Eventbrite’s boss on leading with empathy and getting the best from staff
Julia Hartz is co-founder and president of billion-dollar-plus online ticket seller Eventbrite. Since it launched in 2006 it has generated more than $US3 billion in gross ticket sales to events, festivals, parties and workshops around the world and for five years running has been voted the best place to work in the San Francisco Bay area. Hartz says empathy can be a useful leadership tool when trying to retain her 500-plus staff in Silicon Valley’s overheated employment zone.
What is your family background?
I came from a working-class family and grew up in Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco. My mother is a retired editor and my father was in retail, as general manager of some big chain retail stores. I have a great work ethic from both of them. My upbringing was quite normal. I have worked since I was 13 years old. I have never not worked. My first job was as a barista.
Is work-life balance important given business runs 24/7, especially in technology companies such as yours?
Absolutely, work-life balance is important for everybody at the company. I strive to help people figure it out – whether they have a family or not. People who don’t have children need time for themselves. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m interested in the longevity of our team whether that be caring about their wellness or whatever. I take that seriously.
How do you get the best out of your staff?
It’s important to understand who’s best for the role. I think about the problem we’re trying to solve and the skills we need. I look at the profiles of people. It’s formulaic. I find if you really put people’s interests first and build trust with the people in your company there’s really no limit to where they will go. The time and effort I have put into building those foundations builds on itself. That starts to be a catalyst for growth.
What’s the retention rate of your staff?
I think we are about average on retention. It’s a very special time in Silicon Valley. In San Francisco we are seeing a lot of [staff] movement. It really is an aggressive market. Seventy-five per cent of our company are millennials who are looking to grow rapidly and looking at options. They are not dug into the one company. You’re no longer looking at 20 years with one company. You’re looking at five years with a company. We give our people great challenges and make it an environment where they want to come to work. It’s also important to connect the dots, connect their work to the success of the company, or greater vision, or how they can directly impact those. We also make sure we provide internal opportunities for growth, building paths that allow people to ascend when they’re ready.
What is your leadership style?
I lead with empathy. I used to think that was a weakness but not any more. Now I think it’s a great strength and I am definitely connected to people at Eventbrite. I care and I also try to be as clear and consistent with people as I can. I have a pretty good memory as well. That’s pretty important too.
What makes a good leader?
A strong intention to lead makes a good leader. I spent a few years thinking I was not good or old enough to be a leader but when I eventually took the reins I realised I needed to have a strong intention to lead. You can’t fall backwards into leadership. You have to go in head-first. I think great leaders are passionate and they believe in what they’re doing. The more optimistic the leader the better it is for the team. It has to be rooted in reality and I really think strong leaders have an intention and belief in what their team will achieve.
What was your first real job?
I chose TV production as my focus area, and found a career in series production with MTV. I was almost a venture capitalist representing the cable TV network. I saw all the scripts then I bought the rights to some of them. I was fortunate to work in MTV right out of college.
What skills can non-technical staff bring
to a technical company?
When we started Eventbrite I wasn’t sure where I would apply my skills. My skills in media included listening to people, building an authentic connection with people and developing a brand or a voice. I also built and ran our customer service function for the first few years, as well as overseeing our marketing efforts. I realised in my own personal journey that I love to learn by doing. For that reason I did not love school – because I really love
to get my hands dirty.
What do you love about
I love the fact that in my mind this is a once-in-alifetime opportunity to build a long-term sustainable business. Over the past 10 years I had no idea what was in front. But an idea becomes viable and it turns into a company. I also think that I love the blank-page quality of creating a company every day – we’re writing our own book.
“If you put people’s interest first and build trust with the people in your company, there is really no limit to where they will go.”
Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz on staff development