From 0 to 323 Employees: 4 Lessons on Growing a Startup from Julia Hartz
The Eventbrite co-founder and Women 2.0 conference speaker on learning executive skills as your business grows.
By Lydia Dishman (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
Julia Hartz has come a long way from the windowless conference room where she and her husband Kevin and their partner Renaud Visage started Eventbrite in 2006. Initially fueled by a stash of Cup o’ Noodles and their personal savings, Eventbrite, the online ticketing platform for all kinds of events, has since amassed $140 million in funding and processed over $2 billion in gross ticket sales across the globe.
Along the way, Hartz admits, there were plenty of growing pains. “There’s a lot of clarity in hindsight,” the 33-year old mother of two quips, “It’s a powerful mix of data and perspective.” Like parenting, entrepreneurship has taught her the kind of business lessons you just can’t learn from a textbook.
Lesson #1 – Know Thyself
Which for Hartz is a good thing. Confessing she didn’t love school (“I was a dancer and performer,” she points out) Hartz says she pushed all her classes to evenings and interned (for free) during the day. Stints on the set of Friends and in series development at MTV further reinforced that she preferred hands-on learning. “I’m not good at throwing around rhetoric,” she explains and says she wouldn’t even call herself an entrepreneur. “I’m a doer.”
This intrepid approach to starting and running a company helped when Hartz realized that five years spent working in television meant she had to learn everything about e-commerce and platforms from scratch. “The only thing I brought to the table was a sense for branding, delighting customers, and connecting with people,” she says.
She even went as far as answering customer support emails from the labor room before the delivery of her first child. “I didn’t think it was weird,” she maintains, “It’s a founder’s kind of normal.” Laughing, she also recalls watching her husband leave shortly after the birth to let their first new hire into the office.
Lesson #2 – Adapting
“Big shifts happen with each birth,” says Hartz, just like they did at each stage of Eventbrite’s growth. “One of the biggest challenges of my life came in late 2009,” Hartz remembers.
The staff had grown to 30 people, not so big that they couldn’t still fit around a table. But with a round of funding putting cash on the books, it was time to scale the team to take Eventbrite to the next level. “We created the plan to go from 30 to 100 in a year, it was the end of Act One,” Hartz recounts. And then came the “holy sh*t we are not going to make it” moment. “I saw other companies that had grown too fast and lost their identity,” she explains.
That’s when she realized how unconditionally devoted she was to Eventbrite’s future. “I would do anything to see them succeed or die trying,” she says. Hartz learned quickly she had to rethink the value she was adding to the company and its culture. “I was focusing on people, specifically putting them in front of everything else and using them as a filter for every decision,” she admits, “That was as far as I got in terms of thinking about culture.”
Hartz believes company cultures can’t be manufactured, it must grow organically. The “Britelings” as the staffers are called, are responsible for their own destinies, she insists. Her role during this time of rapid staff growth was to provide encouragement, resources, as needed.
Looking back, she says, “That was the renaissance period. We came out with this intensely killer culture.” The evolution also provided another lesson learned. “We are not trying to build the happiest company, we are trying to build the most sustainable.”
She spends a lot of time now talking to employees about what kind of company they are building together. “I ask every single person: ‘how do we get ourselves where we say that was our best work?’ without making compromises to get where they want to go.”
Lesson #3 – Staying Competitive
Her “myopic” focus on building the best from within taught Hartz to take a counter-intuitive approach to staying ahead of the competition. “Each company is different because they get their DNA from the founders,” she explains, which is why she’d rather pay close attention to industry trends to guide Eventbrite as it grows.
“It’s not about how we compete for engineers,” she adds, “It’s how do we compete from a high level at what we are doing.”
That goes back to people. For example, Hartz points out that she’s never met an engineer who doesn’t just want to be loved. “People want to learn, stretch and succeed, and be with others they like,” she underscores. If a founder spends time looking inward to improve the way the staff engages, it’s not like putting your head in the sand, she says. “Hiring is a privilege, not a right,” says Hartz.
Growing her staff intentionally and acquiring other companies thoughtfully, has increased the number of Britelings to 323 –45% of whom are female, a rarity among tech companies.
In this way, Eventbrite never had to compromise. “We’ve never had to pivot and we’ve never done anything I didn’t want published in the New York Times.”
Lesson #4 – Time and Patience
“My postpartum superpower is efficiency,” she notes, now getting three times more done in less time at the office. Hartz also feels fortunate to be able to bring her children along to business events.
With all the chatter about startups going from zero to $3 billion in a year, Hartz says that even when you’re leaning in, it takes a long time to build a big business and become a skilled manager.
“It is important to know just because you’re a founder, doesn’t mean your instantly a leader,” she says, adding, “The delegation part is something I am still working on.”
Want to learn more from Julia? Hear her speak at our upcoming conference.
About the writer: Lydia Dishman (@LydiaBreakfast) is a veteran business journalist writing about the intersection of technology, leadership, commerce, and innovation. Her work appears in Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.