The Remarkable Resilience of Julia Hartz

Starting Eventbrite, Taking the Company Public, and Weathering the Pandemic Storm

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On to today’s piece!

Julia Hartz

Julia Hartz - eventbrite

Julia Hartz, co-founded Eventbrite, a global self-service ticketing platform for live experiences, and helped build it into a company doing hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue.

She’d eventually take the company public as the CEO but then face a seemingly insurmountable challenge - a global pandemic.

And yet, she’s brought the company back.

How has she done it all?

Let’s get to it.

Early Days

Julia grew up in Santa Cruz and started dancing at age 5, something she really enjoyed and that she’d do nearly every day of the week. It was an experience that in hindsight seems to have been the seed of her work ethic and desire to always have a plan for things.

By 14 years old she started working at a coffee shop called the Ugly Mug, getting up early on weekends to open the place, and she’s never stopped working since.

When it was time to apply for colleges, she knew where she wanted to go, but couldn’t afford it. However, a personal touch proved fruitful:

In my senior year of high school, I interned for Dina Ruiz, who was a local anchorwoman in Monterey. She gave me the seedling of an idea that I could become a broadcaster. I did my research and I came up with Pepperdine, but it was incredibly expensive. I got in early admission, and had no way of affording the school. So I signed up for U.C. Santa Barbara.

But my mom said, “If you really want to go to Pepperdine, you should tell them that.” So I wrote them a letter. Then, two days before I had to put down a deposit on U.C.S.B., I got this huge packet in the mail, and it was a complete financial aid package from Pepperdine.

Julia Hartz

Shoutout to moms everywhere, they’re the real MVPs.

While in college, Julia landed an internship on Friends during the height of the show’s popularity.

Her job?

Answer the set phone and connect the person on the line with whoever they needed to speak with.

It was far from glamorous, but it did show Julia what she wasn’t passionate about - production or celebrity.

When she’d land a job at MTV after graduating, it felt like the perfect mix for her:

I was able to really identify what I wanted to do in Hollywood pretty early on, so I went straight from graduation into an assistant role in this series development department at MTV.

What I loved about it was that it was a blend of creative, content, and business. It's effectively being a VC for the network. You listen to pitches, you make some bets, then eventually you get to seed the investment, and you get to IPO.

Julia Hartz

At MTV, she was present at the very start of a little show you may have heard of: Jackass.

Through her career in Hollywood, which would last about 5 years, Julia serendipitously met Kevin Hartz, a person very important to our story today.

Partners & Co-Founders

It’s 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers select a high schooler named LeBron James #1 overall in the NBA draft, and in another part of the world, Julia attends a wedding that ends up being incredibly important:

We met in 2003 at a mutual friend's wedding. I was working for MTV on little show called Jackass.

Kevin was in San Francisco starting his second startup, Xoom, and his friend from Stanford married my boss.

In the church there were two sides, one of nerds and one of too-cool-for-school MTV kids. We were the product of that union. We sat next to each other during the ceremony and we hit it off.

Julia Hartz

After the wedding, they start dating long distance - Julia in Los Angeles and Kevin in San Francisco.

Kevin had a lot of experience in the startup world by this point and actually had invested in PayPal’s seed round in 1999.

So when Julia got a lowball job offer to work for a company in SF, it’s not surprising that Kevin convinced her to start a company with him instead:

I found a job at a startup cable network in San Francisco called Current TV, but they offered me less than what I was making at FX.

Kevin said, “You shouldn’t go work for somebody else’s start-up and make less than what you’re worth. You should come do something with me and make no money, and we could put all of our savings into bootstrapping it.”

I don’t know why I said yes, but I did. Literally, the next day, I’m pushing sawhorses and plywood into a warehouse in San Francisco, and I was thinking, “I really hope I’m not starting my life and the next phase of my career with a crazy person.”

Julia Hartz

Julia at the time was making about $80,000 at FX, turning down the $50,000 offer at Current TV to instead make… nothing.

Gotta love entrepreneurs!

At the same time, Kevin was transitioning out of his CEO role at Xoom, not really wanting to run a big company.

Julia and Kevin got engaged in April 2005 and early the following year they’d officially launch a company together.

Starting Eventbrite

The idea for Eventbrite was inspired by a mix of personal experience and a gap that Julia and Kevin saw in the market:

What inspired us to create Eventbrite was the notion that we wanted to democratize an industry using online payments.

Kevin’s background is being one of the first investors in PayPal, and so he had this knowledge around online payments, and all of the things that you could do with that.

That is what inspired him to start Xoom, which was online money transfer, and that is also sort of the nucleus of why we created Eventbrite. We knew that there was this intense need in a market that was really stagnant and devoid of innovation.

We wanted to use that entry point of online payment processing to democratize the industry, and create this link between great technology and live experiences.

The gap that we saw was that there was no technology available for people like you and I who wanted to host events on our own, and not use a white label solution or use something more sophisticated than Excel spreadsheets and checks.

The old vision was to create a self-service, easy to use product that anybody could use to sell tickets. That was our original idea and seven years later it’s still what really drives us. It's this notion that we can enable anyone and empower them to create a live experience because the technology is there. It’s completely accessible.

Julia Hartz

Armed with this idea for a company, Julia and Kevin knew they needed technical help to build the platform.

In the fall of 2005, they found it in Renaud Visage, who would become their co-founder and CTO just as he was leaving his previous company and moving to France.

But the 1/3 remote team worked well:

Julia would respond to customers and learn about them. We would talk. I would work on the product to sign and hand them over to Renaud who would code. He spent most of his year in Paris, actually. We were ⅓ remote team at that time. He would work. Because of the eight hours difference, he would crank away while we slept. We would come in the morning and there'd be all these new features and attributes pushed. We would just wash, rinse, and repeat.

Kevin Hartz

Kevin, with his experience in startups and building companies, would be the CEO, while Julia would be the President initially.

At the beginning of 2006, they launched Eventbrite.

The business model was that they would make 2.5% + 99 cents on each paid ticket while not charging anything for free events hosted by creators, encouraging them to share the platform.

Julia and the team faced a number of obstacles along the way.

One prominent one early on?

Some of the obstacles we faced in the beginning were—and still remain our same obstacles—is focus.

There are so many different ways you can take this, and yet through the tenure of Eventbrite we committed to being focused on the ticketing aspect of the event.

But as you know there are so many different things you could do on a platform, or you could create adjacency's to our business, and I think it’s been a real challenger; an obstacle in itself to not get too distracted by all the possibilities.

Julia Hartz

And they worked closely with their early customers:

So when we first started Eventbrite we built the product hand-in-hand with our earliest users.

And those early adopters were mainly tech bloggers, who were using the platform to host meetups.

And part of that process was creating a very sort of tight feedback loop with literally the most critical people you could possibly have using your product. We all tend to be gluttons for punishment around here.

Julia Hartz

One of those early customers was TechCrunch.

Working with them, they’d eventually build TechCrunch Disrupt, which was a big deal to Julia and the team:

What began as TechCrunch meetups, evolved into the first TechCrunch Disrupt conference. And what a watershed moment that was for us, to be supporting an event, at that point was a small conference, but it felt huge.

Julia Hartz

They were building a self-service product, paying close attention to what type of events were being ticketed through their platform.

And while tech bloggers were some of the early adopters, Eventbrite had a broad appeal.

When Julia and Kevin saw someone was using it for a speed dating event, they knew they could expand to many different categories:

But that’s kind of when the light bulb went on for us: oh wow, we really could create a platform that was fully inclusive of all different categories of events.

Because you really can’t get farther away from tech meetups than speed dating. There is a different expectation from those creators, and also a different way of using technology.

That was really helpful to start expanding our functionality, and the way we thought about building for different types of people.

Julia Hartz

The early days for any startup are absolutely crazy.

Julia, for better or worse, was nonstop focused on the business, even while in the hospital about to have her first child:

I have these relationships with these event creators that have been using Eventbrite for years that have my cell phone, Kevin’s cell phone.

And in fact, when we were having our first child, I was in the hospital room hooked up to an epidural. So let’s just like call that for what it was. So it was quite comfortable.

I was answering customer service emails and the nurse was like, “Ok. We need to get the laptop put away so that we can go to the labor and delivery room.” I was like, “Oh no, that’s ok. Why don’t we just call it for tonight?” Cause I was terrified. I mean obviously, like what was about to happen? I was just like, “Let’s just call it for the night. You guys come back tomorrow. We’ll do this tomorrow. I’ve got some emails to answer.”

Julia Hartz

Oh, and the day after she gave birth to their first child?

They hired their first engineer.

And for the first two years, they self-funded the company, which Julia admits was a big luxury that they could invest a couple hundred thousand dollars of their own money into their own company so they didn’t have to moonlight to build it.

They also got a sweet deal with the landlord, a really close friend of theirs, for their first office, allowing them to work there for free as long as they got other startups to join the space.

And they did just that.

About 10 companies were in the 10,000-square-foot space at one point and it felt very much like a community:

It was a really fun time and we were with a bunch of other companies. Trulia was starting out in that building, Mark Pincus and Zynga started in this building. Joe Greenstein and Flixster, Tripit - We all started on one floor. It was this early, quasi incubator, like one big happy family. It was a really exciting time.

Kevin Hartz

After initially bootstrapping, they raised a small seed round of a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Then, in 2008, a particularly challenging time to raise funding, they go out to raise the capital they needed to really kick things into high gear.

Sequoia Capital

A little more than two years into the business, Eventbrite had tens of millions of GTS (Gross Ticket Sales), well beyond what companies today would have for their GMV to show they had great initial traction.

It’s at this point that Julia and Kevin go out to raise funding.

However, it came in 2008, at one of the toughest times in the economy.

Even with their traction, Kevin’s background, and all of their connections, they met with 27 venture capital firms and received 27 nos from investors.

Of course, in these meetings, they had to address head-on the potential issue of a husband and wife team working together, so they’d bring this up right away in meetings.

Eventually, they’d break through.

They started raising in the fall of 2008 and by November 2009 announced a $6.5 million round led by Sequoia.

It was the first significant amount of funding they raised and in the years to come they’d raise a whole lot more.

And they didn’t waste any time though putting that money to work.

When they got insights into how event creators were promoting their events, they moved quickly to assist them:

Our head of product at the time said, “Hey, check this out. I wonder how people are using Eventbrite and Facebook.”

We investigated.

We found out that event creators were publishing their Eventbrite event listing and then taking the description and manually copying and pasting that into Facebook, into a Facebook event, to promote their event on the Newsfeed.

We took our data and our findings to Facebook. We gave them to Dave Morin. We said, “Hey, check this out.” In turn, he gave us the events API key that nobody else had for Facebook Connect. We built the bridge for event creators to be able to just one button push their content into Facebook. We were part of the Facebook Connect launch.

Julia Hartz

Growth took off and in the next few years Julia and the team would hit a number of significant milestones.

$1 Billion in Ticket Sales

In 2011, Eventbrite had more than 21 million people attend events through their platform.

The next year, they’d hit a massive milestone, which Julia described in an interview in 2013:

The next milestone was when we passed the billion dollar ticket sales mark last year… We sold a billion dollars in aggregate ticket sales mid-2012, but in all of 2012 we sold $600 million in tickets, so seeing that growth and having that perspective was a big milestone.

We also did another huge charity concert in Central Park last year that took very little resources and strain from our team, and that showed how we had grown as a company in less than twelve months, to really be able to take on another big project.

Julia Hartz

By this time, consumers are also using Eventbrite to discover new events:

What has happened in the last few years is that consumers—the general public, ticket buyers, attendees of events—are actually coming back to Eventbrite to discover new events to attend.

This is because our inventory of events has grown so significantly, and so we want to continue to grow that inventory to give ticket buyers who come back to the site a much richer experience, and also be able to take hundreds of thousands of events on the site.

We want to be able to whittle that down to three to five hyper relevant events for each consumer. We think consumers should expect that in this day and age of technology with big data and algorithmic recommendations, and we have a fairly sizable data team that’s working on this problem right now.

Julia Hartz

This is also a time when around 20% of their tickets are sold internationally, which presented an opportunity for expansion into new markets.

And remember how I mentioned they’d raise a whole lot more funding?

Well, this is something Kevin mentioned as actually being a challenge for them:

During the periods that we had raised the most money privately were the hardest and most difficult periods for me because we were really fighting this gravity of overspending and creating inefficiency. It took us away from our roots as a capital-efficient highly effective perpetual motion machine.

Kevin Hartz

Nonetheless, they kept growing, and they’d make a big change to the company in 2016.

CEO Switch

In 2015, Kevin took a leave of absence as CEO of Eventbrite for a medical condition.

The next year, more than a decade after starting the company, Julia stepped in as CEO:

In 2016, Kevin made the decision that he did not want to be CEO of a big company. He wanted to go back to building, and thought I should become CEO.

That was not a fun moment for me because I always have a plan, and this was not part of the plan. At the same time, almost poetically, I was reading “Personal History” by Katharine Graham. That was a different set of tragic circumstances, of course, but her way of handling that moment really spoke to me, and I thought, “All right.”

Kevin and I never wanted this to ever be an inside transaction, or just a passing of the baton. So we really took time to make sure that the board, independently, supported the decision. But when they came to that determination, which was a risk on their part, I was like, “Oh, O.K. I’ve got to do it.”

Julia Hartz

She didn’t waste any time.

The next year, Eventbrite acquired TicketFly, a “premier ticketing platform focused on music venues and promoters“ for $200 million from Pandora.

And a key component to getting this deal done?

I think about this a lot in terms of my team, too. The week we acquired Ticketfly, I sent them a message every night at 10 p.m. saying, “Pencils down. Go to bed, or do whatever you want to do, but let’s not pull all-nighters.”

I had this spidey sense that at some point, we would need the energy. Sure enough, we ended up negotiating until 3:30 a.m. on the final night. I think the fact that we were mindful about being rested made all the difference in the world.

Julia Hartz

The next year would mark another major moment for Julia and Eventbrite, something that was always part of the plan.


Julia decided in January 2018 they were going to ramp up the IPO process.

It ended up taking 9 months, but they’d go public on September 20, 2018.

Why this week?

Here’s why Julia picked it:

We landed on September. One thing that I think maybe you guys don’t know about me is that when I make a plan, that’s the plan.

I decided that since Kevin’s birthday is on September 18 and Roelof’s birthday is on September 19, that obviously we are going public that week.

You know when you do a remodel and you tell the team I have a really big event coming up, so you got to get it done for that? This was like that emotional push that everybody needed because it was not obvious.

In order to land our date, we had to get on the roadshow right after Labor Day and pass over and through two high holidays. It was a rare year where the high holidays are falling right in the center of our roadshow, and we have a ton of competition.

Julia Hartz

And here’s why going public was always part of the plan:

Yes, we stayed private pretty long, but I think that we always had an idea of Eventbrite being a public company. I think being in the public markets sheds light on your business. Light is a great antiseptic and a great way to be lean, thoughtful, and a high-performing company.

It was all part of the plan, frankly. One thing led to another. We acquired a big company. I think the timing was really about what we had set for ourselves. This is the threshold of revenue, this is the threshold of profitability, this is what we want to see in the business, and then we'll consider going public. And we did.

Julia Hartz

By January 2019, they have 1,000 employees in 14 offices in 11 countries.

They also have 100+ integration partners, something Julia says has been important for them:

So now today we have over 100 integration partners, and that ranges everything from managing feedback collection, through partners like SurveyMonkey; to managing sales leads with Salesforce. That was a huge moment for us when we opened that channel. And also supporting distribution.

So today if you publish with Eventbrite, your event gets distributed into over 50 partner platforms like Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube. I don’t think we would have done that if we hadn’t been paying attention to who our creators were and ultimately what they needed – and not even what they were asking us for, because they were asking us to help them sell tickets.

When we really observed who they were and what their needs were, that was when we realized that building an enablement platform with marketplace dynamics on top, would be one of the most important things that we could do for them.

It’s both an opportunity and a risk, by the way. Because you can get distracted and be chasing opportunities down many different paths. Our strength is bringing it back to how everything we do helps the event creator be successful. At the end of the day that really is the centering force.

Julia Hartz

I like that core piece of what she mentioned: Help the event creator be successful.

At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

Eventbrite would do more than $300 million in sales in 2019, but the next year would provide their biggest challenge yet.

Pandemic and Beyond

In February 2020, Eventbrite had a market cap of nearly $2 billion.

Funny enough, Julia was asked by Guy Raz on How I Built This in February 2020 if she ever had any anxiety about being the leader of a public company.

Her response?

All the time.

Little did she know what was about to happen with the pandemic.

Within weeks of the shutdowns, Eventbrite went from a nearly $2 billion company to being worth $630 million.

In an interview in Fast Company, Julia described it:

To work on something for 14 years, to have it go away in 14 days—which is exactly the amount of time it took for us to get to negative revenue—I just thought, I’m going to run through whatever wall I need to, to save this company.

Julia Hartz

How did Julia start to turn things around?

She talked about this in an interview with Ben and David from Acquired:

I actually went back and read some of the parts that I had highlighted from that book, The Hard Things About Hard Things, and I think two things resonate with me now more than ever.

One is to embrace the struggle, not try to avoid the really difficult things, and get right to the hardest thing.

Two is to see the silver lining in the worst-case scenario.

Julia Hartz

And she had to make some difficult decisions quickly, as she talked about in August 2020:

We saw the first day of the impact of COVID in early March, and in early April we downsized the company by 45%.

We effectively removed over $100 million from our operating expenses. On May 11th we announced our earnings along with our financing, and on June 12 we raised the second part of our financing through a public market convert which was part of the original plan.

Just moving at that fast pace allowed us to be stronger and at this moment I can’t help but look at all the opportunities that have emerged from this time because now, our smaller team is focused on doing less. We’re able to pivot our attention to helping small businesses survive this moment. Then, we really focused on what our product could do to help our creator survive this time.

Online events are something that we’ve served since the beginning of time. You don’t have to have an in-person event to use Eventbrite. We’re really the front door on the platform, the operating system for any type of event.

So, immediately we started to see creators, especially the ones that internally we call super creators or frequent creators. They’re small businesses or entrepreneurs. They started to pivot their events online. We saw Zoom become a highly-searched term on the site, so that’s when I reached out directly to them, and a few weeks ago we announced our integration with Zoom in a native app.

Julia Hartz

Of course, Julia had the help of her team and support from many others.

In a WSJ piece, a number of supporters were mentioned, each contributing in a different way.

Those contributions led to Julia raising capital to get through the crisis and creating a new plan for the future, mapping out the next three years by September 2020.

Eventbrite would launch new products and upgrade the virtual events side of the business.

After dipping from nearly $326 million in revenue in 2019 to $106 million in 2020, Eventbrite did $260 million in revenue in 2022, up 39% from the year prior.

While Eventbrite isn’t all the way back just yet after the global pandemic, Julia seems to have put them on the right path to success.

The only question now is, where do they go from here?

Julia’s Wisdom

In each edition of the Just Go Grind newsletter, I like to include a few more quotes at the end from my research into the founder who is featured, sharing their wisdom.

On creating an effortless experience for customers:

Today, we still serve an infinite amount of categories. We are very much an open door policy on who can use Eventbrite and for what kind of event. It’s a huge opportunity for us to be observing event creators and also a great advantage in understanding emerging trends.

That type of observation, of not having a bias towards what you’re trying to confirm and not always having a hypothesis that you’re trying to prove, but simply observing your customers can yield such great results. And to me is the cornerstone of creating an effortless experience. We do that all the time.

Julia Hartz

On maintaining a marriage as business partners:

We had a couple of “rules of road,” so mentors of ours gave us this motto: divide and conquer and that’s our golden rule.

We work on completely separate parts of the business. Basically, we never overlap so we're optimizing our complimentary skills, getting from point A to point B two times faster. It also really preserves our relationship because otherwise if we were working on the same spreadsheet we’d be fighting over the mouse.

I think that’s what sustains our working relationship as well as our marriage. We also happen to be the type of people who really like to be around each other a lot, and so that doesn’t hurt either. It comes down to dividing and conquering and then communication. I know that kind of sounds cheesy but it’s true.

Julia Hartz

Don’t do it unless you have an insane amount of conviction. That doesn’t mean being sure the product will work, but it does mean believing fully in the mission.

If you start a business saying, “Let’s see if this works, and if not I’ll do something else,” why bother? Because it won’t be easy. To weather all the ups and downs of starting a company, you have to embody a growth mindset and have the fortitude to keep going.

We started Eventbrite because we genuinely believed in the power of live events to bring people together and build community. And we knew that a self-service, category-agnostic platform could democratize the events space. But at the time, people were like, “What are you talking about? Small events are not valuable.”

We had to be relentless to help other people understand and believe in our mission, and it would have been impossible without conviction.

Julia Hartz

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