Of the many reasons to admire Jeff Bezos, top billing goes to his unwavering long term vision. Here’s some quotes from this NY Times article contrasting Amazon and eBay:
“Our willingness to be misunderstood, our long-term orientation and our willingness to repeatedly fail are the three parts of our culture that make doing this kind of thing possible,” he said.
And here’s another:
“We are willing to plant seeds that take five to seven years to grow into reasonable things,” he said in an interview. “You can’t do big, clean-sheet invention unless you are willing to invest for long periods of time.”
And one more:
“At the end of the day, we believe it’s good for all of our sellers to make sure we are protecting the consumer experience first,” Mr. Bezos said. “Our first and foremost goal is to earn trust with consumers. If there are no consumers buying, nothing else matters.”
The rest of the NYT article outlines how far eBay has fallen. eBay had short-term focus (quarterly results) and fell into the innovator’s dilemma because they were held hostage by the hostility and vested interests of their sellers. Consider this quote, via Om Daily:
How bad? The sellers — aka the customers of eBay — are so mad that they are putting out statements publicly denouncing the company. Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA) on its web site wrote:
In the first nine months of 2008, we have observed a substantial deterioration in the value of the marketplace for merchants. Broader e-commerce growth is in the high teens while eBay’s GMV has increased at low single digit rates; a clear sign that eBay is losing wallet share among online shoppers.
Today eBay merchants have an increased level of business uncertainty due to eBay’s poor execution of changes in many areas including seller performance measurement, fees, site search, buyer activity, and seller communication. The result is that merchants are changing their behavior in ways that we believe is not beneficial to the eBay marketplace.
Merchants are pursuing alternate channels for their businesses which are more economical, including launching their own website, participating in other third-party channels such as Amazon and Overstock, and even opening brick and mortar stores.
Whichever way you look at it, that is a big fat F for the company. I think buying new companies might give eBay a near-term lift, but the business is a bureaucratic mess and as a company eBay has had trouble coming to terms with the future. It has failed the innovation test — a metric almost every Silicon Valley company should be judged by — and all it has done is use its monopolistic position to paper over its shortcomings.
When you’ve got buyers needs in one ear and sellers screaming their needs in the other ear every day, you find yourself constantly tested - do you have enough persistence, enough patience, and enough customer focus to succeed?