More than half a million people a month turn to TheaterMania.com when they need information, tickets, reviews or news about theater on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway and all over the country. Founded in 1999, TheaterMania has become the go-to website for all things theatrical. Originally centered on New York, TheaterMania has branched out to serve 40 markets around the country, as well as Canada and London.
Darren Sussman, TheaterMania’s founder and president, has long had a career that combines his entrepreneurial instincts and his appetite for entertainment. He started a retail/wholesale apparel business, which was sold in 1996. An avid musician, Sussman worked in the music industry as a performer and a promoter, and went on to develop online marketing and sales programs during the early days of the Internet. After working with theater producer Joe Corcoran on the hit show Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, the two founded TheaterMania in early 1999.
After helping launch TheaterMania, Corcoran left the management team to continue producing shows. Corcoran remains on the board of the company. It was the heady days of the Internet boom and bust, and TheaterMania followed a familiar path: Despite its great potential, the company’s funding was insufficient. Sussman turned to Gretchen Shugart for help, and in 2001 she joined TheaterMania as chief executive officer. Shugart had been an adviser to TheaterMania in her capacity as founder and president of eMediaCapital LLC, a banking advisory firm that focused on media and Internet companies. She, too, had an affinity for the arts, having come to New York to study violin at age 18, but switched career tracks and went on to graduate from New York University’s Stern School of Business with a degree in management and economics.
After spending several years in banking, including time at Manufacturers Hanover, Chase, the Bank of Montreal and Communications Equity Associates, she founded eMediaCapital LLC in 1999. Report editor-in-chief Robert Levin sat down to talk with Darren Sussman and Gretchen Shugart at the company’s offices in Manhattan.
RL: Where did the idea for TheaterMania come from?
DS: We noticed that there was an opportunity to provide consumers with theater information for all different kinds of theatre besides Broadway. We also realized that theaters could have an opportunity to effectively reach consumers. This came about as I was working on Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding with Joe Corcoran. We were marketing that show and literally there was no place to market your show on the Internet and no real theater forum.
GS: The idea was for us to cover not only the bigger productions, but the smaller shows as well.
DS: That was the big thing for me personally. I didn’t know about a lot of the good Off-Broadway shows that were going on. I was 29 years old and working in the theater district with a lot of Off-Broadway producers. I started hearing about these shows and really enjoying them. But otherwise I would not have known about them because they didn’t have the budget to buy a full-page ad in The New York Times. So we wanted to be heard as a voice and let the consumers decide what they wanted to do.
RL: So you’d say there was a need on both sides: The theatergoer needed to know and the theater producer needed a place to market.
GS: And that is really what we attribute our success to — filling the needs of both sides of the market.
RL: Speaking of success, what are your current website traffic statistics?
GS: We get 1.2 million visitors a month. I think there are about 450,000 to 500,000 unique visitors. We have 525,000 registered members, with 325,000 getting our e-mail newsletter.
RL: What were TheaterMania’s revenues for 2005, and do you have an idea of the revenues you expect for this year?
GS: We did about $6 million in revenues in the fiscal year ending June 2005, and I think we’ll do about $10 million in the year ending June 2006. We have been profitable for a few years and now we are reinvesting the profits in marketing and development, and with that, our goal is just to break even.
RL: At what point do you have to find a balance between taking some profits and reinvesting in the business?
GS: We believe that it is more important to pursue an aggressive growth strategy for the foreseeable future, which requires investment in marketing and sales. As the business matures, in, say, two to three years, profitability will become more important.
RL: Does TheaterMania have direct competitors, or just other publications and media that have some theater content on the side?
Robert Levin is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The New York Enterprise Report. Levin has extensive experience with midsize and small businesses, having previously held CEO, CFO, and COO positions with companies in several industries. He is also a contributor for The Huffington Post. Levin can be reached at email@example.com and (212) 307-6760.