Meg is Stepping Down
Meg is leaving eBay and handing it off to John Donahoe. It’s big enough news to bring me back to my keyboard to riff some more.
I cant believe the negative press Meg has gotten in the last few month. In the “what have you done for me lately” world of business (and especially tech ) media and punditry. . . you would have thought that Mark Zuckerberg was/is a more successful CEO than Meg. If you look at the numbers its simply not true. I certainly agree with those that Meg had the winds at it back cause of eBay’s business model (network effects) but the 1990’s dot com generation is littered with great concepts/business models with incredibly strong initial traction . . . but failed to live up to its early promise due to incompetent execution . . . friendster, webvan, netscape . . . to name just a few. . .
But enough kissing ass :) , I do have a few a few honest thoughts about eBay’s challenging future.
In the past 12 month, eBay has been “re-focusing” on the auction business through its TV advertising (emphasizing the joy of winning) and raising prices on stores items to re-emphasis on auction listings and the core marketplace. This new strategy to focus on fixed price is certainly a retrenchment and an admission that the path it had been following for the past 12-18 month was wrong. eBay’s problem (as I had always believed) is driven by a few factors 1) that it owns 100% of the auction market already and 2) google through its search engine has the aggregate inventory of all “listings” which threatens eBay’s position in the market for breadth and selection (and thus as a destination). In the fixed priced context, it means that fixed price (and non-auction) “advertising” is its only growth engine left and that shoring up its core auction business is not likely to deliver the growth so enamored by Wall Street through Google.
This eBay listing widget as an “ad unit” concept is not new. In June of 2006 it announced its AdContext program which used to be located at “ebay.com/ads/adcontext/” - if you click through these pages no longer exists. No sure what happened but it was certainly in Beta for a while but never released publicly. Did the company lose focus? Did the company not have the technical chops to create a contextual advertising algorithm? If it didnt work as a business, why does parading it out again (re-treading an old idea) make it better this time? And lastly, why did it take so long?
Reputation . . . this is a huge opportunity for Paypal . . . but something that also took YEARS to bubble up to the executive ranks. eBay cannot continue to rely on consultants to filter out the latest “trends” and re-package it in digestible powerpoint speak for any idea to be relevant. Bill Gates recognized this early and had a team of recently out of college “technology advisors” (aka geeks) to keep him grounded and abreast of the latest changes. eBay’s executive team must learn to be the same . . . in many ways the most junior people (usually cause they are younger) at eBay was most ahead of the the times. In the end, people making the decision cannot rely on data spoonfed to them in a powerpoint, they need to write a blog, try to get 500 friends on myspace, play vampire/werewolf on facebook, learn RoR, go on a WoW raid, and adopt a penguin - to become a consumer of technology in it purist form (dirty, aimless, useless, emotional - completely non strategic) as to be able to not just absorb information and data - but challenge it and form opinions based on a holistic understanding of all the trends thats happening in the internet - not just the topic at hand.