4 months into lockdown, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz sees ‘exciting signs of recovery’

“Eventbrite is in the unique club that nobody wants to be in,” says CEO and co-founder Julia Hartz. “Which is the first affected and one of the most directly affected businesses of the COVID-19 era.”

Hartz, who co-founded the company with her husband Kevin Hartz and Renaud Visage, joined Extra Crunch Live recently to discuss moving forward when your core business isn’t just threatened, but wiped out completely.

“You never as a founder — at least I never — ever wondered what would happen if the whole basis of our mission was tested,” she said.

The events world was one of the first industries to feel the pandemic’s impacts and will likely be among the last to be restored. For Eventbrite, which was built on a core business of in-person events and event ticketing, it meant making swift decisions to stay afloat.

External data show some bright spots. According to an operational update from Eventbrite, paid ticket volume on its platform increased 33% in May compared to April 2020. Eventbrite is down 82% in paid tickets in May 2020 compared to the same month year ago.

“A massive market and industry dislocation and disruption. I mean, we’re a living example of that,” she said. “It’s not a victory lap. Certainly, we’re seeing some really exciting signs of recovery, but it’s still very sobering.”

Hartz offered founders at all levels advice on how to work on culture during a crisis and offered tips on communication and transparency.

We also chatted about how open consumers are to paying for virtual events, how the company curates and moderates political events and how Eventbrite plans to address racial injustice beyond, in Hartz’s words, “episodic outrage.”

We pulled out a couple of highlights for you to peruse.

How she sees events changing in the next 18 months

Structurally, events are pivoting to in-person. So it’s not just pivoting online. A good example is the Beanstalk Music Festival in Colorado, a two-day music festival that pivoted to an in-person drive-in night concert. They were wildly successful in selling tickets to this new format.

It was a testament to the strength of their community and the pent-up demand to get together and listen to great music. But what we’re seeing beyond sort of those really creative uses of new types of space and venues that are outdoors are smaller events. Classes, workshops, seminars, small meetups are starting to come back. I think that as creators start to think about how to bring their community back in person, there’s a huge element of trust that exists in this new world.

We’re helping our creators establish that trust and be very upfront about what their event goers and attendees can expect in that moment as you bring yourself together in-person again.

When she knew the business would be materially impacted  —  and what she did next

In early March, we assessed the situation and we started to see the impacted affect on our top line. Prior to that, we couldn’t see anything. It was sort of this weird looking-for-the-shadows moment. But once it hit hard it was really up to not just the work we were doing day in and day out during COVID. But actually the prior, call it 12 months, of building. We had been both streamlining and simplifying our focus and ensuring we can show up to help our creators in a time of need. We didn’t know we were preparing for this, but much of that helped us move fast and take bold action and be decisive.

For any company that faces a crisis like this, I think it’s really important to one stay true to who you are. And to take a very quick command and control stance.

Whether consumers will pay for virtual events

It’s a small proportion of online events that are being paid for, but they’re happening way more frequently. Two things: It is lower overhead to produce the event and so it’s easier to produce the event multiple times. Also, everyone is available right now. So that might change, that’s the variable that may change as we start to return to some sense of normalcy.

What’s counterbalancing that is that consumer behavior has actually shifted and we’re far more accepting and prone to be in an online chat and virtual event-like experience. The repeat rate of attendees online is really high. So for those who are producing events or are enabling creators the frequency is very vibrant.

Mostly what we’re seeing are frequent lower-price ticketed events, where attendees are repeating more frequently to the same type of event to connect with that same community.

“Hyper-relevance” is key to event discovery

I think Eventbrite has the unique capability to be able to connect the constrained consumer to the right event at the right time, and be able to serve up events in a way that is really meaningful to a consumer audience. So you’re not getting hit with 100 events. We really focus on hyper-relevance. I think we have a lot of work to do and a lot of opportunity to get even better at this. Users have the ability to follow a creator or a collection on Eventbrite and create that stickiness and that signal. We’re able to send you notifications of new events as they are published. Or you can discover an event on Facebook and buy the ticket embedded in the platform without having to leave, because it is powered by our API. Or it’s the ability to run your own paid social ads through Eventbrite and maximize the marketing budget you have to drive attendance for. We think about it in those ways in terms of both enablement and through distribution and through our own destination approach.

And then also really giving people the tools to be the best marketers of their events. So effectively teaching them how to fish.

Eventbrite’s future beyond ticket facilitation

We’re focused on any way in which we can enable an event to rebuild their business and grow events. So we look at our role as sort of two-fold. Job number one is driving efficiency for our creators so they can save time and money doing other things. We automate the tasks that they would normally spend a lot of time on, especially now more than ever since these small businesses had to lay off their teams or put them on furlough. Building back their business is going to take a Herculean effort.

Second is how do we help them grow their business by selling more tickets, by reaching more consumers through discovery, through search, and through distribution? How can we help them really build back that connection to a community whether it’s now online and global, or hyperlocal and in person? So it’s efficiency and it’s reach. The most important thing to know about Eventbrite is that everything we do, we do through the lens of self-service.

So we’ll continue to invest and double down on that and do what we do best. And the reason why I say that is because we’re not going to try to sort of rapidly expand into new areas, we’re going to do what we do, and we’re going to be the best at it. That’s the near-term focus of the company. A lot of our success rests in how disciplined we can be in that focus. There’s a lot of goodness that comes from a simplified strategic focus.