Culture Fact - A Case Study of Eventbrite
Disclaimer: I’ve been a software engineer for Eventbrite for over three years - from the days where we were 10 people sharing an office with four other companies, to the 200ish person company taking up two floors of our giant office. These views in no way represent Eventbrite’s official stance on anything.
A few days ago, I read the Culture Myth, and while a lot of the things Brandon spoke of made sense, I felt like there were missing pieces.
The Early Days
One of my first memories at Eventbrite is Max Gutman (fellow engineer) messaging me:
Max: Wanna get a coffee?
Me: Yeah, 5 min. Just need to finish this.
…15 minutes go by
Max: Yeah 1 sec
….10 more minutes
Max: I’ll be ready after I push my changes to production
Me: k, can it wait 15 min? I want to get something in. Do you know if …
….and so on and so forth, completely forgetting about taking a break for coffee. It happened often. We barely stopped for coffee. Shit, we barely stopped for lunch. I wouldn’t say it was ‘awesome culture’ simply because we were heads down pouring our hearts out trying to push a product. It was an awesome culture because of the perfect storm of belief in the product, conviction, and the team members’ individual personalities.
In those days, our head of finance would play one of our marketing managers in pool (we had a table in our office) every day when we pulled in $10000 ticket sales. Some days it might be 7PM, others 8. But the hour began to shrink. 5PM. 3PM. Earlier and earlier. And the team would take notice if they were playing at noon. Before long, they would have to play first thing in the morning when they both got in.
In those days, the whole company would sit around a table, and we’d Skype our remote workers in, and we’d listen to Kevin and Julia Hartz (founder and CEO, founder and President) talk about strategy. Eventbrite was as transparent as bottled water. They’d answer any question, talk about dollars in (or not in) the bank, pain points, hopes, disappointments. We all had relevant topics to discuss, and the rest of us were sponges.
It’s because of these things that the Eventbrite culture started in a positive light, solidifying the foundation of the structure we were all trying to build.
But Eventbrite had another advantage: events.
Eventbrite’s Secret Sauce
Events are beneficial for two reasons:
1. They’re social.
The Eventbrite team members frequent events, building bonds and even friendships between each other. How else will you ever -
- find out that a certain team member gets a little frisky when Nine Inch Nail’s Closer plays
- ride in the trunk with your CEO to go to an event
- dance all night long dressed in an elf costume (wearing tights)
- personally use your own iOS app as you check-in 10k people into an event
- discover that you work with someone who can make your knees weak as she sings, or someone who tells the funniest (albeit dirtiest) jokes you’ve ever heard, or someone who can make some mean pancakes
Eventbrite bonds during the day in the work hours, and we bond even more during events. Because of this, it’s easy to find common ground with literally everyone on the team.
Jim and Brian and Theo all like the same beer as me. Jason is into some great music. Kristina loves travel. Hahn wants to build cool things. Renaud… well, Renaud is French so it’s tough.
2. They’re monumental.
I remember a particular New Year’s Eve texting Julie Thompson, our VP of Product, every 5 seconds to find out how the new version of the iOS check-in app was holding up. She was stationed in our San Francisco office monitoring the check-ins and device statuses, watching all of the Eventbrite events simultaneously while Eventbrite team members were at the actual events managing the door entries. Engineers, sales people, support people, even the CEO was checking people in. There were no roles, just a team, working to get the job done.
At one point there was a technical difficulty, but when I was finally able to respond to Julie’s text about the issue, I got this reply:
All set thanks to my mad python skills.
The whole team rejoiced the next week, not a single person felt left out.
Much later, when we found out that we were to be the ticketing platform for the Black Eyed Peas concert in Central Park, we knew we didn’t have the right tools in place for an event of that caliber, but again, the team pulled together, and some amazing new things came out of it: our new queuing system, an offline entry management solution, some great caching and optimization (I’m only speaking about engineering achievements because Eventbrite was already too large to keep track of the entire company at that point, which I’ll talk about next).
These monumental moments continue to happen, and they continue to bring us together.
…is hard. When you’re a small company, there’s only one direction to go and that’s up. When you’re a large company, you’ve already figured out what processes work, what kind of people work for the culture you’ve built, and what drives production. But when you’re a medium-sized company, shit hits so many fans it feels like it’s raining diarrhea.
Things go wrong, things feel different. Suddenly, you’ve got more than one boss. Suddenly, there’s a new process you’re not used to yet. Suddenly, we have an HR department.
That’s when all of the culture you’ve built up, all the glue that you have squished between yourself and your co-workers, comes into play. When you’re adding in 100 people in a year, and there are several new processes you have to follow, you need all you can get just to stay afloat, but that’s the easy part.
How do you make each newcomer a true believer in Eventbrite? How do you keep the more tenured team members from losing their grip on things as we grow so fast?
Growing up is not about preserving culture; it’s about evolving it into something better than it was before. You can’t fit 200 people into a 10 person office, therefore you can’t make a 200 person culture be the same as the 10 person culture.
But what you can do is take 10 people of those 200 people and let them have their own 10 person microculture, which is exactly what Eventbrite does. You’ve got your cross-team ping pong tournaments. You’ve got your beer-thirty by the keg. You’ve got your hackers working the weekend to get new shit out for iOS6. You’ve got knitting, and storytelling, and coffee fanatics.
And then something interesting happens when these microcultures find their ground. Suddenly, we’re speaking at Pycon, or giving a talk on Selenium or Hadoop. Suddenly, we’re open sourcing some of our libraries. Suddenly, we’re nominated for a Crunchie, or we’ve been invited to talk at a mobile open source event. At that point, it’s no longer microculture. It’s just culture.
Protecting culture isn’t done by hiring people who fit in. No one fits in at first. Each person needs to feel like they belong. Each person needs to be involved. Over time, the Eventbrite culture will seep into them and their personality will leak out onto Eventbrite.
The microcultures work well for the day to day, but there is still Eventbrite as a whole that needs to maintain itself, and that is done by the same convictions as before.
Kevin and Julia Hartz may not be available every day to sit around and chew the fat, but they do make every effort to keep transparency high. It’s a little difficult for the entire company to sit at a table and talk strategy, but we still do it (although that table is now couches with a finite amount of questions for time’s sake).
It trickles down. My boss exercises that same respect with me, imploring me to challenge him with whatever troubles, or ideas, or suggestions I have.
It’s common to feel lost or left out if one doesn’t know the goals, or the direction of the company. It’s also common to feel the positive energy depleting whenever one is simply working on their project with no sense of where it’s going. I’m frequently asked if an upcoming project sounds interesting to work on, and I frequently ask about the evolving roadmap.
I wouldn’t call it a culture triangle of vision, trust and feedback, although all three are invaluable. It’s simpler than that. It’s leading by example. It’s being the change you want to see.
It’s not company culture. It’s individual culture.
Imagine a crowd of people watching something funny happen. One person may laugh hard, fall to his knees, blow coffee out of his nose. Another might not think it’s funny at all. Others might tell their friends, their family, but no one will tell the story the same. To each person, it’s different. To each person, Eventbrite is what they make it.Sharing is caring -
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