|Tue Feb 2 2010 13:54:41|
Former Employees Blog about eBay and PayPal
By: Ina Steiner
eBay has a search problem, according to the former Director of eBay Express North America. Adam Nash, now Vice President of Search & Platform Products at LinkedIn, blogged today about the difficulty shoppers have in finding products on eBay. Mr. Nash is qualified to discuss the issue - among his tasks at eBay: "Define product features and strategy for search classification & infrastructure supporting the eBay marketplace."
While there are plenty of eBay critics on the Internet, none are as interesting as the company's former employees. They have unique insights into the company culture, management thought-process, and approaches to technology and their blog posts offer the occasional glimpse into the inner workings of the company. Alan Lewis has blogged about cultural issues that impact strategy (link); Raghav Gupta about eBay search; Shripriya Mahesh about innovation at eBay; and Dave McClure blogged yesterday about PayPal's "password problem."
In Mr. Nash's blog post, "eBay's Value Problem is a Search Problem" (link), he explained that his friend, a Google engineer, could not find a particular Star Trek DVD set on eBay at a significantly lower price than he could find on Amazon.com, even though they existed. "(eBay) can never beat Amazon or traditional retailer e-commerce sites on trust and convenience. They can, however, beat them on price and selection. But customers have to be able to find those advantages to value them." (He was able to find the DVD set on eBay for $198 from a "top rated seller with returns" using some intricate search techniques.)
This was not Mr. Nash's first blog post about problems at eBay. In 2008, he wrote "A Eulogy for eBay Express" in which he covered in some detail "why eBay launched eBay Express, what we got right, what we got wrong, and why eBay Express likely doesn't fit with eBay's current strategy." The post is especially interesting this week, following eBay's announcement of changes coming at the end of March in which it pushes sellers into Store subscriptions. Mr. Nash explained eBay's premise in creating eBay Express, a fixed-price marketplace it launched in 2006 and closed in 2008:
"Our entire reason for building a separate site was because we believed that the changes needed for buyers and sellers in a massive fixed-price marketplace were not compatible with the experience of the traditional eBay auction site. As I used to tell buyers and sellers, we built eBay Express so that we would not have to change the auction experience that millions of buyers and sellers loved on eBay.com."
Raghav Gupta, a Research Scientist at eBay Research Labs from 2002 - 2008, built eBay's Related searches product in 2005 and agreed to an interview with AuctionBytes in 2008 after I spotted his blog post, "An Ode to eBay." He discussed eBay's search features and stated, "I think individual users should be able to choose the factors they want to sort/filter their result by, without anything being imposed. In that scenario, you will agree that the more factors available, the better. Imagine being able to combine keywords and factors as you see fit to create your own perfect search."
He also said he believed that while there was a lot of good innovation happening at eBay in terms of demos and prototypes and contests, "hardly anything worthwhile ever makes it out."
But ex-eBayers are also concerned about potential signals they may send when they write about their former employer. Shripriya Mahesh, former Vice President of Corporate Strategy, recently bloggedabout eBay's lost opportunities in a post about the problems large corporations have in fostering innovation.
When I invited Ms. Mahesh to an interview to discuss her blog post last week, she declined, writing, "If I keep blogging about this topic, it will be seen as something more negative than constructive criticism and that is not my goal at all."
While eBay employees blogs may get passed around the user community when they are discovered, they generally don't make a big impact on the more general blogosphere. But former PayPal employee Dave McClure made a splash yesterday with a post about PayPal's "password problem." (Warning: his post includes cursing and is not suitable for children - link.)
Mr. McClure's post, which lit up the Twitter-sphere with retweets, was about what he saw as a necessary change in business models from CPM- or CPC-advertising to subscriptions and transactions (ecommerce, digital goods). In it, he revealed that the far-and-away number-one customer service problem and cost at PayPal was something called "forgotten password recovery." "That's a nice way to say that people can't remember their (expletive deleted) password." He went on to write that, "Password Friction at PayPal led to an unfortunate series of events which caused some signicant (sic) percentage of our users to HATE us with a PASSION that is usually reserved for politicians and lawyers."
Mr. McClure has been investing in early stage startups for years and recently launched his own venture fund and is well known in Silicon Valley.
It would be interesting to know what eBay's top management thinks of the perspective of former employees. Interestingly, eBay CEO John Donahoe himself once considered blogging. He consulted eBay's corporate blogger Richard Brewer-Hay, who advised Mr. Donahoe to leave his blogging to eBay's internal Intranet, and leave the public blogging to him on the eBay Ink blog.
Perhaps we'll have to wait until Mr. Donahoe leaves eBay to hear his thoughts (and perhaps rebuttals) on his former employees' critiques.