King's sophomore starts "line-waiting" business


Editor's Note: After publishing this piece the Empire State Tribune was made aware that, according to Jacob Wilson, "Beat the Line is not currently operating" and is "unlikely to start again." We are regretful that the paper wasn't made aware of this information beforehand and apologize for the confusion this may have caused.  Second semester of his freshman year, Jacob Wilson was in line for Saturday Night Live  (SNL), featuring Coldplay and Andrew Garfield, when a business idea came to him: Beat The Line.

The sophomore Media Culture and the Arts (MCA) major at The King’s College thought, there’s no real way to sell a ticket because of identification confirmation, ”so I’ll sell time."

With that, he started Beat The Line, a company that enables customers to pay someone to wait in line for them. Wilson said he realized nothing is more valuable than time.

Like many 21st century companies, Beat The Line's storefront is online. Here Wilson sells tickets and has a small-business Craigslist page.

The process begins with a call from a customer, either through the Craigslist ad or by referral from previous customers. The customer may request a specific show or SNL tickets in general. SNL releases the name of  its guest three weeks in advance; Wilson shares this with the customer, offers his average prices and consults him or her on an estimated time needed to secure tickets, depending on popularity of the guest.

A few days in advance, Wilson confirms with the customer and then verifies the preferred waiting time with one of his seven employees. Once Wilson's employees are in line, the customer pays one half of the payment via PayPal. The employees then wait until 6:45 a.m., and once the second half of the payment is confirmed, they give the customer their place in line. Tickets are given out at 7 a.m.

“I was fearful of other people in line saying something," Wilson said. "But it’s always been a clean switch."

Beat The Line’s target market is tourists, who have difficulty seeing the show unless they enter the lottery. They also cater to busy professionals who don’t have the time to wait at least 12 hours for the show. Wilson’s first customer was a Wall Street executive who helped expand the business through positive referrals.

Currently, the business is without fixed costs, besides employee wages, and there are few variable costs such as cab fare for employees, umbrellas and chairs for the wait. At the very beginning, Wilson set his price at $10 per hour with employee wages at $8 per hour. Later, he increased the price to $15 per hour with employee wages at $10 per hour. Thus far Wilson is succeeding with what he said started as an “experiment to make money and provide jobs to those around [him].”

As for competition, when checking his Craigslist ad recently, Wilson found a similar posting. But he wasn’t intimidated by the competitor.

“There was no brand or title. It was kind of creepy and there was no structure or stated cost,” he said. “I e-mailed them as a potential customer and found out that the rate was similar, but fixed. My per-hour rates are flexible," depending on demand, he said.

Wilson discussed the future of Beat The Line: a website is in progress, as well as an effort to find new advertising avenues­­ — considering Google's steep price for featured websites. A website is a must since Craigslist has an automated system for scalping. Although Wilson isn't scalping, Craigslist's system thinks he is, which means he often has to re-post the ad. He would also like to design a visual process with animation, featured on the site, to explain the process in detail.

Wilson says when possible he tries to hire employees from the House of Bonhoeffer, of which he is a member. At one point, he had to hire someone to wait in line for 36 hours ($360 pay for the employee) and had to hire from outside his regular employees. It’s always “gone smoothly,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson's employee and housemate, Matthew Sheffield, “sometimes waiting in the cold or rain is difficult, and we don’t get dental insurance, but all in all it’s a good paying job and I’m paid immediately. It’s a good way to spend an easy night.”