Three Cornell alumni recently combined their business smarts and love for the big screen in their new startup, Flicstart –– a venture they promise will shake up the movie theater industry.
Flicstart “empowers movie lovers to demand screenings of any content” at their local theater, according to Jeff Cloetingh ’12, co-founder and CEO of the company.
Movie-lovers can ask Flicstart to bring screenings ranging from feature films to sports tournaments or concerts to their local movie theater, according to Cloetingh.
“If you get enough people to join — say, 60 people — [the screening] happens,” Cloetingh said.
When someone expresses interest in an event and “joins” it on Flicstart’s website, he or she reserves a ticket, according to Cloetingh. However, “if the event doesn’t get enough people, it doesn’t happen, and you don’t have to pay,” Cloetingh said.
Flicstart.com connects the movie lover with the movie theater through its online service. It ultimately solves a two-part problem — filling empty seats at the cinema by allowing viewers while permitting them to customize what is playing on the big screen, according to Cloetingh.
Currently, Flicstart is run by a three-person team; Cloetingh and Andrew Schoen ’12 co-founded the startup in June, and Paul Yang ’12 joined the company as the Chief Technology Officer over the summer.
On Sept. 28, the company successfully screened its first film — “The Room,” a cult comedy classic — at Cinemapolis. The show pre-sold 94 tickets, and sold about a dozen more at the door, according to Schoen.
“It was amazing, and the turnout exceeded our expectations for Flicstart,” Schoen said. “It proved the concept –– proved that there was a demand for this kind of service.”
The idea behind Flicstart was inspired by a class that Cloetingh and Schoen took together at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
“For any new business, entrepreneurs often start by looking for problems,” Schoen said. “We discovered a massive problem in the movie theater industry.”
Typically, movie theaters only fill 15 percent of their seats, according to Schoen. Theater revenue has dropped while theater expenses have not.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we fix this?’” he said.
With the rise of Netflix and other online streaming services, people visit the cinema because they are looking for a unique experience, Schoen said.
“When people go to see movies, they go because their friends are going, or they go because they can’t access the content any other way, or they go because it’s the premiere of one of their favorite movies,” Schoen said. “People go because they want the experience. It’s gotta be different than watching on your computer, it’s gotta be social, it's gotta be epic.”
Cloetingh said that because theaters have increasingly shifted from using large, expensive, heavy film reels to digitally projecting content, it is now easier for theaters to screen a wider variety of movies.
“It gives a voice to the people — if enough people want it, they can now get it,” Cloetingh said.
Schoen said that, ultimately, Flicstart will revitalize the movie industry by giving the viewers a say in what they watch. It creates a win-win situation, he said: theaters will fill more seats, and viewers, so far, have said they are satisfied.
Mayda Dorak ’13, who requested that Flicstart bring “The Room” to Cinemapolis, said that when she heard about the company’s concept through Yang, one of her friends, she thought it was “too good to be true.”
“It’s a genuinely fantastic idea and a brilliant opportunity,” she said. “It’s not very often you get to have an active role in customizing a service as a consumer.”
Another student, Gena Topper ’16, said that she would probably start using Flicstart to create screening events if the company can show movies that she likes.
“They should make people aware of how easy it is [to use Flicstart],” Topper said.
For both Cloetingh and Schoen, the journey to Flicstart’s first event at Cinemapolis was full of lessons.
Schoen said that he learned that entrepreneurs, who are responsible for running multiple aspects of their business, need to “do everything well.”
“You have to have a foot in every door,” he said. “If you want to be a founder of a company, you need to have a balanced aptitude.”
Despite the success of Flicstart’s first event, Schoen said that he does not consider the startup a “done deal.”
“The best entrepreneurs are never satisfied,” Schoen said. “I can’t wait to see [Flicstart] grow regionally and nationally.”