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How I Made It: Eventbrite co-founder Julia Hartz

Julia Hartz started her career in Hollywood before co-founding Eventbrite, an online ticketing service on track to process $1 billion in gross ticket sales this year.

December 29, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • “Hollywood is still very much who you know. The tech industry is built on a different foundation. I focus on what somebody has done or what they know more than who they know,” says Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.
“Hollywood is still very much who you know. The tech industry is built… (Eventbrite )

The gig: Julia Hartz, 34, is co-founder and president of Eventbrite, the San Francisco company that has carved out a niche in the multibillion-dollar ticketing industry by focusing on the "democratization" of online ticketing. It helps anyone — not just major musical acts or sports teams — operate a box office for events.

Eventbrite makes money when event organizers sell tickets — though the cut it takes is below the industry norm. It charges a 2.5% service fee and 99 cents a ticket. (Organizers don't pay a dime for free events.) Credit card processing fees are 3%.

The concept is clicking. The company Hartz started with her husband, Kevin Hartz, and fellow entrepreneur Renaud Visage is on track to process $1 billion in gross ticket sales this year and has raised $140 million in funding.

Career start in Hollywood: Hartz studied television production at Pepperdine University but realized she did not want to work in the field after interning on the set of "Friends," TV's hottest show at the time. Her big break came in her senior year when she snagged an internship at MTV developing new shows.

Her team was in charge of the pioneering reality-TV series "The Real World" and its spinoff "Road Rules." It also discovered "Jackass," which went on to become a major TV and movie franchise. She enjoyed the gig so much, she thought she'd just keep working for free even after graduating from college. Fortunately, her boss hired her.

The pull of Silicon Valley: Hartz was working at FX Networks — which at the time had such hits as "Nip/Tuck," "The Shield" and "Rescue Me" — when she met her future husband, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor.

Her first boss at MTV was marrying Kevin Hartz's Stanford classmate. Julia and Kevin Hartz sat next to each other during the wedding ceremony. They managed a San Francisco-L.A. commuter relationship for a while.

"Our claim to fame is that we saw each other every single weekend in 2004," Julia Hartz said. First, Kevin Hartz asked her to marry him. Then he asked her to start a company with him.

An entrepreneur is born: She had the glamorous Hollywood job and an office with a view. But living vicariously through Kevin, Julia Hartz had already decided she was in the wrong industry.

Silicon Valley's appeal? The speed at which it develops new ideas and technology, Hartz said. Also, Silicon Valley was more of a meritocracy than Hollywood in her view.

"Hollywood is still very much who you know. The tech industry is built on a different foundation. I focus on what somebody has done or what they know more than who they know," she said.

At the time Kevin Hartz made his proposal, Julia was weighing an executive role with Al Gore's Current TV. Instead she said yes to Kevin, and they started Eventbrite.

A friend gave them some space in a wiring closet, then a windowless conference room. They worked side by side. Julia Hartz focused on business operations and the customer experience while Kevin Hartz worked on the product.

"What I learned in those first six months is that this was opening up a part of me that had always been there. It was part of the reason that I didn't love school, because I love to learn by doing," she said. "We never sat around and theorized. We just started building."

Putting people first: Hartz knew from the outset that the success of the business would rest largely on the shoulders of Eventbrite employees, or "Britelings," and the strength and resilience of the company culture.

Eventbrite offers the usual Silicon Valley perks such as free gourmet food and a fitness and wellness stipend. It also offers some unusual perks such as a weekly get-together with Kevin and Julia Hartz called Heart2Hartz during which Britelings can ask the co-founders anything.

Britelings also put on learning seminars every month called BriteCamp. They teach one another how to program in Python, eat a nutritious diet for optimal energy or master the fine points of making a cappuccino. Once a year, Eventbrite puts on a talent show. It is, Julia Hartz says, her favorite day of the year.

"I didn't want to dictate the culture. I didn't want to get in the way of brilliance happening," she said. "If you want to build a sustainable culture, you have to have a strong philosophy and then let people do with it what they will and be OK with that."

The gender balance: Fortune magazine recently named Hartz one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs. Hartz, who has two young daughters, says she is determined to help other women in high tech succeed. The Eventbrite staff is 45% female and the executive staff is 50% female, Hartz said.

Hartz said she understands that people are frustrated with the "seemingly glacial pace" at which women are climbing the ranks of power in Silicon Valley. "But really if you look at how far we've come and you look at the next generation, I'm not worried in the least bit," she said.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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