It's hard to start a business in the Bay Area. And even harder to make it successful. We're inspired by the couples who have done it together and have decided to highlight them every week in our "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series.
Kevin and Julia Hartz, creators of the mega-successful ticketing site Eventbrite.com, spent the first two years of their relationship in different cities, and now they're together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, using their powerful connection to build Eventbrite into an international company.
How and where did you two meet?
Julia: We sat next to each other during the ceremony at a wedding of mutual friends. My boss at MTV married Kevin’s classmate from Stanford. It was kind of a funny merging of Stanford geeks and too-cool-for-school MTV people. Actually, the groom of that wedding ended up marrying us three years later, and the bride was a bridesmaid for us. So it was cool, we came full circle!
We were pretty much together from that day forward. I was in LA and Kevin was in San Francisco, so we did long distance for two years, from 2003-2005. It was really easy to fly Southwest and accumulate lots of free flights, so we ended up seeing eachother in 2004 every weekend. Kevin was building his second company, so he was working 25 hours a day, all week, and I was working really hard. On the weekends we would just spend two days together and then we’d go back to it. It worked out well because there wasn’t that pressure of being together during the week.
Kevin: We did a lot of instant messaging.
Julia: Yeah, we did a lot of instant messaging and Skype and stuff like that.
How did Eventbrite start?
Kevin: We started it in early 2006. We were just surprised at how poor the ticketing scene was, so we started to work very modestly. We bootstrapped the company, meaning we didn’t take salaries for almost two years, and the company’s profitability grew from there. But the inception of Eventbrite was to make it super simple to sell tickets for any type of event. Now we’re at 80 employees and we’ll sell $200 million in tickets this year for a really broad range of events, from the arts to music to education, anything you can almost imagine or can learn, teach or experience, we’ve made available. And it's happening all around the country, and actually all around the world. About 15% of our business is outside of the US.
How has your relationship evolved since working and being together constantly on Eventbrite, especially since you were apart for a couple of years before that?
Kevin: It was interesting, because we had this distance relationship and then we moved in and started working together and were with eachother 24/7. And I think that it doesn’t work for all couples, but we always had a "Plan B", had it turned out that it would be difficult to work together.
For example, my parents have been together almost 45 years and really love eachother but they would strangle eachother if they ever had to work together. And we just are a lucky pair that it works out for. We had some good mentors, Michael and Xochi Birch down the street, they started a company called Bebo.com here in San Francisco and they kind of pulled it off working together. We’ve really loved it. It’s been wonderful.
Julia: I think our relationship has evolved in a couple of ways. We started with a really nice base of communication because in a long distance relationship you have to communicate. We probably communicated in those two years more than we do now sitting next to eachother [laughs]. But I think our mutual respect has grown. When you’re doing something like this for as many years as we’ve been together, which is 4 years, you really respect eachother and I think we understand how our skills are complementary.
What are the best and worst things about working with your spouse?
Kevin: In the theme of finding what skills you’re strong and weak at, it’s definitely been identified that by driving skills are very weak [Julia laughs]. Like, I’m not allowed to drive. I think the biggest source of tension would be when I would drive to and from work, so it turned out to be a great win for me because now I have Julia driving me in the morning.
Julia: Then I get irritated because he’s on his iPad and his hands-free phone and his iPhone and his computer and I just want to talk and he doesn’t want to talk. So the car is the biggest tension for us!
We definitely don’t fight at work. That’s a no- no. We may have differences of opinions. Long ago, I saw that Kevin is an incredible mentor, and has started three companies. I really look to him for guidance, so if we don’t see eye to eye on something, I know that he’s hearing me so I can kind of let go and let him make the final call. That’s something that’s evolved over time--how we handle any sort of conflict, especially with the business.
Kevin: When we do, because we have an open floor plan in the office, we have to set a good example if there is any tension. Our strategy is to go into the conference room, turn the lights off and lay on the floor in the dark and hold hands.
Julia: That was Kevin’s idea. It breaks it up and makes it really funny and people go “Whaaat?”
What do you guys do to get away from the business?
Julia: Our free time is mostly spent with friends and our almost-three-year-old, Emma, who we love spending time with.
Kevin: And she’s our honorary chairman of the board.
Julia: She’s really our extracurricular activity. That’s the best way to unplug, because three year olds have minds of their own and wild imaginations so we like to unwind with her.
Kevin: Although she’s got a tiny little desk in between our desk.
Julia: Yeah, she loves to come to work and and work on Daddy’s big 80s calculator.
For us, people will say “How do you turn it off?” Well we don’t want to turn it off. We have date night every Thursday night and we’ve done that since Emma was two weeks old. We’re really lucky because we really really love what we do and often times we do talk about work on date night, because it’s a great way to catch up. Our days are so full now with meetings and the company going so fast, that some days I’m like “How was your day?" Even though I’m two feet from Kevin, we’ve had two completely different days. We feel like it’s our first baby, so we don’t really ever feel like we have to get away. But when we do need to break loose, we travel. We’re actually going on a big trip to Australia this year. I can’t say we’ll be unplugged but, we’ll be out of the country.
That sounds very romantic!
Kevin: Except that Emma and Julia’s whole family will be there [laughs].
Do you guys get to go on amazing dates to concerts and stuff via Eventbrite?
Kevin: It’s totally unfair because of where we are in the company, we’re kind of behind the computer powering the events and we don’t get to go nearly as many cool events as we’d like to.
Julia: Yeah, we’re always on the computer making sure the ticket sales are going properly. We kind of looked at eachother two years in and realized we had been so heads-down and focused on building a product using new technology to help people make their lives easier that we really didn’t think about the fact that we weren’t getting to go anywhere. So we go to more events these days, but honestly we don’t go to as many as we probably should be taking advantage of. It's just one of those things where we just want to make sure our event organizers are happy. A lot of our team members go to events to volunteer, or to help check in and see what our product is like on the ground. We’re kinda geeks about it though, we don’t get out as much as we could!
Kevin: Yeah, in the past couple of weeks, there was Oktoberfest by the Bay, and we’re testing a new iPhone barcode check in there, and MC Hammer played last week at one of the clubs in the city, there was a food festival, and we didn’t get to go to any of them. [laughs] We’re bitter.
What the coolest event the site has been involved with?
Julia: Some of the coolest things that have popped up in the past few months on Eventbrite have been Dave Chappelle’s show at the New Parish in Oakland, Food Wars, which is another event that sold out in minutes, with chefs that specialize in certain areas of cuisine. There was another event called the Rental Car Rally, where you rent beat up cars and then race them through the lower US, which is pretty funny.
And on the tech side we were really excited to power both the Twitter and Facebook developer conferences, and we also power the other major tech conferences like Techcrunch.
The coolest one to me was the recent Arcade Fire show in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library. I tried to get tickets and failed miserably.
Julia: Yeah, by virtue of our site being so easy to set up an event and get your tix on sale that actually was a surprise for us. I think we got like a 5 minute heads up, as to the fact that they were going to be selling on Eventbrite. We were like, “okay”, and we all sort of just watched. Thankfully, our service is ready to handle those types of blows and bounces and we were able to keep the site up but it was just incredible to see the demand and not even know that that event was even being sold on Eventbrite until 5 minutes before. There was a waiting list that had thousands of people on it.
Kevin: Our office tried to get tickets and didn’t either, so don’t feel bad.
Do you have any advice for couples who run a business together, or are thinking about it?
Julia: Absolutely. I think the first thing is to decide if you share a passion about that business and if you think you have complementary skills that will help you get from point A to point B two times faster. Kevin mentioned our mentors, Michael and Xochi Birch—they gave us a great piece of advice when we were starting out, which is "divide and conquer". Never work on the same project at the same time. And it rings true even today. We are amazing when we divide and conquer. When you get us behind the same thing, there’s going to be a little bit of tension of who’s going to drive the mouse and whatnot.
Another thing is to prioritize, so make sure you know what you and your partner’s view is on what is most important. Especially when you have a child. Always rank those and make sure you’re acting accordingly. We’ve really been lucky because we’ve had both sets of parents nearby so I think its important to have family around to ask or receive help from. Really the only way to have a family and to run your own business is to have that support.
And finally we’re pretty pragmatic, so we have an exit strategy. If everything goes to hell in a handbasket, what are we gonna do? Just by having that, it makes it almost less likely to happen, it kinda takes that pressure off and you’re not worrying about it.
It seems like it wouldn’t be so romantic to be so strategic and compartmentalized about your relationship and business, but for you guys it seems to really work.
Kevin: I think it’s called being overly anal retentive. [laughs]