#10: Just try stuff

We prefer to learn by doing.

We prefer to make a start, see how it goes (see #9: Measure everything) and modify our approach as required, rather than spend too long talking or writing big documents.

As a result of this approach, we need to be prepared to be wrong some (most?) of the time and have a plan to quickly get back on our feet where things don’t work as expected.

We typically make changes to the site everyday. Our development tools and processes are setup specifically to support this.

When we release something new we do our best to ensure it’s ready for prime time. Then we watch closely to see how people actually use it and determine from that how we can make it better and better.

We try not to use the word “beta”, partly because not even all of the software developers we know understand what it means.

It takes more than 9 months to have a baby. In fact the 9 months before the baby is born is only the very beginning. Then the really hard work starts!

The same is true of websites.

We have (eventually) learnt that we will never be finished.

Instead we’re constantly rebuilding the ship at sea.

We don’t plan too far ahead.

We just try to make small decisions and get first things first.

We like this quote from Sir Ken Robinson: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#9: Measure everything

Trade Me generates an insane amount of data.

We work hard to turn this data into information and then into suggested changes and improvements to the website.

It’s too easy to get bogged down in silly debates. So, when this happens we ask what the numbers say.

This quickly separates fact from opinion.

Most ideas can be quickly proved or disproved using numbers.

When we make changes to the website we can quickly see whether the impact is positive or negative.

Paying attention to the data has allowed us to develop a much better understanding of our product and our customers. This gives us confidence to make changes that we believe will be positive, even when they might not be popular.

Where sensible, we make this information available to users too.

For example, on the community pages you can find the details of the busiest day of the week and hour of the day.

Even the sell-thru rates (the percentage of listings that sell) for every category are public.

Ever since the very early days (when the numbers were very small) we have published a count of the number of members, the number of current listings and the number of people online at that exact moment.

This transparency means that there has never been a gap develop between what people assume the numbers to be and what they are in reality.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#8: Be informal but serious

We want an enjoyable and relaxed place to work.

We want to come to work.

We don’t wear expensive suits, or flashy ties.

We don’t sit in offices with walls or doors, although we’re cool with people wearing headphones when they need to concentrate on what they are doing or using a meeting room to make a private phone call.

We have some unusual things in the office – a pool table, scooters, graffiti on the walls, etc.

When people who aren’t used to this kind of work environment visit they sometimes confuse informal for slack.

But, make no mistake about how serious we are about what we do.

We want to have fun while committing 100% to our work and completing whatever we need to do to be successful.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#7: Hire people smarter than you

When we recruit new staff we encourage managers to hire people who are smarter than they are, with more energy and better ideas.

If this sounds strange, consider the alternative.

We value energy, optimism, flexibility, positivity, creativity, and humour.

We especially like people who are discontent, and who are prepared to take the initiative and fix the things that they think could be done better.

Just about everybody working in a senior role at Trade Me has done their time in the trenches. This isn’t an accident. We encourage people to hire their replacements.

Great people earn the respect of their co-workers through their efforts rather than by their position in the org chart.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#6: Talk straight

We can’t hide.

When we make changes to the site they are immediately visible.

When it is offline for any reason, people notice. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.

When we change our pricing or add and remove features this affects users, so it’s fair to expect they will have an opinion.

We should expect to defend and justify every decision and action in public – in the newspapers, on the television, on the radio and on the messageboards.

We should expect anything we write in an email or say on the phone to be published.

But, this doesn’t mean we should be quiet.

We like “The Cluetrain Manifesto”.

We choose to be part of the conversation.

However, we don’t feel we have to smother every discussion with our 2c worth.

We much prefer that people criticise us directly than do it behind our backs (where we may not hear).

When we’re talking to customers we shouldn’t pretend that the website is better than it is. We should take the opportunity to understand what we could do better (see #4: Empathise).

We believe that openness and honesty creates a culture of trust.

We can’t hide, so we shouldn’t try.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#5: Make people feel safe

Without the trust of the community, we wouldn’t have a business.

As Sam says: “Trade Me involves people sending money to sellers they have never met for goods they’ve never seen.”

When you put it like that it’s hard to understand how Trade Me works at all.

We hate to hear about people being ripped-off.

We do everything we can to make Trade Me safe for everybody.

We have found that the vast majority of people are good and can be trusted to do the right thing where we make this easy for them.

We have no place or sympathy for the small minority who can’t and won’t.

We employ a full-time Trust & Safety team who take great pleasure in tracking down these people.

We engage the help of everybody using the site via the ‘Community Watch’ scheme.

We work with a number of external agencies to make sure that we are informed as soon as possible when something looks dodgy.

People are sometimes surprised to discover that people have been sent to prison and even deported as a result of these efforts.

As the audience has grown our responsibilities have become even broader. For example, our ‘Safe Computing Centre’ contains lots of useful information about keeping computers protected from viruses and spyware and how to spot fake (phishing) emails.

It’s easy to forget that many people are not aware of these risks.

We know there is always more we can and should do to make people feel confident about using Trade Me.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#4: Empathise

We spend a lot of time attempting to understand what people are trying to achieve when they visit Trade Me.

We go out of our way to spend time with users.

We organise events where sellers can get together and share tips with each other.

We invite people in to see what we’re working on. We ask them what they like and what they don’t like and why.

We keep an eye on the message board to see what people are saying (see #6: Talk straight).

We ask people if we can spend time with them and watch them use the site.

Whenever we do this we always learn a lot!

Another even more effective way for us to understand people is to track what they actually do (see #9: Measure everything).

We understand that we are only successful when we solve a problem.

We love Steve Krug’s book “Don’t make me think”.

We focus on the things we should build rather than the things we can build (after all functionality is an f-word).

Our #1 job is to get out of the way!

We try to be obvious.

A big part of this is using conventions that people already understand:

  • Our logo is in the top-left and links back to the home page
  • We use lots of tabs to represent navigation options
  • Links are blue, underlined and contextual
  • Buttons look clickable
  • We are careful not to break the back button
  • Etc, etc

We use big fonts because they are easier to read and they force us to use fewer words.

We try to keep unnecessary noise to a minimum. For example, there are no banner ads on the sidebar on the login page.

When we plan new features we just try to do what people expect us to do.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#3: Let the server run the business

About 450,000 people visit Trade Me every day. *

During a month they collectively view over 1.1 billion page views (that’s around 434 every second on average and many more than this at peak times!) *

This represents over 70% of all domestic web traffic in New Zealand. *

Despite these impressive numbers we don’t have many of the things normally associated with a big business.

We don’t have stores or warehouses full of stock.

We don’t have an expensive sales force.

We don’t have a big marketing budget (see #1: Create great websites and people will tell their friends).

We have chosen businesses that scale and grow like only internet businesses can.

We prefer to let people participate.

All of the content you see on Trade Me is created by our users.

This scale is only possible because 99%+ of our customers interact directly with our servers and not with us.

However, this is not to say we’re not available to help.

We reply to thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls from customers every week. We’re proud of the quality of service we provide to these customers, but we’re also proud of the fact that most of our customers are able to do what they want to do on Trade Me without having to deal with us at all.

If only the same was true of other businesses: “your call is important to us …”.

* Traffic stats in this post from Neilsen NetRatings for August 2007.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#2: Be like electricity

A great website needs to be like electricity:

  • Always on
  • Fast
  • Obvious

We invest in people and infrastructure to ensure that the site is always available and as fast as we can make it.

It can always be faster.

Every time we find a way to make the site faster we see a corresponding increase in usage. This suggests there is latent demand. In other words, people would use Trade Me more if it was faster still.

We realise that many of our users have very slow internet connections, small monitors and old browsers. Creating a site that is usable even for these people is a major driver of loyalty.

We like Peter Blake’s mantra: “Does it make the boat go faster?”

We’re not scared to remove functionality from the website where it’s just getting in the way.

We realise keeping things lightweight and simple often doesn’t come naturally, so we try to bake this into our processes.

While complex technical solutions are often more interesting they are also generally much more difficult to get right. We prefer to not take this risk. We try to keep things simple and clean up as we go.

We agonise over seemingly small details to ensure that the site is easy to use (see #4: Empathise).

As Albert Einstein said: “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

#1: Create great websites and people will tell their friends

How did Trade Me get to be so big?

One user at a time!

Everybody using Trade Me today was introduced by an existing user.

We believe there is nothing as powerful as word-of-mouth.

Competitors have spent a large amount of money on advertising campaigns trying to accelerate their growth. Many of them are no longer in business. None have achieved anywhere near the same rate of growth as we have by spending more-or-less nothing on marketing.

We prefer to spend our money on creating better websites.

With this approach it’s important we’re patient. It takes time for word to spread. As Rachel Hunter said, “It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.”

There’s also a flip side to this to be careful of: people tell their friends when you piss them off. We try not to do that!

For example, people don’t like pop-ups or animated ads, so we don’t allow them on the site.

Related posts:

Other posts from the Trade Me Manifesto series:

Trade Me Manifesto

What is it about Trade Me that makes it so successful?

Is there a secret formula? And, if so, can we bottle it?

The success of Trade Me is a simple combination:

  • A good idea
  • At the right time
  • And then great execution

The first two are difficult to replicate (but not impossible).

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to focus here on the third part.

I’m calling this the Trade Me Manifesto.

There will be 10 short posts, based loosely on a document written by Sam a while back which was itself based on Google’s Corporate Philosophy (as an aside, this is where their famous ‘Don’t be evil’ motto comes from). And also incorporating a bunch of the material pulled together for various presentations we’ve done about Trade Me over the last few years, starting with my presentation at the first Webstock conference.

These are not trade secrets.

All of the ideas are very sensible and obvious, although not as common as they might be.

A lot of this was written when I was still working at Trade Me, so I say “we” rather than “they”. I figure that the audience who will probably get the most value from this are Trade Me staff, so it seems appropriate to leave that as is. I hope this doesn’t cause any confusion.

Many of these ideas are things I’ve posted about previously, so where appropriate I’ll include links to those posts too.

It’s probably not an exhaustive list, but hopefully you can apply some of these things to the ideas you are working on.

If you want to follow along bookmark this post and I’ll update with links as we go, or subscribe to my RSS feed.

As always, your comments are welcome.

I look forward to hearing what you think.

Enjoy!

Rowan.

The Trade Me Manifesto

TechEd 2006 Keynote

Next week is Microsoft TechEd in Auckland.

I would link to the registration page, but it sold out a long time ago.

This time last year I was preparing for the keynote. It was originally supposed to be a double team with me and Sam, but he had to pull out at the last minute, so I ended up doing it by myself.

Here are the slides and audio from my presentation on SlideShare:

http://www.slideshare.net/rowan/teched-nz-2006-keynote-rowan-simpson

The start may require some explanation: I was introduced by Jaquie Brown from TV3 who was the MC. She was boasting about her feedback on Trade Me, so I decided to look her up and see what people had actually said about her. :-)

Unfortunately I won’t be at TechEd this year, but if you’re heading along look out for the presentation by Alastair and Craig from Xero as part of the “voice of the customer” track.

UPDATE: I just got an email from SlideShare to say that this presentation is featured in their Spotlight section. That’s cool!

How long?

Neilsen//NetRatings recently announced that they will be changing the way they rank sites they track:

Tyranny of the Page View nearly over?, from Read/Write Web

Who cares? Advertisers use this data to help them understand the traffic patterns of the sites they are advertising on, so anybody who relies on advertising as part of their business model should be paying attention.

And lots of consumer sites are designed, consciously or otherwise, to take advantage of the existing measure. For example, ever wonder why the NZ Herald site regularly splits articles over multiple pages?

At the moment the most popular way of comparing sites in NZ is by unique browsers – i.e. the number of distinct people that visit a site over the course of a day, week or month.

By this measure Trade Me is the clear leader:

Rank Site Unique Browsers
1st Trade Me 3,616,165
2nd Stuff 2,008,982
3rd NZ Herald 1,684,464
4th MSN 1,357,486
5th Xtra 1,006,726
6th Air New Zealand 994,135
7th TVNZ 839,063
8th Westpac 646,257
9th Whitepages 624,036
10th ASB Bank 608,092

Ranking based on total time on site (unique browsers x frequency of visits x average session duration) doesn’t really change the order much, but if you look at the actual numbers you can see just how dominant Trade Me is relative to the other big NZ sites:

Rank Site Total time (mins)
1st Trade Me 366,878,020
2nd NZ Herald 41,127,592
3rd Stuff 32,358,673
4th NZ Dating 31,734,424
5th Xtra 22,052,836
6th MSN 16,553,184
7th FindSomeone 9,995,179
8th Air New Zealand 9,062,535
9th Seek 8,235,827
10th Whitepages 5,251,263

Data from Neilsen//NetRatings for June 2007

Note that NZ Dating (the 28th biggest site by page views) and FindSomeone (the 34th) both make the top 10 when ranked by time. TVNZ drops from 7th to 24th.

And, yes, that’s over 366 million minutes we collectively spent on Trade Me during June, or just under 700 years!

Interesting.

Before we all get too carried away though, Joel on MarkerBlog makes an excellent point:

Neilsen//NetRatings quits smoking in favour of harder drugs

Nice!

Pay Now

Earlier this week Trade Me launched a new payment system, called Pay Now.

This allows sellers who use Buy Now to accept credit card payments directly on Trade Me.

As a buyer this means that you can complete your purchase entirely within Trade Me – no need to wait for payment instructions and then pay via internet banking.

As a seller it means you get instant notification of payment and delivery addresses, plus it opens up a whole new payment option. The fees to sellers are cheaper than most would be able to get if they setup their own merchant account with their bank.

Currently only sellers with over 500 feedback can register (if you’re one of those lucky ones you can register now). Expect to see that limit drop in time.

Look out for the new icon on listings:

It’s a massive improvement. For example, this really adds an extra dimension to the DVD category changes we made earlier in the year. You can now browse by title (or director, or actor, or whatever takes your fancy), choose a price/seller you like, buy and pay for it all on Trade Me, without having to mess around with bidding, emails back and forth with the seller, internet banking, etc.

This is something that has been “under development” for a while, so great to see it launched and used in anger.

Bonus: Lance (who also worked with us at Trade Me) has his own take.

Browser stats for May

Sam sent through the latest Trade Me browser stats (for May ’07):

Browser Market Share
IE 6 51.3%
IE 7 29.9%
Firefox 2.0 9.2%
Firefox 1.5 3.9%
Safari 2.1%
Firefox 1.0 1.1%
Others 2.1%

It’s interesting to compare these to previous months: February ’07 and December ’06.

After growing from nothing to 30% market share in the first few months of the year IE 7 has now totally stalled. It seems that everybody who is going to get the new version via Windows Update already has.

IE 6 is hanging in there at around 51%. Presumably all of these people have either disabled Windows Update, work for somebody who has disabled Windows Update or are using an illegitimate copy of Windows.

Perhaps, as Robert McLaw suggested in a recent post about compromised web servers, Microsoft’s policy of not patching pirated copies of Windows is actually causing them more problems than it is solving?

In other browser news, the first beta of Netscape 9 was released last week. I was surprised to find there still was a Netscape, to be honest. I’m not entirely sure why they are bothering.