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HOW I MADE IT: HANS WOOLLEY

A more inviting Evite

December 09, 2012|Laura J. Nelson
  • Evite President Hans Woolley has sought to reinvigorate a company that was profitable but stagnant. “I don’t want to always be told that I’m right,” he says.
Evite President Hans Woolley has sought to reinvigorate a company that… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Since being named president of Evite in 2009, Hans Woolley has been in charge of modernizing the pioneer of online social planning. The West Hollywood firm, owned by Liberty Media, has about 16 million to 18 million unique users a month who create, send and manage email invitations. But by the time Woolley was named to the top post, the then-11-year-old company had fallen behind new rivals such as Facebook Events. Last month, Evite launched Postmark, a line of high-end, customizable e-cards -- the company's first new offering since its founding in 1998.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, December 19, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Evite chief: An article in the Dec. 9 Business section about Evite Chief Executive Hans Woolley misidentified Woolley's wife as Michelle. Her name is Melissa.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, December 23, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Evite chief: An article in the Dec. 9 Business section about Evite Chief Executive Hans Woolley misidentified Woolley's wife as Michelle. Her name is Melissa.

Starting in start-ups: Woolley, 34, was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in computer science in 2000. With funding from media conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp, Woolley co-founded Pronto in 2006. The desktop application for comparing prices on more than 65,000 shopping websites occupied a Manhattan office that was once a nuclear bunker. But Pronto downloads stalled in the months after the launch, and it became clear to Woolley's team that customers wanted their searches to be online. So Pronto spent four months building a Web-based shopping search engine from scratch. Traffic surged from 816,000 unique monthly U.S. visitors in February 2007 to 9.1 million in February 2008. "I learned the importance of accepting that you've messed up," Woolley said. "You have to be flexible, and pivot, and try again."

The big challenge: Woolley took the Evite job in 2009 because he saw room for growth. His greatest challenge was changing the culture of a company that was profitable but stagnant; its online invitations, which lead viewers to an advertising-supported Web page, had acquired a reputation for being slow, abrasive and ugly. ("At the very least, allow me to commend the hostess for not having sent an Evite," a New York Times advice columnist recently sniped.) The Web system had not been overhauled since its launch.

Creating a culture: The new goals for Evite are innovation, speed, willingness to try things that might fail, Woolley said. The Evite team hand-coded a new, more seamless Web system to replace a rickety, patched version. In new offices on Sunset Boulevard, Woolley used interior design to instill a more open culture, including more natural light, chalk murals on blackboard walls and red-brick accents for a "New York loft feel." There is a ping-pong room but no cubicles. He hosts "hackathons," during which over-caffeinated employees have 24 hours to build features for the site.

Innovation in a time of change: The company is learning to ease its customers, who may not be as receptive to change, into new features and modifications. Customer service is available around the clock by email, instant message and phone. The constant evolution of the tech industry makes staying ahead of the curve a challenge, particularly when a company is coming from behind, Woolley said. He has tried to strike a balance between responding to shifts in the industry and making changes that Evite needs, including making the service's much-maligned ads more integrated and artful.

Hiring the right people: He looks for smart people with diverse passions and a deep knowledge of Evite's operations and goals who can work in a collaborative setting. "I don't want to always be told that I'm right," Woolley said. "A little push-back from employees makes everything stronger."

Outside the office: Woolley spends 10 to 12 hours a day at the office but puts in even more time mentally. "When you love what you do, you always think about it." When he isn't in the office, he enjoys hiking, basketball, soccer and tennis, and spending time with his wife, Michelle, and 3-month-old son, Max, at their home in West Hollywood. He also volunteers in his native Haiti, where the economy largely depends on tourism and spending by nonprofit organizations. He is helping develop business plans that are sustainable and increase the availability and cultivation of food, including working with local fish farmers and advising the boards of several nonprofits.

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laura.nelson@latimes.com

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