Why founders aren’t always best for the top job

January 14, 2015, 11:09 PM UTC

Julia Hartz

Hartz started Eventbrite, an online ticketing platform, with her now-husband Kevin in 2006. Since its founding, the company has raised $140 million from firms like Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global Management and reached $2 billion in gross ticket sales this September. Entrepreneurship forced Hartz to appreciate candid and collaborative conversations. "I had to learn how to ask for help," she says. "Everyone always thinks it's brave to go out alone, but I think it's even braver to put yourself out there in front of others, and to figure out how to work together."
Photograph by David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Eventbrite is the online ticket service that has changed the way event planners do business. Now almost anyone can set up and sell tickets online for their events. Started in 2006 by Julia and Kevin Hartz and Renaud Visage, Eventbrite sold $1.5 billion worth of tickets last year.

Earlier this week, Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky moderated a panel with a group of startup founders, including Julia Hartz, who is president of Eventbrite. (Hartz was also one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2013). Hartz answered a handful of questions about startup life before the panel.

Fortune: What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a founder?

Hartz: It’s not a forgone conclusion that if you founded the company, you’re the right person to operate the company. The biggest challenge has been to constantly accelerate my operational experience while surrounding myself with people who have seen the things I haven’t experienced yet as a company operator. All the while, being mindful and honest about whether or not Kevin and I are the absolute best people to run the company. For now, we are, and we choose to feel grateful for that but I think it is challenging to be honest about the fact that sometimes (more times than we admit), founders aren’t the best people to operate the company.

Fortune: What’s the one thing you wished you knew when you first began this journey?

Hartz: I wish I would have known that it could be as fun nine years in as it was during the first couple of years. We’re so fortunate to have a team of 500 amazing people and be challenging ourselves to grow and evolve the company in ways we strived at the beginning. I had assumed that by this point, Eventbrite would be a large, slow company –quite the opposite. We’re taking bigger risks now than we ever have and I wish I would have known it’s a mentality, not a size thing.

Fortune: What’s been your biggest mistake?

Hartz: Not having more confidence and wasting time in wondering if I was actually making an impact on the business.

Fortune: If you were to start another startup what is the one thing you would not do?

Hartz: Put business objectives and ambitions ahead of the best interest of the team. And hire for just right now or a twelve month outlook – you need to hire for the two to five year outlook: hire bigger, earlier in key strategic positions.

Fortune: What’s the one piece of advice you would give up and coming startups?

Hartz: Surround yourself with people that make you better and stronger – co-founder(s), mentors, investors. Find a co-founder who complements your skills. Kevin, Renaud, and I are all proficient in very different areas of the business so when the rubber met the road, we were able to get from point a to point z three times faster. Create optionality – build before you go for big money. Many businesses don’t need a lot of capital to get off the ground. Find low cost ways to gain traction. We spent very little in cash the first two years of building Eventbrite and were able to gain our independence as a company before going out into the VC community.

Fortune: What’s next?

Hartz: We are laser-focused on building the first ever global marketplace for live experiences.

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