#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.”

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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