Renaud is is the former CTO of Eventbrite, an event management and ticketing platform that he co-founded in 2006 and listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018. He's Board Partner at VC firm Point Nine Capital, an active angel with 30+ investments, and a passionate travel photographer.
On his first job and chasing growth.
I started as a civil engineer and taught myself to code. Passionate about photography, I took my first junior developer job at a photo-sharing startup, at peak dot-com bubble in 2000. I was employee number 30. The company hired 120 people and went back to 10 over the course of one year. With each of our three rounds of layoff, I was promoted: in the end, I was director of engineering. We put all our energy on this idea of exponential growth, listening to VC voices that would pressure us in delivering more eyeballs. the currency of the late 90s. We were early and had views, but not a real business. It was a formative experience on how not to scale a business. I took this take away with me: Focus on business efficiency and on producing value for your customers. Focusing on the wrong metrics produces zero value.
On becoming a CTO.
In that dizzying experience, I had managed a team of five. I knew nothing about hiring and building and scaling. The early days of Eventbrite forced me to figure it out. I learned by doing and by having a good network of friends I could ask advice from. Understand the value of your network, and who of your peers can take you to the next level. I started feeling like an actual CTOs only 2-3 years into the role. There was no defining moment for me: You realize when your answers’ to people are thoughtful and consistent. You build trust because of it. The moment you understand the big picture and you can motivate those around you with it. That’s when you start feeling less of an imposter and more like a leader.
On understanding purpose.
As the company grows, you hire great leaders outside the founding team. And you start questioning what your value for the company is. At one point, I realized I was managing managers. I wasn’t getting the satisfaction I had felt in the early years where I was hands-on with the product. I felt I was at a breaking moment and I would look for something else. Finding where you fit within the organization as it evolves is an internal journey that many founders go through, especially first-time founders. Some leave, some get too used to their C-level title. I decided I didn’t want it. I got back to working on incubating new projects to expand our product, found renewed purpose in doing so, and am much happier as a result.
On the hardest company stage.
The financial crisis of 2008. We had lined up all the VC meetings for our Series A. Then, the RIP Good Times presentation from Sequoia came out. Many overreacted, interpreting it as a sign to stop investing. These external factors stressed us immensely, but internally we focused on the needs of our customers. We bridged with a new friends and family round, started monetizing the platform, benefitted from the growth of networking events that resulted from the financial crisis’ layoffs. When things settled down at the end of 2009 we had delivered on our growth metrics and were well-positioned to raise $6.5M. Ironically, from Sequoia itself.
On managing his internal critic.
That voice is always there: listen to it once in a while. It tells interesting things, but It’s more important to understand why it’s telling them, and how you react when you don’t want to listen. I always learned by pausing and taking time to think about how to handle what it’s trying to tell me. Try to listen to your inner critic together with the rest of your brain. And always look at things with perspective. At my first developer job, the VP of Product always reminded us that we were just building a website. Nobody would die because of it. Just saying it was enough to relieve the tension and focus on the solutions with calm and determination. Throughout my career, it helped me build a healthy relationship with my work.
On his habits for a meaningful day.
I like to wake up slowly. I check my emails and calendar. I browse through what will be important for the day. I feel anxious in not knowing what has happened: This calms me down, makes me envision my day in a serene way. I try to keep a clear agenda, to focus on the two or three technical problems per week where I can achieve flow. To protect my health as I age, I exercise with a coach, do intermittent fasting by skipping breakfasts. I try to get enough sleep and to completely disconnect from work on weekends.
On his productivity hacks
Every day, I go through a paper notebook page where I have organized my priorities for the week in four quadrants: work, (angel) investments, personal, and my ToDoS for the day. Having to rewrite the week’s priorities on a weekly basis forces me to see what keeps getting postponed. I tried all the online tools, but find myself prone to distraction using them. Other things: I organize all my personal time, work commitment, and ToDos as calendar slots. And I try to never have more than a single page of unanswered emails in my inbox at any given time so it’s always all visible at a glance.
On books and content that others should read.
Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps. Because it’s grounded in academic research, to validate the things we instinctively want to implement. It correlates businesses’ success with their IT practices, work organization, how often they release code, and so on. It gives a very good framework for running a world class IT team in high-growth phases. From the VC side, I read and listen to First Round and Point Nine’s Capital content. My favorite newsletters are from Benedict Evan, Ben Thompson’s Stratechery Weekly, and Wait But Why.
On development frameworks.
I am not religious about any. There are engineers that like the discovery process and others better suited to optimize and tweak. The development process is secondary to working with those motivated by the same curiosity and aspirations. In my teams, I care more about the agility of the mind versus the agility of the process.
On going public.
The IPO moment itself is like dreaming: those you shared your journey with are in New York with you and you see this big banner with the name of the company you started long ago. I was extremely happy about it, it’s emotional. But you also realize it’s just a milestone in the life of the company. It’s a moment, like getting your high school diploma. You get on stage. Your parents are proud of you and you feel proud. But still have to go to college and find a job, and continue doing the best you can.
When looking at companies to invest in as an angel, I always try to first understand the path and deeply seated motivation that animates founders. Why that problem? Why them? Why now? Scaling a startup is an endurance feat with countless obstacles to success along the way, so I need to understand that they’re deeply committed at their core to push through the hurdles and find the way through, no matter what. I invest in amazing people first, tech differentiation second, and market potential third, but usually need all three to pull the trigger.
My father was a wildlife photographer. I grew up looking at slides and developing my own photographic eye. I love taking pictures when I can, and the image below is one of my favorites. It should resonate with founders: you’re bravely facing a world full of unknowns and dangers, confidently armed with your tiny board/product, reassured by the presence of other surfers/founders, ready to conquer the next big waves and have the experience of a lifetime.
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