‘I had to really gain confidence in what I could bring as the CEO of this company,’ says Julia Hartz, co-founder of online ticketing platform Eventbrite. ‘It’s not an easy thing to take your husband’s or your co-founder’s job... and it wasn’t handed to me. I raised my hand for it.’
Hartz set up Eventbrite in 2006 with her husband Kevin, already a serial entrepreneur at the time, and CTO Renaud Visage. Since then it has processed over 200 million tickets, supporting over two million events in 2015 alone, across 180 countries. It’s on track to become profitable this year.
The idea’s very 21st century: ‘Democratising ticketing’, to find a self-service market between the large ticketing providers, which had been ‘defined by high fees, bad customer experience and little or no tech innovation’ and casual birthday parties.
Bootstrapped at first, Eventbrite took $6.5m in angel funding from Sequoia Capital in 2009 and has now raised $200m. Employee numbers have ballooned from 30 to 580 in that time, which has made working culture a priority for Hartz.
‘You can be successful and have a really toxic culture or a company that won’t be remembered for what it stands for, and that was really important to me,’ she explains. Hartz’s solution involves an impressive suite of employee perks, including unlimited holiday, yoga classes and subsidised massage appointments on site.
‘I believe that high achievers can meter the amount of time they need to take off so they can bring their best selves to work,’ Hartz explains. ‘It doesn’t work for everybody and doesn’t necessarily translate globally, but it’s a core value we have because we think the autonomy is important.’
Employees don’t flit off whenever they fancy – they’re just not allotted a certain amount of days off for the year and aren’t paid for time they didn’t take. ‘To think that every individual needs the exact same time off from work to be their very best is flawed logic in my mind,’ Hartz adds.
She’s not keen on the idea that providing so many in-house benefits could actually have the adverse effect of making work seem all-encompassing. ‘I think the tricky part is some people don’t balance their lives if they don’t have kids – they don’t value their time as much as we value our time. The message I’m trying to get across to Eventbrite is if you’re a high performer you know how to take care of yourself.’
Perks like unlimited holiday are only available for US based employees, but the firm’s international contingent is becoming more important by the day. By the end of the year Eventbrite expects to have more people outside of their base in San Francisco (currently around 300) than they will inside.
This brings growing pains of its own. ‘Culturally that’s important to us, because we’re headed in a direction of having a global, inclusive community that’s not revolving around San Francisco, because it’s not the centre of the universe,’ Hartz says.
‘It’s also important for us to take advantage of talent pools that are outside of our local area and I think that’s been key to our success in certain markets.’ An office in Nashville too has meant Eventbrite has been able to recruit talent that doesn’t necessarily want to move to the West Coast. ‘Not everybody wants to live there,’ she adds wryly.
This ‘global community’ has taken work to get going. It hasn’t merely been a case of dropping contractors on the ground and leaving them to it. The offices don’t need to be identikits of the HQ, but maintaining elements of it helps.
‘Then making sure communication is globally focused and not just having US news coming out all the time,’ Hartz adds. ‘Not thinking it’s just San Francisco and then remote offices, which I think can be pretty demoralising for those local teams.’
With such a focus on employee well being, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear Hartz describes herself as ‘an empathetic leader’, though she used to think that was her greatest weakness. ‘When I’m in the room with someone I can tell they’re feeling a sort of way and that was super distracting,’ she says.
‘Now I’ve realised I can harness it to build that connection. I want to know how that person’s doing and what’s motivating them. Then we can get to a point where I can help them because I understand the context of how they’re thinking and feeling.’
It’s served her well thus far. ‘Now I consider empathy my superpower – it’s most certainly not an Achilles heel.’