When New Zealand went into its nationwide lockdown in March last year Georgia Robertson saw the ticketing social enterprise she heads up lose all its revenue overnight.
But the worst was yet to come for the 29-year-old former lawyer and chief executive of Humanitix.
On May 19, 2020, at 11am she found out that she had been diagnosed with stage two non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It was 11am this day [May 19] last year. It is just insane what can happen in a year.
“It was difficult to take, especially at such a young age when you are still very much learning while you are doing it.”
Robertson says she never expected to find out she had cancer when she went to the doctor about a raised gland on her neck.
“I didn’t feel particularly alarmed at all. It was kind of like a check engine light or maybe you are a bit rundown.”
She had blood tests and when those came back slightly off some further investigative work was done but, she says, the approach was all about just ruling out what it could be rather than looking for something majorly wrong.
But then the switch flicked.
“My doctor called me and said we wouldn’t usually tell someone this over the phone but because we didn’t expect this, be prepared. It was crazy and then you go through the process of understanding the nature of the disease you have because there are so many different kinds and understanding the stage of it and then … deciding what course of action [to take].”
What followed was radiation therapy, multiple surgeries and chemotherapy while Robertson remained at the helm of Humanitix.
“It was intensely challenging to manage a growing business while undergoing those treatments and I was really clear about what my capacity to work would be throughout that time.
“We were able as a team to manage it so I had adequate time off to recover from rounds of treatment and then come back into the fold. The biggest thing was ensuring our [event] organisers were really well taken care of throughout that time. It is important to take care of yourself but first and foremost it was how do we do this in a way everyone is winning.”
Humanitix is a technology platform that provides a ticketing service for event organisers and then channels its profits into funding literacy programmes for young girls, Maori and Pasifika people and helping disadvantaged learners get equal access to digital education.
Set up in 2019 and with backing from the NEXT Foundation and funding from Google and Australian software company Atlassian, Humanitix had ambitious plans but when Covid first came along that was swept away.
“The first lockdown we saw our revenue evaporate literally overnight. And so we knew that we really needed to hunker down. “
The company didn’t let any staff go but went to work on adapting their site, moving into offering ticketing for online events.
“Because we are in contact with our customers all the time we were really responsive to what those needs were. We did things like innovating our current product to bring out things like our virtual events hub as our economy migrated online.”
Then once the lockdown lifted Humanitix ticket sales began to expand quickly as Kiwis sought out face to face events again.
“It was actually really exciting to see. The pandemic has really proven how connected we are and how everyone was really dying to get together and connect and have social contact.
“It was a challenge for many and not to diminish that but it was really exciting to see New Zealand music and concerts and all of these different types of events come back on and people just really rallying behind them, it really helped us grow.”
Now the organisation is doing a million dollars a month in ticketing sales and has ticketed events from the New Zealander of the Year awards to the Strawberry Fields Music Festival and Sky Sport Friday night fights.
“When we launched we set really ambitious targets right from the get-go and what we have been blown away by is the uptake despite all these challenges happening.
“We have actually exceeded those original targets and have ticketed 5000 live events … the worldwide movement towards technology is such a powerful vote of confidence.”
Robertson says she is now recruiting to add to its 30-strong team which is spread across New Zealand and Australia and it is eyeing expansion into the United States once Covid allows more events to be held there.
“We are hitting the US market this year. We are on track. We have got the software for US customers using us. The way we are approaching that is building technology and investing in the platform to position ourselves to expand when the timing is right.”
Robertson says having cancer has been a challenging thing to face but being open about it has also helped her connect with other people going through all types of adversity.
“What I really learned is that there is no possible human emotional experience that you have that is 100 per cent unique to you. These experiences are universal and so it doesn’t have to be the exact same circumstances that cause you to feel some way – you can have enormous empathy for what other people are going through and it really does open up those conversations.”
And that learning is something she is using to help her run Humanitix as well.
“Bringing that humane approach and motivation to everything that we do I think that is really important that that is really authentic.”
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