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Passing the buck — a path to start-up success

The head of eBay Israel’s Social Innovation Center says you don’t have to have all the answers to succeed in the tech business

Ron Gura speaking at Ono Academic College (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Ron Gura speaking at Ono Academic College (Photo credit: Courtesy)

If you want to succeed in the start-up business, get workers who know more than you do. That’s the advice of Ron Gura, head of eBay’s Social Innovation Center in Israel. “If I succeed in choosing people who are better than me, any concerns that arise will simply fall to the side” since they can be handled by experts who know what they’re doing, he told listeners at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono last week as he presented some tips on how to run a successful start-up.

Gura sold his company, The Gifts Project, to online giant eBay in 2011. The auction website company found an innovative team that had fresh ideas and a great product, Gura said in a recent presentation. “We are an innovation center for eBay, and we build ideas and get them implemented on eBay,” Gura said. “Our idea was to use technology to bring the experience of offline shopping online,” and to accomplish that, Gura and his three partners had to draw upon the experience of staff who built the Gifts Project app, who incorporated their own online shopping experiences into the app.

The Gifts Project started life as a way for groups to get together and make a decision on what to buy for coworkers, relatives, and friends. According to Gura, retail shopping is often a shared experience, with one or several members of the group scouting out possibilities and sharing their ideas before the group makes a final decision. Online shopping, in contrast, is strictly an individual activity. Online retail sites were missing out on the shared shopping market, and as one of the world’s largest retail services company, eBay was very interested in getting a foothold in this market. The Gifts Project offered an excellent entry point. Now, The Gifts Project has been morphed into eBay’s Israel Social Center, which focused on building social shopping platforms and product features for eBay Marketplaces.

Speaking at the Ono Academic College’s Entrepreneurship Club, Gura said there was a good reason why the approach he and his partners took to running their business paid off. Contrary to management intuition that suggests a manager has more knowledge and background than the team, he said that The Gifts Project ensured that the company would have the resources to achieve success. “My message is that who I work with is about 100% of what I have,” said Gura. “Before having a design, before having customers, you start out by building up something with just a team of friends.

The Gifts Project, founded in 2009, became a great success, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “Seven weeks after launching the full application, we found it didn’t work very well. The credit card system was not exactly secure. When the gift arrived, it wasn’t delivered by messenger with a greeting card and beautifully wrapped. In the world of consumerism on the Internet, the issue of intellectual property is less important. It is important to understand the market as quickly as possible, what works and what doesn’t work.”

It’s important that those working in a start-up realized where they are — and where they aren’t. Keeping up the enthusiasm is far more important in a start-up, because sometimes, enthusiasm is all that will keep the company going. “I say celebrate everything: the first 100 users; the first contract — knowing that there will be harder days, days when we don’t know how things are going to work out, when it seems like everything might break down tomorrow. Those days when we are on top should be remembered to give us strength to get through the harder days.”

The best way to do that? Make sure the people you’re working with are there for the right reason. Workers in a start-up that is bound for success, Gura said, “are simply people who like to do what they do. They are people who enjoy working together, who come to work and don’t even feel like they’re working and aren’t watching the clock.”

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