Last week, a group of former eBay Trust & Safety team members got together for lunch. It’s not unusual for a group of former colleagues at a Silicon Valley company to get together for a meal and to renew old ties, toast the good times, perhaps even do a little networking. What made this get-together noteworthy was just how little fanfare there was. After all, it was largely this group of people – along with several others not present – who created the playbook nearly 15 years ago for how online companies manage trust and safety even to this day. There was a pleasant coincidence, if not a little poetry, that last Friday was also Rob Chesnut’s birthday.
During eBay’s frothy years back in the early 2000s, CEO Meg Whitman used to talk about what she called the “leaky bath syndrome.” The idea is that when an online marketplace is growing like crazy, executives are less likely spend too much time thinking about lost customers who slip through the cracks in the tub. Why? Because the deluge of new customers continues to fill the tub. But when either that unbridled growth begins to slow or a small number of transaction issues become the focus of national and local news stories, those cracks in the bathtub are more like gaping holes.
When the leaks in eBay’s bathtub were too big to ignore, Meg called on Rob to plug them. Although he had an impressive background that included being the US Federal Prosecutor who put Aldrich Ames away for espionage, nothing on his CV suggested he knew exactly what to do to plug those holes. After all, the Internet and eCommerce were still very young. There simply was no roadmap for what to do. As eBay’s new Senior Vice President of Global Trust & Safety, Rob created a team of dozens, and then hundreds and then thousands to “catch bad guys” and “make the marketplace safe” where buyers and sellers, complete strangers, could do business with one another with confidence.
Today’s online marketplaces, whether tangible goods (like eBay, Alibaba, Etsy and Poshmark) or services (like Upwork, Thumbtack, Airbnb, Lyft and Uber) and thousands of other companies worldwide owe a lot to the eBay T&S pioneers who did the difficult and oftentimes thankless job of detecting and shutting down ATOs (account take-overs); helping buyers and sellers resolve some of the gnarliest transaction problems; performing endless streams of data analytics in order to develop the correct marketplace policies; creating the tools and technology to enable those policies and programs to go live with minimal customer churn; effectively communicating those policies and programs to the marketplace – all in an effort to create a safer trading environment. Thanks to scores of former eBay T&S staffers – far too many to name here – there are fraud dashboards, armies of fraud analytics teams, law enforcement relations teams, reputation management systems, policy groups and issue resolution processes and technologies at hundreds if not thousands of companies worldwide. In fact, today, there are companies dedicated to the types of software eBay had no choice but to build itself. Companies like TrustPilot and Modria.
So last Friday, in the back of Scratch Restaurant in Mountain View, CA, twenty raised their glasses in a toast. Joe Sullivan, now Chief Security Officer at Uber and former Senior Director at eBay, in his soft, baritone voice audible to only the few nearest him, called out “to the eBay diaspora.” For this group of good-natured and good people, there were no bombastic pronouncements. No one was boasting about his or her achievements at eBay or in their latest roles. There was no posturing. No bluster. But when everyone looked around the table, they could feel proud and toast their former colleagues who had been lucky enough to part of something meaningful and that made a difference. The eBay marketplace was, and is, a safer place – as are hundreds of marketplaces all over the world.
Happy Birthday, Rob Chesnut. Happy Birthday, Trust & Safety.