Eric Baker: “You Have to Thrive on Challenges”

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Eric Baker: “You Have to Thrive on Challenges”

The founder of ticket reseller Viagogo discusses resilience, role models, and the value of controlling one’s own destiny.
Eric Baker
Eric Baker, MBA '01 | Courtesy

Eric Baker is a serial ticket resale entrepreneur. In the year 2000 he cofounded StubHub, now the largest secondary ticketing site in the United States. StubHub was sold to eBay in 2007 for a reported $310 million. Baker left StubHub in 2004 and founded Viagogo, an international ticket reseller, in 2006. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Viagogo resells tickets to events in 100 countries, including 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer in Brazil and the Smukfest in Denmark. Baker graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2001.

In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?

Give fans access to all live events worldwide.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Irving Grousbeck said there is a risk of not following your passion. It is hard to be the best at something unless you enjoy doing it. I appreciate this more as I have gotten older. When you are young as an entrepreneur, work seems like a chore or a means to an end. You think, “Gee, I just want to make a lot of money and then I can retire and go fish all the time.” Building a business takes passion, resiliency, and belief. It’s very personal. StubHub was a lucrative exit but I can’t imagine waking up and not doing this anymore. The only commodity we have that is truly perishable is time. You may make a trillion dollars, but you only get to be young once.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?

Be prepared for a long haul. You need resilience, drive, and determination in the face of constant setbacks. You have to thrive on challenges. Fighting through those obstacles, you can feel like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, chipping away at the wall a little bit each night only to fight through a river of sludge on the other side. You need to do whatever it takes to overcome the problem.

If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what would it be?

You have to be an iconoclast. Question authority. Be an independent thinker. Take an unpopular position and drive it through. Before StubHub there was a common belief that ticket scalping could never be legitimized. The former CEO of Ticketmaster told me it would never happen. I was thrown out of league offices by the NFL and NBA. But I was sure there was a way.

How do you come up with your best ideas?

I take it back to first principles: If this didn’t exist, how would you set it up? You can’t get tied down by what you are used to seeing. Start with a blank sheet of paper, rather than thinking in an incremental fashion where you are constrained by how things look today.

What is your greatest achievement?

I aspire to be the best husband, father, and son I can be.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

Times when I did not go forward and try something because of a fear of failure. I’d like to do creative things, like write comedy. At Harvard I never tried out for The Lampoon. Maybe I would have made it or maybe I wouldn’t. The failure is that I never tried.

What impact would you like to have on the world?

I would like to build something that leaves a mark and endures beyond myself. Before Viagogo, if you wanted to go to the men’s final at Wimbledon and you weren’t a senior executive at Nike or a member of the royal family, you weren’t going. Now you can get access to those events without meeting with someone in a dark alley.

Why are you an entrepreneur?

The only person I want to work for is myself. Both my grandparents were entrepreneurs. My mom’s father learned to build homes in the Depression. My dad’s father was one of 10 children and built his own company. I have had great role models. I like to control my own destiny.

What was your first paying job?

I was a camp counselor in Maine. I managed a bunk of six 10-year-old kids. It was great practice for negotiating in business and persuading and managing a lot of people. You can’t tell a bunch of kids what to do. You have to teach them empathy and give them bonuses and incentives, like pizza.

What is the best business book you have read?

Fooled by Randomness. People frequently misunderstand data and patterns. You may not be able to control the outcome of a decision but you can control the decision. What matters is the integrity of the process.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Bill Gates. He built a phenomenal business and cash machine, and he did it at an early age. He has done more for philanthropy than anyone else in modern times.

What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?

Stanford gave me the confidence to go out and build a business by demystifying it. You meet a lot of successful people and you see that they do not walk on water and they are not superhuman. There is no reason you can’t be the person who comes back to speak at the school.

What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?

The smartphone. Our ability to sell tickets in many countries is due to the advent and acceleration of smartphones.

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