After a Decade in Business, This Founder Became CEO. Here is How She Tackles New Challenges With Conviction.
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Julia Hartz says she believes that bringing people together can be a catalyst for real change. It’s the philosophy that drives Eventbrite, the global ticketing platform that she co-founded with her husband Kevin and Renaud Visage.
After a decade in business as the company's president, Hartz took on the position of CEO in April of 2016. Her first year as CEO included a significant milestone, the biggest event that Eventbrite has ever helped power: the Women’s March on Jan. 21. Hartz says that the company had more than a million registrants across the world at 150 events. In addition to being a massive mobilizing moment, Hartz found that it was a professionally clarifying one for her as well.
“When those things happen in your life … you definitely know that you built the right platform for the right reasons. At the end of the day, that’s why we built Eventbrite,” Hartz told Entrepreneur. "Kevin and I were inspired by the idea of really democratizing ticketing, essentially making it possible for anybody to create a movement, or an event or a live experience around any topic, passion, curiosity or cause. While I wish we didn't need the Women's March, I’m certainly happy it happened and I'm happy that we played a small part in it.”
In addition to developing a thriving platform that powers nearly three million events across the world, processes between two and three million tickets every week and has generated more than $8 billion worth of gross ticket sales since 2006, Hartz has built a workforce of more than 500 employees in 10 countries.
Fifty percent of Eventbrite’s executive leadership team is made up of women, and so is nearly half of the business’s global employee base. More than 20 percent of technical roles are filled by women, as are 33 percent of the company’s board seats. Hartz says that from the very start it was imperative to create a culture that would allow many different voices to be heard.
Entrepreneur spoke with Hartz for more insights on creating a pipeline for leadership, how to communicate your vision and navigating new challenges.
What do you think sets Eventbrite’s company culture apart?
There has been an intention since day one that it's as important to us that we build profits as much as we build a wonderful culture and a lasting legacy of a great company. We've created this inclusive environment that's very thoughtful in terms of how we can create allyship, how we create mentorship and what kind of voices are heard. The gender parity is something that has been organic to Eventbrite since we started building a team.
The only causation I could point to is having a female founder. I do have to give Kevin full credit, he's an incredibly strong feminist. I wouldn't be the CEO of Eventbrite if it weren't for him being my mentor and my coach all of these years. I just think that it's sort of a modelling program where you can see women who are in leadership positions and you can see yourself in that position because you can model yourself after [those women]. And we see that across the board.
What workplace issues are you passionate about?
We're about 29 percent female technical talent [in the U.S.] and 24 percent globally. I think that that's an area where I'd like to even go farther both on representation percentage but also [in terms of] seniority. That's really an interesting challenge because while there are more and more junior level female technical talent there is less and less senior female technical team just by sort of the sheer numbers of the pipeline and the erosion of the pipeline over time. So I'm focused on that next.
The other thing I'm really passionate about is parental leave. If there was ever a political issue to put my name behind, [that would be it]. I'm actually trying to actively seek out who I can learn from and who I can support because I think that that's a systemic societal issue that we need to fix. It's obviously not easy to solve from a federal level but the concept is pretty basic, which is that human beings probably shouldn't be penalized for procreating, since birth rate is something we value in the United States.
It still gets swept under the carpet somehow. So I think from a from a business leader standpoint, you have a bit of latitude just to solve the problem in your own microcosm. The way I look at it, is how can I create an environment where when people go through that very wonderful milestone, they are not feeling like they are disadvantaged or they're struggling. And they feel actually supported. The company shouldn't be the adversary in that situation.
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Are there different parts of your brain that you use as founder and CEO, having spent more than a year in the CEO role?
There are moments when I say, "I'm putting my founder hat on now." Usually, that is a very idealistic point of view, sometimes irrational or emotional. Less pragmatic. I think there's real value in having a founder CEO. Obviously, I'm biased, but I'm driven by a purpose and a mission and a vision, not just profits. But in order to succeed as the CEO of a company, you have to balance both and you have to adopt [this sense of] pragmatism.
My previous role as president, I was able to be sort of just all idealistic. So it's a balancing act for sure. But I do think it's one that I feel honored to play. I think it's such a special thing to be able to run your own company because I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that the founder would also operate as the CEO. I don't feel entitled to it, let's put it that way. I feel like I'm the best person for the job given my background and where I come from, but it is a constant uphill learning curve.
What was a recent challenge you had to navigate? How did you approach it?
I think that getting to profitability was certainly a challenge. That path to profitability in the last sort of a mile to a place where we're in a really good solid profit zone, was one that I think stretched us in ways that were healthy. We really got there on our own volition, but it was a combination of grit and tenacity in bringing the company along with us.
Marrying the vision with where we need to go to be a strong, independent company was a challenge. I think I was able to overcome that challenge by empathetic communication and providing context and perspective to the company. We have a global company with 14 offices all over the world. That [communication] doesn't just happen with one all-hands meeting. It was really an exercise of repetition. I learned a good lesson there which is if you want people to hear something, you have to tell it them more than once and you need to be consistent.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
I think entrepreneurship is combining a passion with the tenacity to problem-solve and the fearlessness to fail. The thing that I [would want to tell] people who are say, in a graduate business school class about entrepreneurship and expect that they'll just go out and start a successful company is that being a successful entrepreneur is basically being the person who fails the least. It is just an exercise in a lot of different trial-and-error moments and failures. You have to assume that things are not always going to go the way you intended. But somehow, you have to adopt an unyielding sense of optimism.