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A New Ticket to Success

Steve Brown, 44
President, COO/North America, Lo-Q (which recently acquired Accesso)

Hometown: Lakeland

Prior Positions: Corporate vice president of ticket strategy and sales for Six Flags; vice president, revenue management for the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif.

Education: MBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta; BS in marketing from the University of South Florida

Once upon a time, a trip to an amusement park typically began with a wait in line to buy tickets at the ticket booth — the first of many waits.

In 2002, as airlines began to experiment with online check-ins and at-home printing of boarding passes, a Lake Mary company called Cygnus began offering similar services to theme parks. With Cygnus’ proprietary technology, guests could buy tickets online and print them on their home computers.

Within a few years, the Florida company was handling the print-at-home and kiosk ticketing operations for Universal Studios, Six Flags, Hershey Park and Cedar Fair.

But while its software was a success, Cygnus struggled with its internal operations. The company invested heavily in software development, cash was tight and it lost theme park customers because it was slow to pass along revenue from ticket saless.

Cygnus’ problems, however, didn’t deter Steve Brown when he was approached about becoming the company’s CEO in late 2007. “The business just had not been well managed, and that’s when I saw an opportunity,” says Brown, a former vice president of ticket strategy and sales at Six Flags and a 16-year Disney veteran.

“Knowing the ticketing business well and knowing that the technology was a really interesting platform, I thought I can take a crack at making this business model work more successfully,” Brown says. He reorganized the company under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws and gave it a new name, Accesso.

Brown also changed the firm’s business model. Some competitors essentially sell software that a client — a theme park, zoo or other attraction, for example — must install on its servers at the venue and then maintain with its own IT staff. Brown decided Accesso would essentially store its applications on remotely hosted servers — a private “cloud” — that clients could access via the internet.

By assuming the burden of maintaining and operating the software, Accesso has been able to provide better service. The firm’s operations team works with clients on a daily basis to set up or configure tickets for sale, test all tickets and provide any other support. “We’re doing everything from the online sale to the follow-up if there’s a challenge to processing the credit card payments, to the follow-up emails for any notifications.” Customers, he says, “don’t have to do anything except turn it on, and we take care of the whole program.”

Accesso also broadened its technology beyond Cygnus’ print-at-home ability. It now offers ticketing onsite, online and “OnTheGo” ticketing via branded apps for iPhone and Android phones, as well as a mobile optimized website. The company has also adapted its ticketing platform to support Passbook, a feature in Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system that allows iPhone users to collect and access digital versions of boarding passes, loyalty rewards and tickets in one iPhone app.

“There’s no need to print anything,” says Brown. “You simply buy it on your phone and you scan your phone at the turnstile.”

For clients, Accesso’s model means the ability to leverage their ticketing procedures — enabling up-selling, for example, or discounts. During the economic downturn, for instance, parks began offering consumers a payment plan for season passes. Accesso was able to incorporate that sales model, and others, such as group sales, directly into its software — enabling purchases via mobile phone.

Meanwhile, small attractions like a local speedway can offer programs that big companies like Disney or Universal or Sea World offer and “can do it in a really efficient manner,” says Brown.

Five years after Brown took over, Accesso has more than doubled its workforce from 21 to 44 employees and is processing about $1 billion in ticket sales annually. Revenue, meanwhile, has increased 130% over the past three years, and in December the company was purchased by Lo-Q, a London-based provider of virtual queuing systems for theme parks and attractions, for $22 million.

Brown foresees a “big opportunity” to expand Accesso’s reach across the globe since Lo-Q’s buyout. “The company had a bright future on its own, but I’m absolutely confident, working together with Lo-Q now, we have so much more opportunity than we would have had. That’s a mutual feeling for both companies.”