Eventbrite founders: Start-ups need to concentrate on people and culture

Online event registration platform's co-founders, Kevin and Julia Hartz, stress the importance of the team as they set up shop in Australia

It’s the people first and foremost that make a start-up great, not the technology. The challenge and opportunity is to keep that cultural focus in the face of rapid, global growth.

That’s the opinion of Kevin and Julia Hartz, the co-founders of online event registration platform provider, Eventbrite, who were in Australia this week to launch the company’s new Melbourne office.

Julia said the biggest lesson she has learnt since the company launched eight years ago is that it’s the people that make a company great. She attributed Eventbrite’s successful rise to hiring people with the right mindset, who understand inherently what the success of the company is in the eye of our customer and embrace its customer-centric culture.

“It’s obvious, but easy to forget – I think a lot of companies when they do grow forget that part,” she said. “When you look back at the great companies, time and time again it’s because of the people, not merely the technology they built, product or even the service. It started with people.”

Kevin pointed out that in a digital world where there are no factories, it’s the strength of talent around you and how well the team works together that count.

“You can move mountains when the right people are in the right position. When something goes dramatically right or wrong, it comes down to people,” he added.

Eventbrite was founded in the US in 2006 and is based on a ‘freemium’ services model. It has processed more than $2 billion in gross ticket sales to date and raised $140 million in capital investment. This included a $60 million injection last September, which will help both international expansion efforts as well as build out services available through the platform.

One such feature is reserved seating, which launched in March and is available to organisers of any-sized event for free.

The decision to set up shop in Australia reflects both the substantial organic growth being experienced locally, as well as Eventbrite’s ambitious global expansion efforts. The company has supported more than 75,000 events in Australia to date, 53 per cent of which were posted during 2013.

It has also processed 3 million tickets to Australian events, half of which ($40 million) occurred last year.

“Eventbrite has actually been global from day one because of the self-service nature of our platform, as well as our integration with PayPal, and we’ve seen this incredible organic growth in Australia,” Julia said. “It has always been on our radar, but we haven’t had the resources or strategy to be able to come into the country and give it the love it deserves. That moment is now.”

According to Kevin, Australia represented 4 per cent of Eventbrite’s total business in the past year. The largest event categories are conferences, seminars, sales and music-related events, while the fastest growing areas include sports endurance events such as Tough Mudder, festivals and food-related events.

“It speaks to the robust and mature nature of the market, the nature of the culture, that we saw this grassroots adoption of the platform here,” Kevin claimed. “As a marketer, you go where the adoption is. When your customers tell you that there is this desire for adoption and it’s happening organically without spending the media dollars, it’s very exciting and a natural move for us.”

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The company actively began investing in building an international footprint and operations in 2012. Julia said it is looking to hire sales, marketing and business development employees who can build the Australian business and broaden its audience reach.

The Australian office is about providing better service, which she claimed wasn’t always the strong suit of the historical ticketing industry.

“We want to get on the ground and talk to customers and understand them,” she said. “We also want to help larger events to find the platform. So it’s all about focusing on the customers – the organisers and the consumers.”

It’s also about nurturing what is a highly localised business, Kevin said. “Events are inherently local… that’s an important aspect of what our local teams will be involved in.”

As well as international expansion, Eventbrite is investing in additional services to help end consumers find hyper-local events to participate in. Traditionally, the business concentrated on the event organisers, but has realised attendees are an increasingly vital part of the model, Julia said.

“We were just marketing Eventbrite as a platform to sell tickets to an event, but over time what happened was consumers started to come back to our sites to find things to do,” she said. “That has become a core part of our growth. Consumers want to find new live experiences, and we’re able to show them results based on what we know about them and then they buy more tickets to the event, and eventually become organisers. It’s a virtuous cycle that drives our growth.”

While many start-ups are inherently disruptive and customer centric, the difficulty is retaining that dynamic culture as they rapidly scale internationally. Both Julia and Kevin welcomed the challenge.

“People have a lot of pre-conceived notions of what a company should do when they get bigger. My day job is to debunk those and make sure we stay true to how we are as we build this company,” Julia said. “It’s a great challenge but not impossible. There are companies that have done it – just look at Amazon.

“Our mission is to efficiently build a global market place that people love. It’s the headline that the entire company is working towards achieving. That love piece is as important as the efficiency, and those two are as important as what we’re building in the middle, which is this global market place.”

While Eventbrite continues to inch towards competing with traditional ticketing giants, Julia said the company also wasn’t anywhere near going into those markets today.

“Many of the events that made up that $40 million in Australia are things you’ve never heard of,” she said. “What’s interesting is that it’s an enablement market. We also don’t know how large it is. Through the advent of technology from Eventbrite, more and more events can be held. I almost feel like we keep finding things under the couch cushions. While these events may existed for a long time, they weren’t a formidable category two years ago – just look at Tough Mudder.

“Like many technology companies that have come in with the notion of democratising an industry, we have followed the path of least resistance. But ultimately we do see ourselves being ubiquitous with all live experiences. But we don’t see ourselves fighting the incumbents any time soon because we’re still finding a wealth of grow in the markets well below their threshold.”

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