CIO Review >> Magazine >> August - 2012 issue

Innovation with speed

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Raji Arasu Raji Arasu is the CTO of StubHub, an online marketplace owned by eBay, which provides services for buyers and sellers of tickets for sports, concerts, theater and other live entertainment events. Headquartered in California, StubHub is a ticket marketplace, enabling fans to buy and sell tickets to tens of thousands of sports, concerts, theater and other live entertainment events. As the CTO of StubHub, Raji is responsible for both Product and Engineering functions. She joined the organization in 2011, but has been with eBay for over a decade. She is a seasoned technology and product executive with 21 years of experience in software development, specializing in online commerce and payments business. In her previous role at eBay, she was Vice President of Engineering at MarketPlaces leading multiple organizations over the years. Raji was recently recognized by Business Journal Silicon Valley/San Jose as a Women of Influence for 2011.


Current role within the organization
StubHub is one of the properties within eBay Inc., and we are solely focused on entertainment business where we provide tickets to our fans for events, concerts, sports or theater. As the CTO and Vice President, I manage product and technology for StubHub and part of that is essentially trying to layout plans for the year in terms of deliverables, innovation and other experiences made on our website like mobile user experiences, and providing the engineering roadmap. I am also responsible for the running operations to make sure site is available and scalable for operating 24/7 mode. We also have architecture function which helps us design both the application architecture as well as enterprise architecture.


Technology trends
StubHub in many ways has directly impacted and helped in solving the same realm. There is a big wave that is happening in terms of social and the whole experience of social is transforming. Bringing that alive on our site as well as bringing pieces of our experiences alive in the social world, which is either experiences on Facebook or in other places where you see people talking about StubHub and event experiences in Twitter, many of that brings and connects fans in a big way.

Today we can see a tech trend that many people are starting their businesses solely by driving the online traffic to the social media unlike the past. Previously, we used to rely on the traffic through page search, SEO, the search sites. But today, some of them are launching their experiences on the social media sites. The next trend is mobile. Many of the experiences in businesses are starting solely on mobile or smartphone devices, either launching an iPad app or Android app. These are great ways to test and learn the businesses with a slice of traffic and actually understand the business capabilities before they blow it into bigger businesses. For Stubhub, we are one of the event ticket industries, where we are one of the pioneers of launching a mobile application. It’s been growing over 500 percent every year, and roughly 12 percent of our transaction comes through our mobile application.

Moreover, the data is changing. Between eBay, PayPal and StubHub, we have tons of information in terms of people’s preferences and buying patterns. And being able to leverage that and really providing a complete solution for our fans in terms of the event going experience, is something that we aspire to do. There are many companies analyzing their own data or looking at partnering with other companies for data and driving new experiences for their customers and I believe another trend is evolving with different kinds of recommendations and personalization happening for customers.


Current priority
The first priority being solely focused on agility as in many ways at the end of the day for us to innovate and to compete, agitating speed of making changes and learning through the process is very important, such as investing in right place and investing in tools and process to help Stubhub get there. The second one being trying to create a culture of innovation by teaching people to take larger problems and break them into small ones, where they can test and learn.

Moreover, it is important to really being able to understand how you can create more value for the customer, the assets that you have built vs. buy or partner and that’s an important distinction. There will be times you will see innovations happening elsewhere, there will be times when we think of M&A and we think of partners, where we can reach those markets and get those solutions to our customers quickly.


In terms of challenges, when you are a startup company there is a lot that you can do just to purely innovate and not necessarily worry about scalability or creating for scale or being able to create foundation to last longer. Because when you are small you really do test and fail quickly. But when you reach the mark of being a midsized or half a billion dollar in revenue, availability-scalability becomes fairly important. Definitely there is a friction that comes between both of them. So, what I found as the secret sauce is to actually have two different teams to focus on each.

Drive innovation
Innovation comes with an end. For example, what motivate people to innovate? It is important to understand that and find such people who are idea generators. It is important to have right team with focus to work on innovation. But sometimes innovation happens when at times you as a leader do not think that it is a good idea, but let to happen. After having it test, you find it to be a great idea. One needs to trust the team to work through different ideas and find their own step in their ideas. In order to motivate the team, one has to empower them and try things. The second is to get them close to the customers so they really understand and think like them, and see the problems like the customers. The third is sometimes exposing them to other businesses and how things are done in different parts of the industry. It is important for them to get educated about how people are solving different technology and product problems across the globe.

Vision
We are about providing solutions to our fans anywhere and everywhere, but also we want to be able to provide them with more than just a pass to the event. We want to be able to actually be place for fans to come to seek different information, share it with their friends and be able to discover new events to go in the future. So it is about providing a holistic solution to our fans and that is where we would like to go. Our solutions and services are extremely successful in the U.S. and we have currently launched in the UK and we have plans to go global. We will solely focus on the fans and connect them by providing the best experience and the best solutions.