The first line of Julia Hartz’s company bio reads: “Julia spends her day focusing on the happiness, productivity and growth of the team at Eventbrite.” It seems Hartz has been successful on all three accounts. She launched Eventbrite—the online ticketing service that helps planners organize events of any size, set up ticket sales, and promote and publicize across social media platforms—in 2006 with three employees: Hartz, her husband, Kevin, and engineer Renaud Visage. Today, the company has a team of 246 with offices in San Francisco and London. Named a Top Place to Work four times by the San Francisco Business Times, Eventbrite focuses on engagement and creating a culture where employees, called Britelings, want to be. “I don’t say ‘employee’ because we care about the whole person and how they’re developing at Eventbrite,” she explains. We talked with Hartz about her company’s long-term goals, hosting events and smartphones as the future of ticketing.
What inspired you to start Eventbrite?
We wanted to harness the power of technology to make it possible for anyone to gather people around a live experience. Today we see a wide breadth of different types of events, from classes to festivals to special interest groups to endurance sports. People who were doing small- to medium-size events on their own didn’t have a ticketing company for their events and were using email and spreadsheets to keep track of who was coming to their events and taking cash and checks at the door. It was a very cumbersome process, and it was really hard for people to gather others without the right tools. Kevin and I created a platform that was easy to use but very robust to help people register for events. We were engaged at the time and had never done anything like this before—it was very much a labor of love. We started out small and talked to early adopters in San Francisco—a lot of tech people who were hosting meetings and tech seminars, and we built a product around what they found to be the biggest pain points.
How have you handled such growth and expansion in a short period of time?
For the first two years, it was just the three of us. We started out small and lean; we can appreciate taking on a Herculean task with very few resources. Our headquarters are in San Francisco, and our London office opened in October 2011. We’ve remained focus on what’s important: our product and our customer. We focus a lot on how we can create the easiest technology to use but also provide delightful customer service.
Press releases come out all the time declaring that Eventbrite has partnered with a new event or organization. Is that a long-term strategic goal of the company?
Our core business is around empowering anybody to use our platform. A lot of the business we drive is organic; people come to us through Google search or Facebook, or they’ve attended an event. They find us on their own. A small part of the business is partnering with high-profile events. We’re creating a multi-category e-commerce business—concerts, festivals, events, conferences, etc.—and trying to determine what the leaders in these categories need or want. When it’s appropriate, we partner with them.
You partnered with BizBash earlier this year to produce the first Elevate conference. Why did you partner with them?
We decided to become an event organizer for the first time—we’ve never hosted and programmed our own conference. BizBash is a partner we really value. They have a stellar reputation in the professional events world and are a very thoughtful partner. We have a lot of the same core values: We look at how we can provide value to our users, whether it’s somebody coming to BizBash to learn something new or Eventbrite to get on a platform quickly to make an event a success. We focus on the customer, and that is sometimes a tough thing to find.
Will this be an annual event?
We had a sold-out crowd in the New York area, and we were able to curate a day that incorporated inspirational speakers coupled that with our own branding. We gave professional event organizers a pampered day instead of feeling like they were going to work. They’re always thinking about what other people want and are never the ones to be catered to. We consider it a success, but what we do from here is up in the air on how often we do an event like this or if we do it again.
What events are leading the way in terms of reimagining and reinventing the conference as we know it?
Technology conferences are really forefront in how they’re bringing people together. Developer conferences are getting people together to understand how they can utilize a core set of tools. Getting that hyper relevancy is key. It’s a real challenge to find that point of relevancy for your audience. Also, it’s about getting that great experience. It’s not just about content; it’s about how the attendees feels when they’re at an event.
What are your future plans for the company?
In the future, we’d love for you to be able to bring your smartphone out of your pocket and look at the events happening around you based on where you are. We can provide recommendations based on where you are and who you are. We can show you events your friends are going to, events that overlap with your interests, and you can easily pay for and reserve tickets on your phone. Your phone is your ticket. That’s what the future looks like for us and why we focus so heavily on technology.
What technologies are losing steam?
It’s impossible to ignore that mobile is becoming the platform. Do I think Web or desktop will be obsolete? Probably not. I don’t think smartphones are just phones. They’re mini computing devices. The exciting part about mobile is it’s bringing technology to everybody.
What are some new trends you’re seeing in the events industry?
I think event organizers are using data a lot more these days. Tools like Eventbrite give them that data. The data we provide to organizers is real-time info based on who has registered, where that person came from, how they found the event, who they are and what their preferences are. Most importantly, we allow them to track what’s marketing that event. Organizers are getting smarter—they have access to info that they didn’t have before.
Organizers are taking advantage of social channels like Twitter and LinkedIn and utilizing that to build buzz about their events. People are compelled to share what events they’re attending, which drives real revenue back to the event organizer. In a study we did, we found, on average, every time a registrant or attendee shares an event on Facebook, it drives 11 visits back to the event page and more than four dollars in event revenue—every time. There is real value in social channels. It’s not a one-way dialogue. You’re creating a multichannel marketing campaign for free with little or no effort. We’re tapping into these natural behaviors where attendees want to promote it in their newsfeed or to their followers. It really drives value back to the event organizer.
You’ve created a company culture that’s garnered positive press and good reviews. What advice do you have for those who want to create a better work environment?
I have two girls [ages 5 and 1 1/2], and you learn along the way that modeling behavior is the most valuable thing you can do for them. It’s amazing the results you can see. I feel the same way about growing teams and growing a great culture. You have to model the behaviors you want your company to exhibit, and you have to empower the people you hire to grow that culture with you. It might not be the way you imagined it to be, but it will be organic and authentic.
Secondly, I think you have to focus on what’s most important. In Silicon Valley, we get a lot of attention for flashy perks, but what actually matters and is a huge competitive differentiator is that we care for each and every person in this company.
Many people struggle to create and maintain a work-life balance. Your business partner is your husband. Do you have a hard time separating the two?
We actually don’t try to separate the two. Our daughters come into the office; they go on work trips with us. We have meetings at home after they go to bed at night. It’s [a] holistic approach to doing both. But I do think there is a challenge sometimes. If we’re both out, there’s nobody there to pick up the slack at home. We have to rely on the village, [and] we’re lucky enough to have family close by. It’s taught us that you do have to ask for help and can’t do it all on your own. The best balance we’ve been able to get is through having children, because, inevitably, if you want to be present with your children, you do have to turn it off from time to time.
Eventbrite partnered with Global Poverty Project in 2012 to help raise awareness of the global poverty crisis. How does engaging in CSR and giveback programs affect employee morale and a company’s environment?
Partnering with somebody like Global Poverty Project is extremely gratifying. Everyone can understand why it’s important to raise awareness and give back. The leverage point we’ve found where we can make the most in giving back is helping those philanthropies raise more money in events. [Eventbrite for Causes gives nonprofits a discounted service fee.] Last year alone we helped nonprofits raise $60 million through Eventbrite events.