A few minutes with eBay Inc. CFO, Bob Swan
By: Richard Brewer-Hay
eBay Inc. announced first quarter earnings results earlier this afternoon and I managed to get a few minutes of CFO, Bob Swan’s time on the heels of the announcement. I had 8 questions prepared for my discussion with him. Unfortunately, my 6 minutes and 30 seconds only allowed us to go over 3 of my questions and 1 provided by a reader to eBay Ink.
Here is the resulting conversation:
Q. We rolled out a lot of initiatives this past quarter – some directly effecting buyers and sellers pretty significantly. As a result, there was talk of a boycott; a strike. But we had a very strong financial quarter so is the jury still out on the impact any kind of boycott had on the business?
Well, you’re right, we had a very strong financial quarter. Revenue grew 24%, earnings grew 26%, and cash flow grew even stronger. All of this was better than expectations and we developed momentum over the quarter primarily due to the changes we announced back in January. Those changes were really geared toward improving the buyer experience on the web and aligning it with our very entrepreneurial seller community. As John indicated, one of the wonderful things about our business model is that we have a very passionate and vocal community that gives us feedback upon which we can react, adapt and change.
The community reacts in a lot of different ways. We’ve received a lot of good feedback and made some changes along the way and are committed to moving forward. The intention is that we improve the overall buyer experience on the site which in turn grows our seller’s businesses. I think we all have the same objectives here. We all want to grow our collective business to do what we have to do to create a better buyer experience. The good performance of our first quarter is a great reflection of that.
Q. I couldn’t help but notice that even though Skype is our lowest earner ($126MM), it is our most aggressive earner at 61% year-over-year growth and, with more than 309 million users around the world, it now has the largest user base of any eBay business. What does that mean long-term? Is that growth sustainable?
Skype is a four year-old business and its growth rate is nothing short of incredible. It represents a massive user base benefiting from one of the things that made eBay and PayPal so great – network effects. One user brings another user who brings another user. From that you have a rapidly growing community of users getting more and more engaged with the service. After 4 years, 309 million users is an amazing accomplishment by the Skype team.
Our focus now is on improving the user experience; enhancing the ability for them to communicate through high-quality video; expanding the number of devices you can use when you’re away from your desktop so that Skype is more mobile in its application.
The implication for Skype in the future is about as big as our dreams can make it. Our challenge is in prioritizing and executing on those dreams so we can continue the trajectory we’ve experienced over the past couple of years.
Q. One of the goals of eBay Ink is to improve transparency between our company and its constituencies. On the call, you referenced a revenue reclassification that improves transparency. Can you talk more about this?
As our business has grown and evolved, we generate revenues in different ways today than we did two years ago. The change to our revenue classification provides more clarity for our constituency of users. There are three operating metrics that we focus and communicate on: Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) for Marketplace, Total Payment Volume (TPV) for PayPal, minutes for Skype. Our primary objective here is to highlight the revenues that are generated from those operating metrics to be clearer as the business evolves.
Secondly, we’ve invested in a variety of what we call adjacencies to explore new ways or formats to monetize our sites or new formats as buyer’s needs change. Things like Classifieds that has a huge presence around the globe and is getting bigger everyday. That site is monetized in different ways, through advertising-based fees. So we try to separate how we monetize our different businesses between transaction-based (which is historically how we’ve done it) and the newer ways we monetize which is through advertising referrals. That is what the classification is about; to give investors more transparency to the operating metrics and the revenues that drive them.
Q. Well, I’ve been asked to wrap it up but we did get one question on the blog after I posted the earnings release so I wanted to make sure I asked it while I had your time. “I’m not experienced in reading the numbers mumbo-jumbo. Would like to know how auctions (overall and US alone) made out this quarter as opposed to the same time last year.”
So, our overall GMV growth was 7% and that growth rate is a function of our auction platform and our fixed-price platform. While we don’t provide specific numbers within the US, we do see that fixed price continues to grow faster than our auction-based platform and the combination of the two drives our GMV.