Interview with Julia Hartz
Julia is a reformed Television Network Executive and comes to Eventbrite by way of FX Networks and MTV. "I'm an entrepreneur because I think I can change an industry. I also love helping to build something that people want. Being an entrepreneur, for me, I feel like I'm part owner in a movement and there is just something inherently satisfying about working on something you feel such ownership and passion about."
An Interview with Julia Hartz Co-Founder & President, Eventbrite
Date: July 12, 2010
NCWIT Entrepreneurial Heroes [music]
Lee Kennedy: Hi this is Lee Kennedy, board member for the National Center for Women and Information Technology or NCWIT. And we're here today as a part of a series of interviews that we're doing with extremely interesting entrepreneurs. These are women who have started IT companies in just a complete variety of sectors, and they all have just very cool stories to tell us. Today with me is Larry Nelson. And Larry is from w3w3.com. Hi, Larry.
Larry Nelson: Hi, I really am happy to be on this show. And by the way there are so many parents and so many managers and leaders that listen to this show. So that's why we're tapping into all these great entrepreneurs and leaders.
Lee: Great. And we also have Lucy Sanders who is the CEO for NCWIT. Thanks for joining us Lucy.
Lucy Sanders: Hi Lee. Very happy to be here. And I wanted to mention that very often our entrepreneurs that we interview for this series are showing up more and more on the top 10. To watch the top 10 there, the most in this region, so the women we're interviewing are just top five entrepreneurs.
Larry: You bet.
Lee: Cool. Just to get right to it today we're interviewing Julia Hartz. And Julia is the co-founder and President of EventBrite. And EventBrite is the leading provider of online event management and ticketing services. Is just a really cool company, and Julia has brought the creative and energy of the entertainment business. She was at MTV formerly.
Lucy: Oh wow.
Lee: Welcome Julia. Thanks for coming here today. We're looking forward to talking with you about entrepreneurship.
Julia Hartz: Thank you. I'm really honored to be here.
Lee: Wonderful. So can you tell us a little bit about what's going on at EventBrite lately?
Julia: Oh goodness, a whole lot. Well, we were originally founded in 2006 by my husband and I and our third co-founder Renaud Visage, our CTO. And since that we bootstrapped the company. We were just three people for two years, very product focused. But I'm happy to report that we are now nearing 60 employees. So it's quite a different company today than it was even back in 2008. On the topic side we're just really focused on making life simpler for the organizers, and delighting our customers through innovations of simple tools they can use to publish event pages, promote their events to a wider audience, and sell out their events. So sell more tickets to their events. And we're also now looking at our relationship with ticket buyers. Now that we've helped event holders host over 200, 000 events, obviously that there is a larger accumulation of attendees that are now coming back to EventBrite to find out about more events that they want to attend. So that's a current feature trend that we're seeing.
Lee: Well you know NCWIT runs events, so we could well be one of your future customers.
Julia: [laughs] I'll give you the sales pitch.
Lee: All right. [laughs]
Julia: On a different time maybe. [laughs]
Lee: Yeah. I would love to hear more. We find that running events can be very time consuming. So it sounds like EventBrite is on to something. So Julia, the first question is about technology. And first of all, how you became interested in technology? And also really interesting technologies that might you see on the horizon that would interest our listeners.
Julia: All right. So my career as you said it before began in television. I was a development executive at MTV, and I worked the first season and the first movie of a little project called Jackass. Sorry, I'm not sure if I can say that on radio. And then I went on to FX Networks, and I worked on shows like Nip/Tuck, The Shield, and Rescue Me. So my career there was really high in creativity, and it was definitely pushing me up a little as they were in cable television, and the projects they worked on. But it was very well in technological innovation. So we found it very hard to break the traditional distribution mold as well as the traditional advertising mold for that matter. So my last year at FX I spent a lot of time on product placement, which was sort of a thankless job, trying to make sure that the label of the beer can was pointed in the right direction at all times in a scene. I started to get the inkling that there was something out there that would make me feel fulfilled, and I was lucky enough to meet Kevin about two years before I left television. I was able to see him start a company from inception. I was sold. Two years later I was ready to leave my traditional career and take the leap. So that's how I first got into technology. I felt like it would be something I would feel, I wanted to be ahead of the curve instead of trying to chasing trends, which I felt like we were doing in television at the time that I was working at MTV and FX. Technologies that I think are cool? Kevin is an avid angel investor and adviser. By virtue of that we were really lucky to be involved in a lot of different companies and see a lot of great trends come out of those companies, and very bright people. I always say that what I feel like is cool right now for me personally is not exactly original. But it is in the way of communication and information dissemination and I'll give you an example of how that applies to me and why I think it's cool. We were recently on a trip and our trip itinerary was shared with our family and anybody else who needed no know where we were through TripIt. We were not in touch with our family during the trip so I posted mobile photos of our two-year-old on Facebook so that my mom would know how she was doing at all times. In our company we share information through Yammer and we also share expenses through Blippy. Then, on the social side oftentimes, I'm checking in through Yelp to let people know where I am in case they're in the same area. We live in the city so it's not so large. So that idea that I can instantly broadcast and disseminate information easily and with no friction is really huge for me today being an entrepreneur and a mom.
Larry: Well, entrepreneur and a mom, and you got this "techie" background, why are you an entrepreneur? Also tying in with that, what is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick?
Julia: I'm an entrepreneur because I believe that I can change an industry. I also love helping to build something that people want and that's extremely valuable. I feel day-to-day glee in making a difference, in working on projects that are both very large scale and very small scale. I also feel like being an entrepreneur, for me, I feel like I'm part owner in a movement. So I think if I were to sum it up, being an entrepreneur and being a parent, I feel equally about both. [laughs] So EventBrite is very much our baby and there is just something inherently satisfying about working on something that you feel such ownership and passion about. That's what entrepreneurship means to me. That's what excites me about it.
Lucy: That's great. So Julia, who would you say influenced you or was a role model or mentor along the way to get into being an entrepreneur?
Julia: The reason why I took the leap and didn't hesitate was because of Kevin. Entrepreneurship comes like second nature to Kevin, and he had founded two companies before that. So I really believed that everything would be OK [laughs] and that somehow, someway we would succeed. So for him there was just no question that he wanted to always be an entrepreneur and it was almost like, "Why not? Why not come work for free with me and see what we can do and how we can change the world?" So really he's the one that influenced me first and foremost. Our families really support us along the way. They're very unconditional about everything we do. As far as role models go, we have mentors in Michael and Xochi Birch who are a married couple who founded a few companies. But most notably and recently Bebo, they founded together. They gave us some great advice in the beginning, which was divide and conquer. As a married couple if you're working together never work on the same thing at the same time. Not only is that sort of a recipe for disaster if you're behind the same spreadsheet in trying to share them out, but also you get from point A to point B two times as faster, even maybe faster, because you have complementary skills. And that very much applies to Kevin and I. We divide and conquer in everything we do. At this point in the game we work on very different aspects of the business, and actually get to catch up at the end of the day. And ask each other how each others day went. And my parents are role models because just everything that they've done they've done with a lot of grace. And finally, two-year-old daughter Emma is a huge role model to both of us. Because I think, for me it's because she never backs down from wanting to know why. She doesn't settle for an answer that she can't completely believe. She can definitely be a role model for us in many different aspects.
Lucy: Well, I certainly think parenting has taught me up. That's for sure. She probably got a double dose of entrepreneurship. We'll have to see what she ends up starting.
Lee: Or determination.
Lucy: Or determination for sure. So Julia along the way you've been encouraged, you started a company, you've worked in entertainment, you've had a great career so far. What's the toughest thing in your professional career you've ever had to do?
Julia: The only thing that I dread and the toughest part of this gig is coming to the realization that a team member is not a right fit, and having to let them go. And for us it's been, we haven't had to let go many people, and that's great. But it's really hard when you're building a team, because you feel like this is your family. And for me, I feel like each person on our team is like an athlete. I have to keep them like well-feed and you know hydrated, and well, and out of the tabloids. [laughs] I want to take care of everyone who works at EventBrite. And to have to part ways with somebody is by far the toughest part of this gig. Secondly, I think making decisions that I feel like are going to maybe not sit well with our customers. And our interests have been extremely aligned with our customers since the inception of EventBrite. And we really built EventBrite through having a dialogue with our customers and understanding event organizers' pain-points, and how can we alleviate them through technology. But making decisions like pricing changes it's totally agonizing. And we have a story where we went from a freemium service to offering a free service and paid service, to just a completely paid service. And we fretted over it for months. And when we finally reached the decision and pulled that cord, not only did we not see the turn that we had expected, but we saw our conversion go up. Because people who were coming to the site going to have to make that decision over or whether not to sign for the free or paid service. So these kinds of decisions are really tough for us. And I feel like one thing we could have done better is not fret so much over it, and believe in our product, and our ability to delight our customers.
Larry: That's great advice. So one of the things we wonder about and always ask and that is if you were sitting down right now with a person who's considering becoming an entrepreneur or just starting to be an entrepreneur what advice would you give them?
Julia: I think that if you're going to do it you have to jump in. I mean I feel like when I visualized the leap that I took from a corporate secure job to running EventBrite and working on this project, I envisioned myself jumping in with my eyes closed, head first and all hands and feet in. I mean I don't think that it's possible to have success without completely committing yourself. So whether that is committing yourself completely mentally, or if it's mentally, logistically and financially you really have to put all your skin in the game to actually have a chance. Most start-ups don't' succeed and I think that it's for obviously a variety of reasons. But first and foremost, if you're going to choose entrepreneurship, you have to commit in every fiber of your body.
Lee: The word devotion comes to mind.
Julia: It takes a lot of devotion. You can't have one put in and one put out. It doesn't work very well.
Lee: So, on the same note what it takes to be an entrepreneur, there's certain personal characteristic that everyone thinks of that makes us entrepreneur successful. What would you say are your personal characteristics that have given you the advantage as an entrepreneur?
Julia: So, me personally, I feel like I have a very strong willingness to pitch in. Now, that we are 60 people and our roles as founder, I feel like at this point I do not get in the way of greatness. We hire very, very smart, capable, talented people and we need to let them have their freedom to really change this industry. But on the flip side, I am always willing to pitch in and help so whether that be any sort of mundane task. It is not mundane to me because it contributes towards the success of the EventBrite, of my baby. So, that willingness to pitch in is key. I also have an ability to be objective. So, because of my first start up, I'm not very dated and everything is very new. I try to just come about it and to have a fresh perspective and being very objective about everything that is happening and not ever feeling like we have to be status quo. We are actually trying to disrupt an industry, the ticketing industry, and so to look at it from a fresh perspective is an advantage in many different aspects of running a start up. And, finally I feel like I'm a 110 percent committed. I mean I feel extreme honors over EventBrite in a way of like I really care about it and I care about everybody who works on changing the world with us. And so, commitment and then accountability really being accountable for the bad things and the good things. I think that makes a big difference.
Lucy: Julia, you've mentioned that you travel and you mentioned your family and you mentioned your devotion to EventBrite. So, we're curious. We always ask this question. How do successful entrepreneurs bring balance into both their personal and their professional lives?
Julia: Right. So, first of all you have to prioritize and you have to perhaps write it down on a white board. What is most important to you and then write everything up. I mean we talk a lot about [inaudible 15:15] optimization here and I kind of feel the same way about balancing your life. For us, it is an interesting talent because EventBrite is very much our first baby and we have and I who is a part of this process. So, instead of dividing them into two things, we feel like we are in it together. Sort of clichÃ© to say but it is very true. It takes a village and for me personally, I have to find my vortex of happiness so that for me is being a great mom and being a great entrepreneur. I have to be confident enough to ask for and receive help from our village of family and friends. And I have to prioritize. And so, I have to note that if push come to shove, what would I do in each scenario and how do that emergency sort of exit plan. That is also very applicable to working with your spouse. And so, I feel like for us, our family and our friends and our daughter, they are in it with us and so they feel invested and understand what's going on as well.
Larry: Well, you have already achieved a great deal. You are doing a lot. You are young. You are building a family. What's next for you?
Julia: My goal for EventBrite is to grow the service and to the only place you would ever go to buy a ticket for any event you would ever attend. And then secondly, I want to have more kids.
Lucy: There you go.
Julia: It gets a little bit harder to scale for some reason I don't know. I look at it and I'm like, I am pretty sure one plus one doesn't equal to so we'll see. [laughs]
Larry: Well, I've got five kids and my wife and I are in business together so it works.
Lucy: I have three.
Julia: I need to sit down and pick your brain. Lee: Well, thank you so much Julia for talking to us. We really appreciate it. I want to remind our listeners where they can find this interview. w3w3.com and NCWIT.org and please do pass this along to other people who would be interested in listening to it. Thanks very much Julia.
Julia: Thanks so much for having me.
Larry: Thanks, Julia. [music]