Emma Peterson, Photo by Duane Tinkey
Emma Peterson, Photo by Duane Tinkey

What could possess a 21-year-old recent college graduate to leave the security of a full-time job to start her own company?

Well, when Dwolla Corp. founder Ben Milne is on your side, along with people like Mike Colwell, executive director of the Business Innovation Zone, and the popular local band the Nadas, that makes things a little easier. Just ask Ankeny native Emma Peterson, founder of recent start-up Tikly Co.

“That is single-handedly the best thing I have done for myself, is created a network of people who have the experience and the skill set that can inform me as a 21-year-old entrepreneur,” Peterson said. “It could be so easy to burn out, I’d imagine, if it wasn’t for the amazing support team that I have. ... Luckily the smartest people in Des Moines decided to like what I was doing.”

Peterson is quick to point out how lucky she is, and how the concept of Tikly, a ticketing service that circumvents additional hidden fees and exists in part to support the music and event culture in Des Moines, is something that couldn’t work without the support she has received.

However, Milne, who helped start the service, has stepped out of doing any of the day-to-day operations, so Peterson finds herself solely in charge of the fledgling company. But that’s OK, she said; she’s pretty confident in the idea.

A communications major at the University of Northern Iowa, Peterson applied for an internship with the Nadas in the summer of 2009 after they posted the opening on Twitter. She got it, but decided to take a summer class instead in order to be able to graduate a year early, though she retained the option to intern the following summer.

In the meantime, she took an internship and later a job with Cedar Falls video game company Phantom EFX, to, among other things, help revamp the business’ social media presence. Immediately after graduation with the job in hand, Peterson started internships with the Nadas and their label, Authentic Records – both of which she still works with.

Through her activity on Twitter, she set up a coffee meeting with Lava Row Inc. founder Nathan Wright, who introduced her to Milne. That’s where the idea for Tikly really took off.

The original idea was to build a product to use Dwolla to sell merchandise through the Authentic Records website, and also for the Nadas. “Then Ben said, ‘Well what about tickets?’” Peterson said.

The selling point of the service: Instead of charging hidden fees as other ticketing services do, Tikly offers tickets in advance, either through the event, the venue or a band itself, with a service fee of 10 percent. Through her work for the Nadas and as a consumer herself, Peterson has seen and felt the frustration of paying more to buy a ticket in advance – thanks to service fees – than it would cost at the door on the day of the show.

That hurts bands and event organizers who would rather sell tickets in advance than wait for a walk-up crowd, she said, and makes it more likely that consumers will make other plans when they don’t have the tickets in advance.

“At the heart of it, what I really think we’re doing is removing the barrier to entry that is the ticketing fees,” Peterson said. “I think that shows a lot of respect to the culture and to the people who are willing to buy into the culture.”

So at the end of April, Peterson quit her job at Phantom, moved to Des Moines and started Tikly with Milne’s help. Along the way, she has gotten advice from Colwell at the Business Innovation Zone and free consultation and expertise from countless people in the area, she said.

Tikly has taken hold. The first event that used the service was Swinefest in Ankeny in early June. Tikly was also used for an event at the House of Bricks, the annual Nadas on the River show, Cityview Brewfest and the Wing Ding at Jethro’s BBQ, among other events. More are on the horizon.

In fact, Peterson was hoping to get through June and be able to take July off to tweak the system, but instead found herself booking more events.

“It’s just good stuff, and it’s all events that I immediately think ‘I love this,’” she said.

There are still challenges. The company’s website was down for a few days, which was hard for someone without a heavy technology background. Also challenging, Peterson said, is having to admit when she doesn’t know something.

Luckily, she’s been able to turn to the right people for help, and is now in the process of creating a new website with more social media interaction built in, which she hopes to launch by the end of the year. “It’s going to be insane,” she said.

To top it off, Peterson is going to start doing freelance work for Phantom. She feels pretty good so far about the risk she took.

“I’m really way too lucky,” Peterson said.