Kevin Hartz, the Silicon Valley whizz kid taking on Old Street


Ticketing tech wonder Eventbrite raised $50m in Series E funding earlier this year. Now, it’s heading to London

On Tuesday night in Shoreditch, deep in the wired-up bowels of Silicon Roundabout, San-Fran-based tech company Eventbrite celebrated the opening of its London office.

The office is in a space with a dozen or so other start-ups. Kevin Hartz, CEO and co-founder, is delighted to be mingling with fellow tech peers. He’s even staying at Bebo.com founder Michael Birch’s place while he’s here.

“Getting a free ride from an old friend,” he tells me.

From series E funding of $50m to arriving in London

Eventbrite received series E (the fifth round of) funding to the tune of $50m in May this year. The company’s raison d’être is to “democratise” the ticketing industry by taking the pain out of planning events of all shapes and sizes: “no event too large, no event too small,” insists Hartz.

Hartz admits Tiger Global, who led the latest funding round, has helped him think internationally. As a result he’ll be spending some of his new capital setting up here, in our capital.

Having created a .co.uk web domain, changed all talk of dollars to pounds and ironed out Americanisms to fit in with the Queen’s English the new site is ready for lift off. But looking at the figures, Eventbrite wasn’t faring too badly with us Brits before.

London-based customer activity from January to August of this year has seen a 99 per cent growth in the number of tickets processed through the platform and 85 per cent growth in the number of events posted.

“London is where half of our international business is done. It is one of our top cities and we’ve had great natural growth here – the UK has been receptive to our company without having a localised site so we felt it was time to focus on serving customers beyond the US.”

“We have always learned from observing our customers,” explains Hartz. “Their feature requests help inform our product roadmap. Their sharing behaviours influenced us to become early partners with Facebook.”

Embracing the newest customer trends

By studying the sharing habits of ticket buyers across multiple social media channels, Eventbrite has become an authority on social commerce. At the forefront of mobile development, Eventbrite offers customers Easy Entry, an iPhone app that allows organisers and event attendees to swipe in using their phones.

“There are three main trends emerging in the market,” explains Hartz. “Social media, mobilisation and the use of data (by which I mean the intelligent use of information to make suggestions to customers based on what they have already bought – like Amazon recommending books).

“You can shy away from these trends, in which case you will fall behind. Or you can lean right into them which is what we have done. And it’s what we are doing with our London move.”

London versus Silicon Valley

Eventbrite’s move to Silicon Roundabout signals a rather wonderful reverse of modus operandi. Our tech scene has watched through parted fingers as UK start-ups hot foot it over to “the valley”. Instead Eventbrite, a young company straight out of San Fran, is moving here to mingle at Old Street.  

“In Silicon Valley people had a very centric view of innovation but I think that now they are starting to realise that creativity is coming from outside the confines of the valley.”

Excited by the technological innovation coming out of the UK Hartz is quick to praise some of our home-grown talent. “I’m excited by the likes of Songkick, I’ve exchanged emails with Ian (Hogarth, CEO) since I’ve been here. And of course we all use Tweetdeck back home.”

 “What I’m seeing now is a clustering of entrepreneurs that I didn’t see in London before. This is critical to the success of companies. It’s impossible to work in your own bubble, sharing and collaborating is essential for growth.”

The observations about our start-up scene are telling. Hartz gives numerous talks to entrepreneurs both at home and is flying to Ireland this week to speak at the Dublin Web Summit. He insists that one of the most important nuggets of advice he can give is that of collaboration.

“Entrepreneurs are a bright bunch but you can’t put enough value on sharing information. It was someone from corporate social media company Yammer that introduced me to Tiger Global. What goes around comes around.”

“A delicate balance”: further investment versus profitability

Hartz is certainly well placed to advise others, somewhat of a serial start-up addict he was previously co-founder and CEO of Xoom Corporation, an international money transfer company and he has been an active early stage investor; and advisor to start-ups including PayPal, Flixster and Yammer. His experience on both sides of the funding fence certainly gives him some unique insights.

“I am an angel investor myself and I find that I learn from each company that I back. I get as much out of every investment as the start-ups get out of me.”

I ask when he is expecting Eventbrite to start generating profit. Eventbrite is free to use for free events, whilst Eventbrite collects a small fee on each ticket that is sold for events with a ticket or registration price. In December of last year the company reported $400m in gross ticket sales and they have issued a whopping 40 million tickets to date.

“We are in a planning phase at the moment when it comes to seeing profits. It’s a delicate balance between continued investment in growth and keeping money in the pot. At the moment we are looking at seeing profits by the end of 2012 but we may well put this off until 2013.

“The economy moves like a swinging pendulum. You never know when the funding will dry up and as a start-up you need to be prepared for that by making sure you have a healthy balance sheet.”

For the time being Hartz is happy staying with his friend Birch and learning about the new “vast market” he is about to enter.