Sunday, November 12, 2006

Meg Whitman

Meg (CEO of ebay) made a presentation on her company during a reception hosted by Sierra Ventures in Palo Alto. She has a very different background and style as compared to Eric Schmidt of Google. Eric is a technologist (XerocParc, Sun, Novell) and Meg a marketer (Hasbro, FTD).

About ebay (the auction site):
Meg presented some very impressive statistics about the site that I did not capture (hopefully I will get a copy of the presentation and will post a summary of the stats).

One of ebay's key challenge is to get employees to remember that the customer is the buyer and not the seller. It is easy to forget this because the mostly hears from the sellers. It is very easy for them to prioritize the needs of the seller over the buyer.

This was the acquisition made by ebay when they realized that PayPal had quietly become the wallet on ebay. It was clear that ebay needed to own Paypal. However, it took them a long time to acquire - after intially refusing to buy for 500 mil, they finally bought it for $1.5 bn. Interesting fact: at any given time PayPal has $2 bn in customer accounts.

One of the largest telcos in the world: they currently carry 7% of world's long distance voice traffic. The engineering team is based in Estonia (Meg had great things to say about the tech talent available in that country) with some PhDs drawn from Finland. Their current focus is to deliver Skype on mobile phones.

Meg's biggest mistake
Contrary to he instinct, she did not replace the head of technology immediately after her start at ebay. There was a complete site meltdown (22 hours) when he took his first vacation. It delayed ebay's launch in Japan and Yahoo is now runs the largest auction site in that country.

Driving Innovation
Med does not believe that disruptive innovation like PayPal and Skype will come from within ebay. On the one hand, I am surprised that they are unable to put together a team that can drive innovation. On the other, I am impressed that Meg would publicly admit the same.

All in all, a very interesting presentation and discussion.

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