The Man in the Gorilla Suit

A fun article appeared today on Silicon Alley Insider:

Silicon Alley Insider: What’s It Like Working for LinkedIn by Nicholas Carlson

It’s a short piece that covers the basics of working for a hyper-growth, late stage web 2.0 startup.  The piece begins with the following:

During a recent trip out to the Bay Area, we swung by the LinkedIn world headquarters.

We learned that LinkedIn may be the “serious” social network, but the people behind the site know how to have fun.

They wear gorilla suits to the office. They play frisbee golf around cubicles. Sometimes, they build robots modeled after each other.

Sounds like fun, right?  The article has a 24-slide series of photos to illustrate the trip.   The slide show is called:

LinkedIn is Made by Robots and Men in Gorilla Suits

It turns out that I am, in fact, the Man in the Gorilla Suit.

On Slide 17, you see a picture of the large stuffed gorilla that sits next to me at work:

I asked Kay, “what’s with the stuffed bear?” Her answer: “Get your facts right, it’s a stuffed gorilla. Sheesh.” It belongs to VP Adam Nash…

On the next slide, they provide the snapshot from the FAQ page on the company store, where I’m posing in gorilla suit, wearing a LinkedIn t-shirt:

…who is sometimes known to wear a gorilla suit around the office.

As my brother would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

It turns out that the Gorilla suit is just about my favorite Halloween costume.  Originally an eBay purchase in 2005, I wear it every year to the office.

So now you know.

eBay’s Value Problem is a Search Problem

It has been quite a long time since I posted here about eBay.  I still use the site regularly (I typically still list at least a few things every month), and while I may tweet about things from time to time, I rarely feel the need for a full blog post.

On January 21st, Ikai Lan (@ikai) posted this tweet:

What’s the big deal, right?  So what if Ikai found a better deal on Amazon for his Star Trek geekfest?

Here’s the big deal. This was my response to Ikai:

The issue here isn’t that I was somewhat obnoxious (although clearly, I was a bit obnoxious).  Ikai & I worked together at LinkedIn, so it’s not unexpected to have a little bit of fun with the back & forth on Twitter.

The problem is that Ikai is a smart, technical guy.  He’s also someone who looks for a good deal.  If someone like Ikai thinks that Amazon has a cheaper price on an item like the complete DVD collection for Star Trek DS9, then eBay has a real problem.

eBay’s Value Problem

When I wrote my Eulogy for eBay Express in 2008, I talked about four key value propositions that eBay navigates: value, selection, trust and convenience.  One of the motivating factors behind eBay Express was trying to find a way to leverage eBay’s huge advantages in value and selection, while shoring up perceived weaknesses in trust and convenience.

But here we are in 2010, and while eBay has the item, apples-to-apples, for over $100 less than – Ikai didn’t know it.  And you know what?  If a low price falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound… or a sale.

eBay’s Value Problem is actually a Search Problem

The point is, despite the fact that Ikai is an engineer working at Google, he couldn’t find the item.  So a $115 price advantage was nullified.   Why?

I’m not a 100% sure what Ikai did to identify the proposed “$350 price”.  When I searched on eBay, I found literally dozens of items priced below $300, many of which were from top sellers, and many of which that offered returns.  In fact, I saw items as low as $130, but I tried to find the lowest priced item that matched the quality of service Ikai would expect from an Amazon third party seller.

Of course, I’ve been on eBay since 1998, and I spent years working on structured data and search products at eBay, so I have a hunch why I found the items and he didn’t.

He typed the wrong query. My guess is that he typed something like this “Star Trek DS9 season 1-7” in the DVD category.  Makes sense, right?  Unfortunately, this only returns two items, the cheapest of which is $299.

Despite years of investment, the eBay search engine still doesn’t understand that “DS9 = Deep Space Nine”, and that “1-7” is a range, and that “season” is an attribute that DVD sets for television series can have.

Now, what I did do?  Simple:

  1. I typed the query “deep space (nine, 9)”
  2. I selected the category for DVD
  3. I selected “Buy It Now” for listing type
  4. I sorted from highest price to lowest

Let’s review the tricks I used:

  1. The () notation is how the eBay search engine does OR.  So I was able to find listings with both “nine” and “9” in them.  To be fancy, I could have used “DS9” in there too, but it wasn’t necessary.
  2. Filter to DVD category to clean out other clutter.
  3. I figured Ikai didn’t want to bid on an auction
  4. Sorting from high to low is a counter-intuitive trick, but if you assume that the collection will be more expensive than individual DVDs, it makes sense.  I use this all the time with high priced items, since quality tends to float to the top.

I then scanned down the list to find the cheapest collection sold by a credible seller (someone with high feedback and % satisfaction).  And then I tweeted it to Ikai.

Would anyone else know how to do this? Would anyone else want to do this?

I do it, largely because I still love eBay, and because I actually know how to do it.  Plus, I really appreciate saving money on items like this, so the $115 is worth a few minutes.

But all I know is that if eBay can’t leverage it’s intrinsic price advantage with buyers like Ikai, then it has a serious problem.  They 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.