By Elizabeth Anderson Friday, 30 August 2013

How we beat the odds: Eventbrite founders Julia & Kevin Hartz

The founders of online ticketing platform Eventbrite explain how they transformed from a tiny startup into a billion-dollar business.

When we started Eventbrite in 2006, we took no salaries for almost two years and worked in a cramped office in San Francisco that we shared with other start-ups. We funded the business ourselves and worked 80-hour weeks, although we slowed down when we had our first baby in 2008.

Starting a tech company during a recession may seem like a risk, but in fact it was a terrific time. There was an unmet need and a huge market for people wanting to create their own events. From the start, we decided our only revenue source should come from ticket fees. We charge 2.5% plus 65p per ticket, which is quite low, considering the average fee is 15% in traditional ticketing, and for free events we charge nothing.

Investment came as Eventbrite started to take off in 2009, when the introduction of the Facebook timeline and the rise of Twitter pushed more people to the site. We raised $6.5m initially, which we used to expand the team from 30 to over 100.

To date, we've raised $140m in total and we now have 250 staff working in California and London, where we opened an office in October 2011. This year alone, we'll sell $1bn worth of tickets for events ranging from cupcake-making classes to the Jersey Live Festival.

The seedy underbelly of the internet has created some of our biggest challenges. Because of the nature of our business, we're exposed to hackers and money launderers. An event could be hosted by a seemingly legitimate organiser, but who is actually using the site to launder money by purchasing tickets with stolen credit cards.

In the early days, we had a $150,000 attempted fraud that we managed to detect in time. Soon after, we built a team of specialists who continually watch for any signs of suspicious activity and we've created an incredible infrastructure on the site that's able to detect fraud.

Another big challenge is hiring great talent. We compete daily with other tech giants in Silicon Valley to hire the best engineers. We invest a lot in building our team, and we interview every potential recruit. When you have great people around you, all the biggest challenges to the business get solved.

Our philosophy has been to raise money when the business doesn't need it. We have close to $100m in the bank, which allows us to enter new markets and means we avoid being forced to raise cash. We're still quite cautious. We've seen other start-ups go through hyper-growth after raising lots of money, without thinking about the culture or the identity.

That's when the wheels start coming off the cart. But because we spent three years building Eventbrite ourselves, we felt we understood everything about the business before getting funding. We've passed the point of being gobbled up by another company, and we're not tempted to sell up - just yet.

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