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Rich Thinking: Humanitix co-founder Adam McCurdie

Meet the man who made $2.5 million and gave it away to charity.

Adam and Josh post in front of a wall smiling that is covered in graffiti
Humanitix founders Adam McCurdie and Josh Ross

If you’ve bought a ticket to an event in the past few years - from a local seminar or yoga class to a music festival - you might have bought them on the Humanitix site. And, while it might not seem that different to Ticketek or Ticketmaster on the surface, looks can be deceiving.

Australian-based Humanitix was founded with the plan to disrupt the ticketing industry and to use profits from booking fees to help disadvantaged kids around the world. So far, founders Adam McCurdie, 35, and Josh Ross, 34, have given away more than $2.5 million to charity since setting up the business in 2017.

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Humanitix now operates in four countries and has been backed by heavyweights like Atlassian and Google along the way. Yet, McCurdie and Ross are still determined to flip the script on the traditional profit path in business.

McCurdie spoke to Yahoo Finance in this exclusive interview about failure, success and how giving can feel way better than receiving.

Why did you start Humanitix?

We really wanted to find an industry that was ripe for disruption. Ticketing is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and one that is resented for the booking fees that are charged, and notorious for behaviour that has upset customers over the years.

I was working as an engineer and Josh was working in the finance sector, and we’d both travelled overseas and seen how education can transform communities and wanted to do something like that. We were both also inspired by Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner, who pioneered the concept of microfinance in Bangladesh.

We wanted to find a way to make a profit so we could donate to disadvantaged children around the world.

Starting a business takes a lot of time (and money) how did you make it happen?

This is the craziest part of the story. We decided that one of us would have to leave their job to focus on Humanitix full time, while the other one would stay at work to earn money to support us both.

We decided that I would leave my job, give up my salary, and Josh would stay in his job. We shared his salary, and self-funded the business through savings. And we did it all on a handshake for 16 months.

Some marriages don’t survive that long - how did you make it work?

It sounds crazy but it worked. After six months, we built a proof-of-concept pilot that was working well, we started to do ticketing for events and giving away the profit. After 16 months, Josh left his job and joined me full time but, at that stage, we still hadn't raised any money. So, that was now both of us, going at it full time with no safety net.

Adam McCurdie and Josh Ross from Humanitix are wearing black and white t-shirts and smiling at the camera.
Humanitix co-founders Josh and Adam have been friends for over 10 years

You and Josh are old friends, is it hard working together too?

Nothing feels better than solving a problem with Josh. There's a flow of conversation and it's a combination of being on the same wavelength and hitting the sweet spot, in terms of thinking differently, but not too differently.

When we started, it was terrifying because we'd been best friends for maybe 10 years, and you're risking everything by getting into business with your best friend.

We set up a couple of ground rules and the most important was that if something was bothering us, or if we had an issue, we’d bring it up straight away and to speak to each other.

Getting a business off the ground is tough, how did you keep motivated?

It’s incredibly difficult. We got hundreds of knockbacks, and got a lot of pressure to go for a profit model or just give away some of the profit.

We gave ourselves another six months to raise this money philanthropically because we want to keep Humanitix as a non-profit. And that clock was ticking.

Eventually, we knocked on enough doors and found enough believers and raised our first bit of money that allowed us to, you know, build a team, build a product and grow. And now we stand on our own two feet.

Was there a Cinderella moment for the business?

We were trying to convince our first chair to join our board. He met with us for coffee and said: “Thank you very much but I can't join your board, I'm too busy.” We parted ways. A minute later, he called us and said: “I don't know what I'm thinking but I’ve gotta give this a go.”

He then helped introduce us to his network and that is how we found our first few philanthropists who believed in us and allowed us to fund the growth of Humanitix.

Atlassian funding us - from the Atlassian Foundation - was another huge moment and that then led us to then winning the Google Impact Challenge. Those first three years were very stressful, very difficult, but also the most exciting few years of my life.

Most companies are set up to make a profit, then head to IPO. What’s it like flipping the script on this and giving your profits away?

We’ve shown you can have more compassionate forms of capitalism. We got told so many times you can't run a company that gives away its profits. But now we've done that, and it's successful. Humanitix will never have its IPO (initial public offering) moment and we couldn’t be happier.

Now that it's worked, people see that it is possible.The most exciting thing of all is people reaching out to me all the time, saying “I love what you've done with Humanitix. I’m going to try to do something similar.”

Finally, what feels better - making money or giving it away?

Giving it away - of course. There's a lot of meaning and purpose to my life and everybody's life who's involved.

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