For co-founder Julia Hartz, the pivotal moment for Eventbrite came in 2011 in the form of a dream. She dreamed that an investor came up to her and announced: "Congratulations. You've created the happiest, most mediocre company in the world."
At the time, the company, which lets anyone sell tickets to an event big or small, routinely appeared on "best places to work" lists. The perks--nap rooms, catered meals, arcade games--were plentiful. And the company was in the process of doubling in size--from 100 to 200 people--largely with the help of employee referrals. In the competitive talent market of San Francisco, where Eventbrite is headquartered, the startup was more than holding its own. Yet, the company was set to miss its projections for the first time in its history.
The dream led Hartz to an important realization: Many high-performing companies have terrible workplace cultures. Eventbrite had the opposite problem. The culture was fantastic. The performance? Pretty lackluster. The challenge was to refocus the team without ruining what made Eventbrite special. Hartz decided to start from a new premise: When employees excel, and the company succeeds as a result, that will drive more satisfaction than any perk can.
"People think of performance as driving counter to culture," she says. "But they're intrinsically linked."
Hartz and her senior team, which includes her husband and co-founder, Kevin, started setting goals and clearer expectations. They refocused developers on core ticketing products and the service team on creating a better customer experience.
In the process, the business got stronger. People who weren't on board with the plan left. In 2012, the company released seven times more new features than it did the year before. The engineering team grew by 30 percent. By the end of 2013, Eventbrite surpassed $2 billion in gross ticket sales, and in March, it picked up another $60 million in funding. And happiness didn't suffer as a result: In 2013, the attrition rate was 5 percent; the average in Silicon Valley is upwards of 14 percent.
"Setting a philosophy and being explicit about it is scary," Hartz says. "You can easily have fears about becoming stagnant or irrelevant. But it's important to provide a North Star--to provide an anchor."