Mike Isaac

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Mobile and Global: 10 Minutes With eBay CEO John Donahoe

eBay's John Donahoe at Mobile World Congress

Photo Credit: eBay

As e-commerce has grown more competitive with the rise of startups like Square, micro-payments companies like Stripe and independent stores like Etsy, John Donahoe has had his work cut out for him.

But the CEO has done well during his tenure at eBay thus far, kickstarting the company out of a period of stalled growth, spurring the Marketplace and PayPal payments businesses and continuing to see consecutive quarterly growth.

To keep this up, Donahoe is singing the same tune as the rest of the industry: Focus on mobile and target international markets. We caught up with him for a bit this week, where he expanded on eBay’s ambitions.

On the Rise of Mobile and Spurring Engagement

“We know that mobile users are more engaged than non-mobile users. To keep that going, the simplest thing we can do is to just be present and continue to make it easy for our customers. To do that, we’re building useful, compelling mobile apps and making the registration process very easy.

“For us, the registration flow on mobile devices in particular is easier — the best one we’ve got. You’ll remember we bought Card.io (a startup that makes mobile purchases much easier). You can just take out your credit card, take a picture and boom — you’ve made an account.

“During that first three to 18 months after registering, we see a kind of ramp up to what they buy, and the frequency with which they visit.

“Second, it’s the multiscreen users that tend to be more engaged over time. For example, we’ve seen you browsing on your smartphone and then you buy an item on your desktop. That’s increasingly the wave of the future. You’re going to have screens on everything — your smartphone, your laptop, your car, your watch, almost anything with a surface.”

On International Growth

“Here’s some facts in rough terms. There’s more than two billion Internet users today, and that number will double over the next two years. Think about who’s going to make up those new users — 78 percent of those new users will be in BRIC and emerging markets. You gotta go to where the people are, and the majority of those people will be accessing the Web by the smartphone.

“They’ve become global Internet citizens, if you will, but they want to trade, and in many cases there won’t be a local e-commerce option. Russia, for example, wants goods and services that aren’t available there. So they’ll shop on eBay. Because such a large portion of our business is cross-border, we see many consumers coming in from these emerging markets.

“Again, that’s where our mobile leadership really helps. There’s a lot being said about mobile first right now. We’re not saying it, we’re doing it.

“We’ve launched Russian mobile apps. We’ve got a large team of mobile app developers. We bought Critical Path Software. We bought Duff Research. The innovation and the cycle time with which we can build innovative work is getting faster and faster.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work