Technology / 01.24.23
Spotlight on Drew McManus, CEO of UpStage Technologies
From the get go, UpStage Technologies has been a company that’s dedicated itself to building customer relationship management (CRM), ticketing and website software for arts and culture organizations. Its software has been designed from the ground up as a fully managed, serverless cloud platform solution that can be used by organizations of any budget size.
At the helm is CEO Drew McManus, who described his company in a recent interview as being “committed to helping democratize technology by enabling all organizations access to the same tools. We flip the narrative on its head by thinking about the patron experience iticket buyers are looking for and, in turn, create a simple, streamlined experience for new and returning patrons. We believe in a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ approach in order to inspire our industry to include solutions that are within reach for a broader range of organizational users.”
From his position in the C-suite, McManus enjoys watching UpStage’s clients respond to his staff’s support and training. “Most aren't accustomed to having such a personalized environment that isn't forum- or ticket-based with response times that are measured in minutes, not days,” he says. “It's always satisfying to see hardworking arts administrators use support channels that move them away from asking ‘How do I do this?’ to ‘What's the best way I can make this idea work?’”
He continues, “One of the things we really do enjoy the most — and myself especially — is this very different approach to customer service. I get why providers have ticket-based or forum-based support. But in the end, there’s really nothing else that rises to the same level as having a dedicated, project-based manager who is not just there to help at the onset, but is your year-round resource on how to best use the system.”
McManus described his leadership style as “empathetic.” His motto is “Listen to hear, not respond.” Such an outlook has helped him overcome the challenges of leading a company in such a competitive sector. What does he still find most challenging? “Breaking free of bias during research and development. We aim to create an experience ticket buyers want that also offers the features organizations need to succeed. We don't rely on anecdotal data. We've invested in research that focuses as much on new and infrequent ticket buyers as it does on the core audience. The end results have allowed us to create a user experience that provides new ticket buyers what they are after while remaining intuitive to core buyers.”
At the same time, it is McManus’ job to keep his company on the cutting edge. This often involves technologies INTIX members need to be educated about, which is also part of his and his colleagues’ jobs. While UpStage entered the market in 2021, it has been in business since 2010 operating as VentureIndustriesOnline.com, an award-winning web developer specializing in the arts and culture sector.
He says, “The business has basically had the same providers for such a long period of time. So, anytime there is going to be an introduction of a new platform in that market that is, in some ways, going to be very different from what people are used to, it is an education in helping them realize that the perspective they had may have been artificially shaped over the years based on the way other systems worked.”
Machine learning and advances in natural language queries capable of replacing old-school business intelligence methods are two areas UpStage is aggressively exploring as a company. McManus says, “We are excited about innovations that help organizations break free of ‘ill-fitting suit syndrome’ — becoming so accustomed to using a system that doesn’t provide what they need, that it feels odd when they encounter something that does.”
McManus definitely speaks from experience. He brings to the table more than two decades of global, broad-based arts consulting experience. Over that time, he has changed from a consultant who specialized in strategic planning and labor relations to moving more into the technology field. He has been quoted in over 100 mainstream newspapers and online outlets, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and he was one of the first culture bloggers back in the early 2000s. “Arts administrators were really needing and wanting platforms to have conversations that weren’t controlled entirely from one direction,” he says. “Arts administrators are decidedly more empowered now than they were 10 years ago.”
Of course, no times have challenged him quite like the pandemic era. Nevertheless, McManus saw opportunity during those troubled times. “Like everyone else, we didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “But as it turns out, organizations started looking at their online presence as a sort of digital safe room. That’s where they ran when things got really bad, because it was the only place they could continue to engage with their clients. We did everything we could to help them find new ways to be able to pivot from being live in person to something that was more of a digital engagement. It also highlighted a lot of the limitations other ticketing CRM platforms had out there. We had just started working on the development of our own ticketing CRM, UpStageCRM, about six months before the pandemic hit. It was really fascinating working on that process over that period of time, seeing what users needed and baking a lot of that into the system as default functionality as opposed to hastily decided add-ons that were bolted onto an existing product.”
In many ways, McManus and his staff feel they have come out “on the other side” of the pandemic era. INTIX also had the benefit of interviewing him here at the beginning of a new year. What is he most looking forward to in 2023? He says, “We are at a point where we’re through our initial user test group. We worked hard to get everything the way we want it. We are at that point now. It is genuinely exciting to be able to have the platform in a place where it’s going to shine the way we want it to and the way we know that it will.”
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Tags: Technology , Ticketing , CRM