Friday, May 02, 2008

Blast From the Past - Pierre Omidyar in 2001 Interview

My how things have changed since Pierre spoke to Rob Hof of Business Week; back in 2001. (Special thanks to user: allaboutsewing on the Seller Central board for pointing out this article.)

I'll post the Q&A from the article in 2001 and then the video clip from the John Donahoe interview following. To read the entire Q&A you can go here.
Now, I wasn't going to add my 12% to this and just let you comment about what you see, but obviously I have a point of view based on sections of the interview I chose.

Here is my 12% in a nutshell: In 2001, Pierre wasn't aware of the troubles that eBay would experience as early as 2004 and he was certainly idealistic, back in the day, that he could maintain the marketplace that he had created. Unfortunately that was not the case. So eBay is in a transition, in order to be viable for the next 10 years management believes they need to re-create the marketplace and they are correct, but they are going about it in the wrong way.

The eBay of 2001, "Pierre's eBay", could still exist today and even thrive, but it will no longer grow exponentially and that doesn't sit well with investors, while the eBay of 2008 needs to get back on the growth track, but can't do that if shackled to the past.

Both eBay 2001 and eBay 2008 can co-exist but not in the same platform, trying to "Best Match" them together is like "making a silk purse out of a sow's ear" and if management continues going down this path there is much trouble ahead. What they will achieve is a so-so marketplace that never really reaches its potential.

eBay of 2008 is the Coca Cola of the 80's and we all know how that turned out. (In case you don't get the comparison Amazon 2008 is Pepsi of the 80's)

So, here is Pierre in 2001 and Pierre in 2008

Business Week 2001:

"Q: It seems ironic that eBay started out intending to level the playing field for small businesses and individuals, and now eBay is a big corporation. How do you make those jibe these days?

A: It sure is ironic. I like to think we're a different kind of big company, because of the way we interact with our community. If we lose that, we've pretty much lost everything. If you're starting a revolution and you succeed, then are you still a revolutionary? It's a little bit weird, but I think we still have a long way to go, bringing the level playing field to the rest of the world." (bold is mine)

What he is saying today:

Business Week 2001:

Q: eBay is so much more influenced by its own customers than other companies. How did you make that happen?

A: "It was of necessity, frankly. I had the idea that I wanted to create an efficient market and a level playing field where everyone had equal access to information. I wanted to give the power of the market back to individuals, not just large corporations. That was the driving motivation for creating eBay at the start.

But then beyond that, I didn't have a whole plan for how it would evolve. How it did evolve was that users would write to me and say, "You should do this, you should think about this, you should deal with these issues." I had the very luxurious job of saying, "That's a good idea, and that's a good idea, and let me go do that."

It was letting the users take responsibility for building the community -- even the building of the Web site. That's the kind of thing I tried to keep and encourage as we started building our product marketing teams. We wanted to remind people that the best ideas came from the community. They're the ones that are out there actually using the product and, in some cases, making their living off it. They know what it needs more than we do, generally."

What he is saying today:

I know many of you disagree with me but the only way eBay can come out of this on top is by segmenting the "Classic eBay" the idealistic Pierre from the "New eBay" the realistic Pierre.

If this doesn't happen, you will be reading about eBay 2008 as a cautionary tail of what not to do with a thriving business.

One More Thing: Express was the right idea, but the wrong execution, not from a design perspective, but from a business perspective.

It should never have been called eBay Express and it should have become the Fixed Price marketplace with no listing fees and higher FVF's instead of just being tacked on top of listings and left to whither because of lasck of resources. should have become eBay Classic and been auction only, where the money was made on listing fees and low FVF fees and Stores should have become the hub that fed both marketplaces... there, I'm finished.

That's my 12%


Cliff said...

Hi Randy,

You know where I am on this, so it's probably no surprise that your last couple of paragraphs are a little cut and dry to me.

Separating the New and the Classic can be as easy as using the sort button for searches.

Still I'm optimistic with (most of) the changes and rumored future changes.

It will be very hard to eBay to embrace a lot of what "idealistic Pierre" says in the past--it's largely about embracing a community that they are largely viewed as poking with a stick with every change these days.

While I'm still on board I feel the way they handle drive for an expanded user base (often artificial as we see through multiple accounts, abandoned accounts, etc.) comes at the expense of alienating the long-time users who helped build eBay and its reputation.

I guess in a perfect world I'd love to see eBay rekindle it's old love affair with the current user base and grow new users through their reputation, you know, like the old days!

That all sounds quite idealistic, but it keeps in line with 2001's "idealistic Pierre" I think.

(Total tangent here, and I think I've mentioned it before, but I still think a great way to bring back some "fun" to eBay would be an incorporation of Stumble Upon to the site itself, allowing users to "Stumble" searches. That would glue more eyes to listings instead of having them glaze over a list, and it would!)

Dave White said...


What a difference a day makes! Back in the day that is, things were much simpler then.

I realize business must evolve to compete. Unfortunately it appears that eBay has evolved into something that no longer resembles the intent!

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