By Dan Schawbel
I recently caught up with Julia Hartz, who is the Co-Founder & President of Eventbrite.com, a popular platform that gives you all the online tools you need to bring people together for an event and sell tickets. I’ve used Eventbrite for years to run the events for my startup and recommend it to everyone.
With Julia’s help, Eventbrite has grown into a multi-million dollar business and was among the Top 5 Best Places to Work in the Bay Area two years in a row according to the San Francisco Business Times. Prior to co-founding Eventbrite with her husband, Kevin Hartz, Julia enjoyed a career in Television Development at MTV Networks and FX Networks where she was a part of shows such as Jackass, Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Rescue Me, and Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days.
In this interview, Julia talks about the inspiration for her company, the obstacles she’s faced, how she runs her company along with her husband, how her users have leveraged the platform to create their own jobs, and more.
What inspired you to start Eventbrite? What was your original vision, the obstacles you faced, and the major milestones?
What inspired us to create Eventbrite was the notion that we wanted to democratize an industry using online payments. Kevin’s background is being one of the first investors in PayPal, and so he had this knowledge around online payments, and all of the things that you could do with that. That is what inspired him to start Zoom, which was online money transfer, and that is also sort of the nucleus of why we created Eventbrite. We knew that there was this intense need in a market that was really stagnant and devoid of innovation.
We wanted to use that entry point of online payment processing to democratize the industry, and create this link between great technology and live experiences. The gap that we saw was that there was no technology available for people like you and I who wanted to host events on our own, and not use a white label solution or use something more sophisticated than Excel spreadsheets and checks. The old vision was to create a self-service, easy to use product that anybody could use to sell tickets. That was our original idea and seven years later it’s still what really drives us. It’s this notion that we can enable anyone and empower them to create a live experience because the technology is there. It’s completely accessible.
Some of the obstacles we faced in the beginning were—and still remain our same obstacles—is focus. There are so many different ways you can take this, and yet through the tenure of Eventbrite we committed to being focused on the ticketing aspect of the event. But as you know there are so many different things you could do on a platform, or you could create adjacency’s to our business, and I think it’s been a real challenger; an obstacle in itself to not get too distracted by all the possibilities. An obstacle in the very beginning was how to jumpstart the marketplace. When I think about how the questions we were being asked in the early days were really around distribution: how do you distribute your product and acquire customers? What happened for us is that the tech community started to adopt our product, and that’s how we gained more customers, and created this network of distribution. They were our earliest adopters so tech conferences are huge on Eventbrite, and that’s because they’ve been on Eventbrite since day one.
What were some of the successes?
The first milestone was, of course, hiring our first engineer, and that was the day after I had our first child, so I’ll never forget Kevin having to leave the hospital to go open up the office for our first employee. He had to get his key made and do all this crazy stuff we had never even thought of. This first engineer must have thought that we were insane and that he had made a huge mistake.
The next milestone was when we discovered that we were sitting in the middle of social commerce. I think that the admin of the newsfeed and social graph was an inflection point for Eventbrite, and that happened around mid-2008 when we were one of the first Facebook connect partners, and you can see that in our growth. We discovered that core concept of social commerce that people were acting on where there friends were going. They were buying tickets because they were seeing that friends and colleagues were attending other events.
The next big milestone after that was when we ticketed a Black Eyed Peas charity concert in Central Park. From beginning to end we were stressing ourselves to see if we could actually ticket an event like that, and it was more of an experiment really, and we succeeded. That was a huge milestone to seat 60,000 people in Central Park and be a huge part of that project.
The next milestone was when we passed the billion dollar ticket sales mark last year. We helped an event organizer sell one billion dollars to an event and that was mid-2012. Then for me milestones also happen in perspectives. We sold a billion dollars in aggregate ticket sales mid-2012, but in all of 2012 we sold $600 million in tickets, so seeing that growth and having that perspective was a big milestone. We also did another huge charity concert in Central Park last year that took very little resources and strain from our team, and that showed how we had grown as a company in less than twelve months, to really be able to take on another big project.
How do you maintain your marriage as business partners? Has your company brought you closer together? What have been the challenges?
We had a couple of “rules of road,” so mentors of ours gave us this motto: divide and conquer and that’s our golden rule. We work on completely separate parts of the business. Basically, we never overlap so we’re optimizing our complimentary skills, getting from point A to point B two times faster. It also really preserves our relationship because otherwise if we were working on the same spreadsheet we’d be fighting over the mouth.
I think that’s what sustains our working relationship as well as our marriage. We also happen to be the type of people who really like to be around each other a lot, and so that doesn’t hurt either. It comes down to dividing and conquering and then communication. I know that kind of sounds cheesy but it’s true. We have to constantly challenge ourselves to communicate which is funny because we sit next to each other all day, but actually we don’t. We’re not constantly sharing information so we have to make sure that we are communicating. We had a long distance relationship for two years, and I think we communicated more then than we do now, and we sit right next to each other, so it’s one of those things where you take it for granted.
What are your future plans for the site?
What has happened in the last few years is that consumers—the general public, ticket buyers, attendees of events—are actually coming back to Eventbrite to discover new events to attend. This is because our inventory of events has grown so significantly, and so we want to continue to grow that inventory to give ticket buyers who come back to the site a much richer experience, and also be able to take hundreds of thousands of events on the site. We want to be able to whittle that down to three to five hyper relevant events for each consumer. We think consumers should expect that in this day and age of technology with big data and algorithmic recommendations, and we have a fairly sizable data team that’s working on this problem right now.
How do you discover new things to do that are right in your real house, or how do you discover things that are adjacent to your real house you haven’t attended before? Let’s say you run an obstacle course race, how can we serve up some other things that we know you would be interested in, or that your friends are attending or participating in. That’s really important to us because I think that we’re following user behavior which is that users are coming back to Eventbrite to see what else is out there, and to sign themselves up for another live experience.
That’s really big for us. Another area that’s top of mind is international. Twenty percent of our tickets are sold outside the US, and we’ve only localized in Western Europe and some of the English-speaking countries, like Australia and Canada. How can we continue to make those experiences the best they can be for those people in the countries that we’ve localized in, and also where are the new territories we want to go into. We want to nurse the emerging markets we’re interested in as well.