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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 1944 - December 29, 2008 - ISSN 1539-5065    1 of 4

AuctionBytes Interviews Former eBay Executive Jeff Jordan

By Ina Steiner
EcommerceBytes.com
December 29, 2008




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What does former eBay executive Jeff Jordan think of the auction site these days? Jordan joined eBay in 1999, and many had considered him a likely successor to President and CEO Meg Whitman. Jordan led eBay North America from 2000 through 2004 and was President of PayPal from 2004 until his resignation in 2006. In this exclusive interview with AuctionBytes, Jordan talks about his experiences at eBay and about his latest role as CEO of OpenTable.

AuctionBytes: When you joined eBay in 1999, what attracted you to the company?

Jeff Jordan: I was drawn to eBay for the same reasons most of the early employees were drawn to eBay. Quite simply, I loved the concept of empowering people to achieve whatever it was they wanted to achieve. And, in 1999, there weren't many companies that captured the spirit of entrepreneurialism quite like eBay. There were a lot of technology companies that were interesting to me from a business perspective, but none of them quite had the unique spark that eBay had for me.

AuctionBytes: What did you most like about working at eBay?

Jeff Jordan: I thrived on the variety. Nearly every day, we were faced with a new and different challenge that had never been seen before. You can't say that about most jobs. In the early days, eBay was really at the cutting edge of issues facing the relatively new Internet, so that was always fascinating to feel like pioneers. It was really fun to tackle all of the heady issues with our business brains, but then we ultimately tried to do what we thought was best for the marketplace and the people who were part of it. And, I also loved the people who worked at eBay. The company typically hired very smart people who were committed to their work, but they also knew how to have fun. Some of the best laughs I ever had were in meetings discussing serious topics at eBay.

AuctionBytes: What accomplishment are you most proud of during your time at eBay?

Jeff Jordan: Of course, I'm thrilled that I got to be part of the team that helped build eBay.com from a small auction site into the site it is today. At the time I joined, eBay was really this grand social experiment, and if it worked, it also had huge potential to define e-commerce. The site had no playbook, no rules and no set of norms. We were constantly trying to learn as much as we possibly could, and the challenges were always unique. I am proud that we were able to forever change the way business is done on the Internet.

AuctionBytes: What were the biggest challenges in managing the eBay marketplaces?

Jeff Jordan: The rate at which the marketplace grew was truly astounding. Even though we worked to ensure we had all the right processes and guidelines in place, the sheer scale of what we were managing seemed to increase everyday and with that, the complexity of managing the business grew too. So, while it was challenging, I guess you could say it was also my favorite part. I seem to thrive in that kind of environment, although I am not sure what that says about me!

AuctionBytes: Intellectual Property challenges and fencing of stolen goods are major issues when it comes to auction marketplaces. Is a company like eBay likely to survive in its current form given regulatory and legal challenges?

Jeff Jordan: I am not up-to-speed enough on this topic anymore to give you an informed answer. I know that they've recently invested more heavily in the area of Trust & Safety, so hopefully, that will begin to have significant pay off for them.

AuctionBytes: How important was international expansion to eBay's growth, and were there any downsides to going global?

Jeff Jordan: International expansion was critical for eBay. The concept of a marketplace is really a global one, so it was an easily exportable idea. And, for many years, the international growth was truly torrid. When done well, I am not sure I can think of any true downsides to building a business abroad. In fact, I think that eBay's international business is now as big and profitable as the U.S. business - if not bigger.

AuctionBytes: What's your biggest eBay-related regret?

Jeff Jordan: I wish that I had been able to develop a business around services. It's really a similar model to eBay where keeping up good reputations are critical, the product is empowering to small businesses, and it's currently an inefficient market. I think that is something that would have been a really big opportunity and something that would've worked incredibly well under the eBay umbrella.

AuctionBytes: Meg Whitman, then President and CEO of eBay, rotated top executives in various divisions. Was she ensuring that there would be a number of experienced possible successors, and why do you believe she ultimately decided to go outside the company to choose her replacement?

Jeff Jordan: One of Meg's personal mantras was "Reorganize early and often," and she followed this when managing eBay. She really believed that all the senior managers needed to have both deep and broad experience at managing different pieces of the business in order to be more effective in their current, and eventually future, roles. For me, the variety of the different roles was really fun! As to how she made the decision to go outside of the company for her replacement, you would have to check with her. I am a big fan of John Donahoe; I think he's a talented guy.

AuctionBytes: During your tenure at eBay, did the attitude towards sellers change over time among eBay executives?

Jeff Jordan: In the early days, it was pretty easy to have a close relationship with many of the top sellers; I knew many of them on a first name basis. They were so passionate and really had wonderful feedback as we evolved the marketplace. As the seller base exponentially increased, it was harder to maintain that day-to-day contact. So, I don't think the attitude toward the sellers necessarily changed, but it was definitely harder to be in touch with as many of them as I would've liked.

AuctionBytes: Acquiring PayPal is now considered one of eBay's best moves. Were you the leading advocate of eBay acquiring PayPal, and why was there so much resistance to PayPal?

Jeff Jordan: I was certainly one of the early, ardent supporters of the acquisition. From the beginning, I thought it would be a huge boost to the eBay business to be able to integrate shopping with payments. Those synergies between the companies, which are so obvious now, weren't as clear to everyone right away. Of course, now it turns out that the acquisition is regarded as one of the best technology acquisitions in business history. I certainly loved my time as president of PayPal. Given that I was so supportive of the acquisition from the very beginning, building that business was a real highlight of my career.

AuctionBytes: Do you keep in touch with your former eBay colleagues?

Jeff Jordan: Absolutely. Many of my close friends from eBay have moved on to different jobs over the years. But, when we do get together, interestingly enough, we don't spend a lot of time talking about eBay, but we use the time to catch up about our new jobs, our families, etc.

AuctionBytes: Do you keep up with news about eBay?

Jeff Jordan: I wish I could! There aren't enough hours in a day to attend to everything my current role at OpenTable demands, so it's hard to fit in a lot of time to read about other companies - even eBay!

AuctionBytes: What do you think of the company these days?

Jeff Jordan: Well, the Marketplaces business is clearly facing some challenges, but the team seems to be making really aggressive changes to try and address those challenges head-on. When these changes start to pay off for sellers in really meaningful ways, that will write a whole new chapter for eBay. I think the eBay transformation is far from over. Also, PayPal and Skype are both quite healthy and strong businesses on their own, and there are also other gems, like StubHub and Classifieds. So, all in all, I think the company still feels like it's got a big opportunity.

AuctionBytes: What is eBay doing right these days?

Jeff Jordan: It was clear that the marketplace needed to have changes made to it, but it's always hard to make those changes. I am glad to see eBay getting aggressive about making those changes and not being scared to take risks.

AuctionBytes: What is eBay doing wrong?

Jeff Jordan: I can't think of anything eBay is particularly doing wrong, but if they were to seek advice from me about anything, I'd say to try not to pay attention to ever single thing written about the company. When you have a plan that you really believe is the right thing to do, stay focused on it and don't let negativity from the press get you down or take you off course.

AuctionBytes: If you had advice for eBay sellers today, what would you say?

Jeff Jordan: I still get contacted by lot of eBay sellers, and what I typically tell them is to try and be patient. The team there is making a lot of changes, and change is always hard to swallow. I'd tell them to give the team a chance and have faith in their good intentions. They are all there to make the marketplace better for you.

AuctionBytes: Were you surprised that your former colleague Meg Whitman played a role in 2008 presidential politics?

Jeff Jordan: Meg is a very smart and talented person, and she will be successful at anything she wants to do. I often heard her say that her job at eBay would be her last official corporate job, so I guess politics was a logical next step for her.

AuctionBytes: Tell us about OpenTable and how people use the site.

Jeff Jordan: OpenTable was founded in 1998 by a guy named Chuck Templeton. He came up with the idea after watching his wife become frustrated while trying to book a dinner reservation by phone. Essentially, OpenTable has two sets of customers - restaurants and diners. For restaurants, we provide an electronic reservation book and guest management system which allows them to replace their pen-and-paper reservation books. It brings a lot of operational efficiencies to the way they run their restaurants, so they really benefit from our hardware and software package quite immediately. On the diner side, we run a consumer-facing Web site (www.OpenTable.com) which allows people to conveniently book free, online restaurant reservations. We just announced last week that we now have 10,000 restaurants in our network and have cumulatively seated 85 million diners. The belief is that we will continue to attract more diners by attracting more restaurants, and we'll attract more restaurants by having more diners. Does this network effect sound familiar? �

AuctionBytes: What was it about OpenTable that attracted you?

Jeff Jordan: Well, for me, it was really a perfect job - and I wasn't exactly looking for a job. It combines my strong interest in running a consumer business with my passion for food, cooking and restaurants. A lot of people probably don't know this, but I put myself through school by working for many years as a chef in both Virginia and Philadelphia. And, after I left eBay, I took some time off and much of that was spent cooking for my family. Interestingly too, eBay and OpenTable have a lot in common in that they both service consumers and small businesses, and both companies make the experience of interacting easier. So, the transition for me was actually quite seamless, and I'm just as excited about the job 18 months later.

AuctionBytes: You've always come across as a manager stimulated by challenge and competition. What lights a fire under you these days?

Jeff Jordan: What gets me excited these days is the opportunity OpenTable has in front of it. In fact, we are at a very similar point that eBay was at many years ago. We have a huge opportunity internationally, and we are essentially making it easier for small businesses to capture customers. In our case, those small businesses just happen to be restaurants. OpenTable has a great brand that our customers love, and I'm fired up about making sure that every restaurant and diner know about us. This is a really interesting and fun business, and I think 2009 is going to be a great year for us.

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About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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