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