I have been thinking about eBay over the last 6 weeks. The primary reason for it is “why did eBay repratriate $6 billion?” but also other news such as – David Marcus leaving Paypal into a newly created role at facebook, eBay being hacked and not saying much about it and the continued focus on Russian ecommerce. The company also announced moves into Latin America and an acquisition (AppTek) which is suppose to aid it in moving into new regions. The point is that eBay has been in the news for a variety of reasons and seems to be going a hundred miles a hour in a hundred directions.
PayPal – the “unifying element of commerce”
I am firm of the belief that eBay should have spun PayPal off. Why? Payments is a hot industry which is seeing an enormous amount of innovation. Tell me – where does PayPal fit into that? Close to the end of the line for payments businesses? I thought so.
I read the excellent piece about the PayPal mafia that was in the TechRepublic and I could not help but wonder why eBay could not keep any of the founding team to stay at the business. Would PayPal have been spun off by now?
The week is in the record books and a few stories dominated the ecommerce industry. Unconfirmed reports that Flipkart is / has raised a billion dollar round. This round of capital is supposedly led by DST, Tiger Global and Accel Industries. Flipkart has me scratching my head – it is burning cash at astounding rates? I get the feeling that investors are interested in the company due to the size of the opportunity in Indian ecommerce. Is this the last round of investment before an IPO? What will the company be doing with the fresh round of capital? I believe that Flipkart will be looking to augment their mobile commerce efforts – thus a mobile wallet / payment startup is a target. I suspect that some of the cash will be going to a new facility for the staff to work at (not to be confused with a distribution center). Is Flipkart going to be the Indian version of Alibaba?
The week also contained Amazon results and lots of blogposts and opinions have been made public about the companies poor performance. Lets recap what the company has done in 2014 – launched Kindle Fire TV, launched a Fire phone, invested heavily in Prime and grocery delivery. Then Amazon has been hiring new staff in all of their various businesses, spend millions on new content for their video platform and is facing pressure in their Webservices business which has lead to discounts for customers. Put all of that together and it is clear that Amazon is spending any profit back into their business which is what Bezos has been doing for the last 10 years. Is Bezos testing WallStreets patience or is WallStreet willing to continue to believe in Amazon and Bezos?
Last week was dominated by 2 stories – eBay posting disappointing results and Amazon unveiling a “all you can read” Kindle package. The eBay news is not surprising – Google hit the company with a search penalty based on low quality content and also eBay is still battling with the after effects of being hacked. Those two elements by themselves will harm any Internet business – together they will harm a large business for a few quarters. The bad results could not come at a worse time for eBay. They have potential competition entering a part of the business (11 Main) and am also facing less than desired results on their eBay Now business.
Amazon seems to be moving at a faster rate than normal with regards to the ecommerce business. The Kindle unlimited service seems to me to be an unAmazon product. The selection at launch is poor (not one of the big 5 publishers has books that you can read) and seemingly this product went to public release inside 7 days. I am still trying to understand why Amazon would want to do this? Is it a reaction to Oyster? Is it to force the big 5 publishers to provide them with ebooks? or is this primarily to drive more revenue to the Amazon published ebooks?
The week is in the history books and it contained news that will have significant impact on ecommerce over the next 12 – 18 months. Google is to increase their investment into same day delivery to the rumored amount of $500 million. Commerce is one of the few online industries in which Google is not the dominant first point of contact for Internet users. In terms of their core business (which is advertising) the fact that Amazon is the first place on which customers search for products means that Google is losing the opportunity to show ads and make revenue.
Flipkart is at the moment the market leader in ecommerce in India. They are raising money at astounding rates and will most probably IPO in the next 12 months. Flipkart is having to battle Amazon in India which is burning the cash they raised. They are supposedly looking to raise another $500 million before they go public but I keep wondering whether they are growing too fast – what Amazon took 20 years build, Flipkart has almost done in 25% of the time.
Alibaba is also on route to their IPO. The investment banks are all trying to get a piece of the action as the money they will make from this event is astonishing. Goldman Sachs was an early investor in Alibaba and then sold their stake way too early. Goldman Sachs invested $3.5 million and then sold that stake for $22 million in 2004 – I wonder what that stake would be worth today?
The week contained stories in which ecommerce companies are looking for future business success (Rakuten) and a look into the success of PayPal prior to their acquisition by eBay. Rakuten seems to be going more horizontal and after a serious streak of acquisitions they seem to be looking at something akin to what Google is doing with Google Ventures. Rakuten is a multi-national technology company that has ecommerce in their stable of companies. Hiroshi Mikitani made the majority of his wealth with ecommerce in Japan but has steadily diversified with payments, marketing services, regional ecommerce businesses and now with this $100M investment fund. I think one just needs to look at what Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma have done with regards to investing in startups to realise that this is somewhat normal.
PayPal seems to be having a year of spotlight; first from Carl Icahn and then their CEO leaves and they are clearly in a spot of bother. eBay is going to have to make some decisions regarding PayPal in the next 18 months and what I find really interesting is that none of the founders is trying to make a case for them to stick with eBay. PayPal was a catalyst for the mobile payments industry and the sad reality is that they have became a victim of their initial success. They have bought a lot of mobile payments companies but it still seems to me that they have a cultural problem. Compare the current state of PayPal with that of new kids on the block Stripe and Klarna (they are in combination what PayPal is currently). It is clear that the newer companies are growing faster and in the long term could become competitors for PayPal.