Former eBay, PayPal Exec Discusses New Role as Proxibid President
By Ina Steiner
Proxibid named former eBay and PayPal executive Ryan Downs its new president. Downs joins Proxibid from eBay where he served in a number of roles, most recently as Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations for PayPal, eBay's online payments subsidiary.
AuctionBytes sat down with Ryan Downs to learn more about his new role at the Nebraska firm that brings auction companies and bidders together through its online bidding platform.
AuctionBytes: How is your background at eBay and PayPal going to help you at Proxibid?
Ryan Downs: I think my exposure to auctions, payments, ecommerce, generally will be very helpful. But probably more relevant would be my experience in scaling a company. As you know, PayPal especially, but eBay as well, were extremely high-growth companies. I have a lot of experience in building out the process and structure and systems to scale a company effectively. I think that's one key piece.
The second key piece, I spent a lot of time at PayPal and eBay on the end-to-end customer experience, which is very, very important at Proxibid. Any time you bring a virtual web experience and connect it with off-line experiences, which we have here, that end-to-end experience that customers go through is just essential to at every touch point. I have a lot of experience in that.
And I think the third thing would be, I have a lot of experience in building a great culture, and that is a very key piece at Proxibid. They're very focused on culture, it's actually what really interested me in the company, and I also had that as a top priority at PayPal and eBay and I think I've learned to do that right as the company grows. So those are some of the things that I think will help me.
AuctionBytes: How would you rate PayPal's customer service?
Ryan Downs: PayPal and eBay approached service very differently in the early days. I'm very happy to say that a lot of things that I did on the Paypal side, we eventually incorporated on the eBay side. For instance, the proliferation of phone service, which wasn't a strong element at eBay in the early days, we were able to open that up greatly during my last two years there, so I was very excited about that. And I think its service continues to get better as a result.
On the PayPal side, it was a bit of a journey. The company, when I started, was growing at a ridiculous rate - over 100% a year, and it's just very difficult to build everything to work perfectly in that type of environment. But I thought we did a nice job of getting it stood up originally, but then improving it over time. So today - and I've been out of PayPal now for a year - every customer has phone service available with solid service levels, with good response times on anything that a customer files with PayPal or seeks help on. There's been a real focus on customer loyalty and customer satisfaction, and all those measures improved dramatically while I was there.
So I think it stacks up well against the industry, but those folks are always trying to improve it, which is what I focused on as well. Your work is never done in a dynamic high-growth environment like that, but we were really focused on getting better every day, and that's exactly what I'd want to do at Proxibid. Just get better every single day.
AuctionBytes: What is Proxibid's customer service like today, and how are you going to improve it?
Ryan Downs: Proxibid is starting in a little different place than PayPal. I think from the very beginning, Proxibid has viewed service and customer experience as a very high priority, where I think that PayPal came into that a little later. So I think the service is very strong today, and the relationships with both the auction companies and the buyers is very strong.
How will we improve it? I think we'll continue to invest in systems that are more scalable, probably more investment in online tools to complement the phone support. And on the auction companies' side, figure out ways to improve those folks' business. So it goes a little bit beyond service. It's not just problem resolution, it's actually more business consulting. How do you help those folks get more out of their business, make higher margins, increase their selling prices - that's really the opportunity in the long-run. It's not just helping with problems, which of course is something you have to do as well.
AuctionBytes: Is Proxibid typecast as a service for auction houses dealing in traditional goods such as livestock and farm equipment, and are you comfortable where Proxibid is now?
Ryan Downs: I don't think it's typecast at all in those specific categories. It covers a number of categories, and the way I think about it is, it's a core operating system for the auction industry, and kinds of things go through auctions. So you have high-end fine art, collectible firearms, collectible coins, estate sales, foreclosure sales, land, horses, cattle, industrial equipment, almost anything you can think of goes through auctions, so I don't think it's narrow at all.
In fact, it's nearly a $300 billion business in the U.S. alone. So there's a massive, massive market. And I also think that, in time, there will be other things that could come through an auction type of format. I don't know what all those might be, but I think of unused hotel rooms, unused airline tickets, unused sports tickets, all kinds of things that might lend themselves to an auction platform over time. But we don't have to worry about all that right now, because the $300 billion is a massive market with great diversity, and we can serve a piece of that.
AuctionBytes: Do you have a sense of where you're going to take Proxibid, and what your goals are?
Ryan Downs: The company historically has been doubling every 12 to 18 months, and my goal would be to maintain or hopefully even accelerate those growth rates. I think there's a number of ways we can grow. I think that capturing a larger percentage share of a given auction company's business is one way. I think that expanding into some other categories or deepening the penetration in some categories is another way. And I think that geographical expansion in time could be very interesting for Proxibid. And those are the three things I'm thinking about right now. But I want to maintain or accelerate the growth rates we have today.
AuctionBytes: Will Bruce Hoberman continue to be CEO? How are you sharing responsibilities?
Ryan Downs: Bruce is staying around. And I think that we'll figure out a little bit as we go, how we divide and conquer. We know that in a dynamic, fast-growing technology business, there's plenty of work to go around, so we're not worried about that.
If I had to speculate today on how we'll split things out, I can see Bruce doing slightly more long-term planning and also interaction in the external world with investors. And I will lean a little more toward the day-to-day operations of the company and providing the leadership to the employees that we have. But we'll figure out some of the nuances of that as we work together.
AuctionBytes: Is PayPal integrated into Proxibid?
Ryan Downs: Proxibid is not integrated with PayPal to date. We do see payments and also PCI compliance as a pain-point for some of the auction clients. But we haven't actually decided exactly what we might do in that payments space. We do have our own payments strategies with a small group that started with APN, which is Auction Payment Network, where we're trying to provide some PCI compliance and payment tools to our auction houses. We have not yet discussed whether PayPal could be a piece of that, we'll take a look at that over time, but right now it's not integrated.
AuctionBytes: Do payments go through Proxibid or directly to the auction house?
Ryan Downs: They actually go to the auction house today. And that's something we'll look at over time, because the auction clients, I think, would find it a lot easier if Proxibid helped enable that payment. So that's an opportunity that we're considering and we'll work through over time.
AuctionBytes: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Ryan Downs: I think Proxibid has an opportunity to be a very, very large company and create a lot of jobs in my home town of Omaha. And I think this is a really rare opportunity to be involved in a disruptive Web company that's growing like crazy, that is relentlessly focused on the customer, focused on culture, and I get to do it right here in the middle of the country where I live, and I don't have to relocate my family. I would say that is just doesn't get any better than that for me.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may quote up to 50 words of any article on the condition that you attribute the article to EcommerceBytes.com and either link to the original article or to www.EcommerceBytes.com.
All other use is prohibited.