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