BRIGHT IDEAS

Tak­ing over as CEO of a BIL­LION-DOL­LAR com­pany is in­tim­i­dat­ing enough – but what if the SHOES you’re fill­ing are your SPOUSE’S?

Collective Hub - - LETTERBOX - WORDS TARA FRAN­CIS

It’s rare enough to be at the helm of a bil­lion-dol­lar com­pany. It’s even rarer to take over the reins from your hus­band. But that’s exactly what Ju­lia Hartz did. Eventbrite was founded in 2006, in a win­dow­less San Fran­cisco phone closet, by Ju­lia, her then-new part­ner Kevin Hartz and Re­naud Vis­age.

As the CEO, Kevin grew the event man­age­ment plat­form to a bil­lion-dol­lar business but, in late 2015, he stepped down from the chief ex­ec­u­tive role to take med­i­cal leave. Ju­lia stepped into an in­terim po­si­tion, run­ning the ‘Of­fice of the CEO’, a group of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives whose pur­pose was to “ad­vance the agenda of the CEO”. But be­fore long it be­came clear that a full-time CEO was nec­es­sary.

To­day, Ju­lia is the per­ma­nent CEO of Eventbrite while Kevin is a part­ner at ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Founders Fund.

I WAS SORT OF THE LAST ONE IN ON THE JOKE THAT I WOULD BE­COME CEO OF THE COM­PANY.

I hadn’t quite pre­pared my­self for it men­tally. One of the big­gest learn­ings I’ve had is just how men­tal it is, in terms of not let­ting your­self get over­whelmed by the idea that all of the com­pany rests on your shoul­ders. There’s nothing you can do to pre­pare your­self, to be hon­est. From an emo­tional per­spec­tive, it’s al­most like becoming a par­ent.

IT TOOK A CLOSE AD­VO­CATE TO LOOK ME SQUARELY IN THE EYES AND TELL ME THAT I NEEDED TO BE CEO OF MY OWN COM­PANY.

It was a Tues­day in San Fran­cisco, 8am at our usual break­fast place, and I was just giv­ing her an update on what was going on. She had to cut through it all. Some­times you can hear some­thing a mil­lion times, but it takes that one time from that one per­son, you’re in the right place and it’s just like – boom.

THEN I HAD TO GO THROUGH THE MEN­TAL EX­ER­CISES:

what does that mean and how might that change my re­la­tion­ship with Kevin? He was ready to step out of the role per­ma­nently, so it wasn’t a ques­tion of how do I tell him that I want his job, but it was more just a ques­tion of how will that change our dy­namic? We’ve worked re­ally hard at hav­ing an awe­some dy­namic, whether it be co-founder­ship, op­er­at­ing part­ners, par­ents, part­ners in life. But I did have that fear that there would be some­thing that I’d in­ad­ver­tently stum­ble into that would change the great thing that we have. Get­ting over that fear re­ally quickly was important.

CO-FOUNDERS ARE IMPORTANT BE­CAUSE ONE HU­MAN BE­ING CAN’T POS­SI­BLY BE THE BEST AT EV­ERY­THING.

Di­ver­sity of thought and ex­pe­ri­ence is so important in any start-up team, whether that’s through co-founders or through early em­ploy­ees or ad­vi­sors. I highly rec­om­mend not going at it alone. Kevin and I both aren’t en­gi­neers, and Re­naud was our first engi­neer. He was our en­gi­neer­ing team for the first two years, I was our mar­ket­ing and cus­tomer ser­vice team, and Kevin was our prod­uct team.

YOU NEED TO UN­DER­STAND THERE’S A HIGH DE­GREE OF FAIL­URE WHEN WORK­ING WITH YOUR PART­NER.

It’s a very per­sonal de­ci­sion. What we did was made sure we un­der­stood what was most important – our per­sonal re­la­tion­ship. If any­thing were to get in the way of that, that’s when we would have fig­ured out plan B. Thank­fully we didn’t have to, and I think that’s not a co­in­ci­dence. Of­ten I hear peo­ple say, ‘Oh I’m not sure [about going into business with my part­ner].’ It’s al­most that tepid­ness that can work against you.

IT’S JUST PRAC­TI­CAL TO [SET ES­CAPE ROUTES WHICH] TAKE THE PRES­SURE OFF.

You’ll of­ten hear me say, ‘Try it for 30 days, try it for 60 days’ – I’m con­stantly telling peo­ple that. Be­cause all of a sud­den you get peo­ple to take big­ger risks when they don’t feel like they’re mak­ing a de­ci­sion that will be set in stone, so it’s a bit of a men­tal hack. For our­selves we just said, ‘Let’s try it for a month and check in at the end.’ Then it was three months, then it was six months, then it was a year.

HAV­ING KIDS IS THIS NICE FORC­ING FUNCTION FOR BAL­ANCE,

be­cause you aren’t in­ter­ested in work­ing when your kids are around, typ­i­cally – I’ll speak for Kevin and I. But I think that it’s a won­der­ful, won­der­ful thing for kids to see their par­ents en­gaged in what­ever they’re do­ing. And so I think, whether it’s work­ing full-time out­side the house, work­ing part-time in­side the house, or not work­ing but vol­un­teer­ing… As long as kids are view­ing their par­ents as be­ing en­gaged, and seek­ing ful­fil­ment – [it’s a good thing].

I HAD MY FIRST WEEK­END AWAY WITH MY NINE-YEAR-OLD… AND SHE SAID TO ME, ‘SOME­TIMES I WISH THAT YOU DIDN’T WORK.’

I kind of laughed, and I’m like, ‘Well isn’t that an idea.’ And she said, ‘But I’m also re­ally happy that you’re work­ing on some­thing you’re pas­sion­ate about.’ And it was one of those mo­ments where we’re like, I can die now be­cause this some­how trans­lated through that it’s pur­pose­ful. Even if it’s not a com­pany that you’ve started, or that you’re a founder of, find­ing pur­pose in your work is so important to trans­late to your own chil­dren. >

WE AN­CHOR AROUND THE IDEA THAT WHAT WE BOTH DO WHEN WE’RE NOT WITH THEM BET­TER BE HIGHLY VALU­ABLE,

be­cause the time that we spend with them is so pre­cious. Time re­ally is the only lux­ury. You can’t buy time, so I think the way you spend it is in­cred­i­bly important.

I’M PRETTY PSY­CHO ABOUT TIME.

You have to be in or­der to be highly pro­duc­tive. I have a cou­ple of op­er­at­ing sys­tems – one is Google Cal­en­dar, the other is Asana, which is a col­lab­o­ra­tive task man­age­ment sys­tem. Spend your time where it mat­ters – you have to be very thought­ful about it. I con­sider my­self maybe a green belt on the ninja scale.

IT’S A RE­ALLY IN­TER­EST­ING SUB­JECT, AU­DIT­ING YOUR TIME BASED ON WHAT YOU WANT TO AC­COM­PLISH. OR RE­AL­IS­ING THAT TIME EQUALS QUAL­ITY.

To only go an inch deep, not go deeper, will ul­ti­mately end up with you seeing a less qual­ity prod­uct. With the help of my as­sis­tant, around ev­ery quar­ter I’ll look at where I wanted to spend my time, and where I actually did spend my time. I al­ways say, at least per­son­ally, your sched­ule is like a jig­saw puz­zle – there’s al­ways a miss­ing piece un­der the couch.

TWO OF THE MOST MEAN­ING­FUL WAYS I CAN SPEND MY TIME ARE DEEP THINK­ING AND READ­ING.

War­ren Buf­fett fa­mously reads 12 hours a day. Elon Musk cred­its ev­ery­thing he’s done to read­ing and di­gest­ing as much material as pos­si­ble, then ap­ply­ing it to new prob­lems. I wish I had more time to read. I re­ally do push my­self to digest more philo­soph­i­cal read­ing and things I can ap­ply to the day-to-day, instead of just be­ing trans­ac­tional.

I’VE BEN­E­FITED FROM NEVER LOOK­ING FOR A MEN­TOR.

But rather, I’ve tried to build the great­est, most use­ful net­work of ad­vi­sors. Peo­ple who are men­tors to me would be al­most sur­prised [that they are]. It’s not so much hav­ing a net­work of men­tors, it’s how you gather a great net­work of ad­vi­sors who have dif­fer­ing points of view to your own. It’s on you to lis­ten, ask ques­tions and fil­ter. Just be­cause some­body thinks you shouldn’t do some­thing, or they think you should do some­thing a cer­tain way, doesn’t mean you should do that. You have to put to­gether the data and per­spec­tives, then make an in­formed de­ci­sion based on that.

I THINK THAT ANY COM­PANY BEN­E­FITS FROM HAV­ING A CLEAR LEADER, SO I’M NOT AN AD­VO­CATE OF CO-CEOS.

But I think there are many dif­fer­ent models that in­clude that type of col­lec­tive of lead­er­ship. For in­stance, Ama­zon has two CEOs in the com­pany be­yond Jeff Be­zos. So Jeff Wilke [CEO of World­wide Con­sumer] and Andy Jassy [CEO of Ama­zon Web Ser­vices] are both termed CEOs of that business. That shows that you could scale with a dis­tri­bu­tion of lead­er­ship, but I do think hav­ing the one ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion-maker is re­ally important in any or­gan­i­sa­tion; I just think it’s the way hu­mans work best.

CUL­TURE IS A MAN­I­FES­TA­TION OF THE PEO­PLE IN A COM­PANY AT ANY GIVEN TIME,

which is a re­flec­tion of how you’ve hired, which is a re­flec­tion of who you are as a com­pany and what you stand for – so it’s all very in­ter­re­lated. But a com­pany cul­ture should be able to breathe and evolve as you shape-shift. It’s not about be­ing a chameleon, but about ma­tur­ing as an or­gan­i­sa­tion… You can’t shoe­horn ev­ery­body into one archetype or one idea of what the per­fect cul­ture is.

I DON’T KNOW OF ANY CUL­TURE CRE­ATED THROUGH HR.

So it’s not just the lead­ers, it’s not just the CEO, it’s ev­ery sin­gle per­son in the com­pany. Not to get too crazy, but Eventbrite cul­ture to­day is just slightly dif­fer­ent from Eventbrite cul­ture to­mor­row. Likely some­body is join­ing Eventbrite to­mor­row who has their own set of ex­pe­ri­ences, ideals and per­spec­tives – and we’re bet­ter for that.

START OUT WITH THE PROB­LEM YOU’RE TRYING TO SOLVE WHEN YOU ARE HIR­ING.

Think ab­stractly with­out think­ing about peo­ple – what kind of skills might you need to solve that prob­lem in the best way. And only then start think­ing about back­grounds and peo­ple who might match that. That was ad­vice that was given to me by Patty McCord who ran [the ta­lent of­fice] at Net­flix for many years, and I think that’s re­ally help­ful. When you’re a very peo­ple-cen­tric per­son who likes to con­nect with peo­ple, that can kind of muddy the ob­jec­tive­ness of a de­ci­sion, so I re­ally try to both hold my­self to that, but also hold our team to that.

I’M NOT A GREAT TEXT­BOOK IN­TER­VIEWER, BUT I HAVE A STRONG IN­TU­ITION ON PEO­PLE.

So I gen­er­ally ask [in­ter­vie­wees] to tell me their story. It’s sort of the worst and best ques­tion be­cause where it goes, where it starts, what it in­cludes, is all very telling, right? Some­times [the hir­ing process] has to be an awk­ward slow speed chase. ‘You’re not avail­able? Okay, I’m not going any­where. I’ll be here.’

BE­LIEVE ME, I HAVE MY DAYS WHERE I’M LIKE, ‘OKAY, THIS JOB MIGHT KILL ME,’ BUT IT’S WORTH IT.

The de­vel­op­ment of a global brand is be­yond some­thing I could have ever dreamt of. What we bring to our cus­tomers is pretty epic. I feel re­ally lucky to be at the helm.

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