London office (Matt Jones left, Ian Hogarth rightSongkickSongkick co-CEOs Matt Jones and Ian Hogarth

“We were just talking it out, and they said it doesn’t feel right to them. That’s not how an artist thinks about it. They say I want my show to be sold out,” Hogarth said.

Doubling an industry size lacked the empathy that artists wanted from the company, and Hogarth changed his approach.

“So what we ended up saying was we want our mission to be to make sure every show is sold out. It’s a much more artist-centric way of looking at the question,” he said.

Many entertainment and tech companies reach the point where they need this balance. Apple has Eddy Cue on the business side, while Jimmy Iovine leads Beats Music. For Netflix, Reed Hastings runs the business as CEO while Ted Sarandos is in charge of the talent. That’s how the magic of “House of Cards” came together, he says.

While Songkick isn’t quite at Netflix or Apple level yet, the move to a dual CEO structure is what Hogarth thinks will set the company apart in the future.

“It’s much more of a process of both parties knowing that the middle ground is what will make this company successful, and trying to figure out what that middle ground looks like,” Hogarth said. “I think what we’re trying to pull off with our company is really unique because we’re trying to be a company that understands artists and fans equally.”

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