Envisioning a better future

Working in tech and entrepreneurship, we are taught and encouraged to challenge the status quo.  In tech companies, this is said a lot, but it does not always happen depending on the company culture, the team, and the manager.  However, being an entrepreneur is all about challenging the status quo.

I have an end game in mind here.  I want to have my own company (possibly several) that I start, grow, and eventually hand off to someone who wants to run a giant corporation.  As I have reflected on my goals and interests, I realize that I do not want to be the Vice President at a massive technology company.  I also (likely) don't want to be the CEO or CTO of a billion dollar venture.  The reason is that once a company reaches a certain size, it maintains impact in its field, but it rarely creates a new wave, a serious change.   

Take Google, Facebook and Apple as examples.  

Google's biggest impact to the world was creating PageRank Search.  The internet existed, but it was hard to use.  This idea that you just know a URL and type it in for everything you might need is ludicrous (in retrospect).  The internet was great, but metaphorically, it was a TV set, and Google became its remote controller.  With just a TV, you have to sit there and guess where functions and cable channels are.  With a remote control, you can access all functions of the TV, and be connected to all of the cable channels it has to offer.  That being said, Google technically was not the first search engine, but it was the best.  Since then, other Google products have been massively successful, but nothing was quite the game changer and innovation as PageRank Search.  Everything else Google has done has built off of its search platform.

Facebook changed how we interact with people close and far away.  Granted, it also was not a first mover, but it was the best.  Facebook has continued to innovate, but it is all connected to its initial idea, a social network.

Apple changed the world with the personal computer.  It continued to improve it, then dropped off.  Apple is the rare breed that shocked the world again with the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. You can argue that these all still built off of the personal computer, but since they were significant deviations from the personal computer, you can call Apple a large company that continued to change the game with serious innovations.

In all of this though, the beauty of a startup is it has a fresh idea and team, is it is uniquely new.  It comes into the field to shake things up.  It's not looking to appease shareholders, it's not looking to iterate on the next version of its software or device, it's looking to make a difference, to do something phenomenal and new.

But here is my issue with Silicon Valley's startups these days: Everyone is solving the same problems, just variations of it.  Sometimes it's a new technology, other times it's an app that saves you time or connects you to the world in a different way than the other 6 social media apps that anyone has heard of.  Everyone is looking to use "Big Data", "Social", "Local", "Synergy" to solve yet another techie first world problem.

Silicon Valley needs to stop priding itself on how innovative it is with its next first world problem solutions.  I personally want to have my own startup that solves some basic first world problem, but ultimately, I want to use the reputation, power, and wealth that I would gain from solving one of these first world problems, and channel these resources into solving real-world problems.  Problems that affect the people who are not able to use Silicon Valley's apps.

I truly admire Bill and Melinda Gates for starting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  What they have done to help the different populations of the world is truly incredible.  I think this needs to be taken to a new variation and degree.

The brilliant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley need to make their app, win a fortune, but then re-channel their efforts to our fellow humans who lack basic needs.  There are small businesses and programs that hire convicted felons to bake goods such as brownies.  This model of building a sustainable business to create jobs for those who have no other means of finding work is what this world needs.

I don't know exactly how this can be done yet, but I know we can solve this problem.  I don't know if it should be for our homeless, for those who live near the poverty line, or for former criminals.  Ideally, there should be a solution for each demographic.  I would like to pilot an idea like this in the United States, because I believe in taking care of your home first.  People say the United States is the greatest, but a team is only as strong as its weakest player, and the United States has left a lot of weak players lying around.

We cannot wait and rely on the government.  I'm not taking a Libertarian stance on government; it is needed and it does great things.  But innovation does not happen within the government, our brightest and most driven individuals are not going after government jobs as much as they used to.  An idea like this needs to be funded and executed by the private industry.  The government can support it, but it needs to remain independent.

Our brightest citizens who have already made a fortune need to stop simply donating money, and need not enter into early retirement.  These people need to put their thinking cap on again, and look at how we can build a sustainable business to give people jobs who otherwise have no means to get a job.  

Handing out money and goods is not a bad thing.  I am not a Conservative that is hating on charity hand-outs.  There are instances where it is crucial.  What I am saying is, giving a hand-out does not help an individual in need long-term.  Many Conservatives say that if someone has the drive and will to make it, then they will -- This is not accurate if there are no opportunities present to an individual.  Creating a sustainable business geared to hire people in poor situations not only ensures a constant flow of money to the workers, but it gives them a sense of purpose.  It teaches the individual how to grow, learn, and earn.  It builds confidence and self-worth.

This idea sounds crazy, it sounds far-fetched and too idealistic, but so did a personal computer in every household, so did a search engine, and so did social profiles.  

I think entrepreneurship is amazing and critical to this country and our planet.  A lot of the best ideas and innovations come from entrepreneurs.  But now it's time for these people who are so great at building businesses, to stop building the business that makes an app, and start building the business that we all need, the one that bridges the wealth gap and does good.

This is essentially a privatized, capitalist New Deal Act... the "New New Deal".

I personally am very passionate about this idea.  I have first world company ideas that I want to launch, because I am excited about them, but more so as a gateway to pioneer this idea and movement myself.  It is long overdue, and it can be solved.  It's just a matter of how.

I envision a better future.

eBay Flexible Page Search Engine and Design Optimizations

Problem

eBay has thousands of flexible pages that are used for a variety of use cases including: browsing eBay categories, hosting content for specific holidays or seasons, highlighting trends & interests, and other ad hoc pages.

These pages were built for flexibility of design and easy, quick deployments to the website.  In order to achieve this, the pages were built to host various types of image banners containing custom content with links.  This was great for the original intent of flexible pages, but over time it became difficult to maintain a standardized user experience.  Furthermore, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) suffered from slow page load times (due to massive images) and the lack of crawlable text.

Solution

The Verticals Product Team in coordination with the SEO Product Team spent time identifying top use cases for eBay’s flexible pages, then set out to build integrated content modules to support these use cases.  By building dedicated modules, the teams were able to create a standardized user experience, and build content designed for improved SEO in order to improve eBay’s ranking search engines.

The new modules built for the flexible pages are:

  1. Deals Strip - Exhibits top deals on eBay for a specific category

  2. Sales & Events Strip - Displays ongoing Sales & Events on eBay

  3. Visual Categories - Presents eBay Categories in an engaging manner

  4. Collections - Showcases groupings of curated eBay items

  5. Guides - Promotes interesting and informative content relevant to eBay categories and inventory

The solution for improving the flexible browse pages took more than simply identifying the problem and isolating specific modules to build.  It also involved coordinating business units across the globe to adopt new formats for their merchandised content and swiftly introduce the specific content types on thousands of curated pages.  In order to simplify this process, the teams created a project that details specific templates and patterns for utilizing modules on flexible pages.  This effort involved multiple product teams, all business units, merchandisers, the design team, as well as the creative and marketing teams.  The various parties developed the proper page formats and guidelines with a combination of their expertise in eBay and verticals along with data from current and past page performance.

The Magic

The Before - Home & Garden Category Page from Q4 2015

The Before - Home & Garden Category Page from Q4 2015

The After (Desktop) - Home & Garden Category Page from Q3 2016

The After (Desktop) - Home & Garden Category Page from Q3 2016

The After (Mobile) - Home & Garden Category Page from Q3 2016

The After (Mobile) - Home & Garden Category Page from Q3 2016

Metrics

I cannot share these.  But it was a positive improvement in SEO Visibility globally.

Launching the MacroFuel Food Online Store

This blog post is a bit overdue, but I wanted to take some time to talk about my experience building the MacroFuel Food Online Store.

MacroFuel Food Store Launch Goals

We launched the first version of the store in early February 2016.  This first iteration had 2 focuses:

  1. Giving access to our Kickstarter backers to re-order MacroFuel.

  2. Expanding our customer base in a controlled manner by requiring referrals for our new customers.

This proved wildly successful!  We not only sold out of our inventory in under a month, but we also discovered who our most passionate customers are so that we knew who to reach out to for continued feedback on the product.  The overwhelming interest gave us the data we needed to restock our supply, and retool the store for a broader launch.

MacroFuel Food Online Store v1 Entrance Page

MacroFuel Food Online Store v1 Catalog

Learnings and Improvements

The second version of the store launched less than 2 months after the initial launch (at the end of March).  We restocked our inventory, and I retooled the store to allow anyone to purchase MacroFuel without a referral in order to scale the business.  We also expanded the referral program to allow new customers to receive a discount on their first purchase, and referring customers to receive discounts as their friends use their referral code.  We are working to emphasize referrals in our shopping experience in order to take advantage of word-of-mouth marketing.

The revamped store also focuses on highlighting the discount rates available when purchasing in bulk.  This new offering has proven extremely effective, with over 50% orders placed including two or more bags, and over 30% of orders placed including four or more bags.  This data shows that our customers appreciate the bulk discounts, and that many customers want MacroFuel on hand at all times as a staple of their diet.

MacroFuel Food Online Store v2 Desktop

MacroFuel Food Online Store v2 Mobile

What’s next

I will continue to iterate on the store to improve the shopping experience.  It is currently optimized for Desktop, Tablet and Mobile shopping, but there are definitely some further improvements that I can make for the mobile shopping experience in terms of adjusting the checkout process to be better suited for mobile.

Moreover, with the introduction of bots, so we are aiming to make future versions of the store accessible via Facebook Messenger and Slack.

Additionally, we want to introduce subscriptions for MacroFuel.  This opens up the opportunity for deeper discounts for our repeat customers, and ensuring that our most loyal customers always have a full stock of MacroFuel at home!

Stay tuned for more updates regarding MacroFuel - Fuel your life.

Buy MacroFuel now at the Online Store or on eBay.  Learn more about MacroFuel on our website.

View this post on Medium

My First Feature Launch at eBay

Today I launched my first feature at eBay as a full-time product manager.  It has been a long time in the making and it was quite the adventure.

Overview

I started at eBay in September, 2015 on the Verticals team (responsible for browse pages, Deals, and Events on the site and apps).  My workstream is specifically the SEO initiative for Verticals.  My workstream is responsible for several features that will be launching incrementally in 2016.  This first project is called the Event Expiration page**.

Problem

The Event Expiration page is an experience that will load when a user clicks a link to an expired event (i.e. an event that is no longer running a sale of items on eBay).  Before this page existed, if a user clicked a link to an expired event from Google, an email from the eBay Newsletter, or a bookmark, the user was redirected to our homepage.  This created 2 major problems:

  1. There were thousands of unique expired event links on eBay throwing 301 redirects to our homepage.  All of these 301 redirects were problematic because Google saw this and classified it as a soft 404 error, hurting eBay's overall SEO.
  2. The user would expect to land on an event, but instead landed on the eBay homepage.  This was confusing and frustrating to the user, and caused a drop-off in engagement.

Solution

The Event Expiration page solves the first of these 2 problems by eliminating 301 redirects, and instead, maintains the unique URL of the event with a tailored user experience.  This new UX solves the second problem from above by giving the user context that the event has expired, and re-engaging the user with eBay by suggesting other events, and prompting the user to subscribe to eBay's Deals & Events Newsletter.  This page also sends a "noindex" call to Google to remove the expired event from Google's index, and lower the amount of traffic that lands on the outdated content.

An example scenario can be seen here:

A previously running event for Up to 50% off Samsung Phones in its active state will later expire and load this new expired event experience.

Comparison

This is the first feature and page that I have launched as a PM at eBay, and in general as a PM outside of my college-startup daapr.  It is very different experience launching something in a large corporation like eBay compared with the bootstrapped startup environment.  

For starters, you have way more resources at hand, including many knowledgeable designers, analysts, engineers, and product managers that bring support and advice along the way.  You also have an existing and extensive architecture for testing the feature, then launching it to your users.  There is also a large user base that will start seeing and using this feature immediately.  All of this is very helpful and exciting.  This is all relative to the bootstrapped startup, in which you have only a couple of people to rely on, an ad hoc infrastructure for testing, and a much smaller audience in which to see and enjoy your feature.

On the other hand, I believe that I could have delivered a comparable feature in a fraction of the time it took to launch the Expired Event page in the bootstrapped startup environment.  For all of eBay's resources in people and infrastructure, there is also the large process for getting a feature from start-to-finish.  I had to do numerous meetings with varying groups of people to simply kick-off the project, then I was able to actually do some work with designing and building the product.  Once the work was [almost] finished, I had to organize multiple design, product and engineering reviews to gauge whether the feature met expectations and standards, then incorporate feedback from these reviews.  On top of which, I had to navigate a system called LaunchBay, in which every party in eBay, ranging from legal to seller experience and brand, all had to sign off on launching this new page.  This process was quite cumbersome.

Takeaway

Overall, this first feature at eBay taught me a lot about UX on a larger scale, SEO, and product management in a large organization.  I saw firsthand the tradeoffs that product management has at a large company.  There are so many great resources at your disposal, but with them, comes many reviews and emails to coordinate the launch of the feature.  I found that some reviews were extremely helpful for receiving feedback from more senior people at eBay.  This is not something you get with the bootstrapped startup.  At the same time, I think that there could be a better job done in streamlining the process more to allow for fewer reviews and emails, and more time building and launching.  That being said, meetings, reviews and emails are all part of large corporations (which I knew going in).

The magic in it all is having a company with the ideal balance between process and agility to launch faster, with proper review.

All in all, this has been an enlightening experience, and I look forward to many more product launches with eBay and my career as a whole.

Footnotes

**This workstream also covers native content-type integrations on eBay browse pages to replace the current image-mapped content on pages like www.ebay.com/fashion.  I am also handling other SEO-related projects such as migrating stylestories.ebay.com to be under our root domain and several other projects.