I’ve continued to shy away from posts about eBay and eBay Express in the past year. Somehow, it feels inappropriate to comment too deeply about my former company. But tomorrow (April 24th) is a special day for eBay Express, and I thought it would be wrong not to acknowledge it.
Happy Birthday, eBay Express!
On April 24th, 2006, eBay Express officially launched it’s beta site to the world. In actually, the site had been running internally as of March 20th, but we officially made the DNS entry available outside of eBay for it’s beta debut. (Actually, we originally thought it could take up to 48 hours for the DNS to propogate… it turned out to take 5 minutes, which led the site to actually go live during the launch party on Friday, April 21st.)
It may not be obvious from the outside, but eBay Express was exciting for a number of reasons:
- Mission. eBay Express had a real mission – to build a best-of-class, retail buyer experience with the value & selection that buyers love about eBay, but with significant improvements in convenience & trust. This high-level goal led the founding team to craft several principles which guided every decision and led to an incredible passion across the team and the company. Principles like, “Always ask what’s best for the buyer.” and the concept of making the platform “backwards compatible” with existing seller business process, were kept consistent across the site.
- Innovation. Never before had eBay committed so broadly to investment in new technology & systems designed around a holistic end-to-end business & experience. In each and every area, leveraging the principles of the site, we re-examined the best technology eBay & Paypal had to offer, and in many cases invested heavily to break through a number of long-standing roadblocks to platform innovation.
- Entrepreneurship. eBay Express was an important experiment for eBay, which has a long history of acquiring new businesses, but less experience in building them. eBay Express was a significant test for the organization and for the business.
It’s two years later now. Much of the technology that we developed during eBay Express has informed new designs for technology for the core eBay business. Many of the principles of eBay Express have now also been transferred to the entire eBay markeplace. In fact, if you read through the transcript of Lorrie Norrington’s speech today, a vast majority of it echoes strongly with the original vision. Of course, it differs in one important way: one of the basic tennants of eBay Express was that we were building a different site so that we didn’t have to change what buyers & sellers love about eBay.com.
One of the founding team’s greatest fears with eBay Express was the long term ability of eBay to invest in building a new business in a very tough market. Amazon spent almost an entire decade interating on their model for third-party fixed-price sales on Amazon.com. Of course, it is very successful now, but it’s easy to forget the amount of capital and the number of missteps that Amazon endured in the process. I continue to be extremely proud of the incredible sales growth & volume that the team generated in just their first year (and even into their second!).
When I worked at Apple in the 1990s, one of the lessons I learned was that it is very hard for a large business to invest in new markets when it’s core business is suffering. It seems like ancient history, but when Steve returned, Apple focused first on stemming the bleeding in its core Mac market with the Think Different campaign and the iMac years before it debuted the iPod & iTunes sensation. To this day, Apple’s success is a pairing of its new businesses and its old.
eBay’s priority now has to be it’s core eBay marketplace business, and that’s why you see tell-tale signs of cutting back on investment in ancillary businesses.
There were plenty of lessons learned from eBay Express – things done right, things done wrong. But that’s not really the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to say “Happy Birthday” to the site while I still can, and give a brief shout out to the original founding team who got pulled off every other “top” priority at the time:
Special nod to MD, LR, AH, SM, RV, CF, RV & ES for their support, and to the entire Express team. eBay Express will always be special to me. And of course, there is the ever growing list of eBay Express alumni on LinkedIn. 🙂
P.S. Just in case she’s wondering, yes, Rebecca, 4/24 is first and foremost your birthday in my heart. Happy Birthday, Rebecca!