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“Focus on 20%” – Interview with Jaleh Bisharat, CMO at Eventbrite in San Francisco

31. May 2016
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Interview with Jaleh Bisharat, CMO at Eventbrite

We had the pleasure of talking to Jaleh Bisharat, CMO at Eventbrite about the future of work, women in leadership and strategies for working parents. Jaleh Bisharat is the former VP of Marketing e.g. at Upwork and Amazon. She holds an AB in Government from Harvard and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She has two kids and lives in San Francisco (US). Her key to success? Focus on the 20% that count, because 20% of the effort gets 80% of the results! 

If you had to describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?

JALEH: 

#1 Focused

I have a philosophy about work: 80 percent of what you do doesn’t really change the business, it’s the 20 percent that matters. The trick is identifying the 20 percent – and being rigorous about really only doing that. There is a difference between progress and motion. Excusing yourself of all the busy work that keeps you busy doesn’t really grow the business or change the outcome.

#2 Passionate

My mom always says “You always love your job!“. I always find something that I’m passionate about.

#3 Motivated

Related to the other two. I love to wake up in the morning with a purpose. 

So far, your career is very impressive. Which experiences have influenced your career the most?

JALEH: When I was 19 – i was living in a student dorm in Cambridge, MA – the revolution in Iran came along and we lost everything. I grew up comfortable, I was in college and suddenly I had nothing except my mind. So I had one more year of college and I went in, I had a job at the school and I talked my way into getting a scholarship. 

From this experience I learned that whether you are male or female, young or old – you have to be able to stay on your own feet! And you have to have the know-how and skills because at any moment everything can be taken away from you. Through my career I’ve always worked hard and I appreciated my life.

There are also people who’ve had an impact on my career. In the early days at Amazon, I’ve learned a lot from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. A lot about being customer driven and about winning customer trust. He was a person who never let the customer out of his mind. And for me it’s not a coincidence that Amazon is as successful as it is today. He always believed that everything is possible. He never thought „oh that’s too hard“ and when you work for someone like that you learn those things too.


“From this experience I learned that whether you are male or female, young or old – you have to be able to stay on your own feet!”


What are your personal success factors?

JALEH: I would say there are a couple of things that make me successful. Each person has their own style and each person is successful in their own personal way. 

#1 I truly believe that you should make your choices, especially if you’re young. I always chose to go to the company with the best people. For a couple of reasons:

  • If you’re with the best people and do a good job they will remember you. 
  • When you’re with great people you love your job.

It’s a combination about who you know and how good you are. I was and I am just doing what I love.

#2 I really see my leverage as a leader. When you hire people they’re your most precious asset and they need to be treated that way. I’m never too busy if someone needs me. And I always have an open door policy. All my leverage comes from my team, so I treat them and their time with respect and honestly really care about them. This sounds really basic, but there really is a difference.

What are you passionate about being a leader at Eventbrite?

JALEH: Before I started to work at Eventbrite, I used to work in startups and the people were kind of shocked because Eventbrite is already medium sized. Eventbrite has been recognised as one of the  best places to work in the San Francisco Bay Area seven years in a row now. Culture is number one for me and for Eventbrite. Also, 44% of our executive management are women and 38% of our board is female. And it’s not a coincidence that our culture is one of teamwork, nurturing and really supporting each other. When you’re at work all day, whether it’s six hours or ten hours – in my mind you should enjoy it. It’s your life! 


“When you’re at work all day, whether it’s six hours or ten hours – in my mind you should enjoy it. It’s your life! “


What does female empowerment mean for you especially?

JALEH: I think female empowerment means that you don’t have to behave the way that others think you should behave in order to succeed. That you can wear a skirt, that you can look whatever way you want, that you can behave like you want to and that your work speaks for itself. 

I don’t want to be too stereotypical, but there is an aspect of being traditionally female that brings other people along. I think it’s no coincidence that companies with larger women boards and management teams tend to be more team-oriented and happier places to work. 

The other thing about female empowerment is respecting women where they’re at. 

I will give you an example about several of the best women I have ever hired: One of them could only work four days a week because she was a mom and also needed time with her kids. I hired her because she was really good. And she was worth three. Not only she was really good, she was so appreciative about her opportunity and I was really happy about her.

So I had a really good experience working with moms or women in a special situation. They always gave back so much more than I gave them. So empowering women in different situations as a woman is not a favor only to them, it’s a favor to your own business. Because you’re getting talent you’re not getting otherwise.


“I think female empowerment means that you don’t have to behave the way that others think you should behave in order to succeed.”


How do you handle your career and family?

JALEH: When I first had my kids, I learned that I had to prioritize. And I found out that I could do more work in a shorter time. To handle both:

#1 I communicated my boundaries clearly. If the company doesn’t respect your boundaries, you’re not going to be successful anyway. 

#2 I figured out what really differentiates me. Find out the things you’re really good at and what makes you special.

#3 I was lucky with my husband. He was great and also with the kids. You can’t just create that but having someone who is like that is a great support.

#4 I worked part-time when my kids were little. There is a huge difference between staying up to date and connected and not working at all. People I know who stopped working for years had a really hard time going back full time. 

#5 I continued to learn and grow. Be humble about being a student your whole life. You always need to learn because things are changing quickly. I am a student everyday and I learn everyday and that made it easy for me to continue my career.

What are your main challenges in marketing?

JALEH: In general, marketing itself is changing really quickly. It used to be that you were deciding what to say about your products. Today, everybody has an opinion online. Your brand is no longer defined by you, it’s mainly defined by your customers and their experience. So you need a great product as well as an excellence customer experience. You can’t just win by having a good shelf space.

At Eventbrite we are customer obsessed. For us it is really important to simplify our product for the customer. We power two million events each year and the reason for that is that there is a lot of inherent power of the platform from the customer’s point of view, not only the organizer of the event.

Also marketing is much more quantitative now. But communication as well as analytics matter. Just like online marketing and offline marketing. Both matter. It’s an exciting time to be in marketing. And to bring it all together is challenging. You have to reinvent yourself everyday.


“At Eventbrite we are customer obsessed. For us it is really important to simplify our product for the customer.”


What does a normal day look like for you?

JALEH: Each day is very different. The days go by really fast and when I look at my watch and it’s six o’clock I can’t believe it. That’s how you want it. I start every day with the thought in my head what I proactively want to do that day. Otherwise it’s really easy to just react. I’m usually the second one in the office because I think I’m doing my best work between 7:30 and 9:00 am. These are my 20% that really matter. The rest of the day I’m helping my team to find out what their 20% are and of course doing the normal and important work of business. 

Thank you very much Jaleh!

Pictures © Eventbrite / Jaleh Bisharat

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