RealTime IT News

Jim 'Griff' Griffith, Dean, eBay Education

Jim Griffith

On Labor Day weekend 1995, eBay was born. Over the last 10 years its effects on the Internet are wide ranging, and for many it is more than just an e-commerce vehicle. It's a way of life.

According to a July 2005 ACNeilsen survey, more than 724,000 Americans reported being "professional" eBay sellers earning their primary or secondary source of income from the e-commerce behemoth.

Overall, the number of eBay entrepreneurs is up by 68 percent since the last ACNeilsen survey on the subject in 2003. All told, eBay entrepreneurs sold approximately $10.6 billion during the first six months of 2005 alone.

Jim Griffith, aka "Griff," is dean of eBay education, the lead instructor for eBay University and the author of The Official eBay Bible. He has been recognized as a leading eBay expert since 1996 when he joined the company as its first customer support representative.

Internetnews.com recently caught up with Griff to talk about the anniversary of eBay and its challenges past, present and future.

Q: Over the last 10 years, have any particular challenges or issues really stood out?

In the first four years of eBay, the challenge was the growth of the community of people that were using the site and trying to support that growth with the proper platform.

In the very early days of eBay, it was not uncommon for the whole site to crash for five minutes or so and people who used the site kind of got used to that as the reality of the day. Technology was the big challenge in the beginning.

Starting in 1999, the challenge shifted after our worst technological disaster, which was the famous June 1999 72-hour outage. At that point, considerable resources beyond any that had been applied before went towards creating a truly scalable system that would always be ahead of capacity. And that's where we are now.

As we grow, even though we are a lot more mature than we were 10 years ago, the challenges ahead will still probably be maintaining the same level of service, as well as the relationship we have with each and every buyer and seller.

Q: What major trends have helped to propel eBay forward now and in the future?

So much about eBay's success is about the talent of the people that came up with the idea -- Pierre [Omidyar, eBay founder] and the people he hired as the company went on, and the ingenuity of the sellers and buyers.

There was also a huge component of timing. It just so happens that the idea was a perfect match for what the Internet can do for people. It happened at the same time the Internet was catching on -- almost like a fad. The cool thing about this fad is that although it had its initial faddish component, it has now become a part of everyone's lives.

You can't put this toothpaste back in the tube.

Q: ACNeilsen reported that the number of eBay entrepreneurs in the U.S. has increased 68 percent since the last time a comparable study was conducted in 2003. Why do you think the number of eBay entrepreneurs is growing so fast at this time?

The economy has changed. A lot of people in 2003 were maybe still hoping to get their jobs back or that the job situation recovered. There were lots of people that found themselves out of work during the recession and still needed to make some sort of living.

People were using the Internet as a way to make money on a lot of levels, and eBay is a natural choice because that's where their potential buyers are.

Q: eBay competitors have come and gone over the last decade. What gives eBay its staying power? Is the lack of another competitive auction marketplace a good thing for eBay?

What gives us staying power are a number of factors, like being first to market. EBay was the first company of this type to create a platform like this; we're a textbook case study of how effective first-mover advantage can be.

That along with the excitement of the early Internet and the networking effect on the grassroots level that helps to establish the whole idea of eBay as the place that you go to.

Why competitors weren't able to grab more share, I don't know. One of the things that none of them have done effectively is that none have recognized in a real genuine way the power of community.

Pierre himself, even though he was still working a day job, would hang out on the chat board at night and talk with the buyers and sellers himself that were coming with questions, concerns and suggestions. And he realized that you just don't put up a site like this and not have a relationship with the people that are using it.

It's not something that we tacked onto the company at a latter date; it's actually a crucial part of the foundation of the whole idea of eBay.

Q: What is the importance of Web services and eBay affiliates to the success of eBay?

We're big believers in that. We can't envision surviving and growing without it. On a very basic level, although most of the employees of eBay also buy and sell on eBay, very few are actually running a full-time business.

It takes the full-time business sellers to tell us what works and what doesn't and what they would like to see. Any third-party service that provides a wider ranger of options for the buyer or seller is a good thing for everyone.

On one level, it provides services; on another level it provides a channel for buy-in. Maybe you don't want to buy and sell on eBay, but providing a service for those who do is something that interests you.

In that respect it extends the whole idea of community beyond the circle of people who buy and sell to a whole other circle that supports those who buy and sell.

Q: What do you see the next 10 years bringing to eBay?

On the technical end, as various technologies become more robust and have the capacity to be used effectively, there will be people bidding and listing items from rather untraditional locations. That will increase.

I've already seen it increase with the advent of applications written by developers specifically for PDAs and smartphones that will let you access eBay as you would on a PC.

On a bigger scale, looking at where eBay goes in the next 10 years, the community itself will continue to grow. The day-to-day users will become more mature and sophisticated about how to use the site in ingenious ways that we haven't even considered.

There is a lot of talk about the growth in the rest of the world, especially China. We're spending a lot of effort to enter and secure a market in China.

There is still huge capacity for growth in eBay in traditional markets in North America and Europe, primarily because people like myself use it to find items on any level.

In the grand scheme of things, eBay is still only a very tiny slice of the retail pie out there, and that slice can only get bigger. In the next 10 years it will be interesting to see just how big that slice grows.