One of the books I borrowed from my friends Jessica was this one called The Perfect Store: Inside eBay. It is the story of the evolution of ebay from the beginning, until very recently. I read it as part of my “bus series” (my slang for reading it on the bus) and it worked well for that purpose (educational, but not enough fun to read at home). I liked that the author, Adam Cohen, told a story about eBay and how it evolved. And there were some great takeaways. Some of my favorites were:
- Spend money like it is your own. This is a big deal for any startup. Being very frugal with money is so important in a startup since every little bit adds up. I think the mantra of thinking about money like your own really embodies the importance of ownership in the company, as well as encouraging people not to waste money. One of my biggest pet peeves is employees who order fancy meal (they would never normally order) on the company dime.
- The importance of community and users. One of the things emphasized throughout the book was how important the site users (or your customers) are in any aspect of your business. Many times throughout the book the author gave examples of hard decisions and some of them made without the input of the community. Almost every time this happened the executive staff regretted not soliciting feedback from their users. With every business, your customers are your most important asset and making them feel heard and important is a great way to increase loyalty.
- The competition may be bigger and have more funding, but you can still win. In the early days of eBay Cohen tells the story of eBay’s competitors and how they managed to thrive and triumph despite the stiff competition in the market place (and the continued stories of fear of bigger competitors like Amazon, Yahoo, and possibly AOL). I love stories when David is able to beat Goliath.
I like hearing stories about startups and how they evolve (and eventually win out). There are always lots of little lessons and when things go crazy (and you start thinking to yourself, “how could this be normal?”) it makes you feel better to know that other companies have similar stories. There is so much that goes into taking a business from a small fledging idea to a market leader, and lots of learnings to be had along the way. And of course eBay’s story is extraordinary, and Cohen tells it interestingly–he includes amusing tales of some of eBay’s first customers and it makes the story entertaining.
This is definitely worth a read if you are working in a startup, want to start a business, or just love eBay