Julia Hartz, CEO, Eventbrite
Meet the Hartz: The Couple with a $1 Billion Start-up – The Eventbrite Story
Meet Kevin and Julia Hartz.
In 2003, Kevin and Julia were sat next to each other at the Santa Barbara wedding of mutual friends. They hit it off, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 2006, they celebrated their own wedding, and in 2008, they welcomed the first children.
You would be forgiven if you think this story sounds familiar, like the stuff Hollywood movies are made of. But rest assured: this story is anything but familiar.
Along the way, the duo also founded Eventbrite, a self service ticketing platform for event organizers valued at $1 billion as reported by The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource.
But let’s start at the beginning.
When Kevin and Julia first met, Kevin was a serial entrepreneur working on his second startup, the Silicon Valley-based money transfer company XOOM, which he had cofounded in 2001. Julia, meanwhile, was working in television development for FX Networks in Los Angeles.
Their chance encounter at the wedding of mutual friends brought them together, but for a few years at least, their respective careers kept them geographically apart, navigating the murky waters of a long-distance relationship.
Eventually, that had to change, so Julia decided to “make the leap and move to the Bay Area.”
“Kevin and I, after two years of dating, were engaged to be married,” Julia says. “And I’m from the Bay Area, so it was a good move to move closer to family.”
With the move nailed down, their long-distance relationship in the wind, and wedding planning well underway, the next step for Julia was to find a job. And while a startup in the television industry was calling her name, life had other plans.
“I was about to take a job as a development executive,” she says. “And right before I signed the offer, I sort of had a chance encounter with Kevin.”
She showed him the offer, and asked his opinion. She recalls his bold response: “You could go work on somebody else’s startup for very little money, and work on somebody else’s dream, or we could start something together, we could make no money, and we could put all of our money into this idea, but it would be ours.”
“I sort of thought like, ‘How does that sound like a better idea?’ [But] somehow it did,” Julia says. “Somehow I realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I tore up the offer, and I guess I became an entrepreneur on the spot.”
At first glance, founding a startup has little in common with organizing a wedding. But when Kevin and Julia Hartz set out to do both — and at the same time, no less — they discovered that the processes, on paper, have more in common than you might think.
Find your vision.
The first order of business when organizing a wedding is to find and define your vision, and it doesn’t differ for those starting a new company.
“We just started ideating on different industries that we felt were disruptible still, and ticketing … just stood out from the very beginning,” Julia says. “You could basically characterize [ticketing] by three things: bad customer experience, high fees, and lack of innovation or technology. And we were sort of like, well, that’s a winning industry to go after because we can do the opposite of all three of those quite easily.”
As they researched the industry, the Hartzes saw an opening between the people who were using email and Excel spreadsheets to manage their guest lists and then collecting checks at the door, and people who were using Ticketmaster for their events.
“There was this huge gap and … opportunity for technology to come in and answer the needs of everybody in between,” Julia says. “So we set out to build a product that was accessible and self-service to anybody who wanted to create a live experience and actually make money doing that.”
Pick your wedding party.
Few couples stand at the altar alone and the Hartzes were no different.
In fact, Kevin’s first piece of advice to fledgling entrepreneurs is to “surround yourself with people that will make you better [and] stronger.”
With that in mind, they knew they needed someone to manage the technological side of the business, and so the search for a cofounding chief technology officer began. Luckily for them, another chance encounter was in sight.
“We found Renaud Visage through mutual friends,” Julia says. “He was brave enough to cofound a company with a couple, and quite talented from an engineering perspective.”
With a cofounder on board, the next step in the process was obvious: find funding.
For the Hartzes, it wasn’t a matter of taking the traditional route and having the bride’s family pay, or taking the obvious route and raising capital through investors. Instead, it was about taking the independent route: bootstrapping.
“[Bootstrapping] was an academic decision,” Julia says. “XOOM had to raise copious amounts of money right out of the gates … so Kevin wanted to try something different, and so we funded the company for the first two years and we actually got to break even.”
To keep the company within its bootstrapped budget, the newly minted Eventbrite team turned to lean startup methodology “without knowing we were doing it.”
“We were using our instincts,” Julia says. “Which was, we should be really scrappy to find people to start using this product right away, and we didn’t sit around and talk about things a lot. We just did. We built and we did and we iterated and we tested.”
Send the invites.
What is a wedding without guests?
“Customer acquisition and this notion of distribution [were] absolutely probably one of the most terrifying parts of starting the company,” Julia says. “We felt that if we could get an early adopter group to start using the product, that word-of-mouth, and sort of this virtuous cycle of people attending events and discovering the product that way, would have some impact on our business.
“We were pro-active in finding an early adopter group in tech bloggers who were hosting meetups,” Julia says. “We actively on-boarded them onto the platform, and not only were they active users, but they also were vocal in what they needed, and they helped us shape the product.”
From there, Eventbrite started using “classic tactics” to market the company, although Julia notes she now feels they were “very contrarian in our approach to early growth.”
“I would normally tell entrepreneurs to pick one segment or one category or one geography and really get it right there, and then build a playbook from that and go into other categories, segments or geographies,” Julia says. “We did the absolute opposite. We built this very horizontal, sort of one-size-fits-many solution, and we just watched what happened.”
As an example, Julia mentions how American users on the East Coast were using the platform for speed-dating events. When Eventbrite picked up on this trend, they altered their marketing plan.
“We’d start buying those keywords, and we’d start creating landing pages for [them],” she says. “We were sort of following our users and then leaning into the categories where we saw traction, and that’s how we got our first thousand users.”
Give your guests a plus-one.
“What we realized really early on is that we had what we called the ‘open table analogy,’ which is this virtuous cycle where attendees were converting into organizers, and becoming our top driver of new customer acquisition,” Julia says. “So as long as we could pull people in to buy tickets, they would discover Eventbrite as a platform that they could use to organize events, and that actually is our number one driver of new paid customers today.”
Book a venue.
Location is everything.
With its first thousand customers in tow, the growing Eventbrite team — which at this point included new hires, including a business analyst — set out to discover where its customers were hanging out.
In 2007, the answer was the same for many businesses: Facebook.
“Facebook started to pop up as one of the top 10 drivers to the site,” Julia says. “Once we saw that, we immediately went in to figure out what was driving that, and it was this very manual effort that our customers were taking to publish their events on Eventbrite.”
Specifically, they discovered that customers were publishing their events on Eventbrite, and then copying and pasting the event details to create a Facebook event, solely so they could invite their friends. To sell tickets, however, they then had to link back to Eventbrite.
“It was very manual,” Julia says. “But it was driving enough traffic that we were starting to see Facebook as one of our top drivers.”
Knowing that Facebook was determined to ensure its newsfeed was brimming with real-life events, instead of the gamer apps that were popping up left and right, Eventbrite approached Facebook to see what they could do help fuel that behavior.
Again, Eventbrite’s instincts were right.
“They gave us early access to their Events API,” Julia says. “So we were able to actually make that action of copying and pasting and republishing an event a one-button push. And then we took it one step further, where we turned attendees into promoters of the event.”
“The moral of the story is that, had we not been acutely observational of our customers’ behavior, we probably would have been on top of the curve or behind the curve in terms of social sharing,” Julia says. “When you look at our results quarter over quarter, you definitely see an inflection point in 2008 when we nailed social commerce.”
Write your vows.
“I think Eventbrite has been built on a few core values that are really essential to our existence, which is doing the right thing,” Julia says. “And then really kind of basic human decency, thinking about the person first … and really drilling down on how we make people feel.”
While a customer-first attitude is hardly new or unusual, Eventbrite made it a mission to build customer service into its ethos from day one.
“[Because] we bootstrapped, we were and are extremely customer-centric,” Kevin says, noting that the focus was always on helping organizers to sell more tickets, as opposed to building specific features. “This decision has been extremely successful for us. At the end of the day, forgoing certain functionality for more customers always won out.”
Indeed, at a time when Julia and Kevin were building their own family, they also viewed their early customers as family members of a sort.
“I think it’s important to … be your customers’ best friend, therapist, family member,” Julia says. To do this, she spent the first two years after Eventbrite’s launch acting as the customer service department for the company. “I would spend countless hours on email and on the phone.”
“I think really understanding your customers comes from building relationships with them,” she says. “We still get phone calls on our cell phones from early customers who have our cell phone numbers and who I would consider family members at this point, and I’ve never even met them.
“I think what we did was we honored what they were asking for. We unpacked their feedback, we listened, we took it all in.”
Although Eventbrite officially launched in January 2006, shortly before the Hartz’s were married, Kevin and Julia have always known the golden rule of marriage is communication.
“[We] divide and conquer, so we never work on the same area of the business at the same time,” Julia says. “And not only does that help us cover twice the amount of ground, but it also just helps us avoid unnecessary conflict. We obviously are tremendous communicators … and that’s great and healthy, but we also respect one another and we rely on one another to make big decisions in the company and really empower each other to make those decisions.
“The best part of working with your spouse is you never have to wonder why the other person is in a bad mood at the end of the day, or a good mood!”
Live happily ever after.
Thanks to the Hartz’s rock-solid partnership and Eventbrite’s rock-solid business model, they have collectively weathered the storms of a long-distance relationship, launching a start-up, and getting through the 2008 financial crisis. Now, with $3 billion in global gross ticket sales under their belt — including more than $1 billion in gross ticket sales in 2013 alone — the ever after is in sight.
“Our next big challenge is to better help consumers find great things to do,” Kevin says. “Over the years, we have added so many interesting and diverse experiences to our platform that we are now improving how the world can discover all these great things to do.”
Kevin Hartz’s tips for fledgling entrepreneurs
- Surround yourself with people that will make you better and stronger, including cofounders, mentors, and investors.
- Create optionality; build before you go for [the] big money. Many businesses don’t need a lot of capital to get off the ground. Find low-cost ways to gain traction, [because] this traction and proven results will give you more leverage when going for funding.
- Think big. Too often people are trying to iterate on an existing idea, but the entrepreneurs people talk about are the ones that are changing the world and doing things differently. Think about what the needs of the world will be in five to 10 years, and build for that.
Julia Hartz’s advice to aspiring startup founders
- First and foremost, ask yourself, does this truly need to be disrupted? Am I solving a problem?
- Understand that your DNA as a founder is going to be present in the company that you build no matter what. Think about the things that you know about yourself, or the ways in which you work, and decide, what kind of legacy do you want to leave in the culture?
- Seek great advisers. Rather than trying to find a mentor or thinking about investors from a capital standpoint, think about the types of people that you’re bringing into the inner circle, and think about building a village of advisors.
- Growth secrets to eventbrites success
- The birth of eventbrite
- Sticking points and how they leveraged them
- How and why you need to seek great advisors
- Building a great culture in your workplace
Full Transcript of Podcast with Julia Hartz
Nathan: Hey, guys welcome to the Foundr Podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I am your host speaking to you from Melbourne, Australia. So what’s been happening in my world? Just a quick recap, it’s the Australian Open at the moment, so I’m really, really, excited to hit that up with Emily. I really like the tennis, a little bit about me. I’m actually really good, I don’t like to say really good, but I like to play table tennis and I’m not too bad at it, yeah. That’s it, that’s actually like some of the only sports that I’m really good at or decent at is table tennis or tennis. And it’s summer here so it’s always really good weather at the Australian Open. So what’s going on in my work life? Super excited. I’m about, we’re about to launch a product soon. This will be our first product apart from Foundr Magazine and it’s going to be a course on Instagram. We’ve had a lot of success on Instagram of late. We’ve built a following of 40,000 plus followers in the past nine weeks. And it’s just making our business explode, like ridiculously the amount of engaging we have and these are real followers not spammy followers, at some of our tactics might be a little bit spammy, but this stuff works. Yeah, It’s crazy like that, like I’d never thought that I could turn this into an information product, but so many people are coming to me and saying you know, “Nathan how the hell are you doing this? Oh my God you should package it up. You should create a course, you should do this, you should do that.” And I realized that from a Foundr training standpoint, the brand has to grow. We have to put more ass it’s out there. And we were much more than just a magazine we’re a media brand, we’re a training platform. And we’re here to support entrepreneurs and help them however we can.
So I’m working really hard on that product right now. Got to go live at the end of this month. And yeah just busy away just making magazine issues, doing some epic interviews, got some really exciting ones coming for you guys. We saw some really big founders, some brands you would know, never know the founder. And just something really interesting people. So that’s what’s happening in my world. About today’s guest her name is Julia Hartz and she’s one of the founders of Eventbrite. She started Eventbrite with her husband Kevin. And her husband Kevin is a really successful tech entrepreneur out of Silicon Valley. And they started Eventbrite almost… oh geez getting close to almost nine years ago. So that company’s actually been running for a long time and they are, if you haven’t heard of Eventbrite it’s a ticketing system. So it allows you to host your own events and create tickets and charge. And they are really disrupting the ticketing platform. What Julia shares with me is some really interesting stuff about her and Kevin. And they ever have a family, and how they run this billion-dollar startup, and how they manage it all, and what it’s like to work with your best friend and partner, and how you manage that. And some really good insights around bootstrapping. What it takes to disrupt an industry, customer acquisition, action items that they’ve taken to make quantum leaps in their business. And also something that really stood out for me was Eventbrite’s early stage strategies for how they treat their early adopters. And how they get them to become evangelists for their business. I think you’re really going to like a strategy. So stay tuned, I think you’re gonna love this episode, as always. If you are enjoying these podcasts, if you could please take a second to leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher that will be greatly appreciated. It helps more than you can imagine. So now let’s jump into the show. So today I’m speaking with Julia Hartz and she is one of the founders of Eventbrite. Julia thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Julia: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Nathan: You most welcome. So can you tell me about how you got your job?
Julia: Sure, so I was, I’m gonna go back to my childhood because I think it’s really important to take away back to the roots, but it will all make sense hopefully. So I was a ballerina growing up and what that means is I’m very good at taking direction and making adjustments. And I wasn’t the entrepreneurial kid. I wasn’t building things and selling them or trying to make a buck off a quick lemonade stand. So becoming an entrepreneur was actually quite surprising for me. It was not something I’d ever envisioned for myself. And the way I got there was kind of a windy path. I out of college, I joined MTV networks as a series development executive where I helped bring shows from idea to on-air and you know, I got to work in sort of this crazy creative world, but also develop my business acumen skills for marketing, and market sizing, and communications. And after a pretty brief career I’d say in in television development, I met Kevin through my boss at MTV married his classmate from Stanford and we were sort of the result of that of that union of that wedding. And I got to live vicariously through Kevin while I was working then at FX Networks on shows like “Nip/Tuck” and “The Shield” didn’t rescue me. He was building his second company Xoom, X-O-O-M which is international money transfer they compete with Western Union. They’re the disrupter in that space.
And I really got to you know see the tech world and the tech industry from from his perspective as an entrepreneur and I think that’s actually what led me to this position in the first way. I think that was the inciting incident if I were to go back to my television dazed and script development. So, because I got to live vicariously through him while he was building this company and I was you know, toiling way of my career and in Hollywood. I really got to see two things that appealed to me in the tech industry. Velocity so how quickly everything moves, I mean things move so quickly it’s hard to keep your head on straight. And then to the sense of meritocracy, so really a sense of importance being placed on what you’ve done or what you know versus just who you know. And those two aspects really kind of made me understand the media I was in the wrong industry. And this was the very old and wise age of 25. It was very instinctual, I had a very little perspective. So I decided to make the leap and and move to the bay area. We , Kevin and I after two years of dating were engaged to be married and I’m from the bay areas. So it was a good move to move closer to family. And I was about to take a job as a development executive, so same job at a start-up cable network here in the by area. That was had a little bit more of a tech den and sort of characteristics called Current TV. And right before I signed the offer, I sort of had a chance encounter with Kevin, I say that only in the way that I thought for sure this was going to be in my path that I was going to dutifully apply my skills from my previous career into this sort of slightly different realm, but same subject matter. And Kevin actually… so I came to him and say, “Your offers quite low and how compelling is this really am I making the right decision, what do you think?” And he took that opportunity to be quite bold and saying you could go work on somebody else’s startup for very little money and work on somebody else’s dream or we could start something together we could make no money and we could put all of our money into this idea, but it would be ours. And I sort of thought like how does that sound like a better idea? And somehow it did. I mean somehow I realized that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I just I tore up the offer and I guess I became an entrepreneur on the spot. So I went from a window office on the 42nd floor of a very fancy building in Beverly Hills to literally three days later I was pushing saw horses and doors four desks into a phone closet in a warehouse in downtown San Francisco. And I remember thinking why is Kevin so giddy. I mean he was so excited about this and so positive and I just remember thinking like you just gotta, at some point you got to keep the faith. And I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I just instinctively felt that this was something I couldn’t pass up. So I guess that did I don’t know if it actually described how I got the job, but that’s how i ended up where I am, right now.
Nathan: That was a great explanation. I’m curious if we can rewind. Kevin said to you come work with me you guys had already conceptualized Eventbrite or you hadn’t, hadn’t conceptualized it yet?
Julia: So we were sort of weekend warriors on the idea. Where, we’d spend just the weekends together. So I it’s funny because we had never been in the same room at the same time for more than a couple of days because we would only see, we’d been commuting from LA to San Francisco. And we we got engaged, moved in together, started a company together, and got married within the first six months. So it was sort of trial by fire but we had been thinking about ways in which you could democratize industries using the power of technology. And that was kind of what we were or what we were dreaming up along the way. Kevin is a serial entrepreneur so it’s in his blood to always be thinking of new ideas. And he had grown Xoom to the past the point of funding and into a real financial services company and he was still sort of itching to try new ideas, and not be running a big company. And so at the time that I moved up he actually stepped out of his operating role at Xoom and remained on the board where he still sits on the board of Xoom and they went public glass February. And we just started on different industries that we felt were disruptive till.
And ticketing was really kind of just stood out from the very beginning as an industry that, you can basically characterize it by three three things. Bad customer experience, high fees, and lack of innovation or technology. We were sort of like well that’s a winning industry to go after because we can do the opposite of all three of those quite easily, but then we took it one step further, we thought well, there is actually a huge gap between people who are using or at the time in 2006 were using email and Excel spreadsheets to manage their guest lists, and then collecting checks at the door, and people who were using Ticketmaster, or events that were using Ticketmaster. And there was this huge gap and really just kind of opportunity for technology to come in and answer the needs of everybody in between that. So we set out to build a product that was accessible and self-service to anybody who wanted to create a live experience and actually make money doing that.
Nathan: When did you guys start working on Eventbrite?
Julia: So we founded the company officially in January of 2006.
Nathan: I see, and did you guys use Lean Startup methodology to validate the concept or anything of the sort like that?
Julia: We did without knowing we’re doing it. We absolutely use Lean Startup methodology. We bootstrapped the company which was an academic decision. Xoom had to raise copious amounts of money right out of the gates because they had to in a post-9/11 world had to deal with massive regulatory and compliance needs that really required them to have a huge balance sheets. So Kevin wanted to try something different. And so we funded the company for the first two years. And we actually got to break even by spending less than a quarter of a million dollars. So we were quite lean and it was just the three co-founders. So we co-founded… we quickly found a co-founding CTO. So we both Kevin and I are not engineers and so we found Renault through mutual friends and he was brave enough to co-found a company with it, with a couple. And quite talented from an engineering perspective. And so we just bootstrapped completely. And I guess like Lean Startup methodology. Again no, we weren’t like reading any books back then, we were using our instincts which was, we should do, we should be really scrappy to find people to start using this product right away. And we just did, we didn’t sit around and talk about things a lot, we just did. We built, and we did, and we iterated, and we tested. And that’s how we started. So there’s never a point where we’re trying to like prove a concept, or analyze the market, or the kind of like… I think like dipping your toe in the water is so hard to do in so many instances, and we just didn’t have the luxury of time or resources to do that. So we just started building.
Nathan: You mentioned bootstrapping, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in early-stage entrepreneurs? Do you think that you should, when you’re starting a company you should seek investment when you don’t need it? Or try and goals as long as possible without it?
Julia: Well it’s interesting I mean all I know is sort of our own experience but certainly I have a great perspective having worked so closely with some great entrepreneurs as well as shadowed Kevin’s angel investing and now investing some of my own. But there’s
there certain phases in the life of a concept. And so I think that being able to get to a place of traction on your own creates optionality for you further down the line. Meaning if you’re able to build something and you can show early growth without needing copious amounts of capital or a ton of people, then you’re set up for your first race in a very positive way. So for us because we had forgone capital by the time we went out to raise money we actually had real results to show. And that just frames the conversation, and so in terms of strategy on funding, I would say try to prove your concept and actually gain traction and show real growth without needing a ton of capital. That’s not the magic formula for every company case in point Xoom, which needed to raise money to be able to get the compliance and regulation. They could get at a financial services company, but for us we could build a product using open-source technology in the Lean Startup method without needing a lot of capital. And so there really wasn’t any reason for us to get the capital. Then when we gained traction and we actually we’re showing results, we were in a much more competitive place to raise capital on our own terms and to be able to choose the right partners. And I think it’s much more about the partners than it is the capital, be honest. You can get, especially nowadays you can get money on every street corner, but it’s the person that you’re actually getting as an advocate and an adviser that is most important and most influential on the success of your business.
The third stage I think is really around this notion of raising capital when you don’t need it. Then it’s about managing your balance sheet and understanding how to in the best, the best way possible future cast when you’ll need funding and raise before that. And that’s what we’ve done in our growth rounds. We’ve raised money when we didn’t need it. So again we could be competitive on terms but also bring the best people into the business.
Nathan: I understand now. Let’s switch gears and talk about growth, because you guys are achieving rapid growth now. You’ve done up to two billion in ticket sales. I’m curious, let’s go back to the start. How did you obtain your first thousand customers?
Julia: Right, so I’ll correct you just a little bit on the on the metrics so we actually have done three billion in gross ticket sales to date.
Nathan: Oh, well.
Julia: In early September we did a billion dollars in just this year. So it was really exciting for us to see that growth momentum, that sort of feels like a milestone. Whereas it took us all of last year to do a billion dollars. So it’s exciting but to go back to the very beginning, customer acquisition and this notion of distribution was absolutely probably one of the most terrifying parts of starting the company because we felt that if we could get an early adopter group to start using the product, that word of mouth and sort of this virtuous cycle of people attending events in discovering the product that way, would it… would have some impact on our business but it’s so hard to get people to really believe that until you prove it. So what we did was we found an early adopter group in our backyard. So tech bloggers started using Eventbrite organically. A lot of our growth has been organic. So it’s really about creating an open self service platform that anyone can use and then you’re really starting to see the people come on the platform themselves. So in the beginning that’s terrifying because you’re like well what if nobody uses it, but we were lucky to find, we were proactive in finding an early adopter group in tech bloggers who were hosting meetups, and we actively on-boarded them onto the platform and not only were they active users but they also were vocal and in what they needed and they helped us shape the product. So we are very strategic in that first group.
From there we started doing sort of classic tactics in terms of online marketing to try to get the word out about what was really a tool back then for organizers. And what we realized is we were very contrarian in our approach to early growth. I would normally tell entrepreneurs to pick one segment, or one category, or one geography, and really get it right there and then build playbook from that and go into other categories, segments, or geographies. We did the absolute opposite. We built this very horizontal sort of one size fits many solution. And we just watched what happened. We watched what kinds of events were published on Eventbrite. And then we’d lean into those areas. So I would see the organic traffic that comes through of events being created and I’d find all these categories so like in the early days it was tech meetups on the west coast and speed dating on the east coast. And we’d start buying those keywords and we’d start you know creating landing pages for that. And we were just, we were sort of following our users and then leaning into the categories where we saw traction. And that’s how we got our first thousand users.
Nathan: Interesting. And what in the early stages was your best form of custom acquisition?
Julia: It was really SEO so because each event page is full of user user-generated content, we’ve been were able to use technology to create ring boards so that our event pages would show up or do show up very high in the search results in related
searches, so not just the specific event but let’s say you have a bowling tournament in New York to benefit the Robin Hood Foundation, you wouldn’t have to type in the title of that you can say bowling tournament New York and that would show up really high. That drove traffic to the site and that started to convert attendees to organizers. So what we realize really early on is that we had as sort of what we call the open table analogy which is this virtuous cycle where its attendees were converting into organizers and becoming our top driver of new customer acquisition. So as long as we could we could pull people in to buy tickets they would discover Eventbrite as a platform that they could use to organize events. And that actually is our number one driver of new paid customers today.
Nathan: Interesting, little bit like Basecamp, that’s one of the reasons how they achieve rapid growth.
Julia: Right, exactly.
Nathan: So what marketing strategies would you give to obtain your first thousand customers.
Julia: Free, like there’s so many ways to hack awareness. I don’t really believe, I mean I’ve never had a really sweep search engine marketing or paid search is one part of our formula, but I’d say it’s never been that strong of a channel for us. And I think that paid marketing is really, it’s really difficult in the beginning because you have to be extremely interested and scrappy and you don’t have a lot of capital to allocate. And so I’d say finding as many free channels and being able to really drive an organically grown business is essential. There’s so many ways to hack that and define those moments of morality or those areas where you can turn a buyer into the seller or you can. I was just looking at it, at a company called BloomThat, that is through local flower and gift delivery basically it’s like effortless thoughtfulness. And the recipient of a BloomThat gift is so much more likely to turn around and use BloomThat to make someone else’s day better. And so there’s that sort of hacking that moment of conversion is just sort of one of the things that we think about a lot. Like how do you make an attendee aware of Eventbright as a tool for their own needs when they need to organize an event or pull people together? And you think that’s like you know, well how many attendees would actually become organizers it’s very little but when you think about the fact that we have tens of millions of attendees that equates to a lot of organizers, if you convert just basis points.
Nathan: So, how did you guys identify the high growth opportunity so your business could achieve rapid growth? Like you mentioned you noticed early on that attendees eventually became organizers. Was there was there a process? Or how did you go about identifying
these high growth opportunities for the business so you could take these quantum leaps?
Julia: There’s a secret sauce or secret playbook. it’s about one key thing. Being acutely observational of your customers behavior. So we were stalking our customers basically and and every behavior they exhibited we analyzed. Our fifth hire was a business analyst and you know, we took data and metrics really seriously because we felt that they were things that we could tell from our data that we wouldn’t be able to see from the surface. And so one good example is you know distribution and sort of our growth curve in terms of how we got the word out about our events and how we started to drive more ticket sales. In 2007, we had our top drivers of traffic to the site and they were our big bet was that it was going to be all around SEO. So Google, and Microsoft, and Yahoo we’re big, big drivers of traffic to the site. Facebook started to popup as one of the top ten drivers to the site. And this was really in the early days of the newsfeed and so what we did was once we saw that we immediately went in to figure out what was driving that. And it was this very manual effort that our customers were taking to publish their event on Eventbrite, copy and paste their event details, publish those details in Facebook as an event to invite their friends but then link back to Evenbrite to sell tickets. It was very kludgy, it was very manual, but it was driving enough traffic that we were starting to see Facebook as one of our top drivers of traffic.
So what we did was we took that data to Facebook. We said look at this data isn’t this interesting like is there anything that you could do to help us fuel this behavior? Because we knew that it was very important to Facebook that their newsfeed reflect real life events ,right? They were starting to become overtaken by the games of the world in the sort of virtual world then they wanted it to be a real-life newsfeed. So they gave us early access to their events API and this was before Facebook Connect launched. And so we were able to actually make that action of copying pasting and republishing an event. A one-button push, and then we took one-step further where we turned attendees into promoters of the event because what we realize were you know events are inherently social. As our human beings and so people want to go to event with their friends or colleagues. So they’re more apt to share their events online and their social news feed to drive their friends and colleagues to buy tickets to that event. And so basically just capitalize on that behavior that we were already seeing and made that really easy as well. We just built hooks into our service that made it easy to social share which sounds like table stakes today and it is but back then it was actually we’re one of the first you know, services to provide that and to really get in there and leverage that connection. And so the moral of the story is that how do we not been acutely observational of our customers behavior? We probably would have been on top of the curve or behind the curve in terms of social sharing and how that could drive our business. And when you look at our results quarter-over-quarter you definitely see an inflection point in 2008 when we nailed social commerce.
Nathan: This is really great. This is quite a few things I’d like to unpack there. One you mentioned around just really being analytical. How often, did you guys interview your customers often? Back in the early days? And what recommendations would you have around that?
Julia: Well I think it’s important to as a founder be your customers best friend, therapist, family member. I mean I would small-knit countless hours on email and on phone with our customers primarily because I was the customer support department for the first two years. So because there were only three of us for two years I was marketing so finding our customers, customer support, caring for our customers, and then finance which was really just kind of not a job because we weren’t making much money. I would get the feedback from our customers give that to Kevin. Kevin would distill that and create product and then he would hand that over to Renault who would build the features in the product. And so I think really understanding your customers it comes from building relationships with them. We still get phone calls on our cell phones from early customers who have our cellphone numbers and who are I would put our
family members at this point I mean and I’ve never even met them we just have a deep bond of them being our first users and taking a bet on us and being integral into how we built our service in our product, but then I think you marry it with data.
So your customers can say one thing, but they could certainly do a different thing that you can realize in your data. And I think if you can marry the analytical with the sort of substitute relationship that you understand with your customers that you have, you can arrive to a logical conclusion. And I think it’s important, I wouldn’t necessarily want to convey the idea that we just went where our customers wanted us to go. If we had done that over the years are offering would be quite dense. We would have about 2,000 features, and it would be impossible to create an event on Eventbrite. But I think what we did was we honored what they were asking for and we to to go to your term we unpacked their feedback, we’ve listened, we took it all in which gosh we do a great job of doing today like in massive volume, and then we looked for trends and ways in which we could those problems or those challenges with technology in a way that made sense for our product.
Nathan: That’s great, another thing that you mentioned was the you guys spoke to Facebook early days. Did you guys have some form of relationship or connection? Or somebody that you knew there that could really help you? Do you think that being in the area that you are in San Francisco that that makes things easier to obtain high growth because you have a lot of relationships and connections like that?
Julia: No I think it’s, I think the world of technology is so global these days that I don’t think it matters where you are. But I do think it matters the relationship that you do build no matter how far away you are. Case in point you know Renault was commuting back and forth between Paris and San Francisco while we’re starting the company and much of what we did together was done over Skype. So Dave Morin who sits on our board was actually our early contact at Facebook and so I think we’re very lucky to have made that connection, but it wasn’t as if we were in a room with him all the time. We just had a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s business.
And I think what we what we were able to really understand through opening ourselves up to Facebook and giving them our data first and really building that relationship was this element of discovery and how important discovery is to our our business because
we were thinking of ourselves a sort of the SAS platform that was just helping organizers you know, sell tickets and the organizers were our customers, but their customers were the attendees. And what we realized at the time that the phenomenon of social sharing came into play was that actually discovery was really going to be the thing that drove our business and being able to facilitate discovery wherever people were sharing information as well as on Eventbrite itself was going to be extremely impactful to our business because in the end. We want to help organizers attract more people to live experiences and sell more tickets, but what we’re realizing now is that we actually have the opportunity to help consumers discover great live experiences and actually live more through attending more live events.
Nathan: Let’s switch gears again and talk about values. Do you have anything that you’d like to share on that front?
Julia: No, we have nothing to share. No, I’m just kidding. Yes you know I think the Eventbrite has been built on a few core values that are really essential to our existence which is doing the right thing, which is sounds kind of simple and easy to understand but I’m sure you and you know that it sometimes not as easy as it seems. And then really kind of basic human decency thinking about the person first whether it be our customers or our employees who we call Britelings and really drilling down on how we make people feel. And so that is like an undercurrent that goes across our team, our organizers, and our attendees. And it kind of its common thread that binds us all together. And we really value transparency and the notion of learning, we all… were a culture of learners basically people are insanely curious and always pushing themselves to learn more. And then collaboration, I think that one of the ways that we’ve been really
successful in building this company and building a culture that people point to as a great example is our collaborative spirit and how we’re willing to help each other succeed.
Nathan: Can you tell us about the hard times. Like what what did you guys have to sacrifice and give up to get where you are today?
Julia: W ll they’re of course was the hard time at 2008 where the bottom fell out and everybody was sort of wondering you know, how bad it was going to get. And we really buckled down and because we had built such a lean startup. We didn’t have to make any major changes. We did have to keep the faith a little bit, but what we saw were actually we have, some of our strongest growth years in those two years 2008-2009 where we started to see people come on to the platform and start using Eventbrite to generate alternative revenue. So whether it be teaching a class, or holding a seminar, or monetizing a passion that they had by sharing it with others. It was this really crazy sort of Renaissance period. And so like I think out of that great challenging time came the realization that this long tail of ticketing is super duper long if you think about it.
We’re a multi-category commerce business that has every category of life experience you can imagine. And then I think I’ll be sort of bold and Tara might kick me but I actually think we’re going through a hard time right now. Which is we’ve built a ticketing platform at scale in a way nobody else has done before. So we ticketed over 1.1 million events last year. Those are events that were actively attended. And we have the opportunity now to really create the world’s first marketplace for live experiences. And that actually hasn’t happened. If you think about that on a global scale, it hasn’t happened. There’s not one place that you go to to discover all the great live experiences in your local area. And so I think we’re at an inflection point in the company. And the good news is that we have a rock-solid culture, we have great advisers, and backers, and investors, we have a rock-solid business model.
We actually have this opportunity to stretch ourselves in ways that it’s just going to be really painful. And I think that what I’m most proud of is that we’re willing to disrupt ourselves because we could continue building a ticketing platform that just grows by total addressable market. We just keep kind of going along and and that’s great, grabbing market share moving up to bigger and bigger events, saturating metros. I mean that is sort of the status quo. We actually see this opportunity that’s almost ours for the taking its so
it’s such a reach, but it’s it’s something that is organically happening on the platform people are returning to a vamp right to discover new live experiences and they’re buying more from Eventbrite as a destination. So I think we’re in a hard time, to be honest.
Nathan: Yeah that’s really interesting. So as as part of disrupting an industry sometimes have to almost cannibalize your vision or not necessary your vision, but your model in the way you’re doing things, right?
Julia: Exactly, and I’m so proud of us for being willing to disrupt ourselves because I think complacency is death.
Nathan: So, let’s actually talk about that of disrupting an industry. What advice would you give to somebody that is looking to shake up a space?
Julia: Well I think you have to be fearless and you have to be bold. I mean that’s just table stakes, but I think you also have to find… I think that the word disrupting has gotten they’ll almost as much to play as culture at this point. I think specifically the industry should need to be disrupted like it’s not a foregone conclusion that every industry needs to be disrupted. And I feel like we’ve gotten kind of out of hand and trying to disrupt industry does that actually don’t really, aren’t appropriate to disrupt right now, and don’t really need disrupting. So then you should first and foremost ask yourself does this truly need to be disrupted. Am I solving a problem? And I would argue that Eventbrite in the very beginning it solved a functional problem for organizers who didn’t have any anything to use, to create a great live experience and to generate revenue of ticket sales, and to have that self-service ease of use, right? That accessibility to something that could help them create a great live experience. And now we’re realizing that we have the opportunity to solve the problem of what am I gonna do on Thursday night? Or how do I live more? How do I learn something new? How do I better myself? How do I connect with other people offline in the real world?
Nathan: Let’s switch gears and talk about what it’s like to work? And I’m sure you get this question all the time what it’s like to work with your partner? Let’s just touch on that lightly because I’m sure people would find that interesting, right?
Julia: People do find it interesting. I think I realized now nine years in why it’s interesting
because I can imagine a world where we didn’t work together and then we were trying to imagine working together and we it that would be hard to imagine, but you know for us we don’t know any different. We started Eventbrite before we even got married. So everything that we’ve developed in our marriage, in our parenthood, our Co parenthood and our have been under the auspices of being co-founders and partners. So obviously I’m a huge advocate because it’s working well for us, but I can certainly see a reality where it doesn’t work for people and in which case it’s not worth it.
Our golden rule is to divide and conquer. So we never work on the same area of the business at the same time. And not only does that help us cover twice the amount of ground, but it also just helps us avoid unnecessary conflict. We obviously are tremendous communicators, so we communicate a lot with each other. And that’s great and sort of healthy, but we also respect one another, and we rely on one another to make big decisions in the company and really empower each other to make those decisions, and are confident that in each other skills to play pretty equal roles. I mean one of the nuances that Kevin is our CEO and there needs to be one boss and any sort of co-founder ship, I think it’s really important when you get to the to the stage where you need that CEO or that chief that you’re very clear about that, but we do cooperate many parts of the company together. I’m focused on people. He’s focused on product. We’re able to kind of work in tandem and have our complementary skills shine through. And the best part of working with your spouse is you never have to wonder why the other person is in a bad mood at the end of the day or a good mood.
Nathan: I see, and do you guys have rules around when you come home and and stuff
like that? Because I know if my partner once I’m finished work and I’m spending time with her, it’s just kind of you got to shut off. What’s that like with you guys?
Julia: Well we don’t have to do that because we’re working on the same thing so there is that benefit of not one person not saying okay stop, like stop thinking about work because we have equal irrational feelings of love and loyalty for the company. So we don’t have rules around that. What we do have though is a really nice balance in having children. I
think if we didn’t have children we would be probably just one track minded and are having kids is just such a great way to balance work, and love, and play. It’s just… I guess for some people maybe not but for us we we inherently have that balance because one more with our girls or with them.
Nathan: Yeah, no look I really respect that. Well look we have to work towards wrapping up. I have a few questions around your advice and your level of knowledge that you’ve acquired as an entrepreneur and what you’d like to to give back to people listening to this interview and I’m curious what advice would you give to early-stage startups and entrepreneurs?
Julia: I think it’s not just it’s important to focus on building something that people want to use and gain traction and proof of concept through building and doing. I think it’s so important to be focused on the human aspect of what you’re creating. And so for us in the early days it was about connecting with our customers and understanding them. And being there for them, and building that relationship, and making them feel delighted by using our product, or by talking to us when they needed help. And then when we started to build the team it became abundantly clear that the people of Eventbrite, the Britelings we’re going to absolutely be our number one most crucial and valuable resource and the way in which we were either going to succeed or fail. And so I think making that connection between people and the success of your company as quickly as possible is really important.
Nathan: I love that. You care.
Julia: Yes, well you have, I mean, yeah I think for us that’s really helped us build a company that will be independent, and standalone, and sustainable over time because we have focused so maniacally on people.
Nathan: if you could give two to three action items. What would those be?
Julia: So the first is that to understand that your DNA as a founder is going to be present in the company that you build no matter what. I’m so resolute about that because I can look at so many instance. I have not, I’ve never seen an instance where the founder DNA is not present in a company. It’s kind of insane if you really think about it, so rather than that scare you as a founder you should think about the things that that you know about yourself for the ways in which you work and decide you know what are the few things
that you hope to have integrated in the companies in the way the company works in the culture. What kind of legacy do you want to leave the culture if for some reason someday you’re not there. I wish I would have thought about that early on. I mean thankfully I think it’s worked out, but it’s one of those like in hindsight had I known, it would have been a little bit more thoughtful about it.
The second thing is to seek great advisors. To think about building a village of advisors rather than trying to find a mentor or thinking about investors from just a capital standpoint, to think about the types of people that you’re bringing into the inner circle,
and think about building a village of advisers. Because it’s really important as an entrepreneur to get as much feedback as possible and it’s your job to filter it and to disseminate it and sort of look for trends. And it may feel like data overload but it’s so much more important to hear all sides than just one person’s perspective or one side of an issue and so building that network is reasonably important. And it’s also a nice lightweight way of getting a lot of mentors or people who look like mentors instead of trying to find that one magic mentor.
Nathan: Yeah, I love that one. And just on the that, I just want to touch on that. How do you go about just having a village of advisers? Is it simply, is it just as simple as asking?
Julia: It’s just as simple as asking and people are much more willing to have one interaction with you that may lead to many to give advice on what we do is then become a
mentor if that makes sense. So becoming a mentor sounds very time-intensive. And like a very big responsibility. We’ve been really able to engage people in a very lightweight way where it’s just simply reaching out and asking, but being very specific about the knowledge that you’d like them to impart on you. Actually did this today, I mean I do this all the time, but I went to Salesforce and met with the head of the Salesforce foundation and you know she talked to startups all day long who want to either replicate the they’re 111 model or get inspired by her. And I came with three questions that I wanted to ask because I know what that’s like to be sitting with someone who just wants to be inspired by you or wants to get
you know, some some guidance. And I want, I didn’t want to waste your time and I wanted to keep her focused. And so I think, thinking about it from that perspective of being prepared, doing your homework, and being specific about what kind of knowledge you’d like to glean or what kind of perspective is really important.
Nathan: One last question on that I’m curious, who do you learn from?
Julia: I learned from a lot of people. So first and foremost I learned from my partner. I mean I think Kevin has been my greatest advocate and mentor if I have a mentor he’s the most certainly is by contract and by circumstance. I learned so much by sitting next to him and proverbially and literally every single day. I learned from our team. I’m constantly learning. There’s probably not an hour that goes by in a day we’re not learning something new. So I put myself in those situations to learn many new things about our business every day because I’m curious. And then I learned from again our village that we’ve assembled throughout the years which include both formal and informal advisers, our investors, our board and you know finally of course I learned from our children because when the going gets tough and our six-year-old has this like we come home super stressed out and our six-year-old has this point of view on either quite literally our business which she loves to talk about, or first grade it is like… I’m constantly going all right like that’s what matters, or all right that’s like, that’s the simplistic view of this. And so
I think it’s just it’s more of not who you’re learning from but how you choose to learn every single day.
Nathan: Yeah that’s a great one. I I love it. All right, look we have to work towards, see I drew have to wrap things there but I’ve had absolute pleasure speaking of you Julia. To me it’s really interesting, fun conversation and we got a lot of gold so I just want to say thank you.
Julia: Thank you I really appreciate the time.
Nathan: I appreciate your time too.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Julia Hartz
- Learn more about Eventbrite
- Follow Eventbrite on Twitter
- Follow Eventbrite on Instagram
- Follow Julia Hartz on Linkedin