Wednesday 13 December 2017

Eventbrite: Husband and wife's tech firm becomes a billion-dollar baby

Kevin Hartz, CEO, Eventbrite
Kevin Hartz, CEO, Eventbrite
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

What kind of pressure should an entrepreneur feel when his start-up takes on €43m in new funding? To the co-founder of the most recent tech arrival in Dublin, Eventbrite's Kevin Hartz, it's simply business as usual.

Last week, the online meet-up company raised this amount in fresh private equity finance to bring the firm's value to $1bn (€720m).

The new round brings Eventbrite's total funding to $200m (€144m).

To many people, that sounds like pressure. But Hartz, a serial investor himself in firms such as Pinterest and Airbnb, takes a wider view.

"Honestly, it depends on the investors," said Hartz. "We have ones that look towards the long term, successful smart people who have invested in companies like Apple and Google. So we may not have the same pressures as others have with their investors. Ours look to the best decisions for the long term."

This "long term" view is cited as one key reason that Eventbrite opted to stay private, for at least another year.

"The company puts an emphasis on the importance of having an appropriate level of invested capital to execute our growth strategy and control our destiny," according to another Eventbrite spokesman.

"Private share sales can essentially give companies liquidity in today's markets without necessarily jumping to being public," said Hartz.

"That availability can help take other pressure off. For example, markets have a lot of regulation that make it very expensive and cumbersome to be a public company. Also, there's great strategic advantage in running things behind the scenes rather than having to engage in proxy battles or quarterly reports. Anyway, there's a lot of capital on the private side."

Hartz isn't afraid of waiting for the right time to launch an IPO. He founded the digital money-transfer service Xoom in 2001. He didn't take it public on the Nasdaq exchange until last year. It is currently trading 40pc above its flotation price.

"I started that company 10 years before its IPO," he said. "There's a right time to launch, but there's also a right time to build."

Eventbrite recently opened an office in the capital.

"It's a relatively modest start in Dublin," said Hartz, who runs the company with co-founders Julia Hartz (his wife) and Renaud Visage.

"We'll see how that grows over time. But even finding new customers in Ireland, a country where you see a lot of people out and about and attending various events, is going well for us.

"We've already seen a greater amount of growth here than in most countries we're in."

Hartz says that 350,000 Eventbrite 'tickets' have been claimed in Ireland, with at least €3.5m in tickets sales.

Hartz is a serial company-builder. An early investor in PayPal, he has been involved with funding or advising a hatful of successful tech companies over the last decade, including Pinterest, Airbnb and Yammer. He sees investing as a natural extension of collaboration with fellow tech entrepreneurs.

"When I talk to other entrepreneurs in our ecosystem, we exchange a lot of ideas," he said. "Investing, in effect, is me extending my knowledge in the new world of how companies are built. I'm talking about the Pinterests and Airbnbs and Lookout Mobiles."

Hartz is friends with Limerick's Collison brothers, co-founders of the runaway successful online payments firm Stripe.

"I've really a learned a lot from them," he said. "They are young, brilliant and look at the world in a different way. They came to Silicon Valley with virtually nothing and created a very important business. Also, they're just down the street from us. So we've gotten to know them fairly well."

While Hartz acknowledges the relative rarity of siblings such as the Collisons co-founding successful firms, his is arguably part of an even rarer scenario: a husband-and-wife team co-founding a billion dollar company. What's that like?

"It's a real partnership," he said. "The best co-founding teams have to be complimentary with a high degree of trust. It's not for everyone.

"For some, going out to found a company with a spouse could be disastrous. But in our case we made it work."

Eventbrite's founders are no strangers to Ireland or Irish culture. Chief technical officer Renaud Visage is a keen photographer who has shot in Ireland, while Hartz has Irish ancestry and is becoming a more regular visitor here.

"Dwyer was my mum's maiden name," he said. "I recently started going. I was there at the Web Summit which was just a brilliant event. I was really taken with Dublin and got to experience Ireland at its best. That's really left an impression."

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