It’s a Wrap! eBay Innovators Shine at Hack Week

By: Sebastian Rupley, eBay News Team

eBay’s Sergio Gonzales discusses how employee teams and mentors from around the globe spent a week working on innovative technology projects.

Across eBay’s 20-year history, innovation has remained central to the company’s success, and its strategy. Our second annual eBay Hack Week featured employee teams from offices around the world, spending a week focusing on creating, inspiring, and showing their own innovation concepts to mentors and sponsors around the company.

Hack Week is one of our signature innovation programs at eBay. These programs have given birth to numerous applications and tools that are now important parts of our product portfolio.  As just one example, the idea for the eBay Mobile app was born at one of our internal innovation events.

Sergio Gonzales leads some of eBay’s innovation programs, and we caught up with him for an interview on the goals of and highlights from Hack Week 2016. Here are his thoughts:

How did Hack Week come to be and what are the goals of the program?

We had observed during the past few years that we were having these ad-hoc hackathon events led by various teams, producing a lot of good work, and leadership saw an opportunity to bring these together and effect a cultural transformation.

In particular, we wanted to give our inventors a chance to focus on ideas they are passionate about. And that’s the focus of Hack Week. There are no requirements, and no mandates. We want our employees to think about being an inventor, focus on projects where they see opportunities, and go after their ideas. We also want to get the best ideas in front of mentors around the company. 

But just as important, we want our employees to bring that innovative spirit into everything we do at eBay.  Programs like Hack Week create space and opportunity for our people.

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How is Hack Week structured?

A lot of what this event is about is putting our inventors in touch with the resources and mentoring that’s going to help them advance their ideas. During Hack Week, we run a mentoring lounge where thought leaders and executives spend time coaching teams to give feedback.

At any point in time a leader might see a project demonstrated and say, “I love that idea. This could really help work that we’re already doing. Let’s talk some more.”

Importantly, during this week, our inventors self-form teams and have focused time to work on their ideas.  No other meetings are allowed, and all deliverable due dates are pushed out.

How are innovation programs at eBay evolving relative to what you see from other companies?

One of the nice things about the discipline of innovation is that I get to share program-oriented information with my counterparts from other companies without revealing details on specific projects. This helps us all because we have similar challenges that we’re trying to solve for.

How do you allocate resources to usher in innovation solutions? How do you influence upwards? How do you track and manage your portfolio of ideas? These are common problems that all innovation programs have to solve for. I regularly talk about these issues with my counterparts at other companies, universities, and organizations. I learn from them, and they learn from us.

These programs go beyond Silicon Valley, too. I was just speaking at the 3M Innovation Master Class Conference in Minnesota, and there was a wide range of companies there, working in manufacturing, healthcare, energy and more, and they were learning from what eBay has been doing with innovation programs.  And we have an opportunity to learn from companies who have been innovating over decades, or in some cases, over a century.

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Do you have any metrics on participation at Hack Week?

Yes, over 3,000 innovators were invited to participate in Hack Week across all functions in the organization.  This isn’t just about our engineers but for all our inventors across the company. We have inventors from 22 locations around the world, from places including Zurich, South Korea and Japan that contribute to our ecosystem. Our inventors produced almost 200 working prototypes within the span of a week, and several projects shown at Hack Week have a chance to get fast-tracked into eBay’s product portfolio.

How does Hack Week fit into eBay’s overall innovation ecosystem?

Hack Week is a critical part of our innovation ecosystem, but it is just one of many.  We have innovation programs that span the entire innovation lifecycle, helping our inventors build core skills throughout their careers at eBay.

Almost 10 percent of all eBay patents come through programs like these.  Further upstream in the lifecycle, we have events like Ideathon, which brings design thinking and visual facilitation into the process, enhancing our inventors’ skill sets.  We also experiment with different models for resourcing innovation, like our ongoing Innovation Rotation Awards, which give selected teams four-months of dedicated time to take their concept to the next level.  In the Fall, we’ll have our annual Innovation Expo, showcasing our inventors’ work.

Among the greatest strengths to our ecosystem are our global footprint and the diversity of our businesses.  That means that we have inventors coming not just from the eBay products that you might know and love, but from brands you might be less familiar with like eBay Classifieds, GMarket, StubHub, and so many more.  Our innovation talent runs deep,  and Hack Week is just one way we give our inventors a chance to further develop their skills.