Speed Matters: How Eventbrite Transitioned to Online Events w/ Matthew Himelstein


In software development, speed matters. The sooner you can get working software into end users’ hands, the sooner you can iterate and optimize your product.

In this episode, Matthew Himelstein, currently the Head of Product at Wonolo, discusses his time at Eventbrite. Matthew shares how he helped Eventbrite quickly build their virtual experiences platform in 2019 just in time for the pandemic.

We discuss:

  • How Eventbrite quickly pivoted to online events
  • The importance of end-user feedback in the development cycle
  • Why speed matters in development and in decision making

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You are listening to applicationmodernization, a show that spotlights the forward thinking, leaders of HighGros software companies from scaling applications and accelerating time tomarket, to avoiding expensive license and costs. we discuss how you caninnovate with new technology and forward thinking processes and savesome cash in the process. Let's get into it today. We're talking withMatthew, Hemes Tin, about building products with speed and agility.Matthew is head of product at Anolo, a company that provides UN demandstaffing platform that is changing the way businesses find talent for theirimmediate Labor neats. Interestingly, Matthew Pioneered online events atevent, bright, leading the team responsible for building its onlineevent platform. This came in handy as event bright, pivoted, its business inMarch, two thousand and twenty moving from physical events to virtual events.In this episode, we'll talk about why speed and agility is important whenbuilding products and we'll speak to matthew about his journey at event.Bright in his role is entrepreneur in residents building out their onlineevent platform. This is a really interesting story that really speaks towide speed is important. Here we go without guest matthew, hemes in Hey,matthew, welcome to application, modernization, eras great to be here,yeah really excited to have you on the show today and learn a bit more aboutyou and your journey. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and you knowwhat you've done so far and what you're currently doing awesome, yeah, somatthew, Hamilton and currently the head of products in a company calledMonoo wone helps power on demand, staffing for most of the United States,seventy billion dollar industry prior to Wenel. I actually co founded threecompanies and been a producat or in others, and he right before when I wasactually an entrepreneur n resident an I could be called like a vet right andyou know really helped leadership. Deam. There focus on like growth, which whatI brought to Penello and it's kind of growth long were like three areas:Business Growth, professional growth and then personal growth is kind oflike how the edict I I kind of bring to the team awesome. So we spoke beforejumping online now about your journey at event, bright, and I think, there'sa really compelling story there. Can you tell us a little bit more about youknow your role at event bright and what you did there in your time? Sure Yeah.So I was a product leader at a comin called the ticket fly and there's atangent, interesting story of ticket fly, getting acquired by Pandora andthen two years later, actually getting sold to bump right. I various productroles for my ticket ticket management entry to actually managing like theandroid and iowas applications at the pen. Prahu. Eventually me of temperright, I joined what internally referred to as the accelerator programwas an Entregarse ence, and the program was specifically designed for thecompany Smart People, the company, to focus on constraints of the businessthat we're not necessarily like immediate, like fires that you know weshould consider putting out. You know investing into addresses the companylike scale, and the very specific thing I pitched on is actually two thousandand eighteen identified that one of the constraints for vent right was thateverybody needed attended a live event in person and if we focused onsomething around online events that would unconstraint the business of thecreators being able to like get attendis from all around the world. SoI talked to leadership in two thousand and eighteen, you know got agreemint Dand then obviously we would invested in- and you know, prior to the end of two thousand and nineteen wehad launched were actually seeing some things go up into the right and thenyou know March, two thousand and twenty happened, and you know luckily for themright they. You know we had invested in this and it ended up being you know,online events in to Bein a primary revenue driver all throughout thesummer of two thousand and twenty. Yes,...

...so you you got it out just in timebefore the world changed, I remember sort of following event bright, becausewe've used it internally at our company and then you know, I just thought thatthey were so quick to pivot to online events. But you know it's interestingto hear this story that you've been working on this prior to help usunderstand sort of that process and how you were able to get this out to themarket sort of so quickly. Yeah is is a it's. A great is a great question. Ithink what started as like kind of like a research in investigation into whatreally constrains of that right in terms of it's our ability to grow.There are several areas that, like I could have focused on, but it justbecame really apparent that live events are subject to you, know geographic,local restrictions in terms of how most people want to get to the event. So youcan, like the business analysis itself like really surface that in like rightaway, but then it was trying to understand if event Wright's, currentcompetitive, vantage of event, distribution would actually fold overand extend itself to online events and, when I say competitive advantage, oneof the reasons that, like people use of Em Prit, it's like I mean super simplelike create and publishing of that, but once you public the event Emember, itdistributes your event throughout its ecosystem and makes the eventsincredibly easy to find a google, and that was one of the things that wetested at or that I tested out servicing live events that they wouldrank. You know with Google and the interesting challenge there is that thereason that a been pride is so successful with ranking events andGoogle is because it's all predicated on location, but oline eventsessentially have no location because anywhere in the world, you know you cango to an online defense, and so it was really interesting challenge that youknow I worked with one engine. You know one of the engineering teams to likestand up like a really simple AB test. We ran it for about two weeks and wegot some data and like that data and of itself essentially creline entireproject, because we were able to say, Hey, there's a business Catran, we canshow the you know the math and the numbers behind like what does it meanif we changed it, as well as the Vem Bright's competitive advantage? We havesome data that shows that, like yeah, we can make these events service and bemore easily distributed, so that was really under a month of work to kind of,like jump, start the entire project right. So you looked at the constraint,you looked at your competitive advantage and then sort an opportunity.Talk us through what happened. You know you yeah. Let us tell us a yeah, so the project gets green lighted and thenyou really entered in this next phase of like six months of development, totry and like prove out that what you have like works and randomly theengineering person was most interested in my project and up being Renaud,massage happened to be the technical co founder of that bright wow. I got towork with Reno, I'm in a couple other really smart folks to just kind of likeas leanly as possible, try and improve the online events experience, and sothere was some pretty low hanging fruit that, like just using it from a firstprincipal standpoint, you could just say this is not intuitive like. How canwe make this better? We sped up development by focusing on only frontand components that we already had built. We didn't want to build anythingnew from scratch, just like reuse, existing things, even if it's not likethe best user experience, because it would just give us to market faster.The other thing that we did is I started like interviewing. You know,customers who are creators that we called them who are already like usingonline events on a vent right, and they were really. It was very interesting.We found that the number one web platform be used on em them right again.This is the end of two thousand and eighteen was zoom, and what wasinteresting about that is that zoom had an immigration, the pay pal to do paidzooms and the number one use case on a...

...vamp. Right, though, was zoom plus paidevents, pay ticketing, and we dug in- and I actually talked to these creators.They all said the same thing: It's like I've used it in right in the past. Iwanted to do an online event. I tried their papal integration and I didn'tlike it, and I just figured that I could make this work kind of like standalone and they just used it. An right essentially as an advanced ticketingsystem and then just email, the wink, so the low hanging fruit there was like.How can we just make this as super simple as it needs to do as possible,and it became very apparent that, like an extra step in the online event,creation like flow could simply be great like a stand alone, online event,page where, like your zoom, would be hosted, and you know we made it asflexible as possible. So it could be work with like you know, it was hangout at the time, but like Google meat or you know, blue jeans or whatever,because he's supposed to link, and we gave a bunch of tools to the creatorsto like manage when the links could be distributed. If the reminder emails allthe kind of things that were just best practices, but we really focused onunderstanding the user need and the problem and just bringing that tomarket as quickly as possible, and you know I like to talk to the team sayabout some of the the the minor details of you know. Managing time and like youknow, sending out their miners and they kept reinforcing the fact that detailsmatter right if you're an event creator right the the details matter in termsof can I send this on the exact minute that I want in it. Can I send thereminder like exactly two hours early and those kinds of like knobs? For theend, our end user or creators became incredibly powerful because, like youknow, if they could customize their online often experience exactly howthey wanted to right. There's a couple of nuggets tar so so that insight thatyou really sort of uncovered by talking to your customers. As you know, theplatform there were using event right really to do the pay ticketing. So yougot that insight, and then you went back on your team and started to thedeveloping out. You know the additional functionality think that's a reallygood piece of advice for some of the leaders that are listening. I mean whatelse you know in that sort of sort of train of thought. You know should leadus be thinking about. Like I'm, a big Fan of listening to customers anditerating I mean, do you have a specific approach that you like to takewhen developing yeah I mean it's, you got to come out at all all sides rightso, like obviously their insights from customers, who are you know using yourproduct new and unique ways, particularly ways that you hadn'treally expected. There's mapping that to the the business impact that youknow it would you know it really does like at the end of the day, if theattendees can be anywhere in the world, then you as a creator, you don't haveto mark it to just you know: Berkeley! California, like you, can market to you,know all the United States so like once those two things intersect. Then itcomes down to really understanding the users in Cenobia and there's a veryclear, like consentest ion, like mapping exercise you can do between.You, know the end user in your business and try and understand like how thevalue exchange like works and just one of the more basic frameworks that areout there. That, I don't think it's written about enough, but I actuallypicked it up from the CO founder of my space April. Wick, come kind of sharedwith me as like a very easy way to understand. Just because you you justwant something like that's great, like you as a business are going to likedeliver it to them. But how does that value exchange work? How do you makesure you're getting the most out of it out of, and how do you make sure thatthey're getting what they want and it's as simple, as you know, signing up whatdo you get as the end user? It's like! Well, if I register, then I get youknow access to the platform. What's the business, get they get your contactdetails. I mean it's that simple, but, as you start applying that frameworkout to like any new feature, you have a better understanding of how the valueexchange worked and it becomes incredibly powerful like that scale.Chick can imagine, as your sort of...

...pitching this idea and trying to getsome support internally when you're to the framing it up like this, you wereable to get the resources you needed to. You know get it done. Let's speak alittle bit more about the way the you accelerated. The development was thereanything that you know you thought you did really well or anything that you'redoing now that you know could be applied to really accelerate thedevelopment of these features. Yeah. You know, I think the overallphilosophy is that you need to minimize the time to get working software and toend user hands, and it's great to have nice designs, and it's great to likehave like a you know like a blenty product apartments document, but at theend of the day, particularly when you're developing something like at thezero to one mark. You know you really need to like get that end user feedbackand figuring out. You know even how to cut one day out of your developmentcycle is super important. So at even right, we tried to you, know, minimizeworking on like net new things and try to reuse like existing components andpages and styles, an we're able to do that and really you know the end inproject. I think we should be one in like three months pretty good. However,one of the things that have emporiae that still can be prove to this day isthere. You know overall, release like process and so ven bright still haslike old school style of, like you know, collect everything together and do likea like a weekly release. I think they're up to like two or three, youknow releases a week which totally works. It's actually, you know a great.You know pattern as long as you're doing things finance scale. However, mynew company Wi Nolo, we actually do CID, and so you know rap constant provementsin the constant clements and so like any engineer throughout the stack canbe releasing to production multiple times per day and, as you start tothink about it, if I'm just trying to cut one if cutting one day off of mycycle for the emprire project made an impact, and I could only release two tothree times a week, then in a world where I can really release multipletimes a day. That shows me, like you know almost five days, and so you knowit is really important. It really lets. Let you validate things, let you getthem in and use hands, get that feed back directly, and I think it's youknow just one of those subtle keys. Success that's needed in order toreally build out great products so that build out great businesses. HMM, that'sinteresting. If you were to kind of give some advice to our listeners thatare maybe in the situation where you were event bright and they want to getto where you are your current company, like what advice? Would you give themto us to make that leap yeah? You know, I think, like figure out like from atransition standpoint like it's pretty easy to figure out where you your endgoal is and then work backwards right. I think the easiest thing is if you'reon, like a Web deck like your regardless, like mobile aps, focusingon CIC for your back end is probably the place to startbecause, it's lowerrisk and it's easily like version control like you push up new code onthe back end. That has nothing to do with any like friend and code. Nobodysees that you don't need at even like wore about feature flaking it right.Conversely, on the front end, like anything, you push to the front endlike needs to be either like tied up directly or behind the feature flag, sothat it doesn't either break the Uiu X. experience or you know potentially likecan be hidden and that just takes additional work additional you know.Services need and like a little bit more structure, so yeah just break itup, know where you want to go and then get started awesome. I want to trackback to event right now and hear a little bit more about the journeyduring that time, where things should have got a little quirky and you needyou know the business really needed to move to relying on online events forits revenue stream. One personally, but then also, I can imagine you'resupporting a lot of creators where their business basically went to zero.So what you've done in the two trains...

...of thought here, one of em bright,needs to make some money, but then you've also got to really help yourcreators. Can you talk us through maybe those months there, and if how youapproached you know getting this to the market and so make it happen, yeah. So,going back to the original, like green light of the the online events project,which we had code named digital experiences, we had already understoodthat we that we could help distribute online events through the s open, petitadvantage, and so I think it was like the beginning, a Q, four of twothousand and nineteen. We actually launched the overall feature set, andso we you know within six months of, like you know, planning it to actuallylike you know, develop me. We were, we were alive and you know obviouslythere's plenty stuff like war on that we got there, but one of the thingswe're able to do is start ranking these pages and very specifically, pages ofgroupings of events that were built to rank highly for Google search, so callhim, like so optimize pages, and these things in the United States like withinthree months, you could already see the trend of them going up into the rightin terms of the the core measures. We would be looking at his sessions fromsearch which kind of core like to like impressions, but then also like clicktroughs, and then we could tie the clickers to you, know: Ticket sales and,like we were able to, like you, know, look at the analytics and see like whatpercentage of online event ticket sales were coming from these sessions on thesearch. They were organic search sessions, and so that was alreadyhappening. You know in a pretty good I'd say, like linear rate into Q, forthere's a big bump at the end of the year. For you know, New Year's likeonline events and again this is two thousand and nineteen, the two thousandand twenty New Year, all mine events on new years tanked, because, as you canimagine, people were going to reel like right. New Year's New Year's events, soyou know come back into January, like things are starting to like recoverwhat you would expect from any kind of sea sil business and then what happens?You know tovit search to percolate. That's really like the end of January.We just kind of like start to get the reports of what's happening in likeChina and February it s. You know it's already United States. He member Obusiness, is okay. We start talking internally, you know at the highestlevels of like what this possibly could mean. You know and then obviously, thebeing of marsh happens and everything just you know punches. It was just kindof really interesting because we had percentage of revenue targets for onmine events set or pep right and in like a very terrible way. We like blowhim out of the water, and you can imagine alline. Events did likecontinue to rise in terms of like revenue but, like obviously the rest ofTemberan, you dropped and you go look at like there. You know Q, Onereporting from from two thousand and twenty you can just understand. Youknow what happened throughout the the rest of the summer, but I said say so:Things are going south. You know Julia Hearts to see ocone over meanes. YouKnow Matthew. This is online evence thing ready to go and say yeah, likeshared her with the data. We immediately started talking aboutpartnerships with which they've launched now, so I think I can talkabout them like deeper partnerships with sum and vime who identified as thebest Levana and that's live street platforms like at the time that justfit the bill and really understood, had a really good like pitch to them,because out of the gate, we could we just really understood exactly whereeven break fit in right, like zoom, doesn't want to go, build an advanceticketing system. There's too much mounds, like refunds, like all thesekinds of things that even right like handles and handles, will that scalethe same thing for vime and so because they didn't have great advancedticketing, monetization engines. They had different kinds of you know: SASSbased, you know, monetization, it really fit well, and so thosepartnerships launched from a PR standpoint almost immediately and thenactually you know over time of them right ended up investing in deeperintegrates to make it even more sinless and there's no way that I can say that,like I knew that coid was coming, but again just going back o to thefundamentals right like we were able to...

...identify that attending five events inperson. It was a constraint to the business and created business ricks. Sohow do you alleviate that risk? It just fortuitous that, like Covici, liketriggered like that risk at scale for the right yeah, that's such afascinating story- and you know I was just think about the time. Is You knowthe timing was perfect. You had enough time in between you sort of launchingit. You know from the SEO up to most page perspectives, you had some of thatranking already. You know to go so you know. I understand the sea, but maybefor the listeners like what's an example of a so optimize page? Is itsomething like cocktail virtual events, so that's the most popular on rightyeah. So I think there's a couple of factors that kind of like like makethings like. I see when we say so optimize what we mean so like there'sactually like the page itself right. The the Creator page where, like people,go to buy the tickets and making sure that, like it loads fast- and you knowit has like good, so you know visibility in terms of the headline allthe tagging. I think you could do a good growl search on like what thatmeans and then really come up with one like really great frameworks. I thinkCanada actually comes to mind as having like a good publicly available, likestyle guide, for for what you want to do, so that there's that, like out oflike a foundational level, but then what the them bright does is it takesthe it takes these internal search traffic and then looks at that fromlike a data pipeline perspective and uses the in the search traffic like tofigure out, which pages are giving the most traction within the system andthen tells that back to Google and says hey index, this search result page sothat, like we, think it's good based on this search criteria, and then we autotack that in Sendet to Google, which, if we're at the scale that a en rightsat, if we're seeing that you know internally, things are have goodQuality Aka getting clicked into and tickets spot. We we put that back toGoogle like, for the most part, we're right, and we have this selfreinforcing loop of more and more even rite pages like are constantly raking.Actually, you run into a high end problem of Google. Only let you rankfor so many different topics that, like remember, it is capped at how that'show effective that pattern is for for a while interesting. So we've heard aboutthe event bright story. We've talked to few about a few sort of lessons for theaudience. Is there anything else or any other advice you have for you know,leaders at these high growth software companies that you know you really wantto share today. Yeah, I mean, I think, like you know, go back to the themehere. Is it speed matters? And it's you know. A lot of this story is about likedevelopment speed, but the other like leadership, speed you need is the speedto make a decision and lucky enough it have been bright that the leadershipyou know came in hat like when I pitched them like they had plenty ofquestions like hey, like our whole business, around impersona events likeright. You know this is kind of like totally in typical and typical to it,but to their credit you know they said, okay for the contraint of view likeyeah like. Let's do this and what's the harm of having you know, one entrepenresidents like go poke at this for like three months and see if there'sanything there, and so you know they made the decision rather quickly andI've been at other companies that I won't name were like you got lengthy.You know times to just try and make like very simple decisions, and youknow it leaders at the leadership level like I think what people forget is thatthere's the cost of making the decision and the other aspect to look at is thecost of unmaking the position and at the cost of unmaking discussion isrelatively small and it doesn't really matter like who's right or wrong. Ifyou want to go left or right just go just whoever has the strongest opinionfall them let's go left and if they're...

...wrong, willins unmake the decision andgo right and as long as you understand what you're looking for with the metricspace approach of like how to evaluate if left, is the correct you knowdecision, then it's pretty easy to like unmake the decision as quickly aspossible. Once you have the data and I think that's gets lost a lot becauseyou know people fall in their sore or they need more. You know I need moreinformation because I always want to be like make the right decision and justgoing back to the remember it story. If you don't listen to your users and likelisten to the data like you're, just never going to be successful and to besuccessful at scale means it constantly be iterating, and I constantly lookingand trying to have forethought into like what possibly could go wrong andto be ahead of that yeah yeah, I'm a big fan of using facts and data versusopinions. You know when we sold of bringing some of these ideas to thetable. I like to tell leadership. Sometimes like I'm, a fan of math math,a right right yeah, you know, I think sounds like you should have had thedaughter. You had the math, you had it in place, and that was, you know,really helped make that decision. We reasonably quickly. Awesome, Hey! Well,Matthew! It's been a pleasure having you on the show here. I think yourstory here is super fascinating again in the timing, and the speed is reallyessential. Thanks for Jonas Awesome Ross. Well, thank you so much beenlistening to the show, since you guys put it out and I'm excited to listen toall the rest, although if I listen to this episode, I'll probably cringe withthe son of me, but I really appreciate it. Addy thanks Matthew cars, application modernization is sponsoredby Red Hat, the world's leading provider of enterprise, open sourcesolutions, including high performing Linux cloud container and Cuban ttestechnologies. Thanks for listening to application,modernization, a podcast for high growth software companies, don't forget to subscribe to the showon your favorite podcast player, so you never miss an episode and if you useapple podcast, do us a favor and leave a quick rating by tapping the stars join us on the next episode to learnmore about modernizing your infrastructure and applications forgrowth until next time. I.

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