For Eventbrite, Being the Happiest Workplace on Earth Is a Balancing Act
BY Laura Montini
Speaking at a recent conference, Eventbrite President Julia Hartz explained how her office found the balance between work and play.
To be recognized as one of the happiest companies to work for is no small achievement. However, even more difficult than maintaing euphoric employees is striking the balance between having fun at work and turning out a quality product.
At today's Women 2.0 conference in San Francisco, Eventbrite President Julia Hartz spoke to Inc.'s own Lindsay Blakely about learning that the hard way. Hartz told an audience of approximately 200 people, mostly women founders, about a time in her company's history when she began to feel that the pendulum had swung too far in one direction.
Hartz and her husband, Kevin Hartz, founded the online ticketing platform Eventbrite in 2006. Last year, the company surpassed the mark of $2 billion dollars in gross ticket sales, and it has raised a total of $140 million to date, according to CrunchBase.
Culture had always been important to Hartz, but she was especially concerned about inter-company dynamics after Eventbrite had raised $6.5 million from Sequoia Capital in 2009.
"With that money we knew where we wanted to go, and who we needed to get us there. We were a group of 30 and were about to grow into a company of 100, and that scared the shit out of me," Hartz said. "I had seen a lot of other companies go through hyper growth in terms of head count and come out the other end just torn to tatters -- or with an identity that they didn't mean to create."
So Hartz pledged that she would die trying to make sure that, as a group of people, they all came out better on the other side of that growth. And her efforts worked. The new "Briteland" San Francisco office was a vibrant place, which included pingpong tables, free food and puppies galore in a dog-friendly environment. Workers went to fun-offsite trips featuring drinks and bowling.
A slew of publications began to recognize the company as one of the happiest places to be employed. The joyful atmosphere even continued through a second major growth period in 2011, when Eventbrite expanded from 100 to 200 employees. But around that time, Hartz received a wakeup call in the form of a very vivid dream.
"A couple of things had happened. A Business Insider article had come up that had labeled Eventbrite as the 'Disneyland' of workplaces. And then two, we were about to miss our plan for the first time -- ever," Hartz said, recalling the events that had inspired the dream.
"I had all those combined to create this realistic nightmare, which was Roelof [Botha] from Sequoia Capital saying. 'Congratulations! You've created the happiest most mediocre company on the planet.'"
And with that Hartz realized that you can spend all the time in the world trying to ensure that your employees are happy -- and still miss your major goals. That began a very deliberate process of weaving the notion of high performance into Eventbrite's existing culture.
How'd she pull it off? She didn't "throw a bucket of ice water in people's faces," as she put it. Rather she had to make tough hiring and firing decisions over a long period of time. "You do it thoughtfully and intentionally," Hartz said, "It's much more sustainable, and it resonates with your team."
LAURA MONTINI is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco. @lmmontini