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Live events were a casualty of the pandemic. But they’re nearly recession-proof, says Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz

June 15, 2022, 1:19 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ulta Beauty mourns its CMO, union members say Starbucks is threatening trans-inclusive health care benefits, and events weren’t pandemic-proof, but they are recession-proof, says Eventbrite’s CEO. Have a wonderful Wednesday.

– Let’s get together. Talk of a recession doesn’t scare Julia Hartz. The Eventbrite CEO already experienced her company’s worst-case scenario in March 2020, when the live-event ticketing business lost 90% of its revenue at the onset of the pandemic and laid off 45% of its staff.

“We were literally processing more refunds than revenue,” she remembers now. So as the economy seems ready to dip again, Hartz is prepared. But while one might think that live events would be one of the first discretionary spending items to get cut from a tight budget, Hartz says that Eventbrite customers are still turning to the platform. “People want to be out more during this period of time,” she says. “For two different human needs: one is distraction. And the other is finding a job and networking.”

If the country does fall into a recession, it won’t be Eventbrite’s first. The platform was founded in 2006, just two years before the 2008 financial crisis, and Hartz says she’s already seeing trends that mirror how consumers used the service then. Sales for networking events are up—as are bookings for “hedonistic” activities like concerts, food and alcohol tastings, and parties. The average event on the platform costs $40 to attend, which Hartz classifies as an accessible line item in one’s budget. “That really does drive the resilience of a business like Eventbrite during a time like this,” she says.

Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz.
Courtesy of Eventbrite

Today, the Eventbrite team numbers 800, up from a low of about 500 employees in 2020 but still fewer than the pre-pandemic 1,100. Eventbrite’s stock is down 50% from this time one year ago, trading around $10 yesterday. But Hartz argues the share price has avoided some of the market volatility now hitting tech companies.

Hartz took over as CEO in 2016 from her co-founder and husband Kevin Hartz, who had run the business since its inception. In 2018, she led the company through its initial public offering. The pair’s unusual spouse-to-spouse corner office handoff offers some lessons for other founders, Hartz says. “To an outgoing founder-CEO, I would say, ‘Give the new CEO a wide berth to really establish their leadership,’” she says. “But being co-founders doesn’t ever go away.”

For companies now conducting layoffs—a roster that includes Compass and Coinbase this week—Hartz offers some perspective, too. “It was just 100% traumatic,” she says of laying off half the company. “No one was left untouched by that.” But she says the company tried to “act like humans,” allowing affected employees to keep their laptops and helping to connect them with new opportunities.

Since stepping into the chief executive job, Hartz has made diverse management a priority. Currently, she’s aiming for women to make up half of a new 80-person engineering team in India and, in 2018, she pledged to reach gender parity on her board of directors.

Eventbrite’s board is now 67% women, with a new appointment that Fortune is the first to report. April Underwood, the former Twitter and Slack executive, and part of the women’s investment collective #Angels, is joining Eventbrite’s board. She takes over a seat previously held by Sequoia Capital partner Roelof Botha. “I look forward to helping the team continue to innovate,” Underwood said in a statement, “and create a more connected society which is needed now more than ever.”

Emma Hinchliffe

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- Information or retaliation? Managers at several Starbucks locations nationwide allegedly told baristas that access to transgender-inclusive health care benefits, like coverage of expenses for employees who travel 100 miles or more for gender-affirming care, could be stripped away if they unionize. The labor union Workers United filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday accusing Starbucks of threatening employees with the loss of benefits. The Seattle-based coffee chain denies the claims, saying it was informing employees of unpredictable changes that come with the unionization process. Bloomberg

- In memoriam. Ulta Beauty chief marketing officer Shelley Haus died earlier this week due to complications from cancer. Haus, 49 at the time of her death, joined Ulta in 2014 and was promoted to CMO in December 2019. She previously was a brand leader at Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and the Kellogg Company. The company in a statement remembered Haus as "an innovative marketer, creative storyteller and a people-first leader who saw beautiful possibilities in everything and everyone." Adweek

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- Team meeting. Russia announced Tuesday it is extending the months-long pre-trial detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner by at least another 18 days. U.S. State Department officials met with the Phoenix Mercury player’s teammates on Monday to discuss Griner’s detention and efforts made to secure her release. New York Times

- Supply for demand. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) recently sent an open letter to tampon manufacturers, asking about their plans to address the ongoing shortage. Procter & Gamble, which produces brands Tampax and Always and has almost half of the U.S. market share of menstrual products, said the company is working to ramp up production and meet increased demand. Playtex and o.b. producer Edgewell cited the Omicron subvariant's rampage on supply chains as reason for low inventory. Bloomberg

- Benevolent sexism. The majority of men say they are committed to combating explicit sexism in the workplace. Yet the majority unintentionally engage in “benevolent sexism,” actions that seem positive but are still harmful to women. These actions include assuming women are naturally suited for certain roles (such as HR over sales) or assuming women only exist to fulfill men’s need for intimacy and affection (like complimenting a woman’s appearance and saying her husband is a lucky man). This implicit form of sexism can have detrimental effects, leading women to feel incompetent in the workplace or lacking career support. Harvard Business Review


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