Category: Digital

Working at eBay.in

There was a news article recently that the current owners of the eBay.in website in India are planning to shut it down soon. I was fortunate to be part of the founding team of this pioneering venture and to date consider it as the best days of my professional life. Here are my thoughts on why this was so:

People: The bedrock of any organisation. A big Thank You to the founding members of Baazee.com for consistently hiring great people. Not only were the team one of the smartest and talented that I ever had the fortune of working with, but also great individuals and team members. Humility, respect, trust and willingness to go the extra mile, while also knowing how to have a good time characterised the team.

Processes: While Baazee.com was a start-up, it was very interesting to observe that they already had a lot of processes in place that one expects in more mature organisations. This, to me, shows the foresight of the senior leadership team as it helped bring a strong sense of focus to the team. Everyone knew not only their individual role within the company, but also what others in the team did. As it to be expected, this was taken to another level with eBay. And I, personally, consider this as one of my biggest learnings from working there.

Plans: Another area where learned a lot. Both Baazee and eBay were very clear about their plans across the short, medium and long (2-3 years) terms. The process of making the plans was very inclusive, which meant that there was very strong clarity across the team on roles and objectives. This, combined with the processes mentioned above, meant that there was also a high level of transparency about the goals across the organisation.

Culture: All of the above meant that Baazee / eBay had a wonderful work culture. There was hardly any politics, second guessing, hierarchies, etc. Discussions were open and held in a respectful fashion and there was a true open door philosophy at the senior leadership level. I believe this enabled everyone to give their best.

Learning: There was ample opportunity to learn, especially at Baazee. Part of this stemmed from the fact that it was truly a pioneering organisation, so many of the things we were doing had not really been done before in the country. But another important contributor was also the trust managers had that their teams would do the right thing. There was little micro-management and mistakes, made with the best intentions, were tolerated.

I am sure there are other points, but I truly believe that Baazee / eBay was one of those rare organisations where everything just came together. People who were lucky enough to have worked there have formed strong bonds. When there was a get-together of alumni recently, nearly 60 from across the country and abroad made it a point to come together and have a good time. Cheers to eBay.in!

The hybrid Indian online model

There is no denying that the increasing popularity of ‘online’ in India. Since moving back to India a couple of years ago, I have been regularly using a plethora of online services – ride hailing, food delivery, house rentals, packers and movers, shopping – and by and large, the experience has been pleasant. It has certainly made life easier and more fun, though I still have reservations about the long term viability of some of these companies (but that’s a topic for another post!).

One aspect, though, that has intrigued me, and in some cases, irritated me, is the amount of human interactions that some of these services entail. A couple of examples:

I had registered on a property website while casually looking at some properties. And a few days later, I received a call from the company saying that they would be happy to help me shortlist a property, asking for my details, talking about a few properties and then the catch – they will share my contact details with the property developers who would then call me to schedule a visit, etc. Please note that this was completely outbound as I had not expressed any interest in these properties on their website or even asked anybody to call me.

One of the reasons I prefer to use online services is the relative degree of anonymity – I do not have to talk to a customer service agent, provide details, then have further people calling me, etc. I would rather do all the activities myself and only have an option to talk to someone at the company if I need any help.

This got me thinking. Is it that our digital economy is not mature enough that companies still have to hire a team of agents to call its users and be enablers? Or is it that companies are not happy at the volume of business they are getting from pure self service users and feel the need to hire people to push things along? I appreciate that this provides employment opportunities and, in our country, that is very important. But is there a case then, for companies to provide an option to users who prefer to be completely self service?

Case #2:

I went on to the website of a very popular DTH provider with whom I have an existing relationship. I had to make a service request. It was easy to find the service request section on their website and within a few seconds, I had made my request which was time bound. And then the wait started. It’s been a couple of months now, so the details are a bit vague but I do not believe I received even an acknowledgment that my request has been received. So, two days later, what did I have to do? You guessed it right, I had to call their Customer Support and within minutes, I received a follow up call and things were sorted.

It begs the question, doesn’t it? Why have a Service Request option on your website when clearly, it is not being monitored? In western markets, companies love it when users self serve, saves them significant costs of hiring and training call centre agents and the operational costs involved (office space, telecommunications, etc.). I wonder, if in India, the cost structure is so skewed that it is still cheaper for companies to have a team of people on call than build a technological solution? I am not sure that it is, but would love to hear from experts.