Three years of writing and editing at a startup

(Note: As I was on my way out from the online ticketing startup I had worked at for three years, I wrote a little summary/reflection on my time there. It’s pretty direct, but also a little bit ‘inside baseball’. Nonetheless, it’s below).

When I started at Tiqets almost three years ago there was no Content department. Just Desiree. And then me. There were only a couple dozen products on the site, and the copy we had was, not to put too fine a point on it – excruciating. But oh, how things have changed.

Since that time, the Content team has grown from one, then two to now 15+ folks and our suite of products nears 2,000. As I prepare to depart for my next professional adventure, I thought I’d take an honest look back over my time here: both the highs and the growing pains. A lot has happened over the last three years –  and a lengthy blog post is the only way to cover everything.

Starting at a startup

When I showed up on my first day, there were 30-plus people crowded into one room in the center of Amsterdam. Classic startup vibe. Everyone was so focused on work that nobody even noticed I was there (at first). I was just directed to a workstation. My time at Tiqets had begun!

As I started to dive into the existing product copy, I made a surprising discovery: the way we talk about our products had heretofore never been considered.

And it showed. The writing wasn’t as good as it needed to be. On one hand, this was a disappointment, because I knew we had a long way to go to get these texts into any sort of respectable shape.

But on the other hand, it was a great opportunity. Building from scratch, as I was, I had the chance to create the texts – and indeed the tone of voice – exactly as I wanted. As football legend Johan Cruyff said, “Every disadvantage has its advantage”.

So I sat myself down and I began the process of rewriting the text for every single one of the products we had at the time. It took quite some time, but I’m happy, and more than a little proud, of how things turned out up until now.

What a ruin, indeed! Well said, Lord Byron. 

Working the words

I remember one evening in particular, it couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks into my tenure. I was sitting at home and obsessing over the text for the Colosseum. The text still lives on in this Colosseum product here

But initially, it included a short quote from Lord Byron “A ruin – yet what ruin!” And unspooled from there into a poetic excursion through the history of Rome’s most famous landmark. I loved that line, drawing us into a Romantic past, and conveying the awe a traveler might experience seeing the decrepit majesty of the Colosseum for the very first time.

I spent hours crafting that product text, getting it just so; attempting to pack the jaw-dropping majesty of that historical edifice into the product copy, treating every single phrase as a jewel to be polished and crafted to perfection.

It worked. Whether that was a worthwhile goal (and good use of my time) or not is definitely up for debate.

Besides, those days wouldn’t last. And it’s a good thing too – those occasional indulgences and lengthy treatises were a useful basis for creating what would become our tone. But on their own they were perhaps not the most effective product texts

Making a move to mobile

Over time the company focus shifted to mobile. This necessarily made the product copy shorter. But no less important, as far as I’m concerned.

I fought for the quality and tone of our copy: writing quality pieces of content to support our quality products; fun to write and read. Distinctive too.

Some of our competitors seemingly care very little for originality or grace – let alone proper punctuation – but at Tiqets we’ve kept at it. And it’s not just in the Content Department – when we make errors or a typo slips past us, you can bet we’ll hear about it from someone in another department.

Everyone expects perfection in every single one of Tiqets’ nine languages.

Many hands and light work

And the colleagues here haven’t just been quick to point out mistakes — I’ve worked with people from all departments on creating and delivering pieces of training, restructuring presentations, bootstrapping videos, interviewing candidates, and a million other tiny pieces that make up a work life.

It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve fought for things that seemed important and been overruled, put out subpar pieces of work, and spent a surreal two weeks as a member of the Marketing Department before returning to Content (Why yes, there is quite a bit more to the story!).

I’ve also had roughly a billion laughs over coffee, sandwiches or birthday cake.

A select few highlights

And now, on my way out the door, I thought I’d take a moment to look back on some of the things I’ve been involved with here at this plucky startup. The things I’m most proud of, you might say.

Tiqets style

I set up the whole Tiqets style guide. What we say, and how we say it. It’s the cornerstone for our unique copy and most product copy, blog pieces, and presentations adhere to it. More or less (you get the odd rogue description every once in a while).

Tiqets Cultural Values

Stewarding the adoption of the Tiqets Cultural Values, like most things I did here, is something nobody asked me to do. But that’s never stopped me in the past.

This comprehensive process was undertaken with our former recruiter Ben Gorski. We did a company-wide survey and worked on our own and in consultation with department heads to create and organize them all, as captured in this blog post.

The Tiqer

Good, clear internal communications are vital for any company, especially one growing as quickly as Tiqets. I thus advocated for and was responsible for the company-wide monthly newsletter. I delivered the first issues on my own, before getting a bunch of help on this project that, to my delight, became much bigger than I ever thought it would be.

Sevenoaks

Last October we created a fake product for Halloween. Sevenoaks Asylum & Cemetery was an entirely fictional (and abjectly terrifying) opportunity for customers to wander around an abandoned mental hospital at midnight on October 31st.

As the product copy reads, Sevenoaks ”Once boasted the UK’s highest rate of patient and personnel suicides. Known for extreme and experimental treatments, as well as a series of floods, fires and lightning strikes, the building is in serious disrepair. Explore the whole, horrible place alone, by torch and moonlight”.

As hoped, we managed to generate a fair amount of social media buzz – and even get approached by amateur ghost hunters! Oh, and we actually sold some tickets too!

One of the coolest things about this project was that it involved cooperation from almost every department within the company to pull it off. And pull it off we did.

Runner up: Tiqets Roast Christmas 2016

I was asked to create and deliver a roast for our Christmas party some years ago. So of course I did. The jokes were pretty solid (thanks also to the help of Michelle Eier).

The audience was predisposed to enjoy the barrage of inside jokes, and I managed to stay on the right side of the ‘good taste’ line, but did I crush the gig?

Damn right I did. I mean, of course I did.

Looking ahead

I guess, with all this looking back, it’s also important to look ahead, at new professional challenges. And personal ones (like a second baby coming in spring 2018).

But most of all, now is a time to say: did you really read all this? Then I was right all along! People still do read lengthy writing on the internet.

Long copy does work! Let’s get back to those wordy product descriptions full of quotes from Romantic poets!

Or not. It’s not my call anymore.

2018-12-08T14:01:42+00:00December 7 2018|