One of the fastest growing segments of Kevin Hartz's business is bacon.
Hartz isn't a chef or farmer. Rather, he's founder and CEO of Eventbrite, a ticketing website that offers an independent platform for event organizers of all types.
And fried pork -- whether at an intimate craft fair or Brooklyn's Great GoogaMooga Festival in May -- makes an outsized contribution to thousands of San Francisco-based Eventbrite's offerings, which also include classes, concerts and conferences. The company has sold over 60 million tickets since it was founded in 2006. It had $400 million in gross ticket sales in 2011, almost double the previous year.
Hartz said Eventbrite mines the long tail, a term popularized by Wired's Chris Anderson, which highlights the potential of selling a vast swathe of niche products, rather than just the most popular hits.
Eventbrite considers itself both disruptive and democratizing, allowing both small and large promoters to control their events and product distribution. Users range from those switching over from pen-and-paper spreadsheets to major bands like the Black Eyed Peas.
Instead of tacking on fees for buyers like Live Nation Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: LYV)'s ubiquitous Ticketmaster, Eventbrite charges event promoters 2.5 percent plus 99 cents per ticket. Free events are not charged. It has also raised over $80 million in funding from investors to fund operations and expansion. In March, Eventbrite launched At the Door, an iPad application that scans credit cards and prints tickets.
Although Eventbrite is often described as a Ticketmaster competitor, Hartz sees a broader goal: using technology, which is often seen as an isolating tool, to promote social experiences.
It's something that defines humanity, said Hartz. We're building this technology platform to bring people together.
As an early investor in PayPal, which was later sold to eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY), Hartz is familiar with the potential of transactional businesses. But he had an unconventional path to the technology industry.
Although Hartz attended Stanford University, now the leading incubator for Silicon Valley, he studied history and applied earth sciences, rather than computer science. He earned a graduate degree in British history at Oxford, learning about the reign of King George III.
He considered medical school, but after joining computer manufacturer Silicon Graphics in the late 1990s, he became fascinated with the Internet.
Hartz's first venture was ConnectGroup, a company that brought high speed Internet access to hotels, which was later sold to LodgeNet Interactive Corp. (Nasdaq: LNET) in 1998. He later founded Xoom, a foreign currency transfer company that competed with Western Union.
While at Stanford, Hartz met Peter Thiel, the angel investor who founded PayPal and financed Facebook. Hartz has since invested in software developer Palantir Technologies, real estate website Trulia and Pinterest, the image-sharing site that has risen to become one of the most popular websites.
The service just has a remarkably passionate user base, he said of Pinterest. That's really the goal, to build products and services that motivate and impact.
In Silicon Valley, Hartz imagines a pendulum swinging between boom and bust. Currently, it is thriving, with a saturation of new companies and the vast amount of capital being invested -- around $1 billion each quarter, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
But the current fervor has led Hartz to take the contrarian view of making no new investments, because he's concerned with the viability of so many new companies and investors driving up valuations. Recent global economic turmoil makes you wonder if the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, he added.
In his view, grim times -- such as the wake of the first dot-com bust in the early 2000s -- reveal the entrepreneurs who are truly dedicated and pursuing their projects with the goal of social impact, rather than profits.
If you survive in a desert drought, you can survive in a bountiful environment, he said.