How an Extreme Offsite Led to eBay’s Turnaround

When corporate bureaucracy slows innovation, it takes unorthodox measures to break through. A secret offsite gave eBay's team the focus they needed to develop a new solution.

eBay was in financial distress: from 2005 to 2007, its stock price fell by half, and by 2009, it had declined by 80% from its original price. Worse, the company felt like a “relic” from the dotcom days.

Enter Jack Abraham. After selling his startup to eBay in 2010, he had joined the team leading eBay Local. But with the company struggling, Abraham pitched a rough idea to eBay CEO John Donahoe, and a day later assembled a team of five eBay employees. These employees would meet offsite, in Sydney, Australia, on a secret project to develop an idea intended to turn things around. Abraham was given the green light to fix things however he saw fit, even though no one knew what he’d come up with—including Donahoe.

Abraham had decided on Sydney both to keep their work secret, and to attract the five eBay team members away from their regular jobs. To increase mystique, he chose a cryptic, inspirational name for the team: Team Six, inspired by the Navy Seal team of the same name.

With only one problem to focus on, they were able to pool their abilities and intellectual resources in a way that business-as-usual would have prevented. For instance, the team used secret API’s to access data they weren’t exactly supposed to access. Through hackathon ideas and brainstorming sessions, they developed a front-page prototype design. Despite the initial gamble, the new prototype design was adopted and increased customer engagement.

Kickstarting Innovation at Your Company

If your team is struggling to cut through the red tape, consider the following:

  • Set up a dedicated team or hold a hackathon to tackle a specific problem
  • To the extent possible, sequester the team from day-to-day work and give them time to focus
  • Beg forgiveness, don’t ask for permission

Lastly, if you need to create structure at your hackathon or retreat, consider borrowing from Google Ventures’ Design Sprint process.


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How an Extreme Offsite Led to eBay’s Turnaround
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