Behind The Scene: Brando Rich of CashorTrade
Dusty and Brando Rich
CashorTrade.org proudly defines itself as “the world’s only social network where fans buy, sell and trade tickets at face value.” The Vermont-based company launched in 2009 through the efforts of Brando Rich and his older brother Dusty. Brando says that the impetus for CashorTrade was Phish’s 2009 Hampton, Va. comeback shows, which took place four and a half years after the band officially parted ways. “We were just so frustrated at the current state of the industry and thought, ‘People just need a place for real fans to go buy, sell, and, unlike other platforms, even trade their tickets—one night for the next night.’ We wanted to have transparency, for people to show their faces, allow others to read their profile information. We wanted to show that people are validated and trusted.”
So they decided to make a run at it, initially treating the venture as a rather intense hobby, before Brando turned CashorTrade.org into a fulltime pursuit in 2017. While the platform was inspired by the brothers’ experiences at Phish shows, CashorTrade has long since opened up to other acts. Still, Phish’s landmark Baker’s Dozen run at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2017 was also a milestone for the company. As Brando explains: “There was ticket-trading going on for months and months leading up to the shows, and a lot of other factors at play, too. It was summertime in the city, close to Phish’s hometown. At first, people figured they would hit some shows but maybe not all of them. For a good four months, you could get any ticket you wanted on CashorTrade. But, by the end, it was so intense that I wasn’t able to attend the Baker’s Dozen myself—there were too many trades going on and I needed to maintain the platform. After it was over, we did the statistics and found that over 50,000 tickets had been processed through CashorTrade, which represents about 25 percent of MSG, for every single night of the Baker’s Dozen.”
Before you launched CashorTrade, what were some of your formative musical experiences?
We were crazy high school kids living in a small town in New Hampshire and ended up at the police station every other weekend. In September 1993, my brother and I ran away to see the Grateful Dead at the Boston Garden. My brother’s 15 months older than me and was already driving at that point. We ended up sleeping under a bridge that night, in this sketchy area.
There was nothing like a Grateful Dead experience— that lot scene with the Hare Krishnas, the drum circles and the sage burning. We were in downtown Boston, next to a McDonald’s, sleeping in the rain under an overpass. That was an amazing, eye-opening experience.
That first Dead show was part of a six-night run at the Boston Garden. We hit one night and, it just so happened that we had another day off of school right after, so we went home and quickly said, “We have to go back.” So we ran back down and stayed for another night. This time, we didn’t have tickets, and I didn’t know what it took to get tickets quite yet. But I saw people with their fingers up in the air, saying, “Cash or trade for your extra.” People were holding cardboard signs that said, “I need a miracle” so we found a cardboard box and asked somebody for a marker and we wrote the same thing. And, luckily, we were able to get in that second night.
I had already seen Phish at the UNH Field House and, at the end of the year, we hit up their New Year’s Eve show at the Worcester Centrum in Worcester, Mass. And that was one of the most amazing show experiences I’ve ever had.
The name of your company was prompted by that initial Grateful Dead experience. But beyond that, what led you to create the platform?
We continued to see Phish through 2004, including Coventry. A lot of my friends settled in the foothills of Vermont in college or right after college so, after 2004, we just hunkered down and stayed local. We didn’t travel to see a lot of music. My brother and I had started a web design company in 2000, and we did that for 17 years before we sold it. But in 2009, we were still at our company and we saw these tickets go on sale and they were $2,000 apiece. It was a smack in the face. And we were just like, “What happened here? How is this happening?”
And as we started to look into it, we realized that when Phish stopped playing, the internet was really just getting off the ground. Facebook had just begun. Around 2004, I also remember designing websites in the office—listening to Howard Stern and hearing about StubHub early on. Now, granted, we weren’t super plugged in and traveling to shows over those next five years. But, come 2009, we realized the industry had completely changed and that fans weren’t standing in line anymore or camping outside to buy tickets. There were no more brick-and-mortar box offices— everything was online. And although the internet obviously has a lot of pluses, it simply allowed for brokers to become quite sophisticated. Aside from high-tech programs called scalper bots, StubHub and other secondary sites allow scalpers to list their tickets at exorbitant prices, with ridiculous fees and a lack of transparency. It’s all about hiding your identity, so the person doesn’t need to see who you are when you want to rip them off and, unfortunately, it’s created a massive artificial inflation of the market. Some people post tickets to these platforms before they even go on sale in the primary market. They’re listed at obnoxious prices and, when other brokers come to the sites, they’re like, “This guy’s getting that much, so I’m gonna list mine high, too.” It ruins everything.
How did that realization lead to CashorTrade.org?
We looked at sites like Craigslist, eBay and Facebook because those were the three largest sites at the time, and we thought, “Let’s just mash these into one.” We liked the chronological listings on Craigslist, the “socialness” and photos of Facebook and the review system of eBay.
We went on tour that summer and, starting with the opening show at Fenway Park, brought our laptops, stopped off at Starbucks, grabbed Wi-Fi where we could and developed the platform on the lot. We’d just set up an E-Z UP with a CashorTrade banner. At the time, the site URL was Cashortradeforyourextra.com. Obviously, that was too long, so we shortened it to CashorTrade. [Laughs.]
We hung up bulletin boards with Post-It notes where people could write a trade and stick it up on the bulletin board, with an email or a phone number. Of course, we’d brought our laptops and encouraged fans to use the platform as well, but we were marketing the idea and creating a safe place for people to meet up and make these trades.
At the end of the summer, feedback was just through the roof, so we continued. We’re fans and wanted to create a platform that was by fans and for fans.
At what point did you begin to think that this could be a full-time business?
That took quite a few years. For a while, it was just a hobby but, as it got more and more users, we started taking less and less web design accounts and spending more and more time on CashorTrade. Some life experiences played into the decision, too. My brother was having a baby and things were tight, so he got a web design job at Ben and Jerry’s. And that was when I felt like I could give this a shot full-time. So around 2017, we sold the web design firm and I went to work on CashorTrade full-time. It probably had 125,000 users then, but it was still a struggle to maintain and keep this thing alive.
We’ve analyzed the industry over the past 10 years, and the fact of the matter is, one-third of the people selling tickets on these secondary platforms are brokers. But that means that two-thirds of the people out there buying tickets are real fans. And, sometimes, they might find out they can’t go to a show and are happy to pass that experience onto someone else for the same price at which they bought their tickets. They’re not looking to compete against thousands of scalpers and list tickets on platforms that actually charge sellers 20 and 25 percent, just to sell their ticket—there’s a fee. They’re forced to increase the value of the ticket, so they basically have to scalp their ticket just to make their money back. But, they’re competing with all these brokers, who are super sophisticated, and keep adjusting the price. And, then it’s one or weeks away, and they just want to get their money back. We’ve been seeing it for 10 years—they end up mostly on social media. There are by far more face-value tickets listed on social media than there are on any secondary reseller site. So CashorTrade is about building a movement. We are trying to provide a viable alternative that will actually impact and become a disruptor in the industry.
How do you generate enough income to keep CashorTrade afloat?
We have over 200,000 users right now and people always joke, “If people are selling tickets for face value, how do you guys make money?” [Laughs.] We’ve learned that we need to provide protection and insurance, so we’ve baked in an escrow platform where we hold onto funds and pay out the seller once the tickets are received.
We have two payment options. Generally, we want people to become Gold Members. For $2 a month, you get trusted with a badge on your profile and you can set up alerts so that you will be notified when tickets are posted, and you can reply right away to a ticket post without a 10-minute delay. But most of all, you get insurance and protection at 3 percent, which is the lowest cost of any ticket platform on the internet. So for a Gold Member, we process your transaction pretty much at cost and we provide all this protection and insurance. If you are not a Gold Member and you just want to buy a ticket once, then it’s a 10 percent fee. Other ticket platforms are typically at least 20 percent. StubHub is 25 percent to 35 percent and that fluctuates based on the demand of the event.
It’s a struggle, but we feel that we have a model with serious potential to compete against the rest of the ticketing world.
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more subscribe below.