Saturday, June 16th was quite an eventful day for our two-man startup. My co-founder and I attended the eBay Live! conference in Boston to promote the launch of MyStoreSpace.com, our next-generation web store builder (in beta), when events took an unexpected turn and I was thrown out by eBay's VP of Marketing and a team of bodyguards for wearing a polo shirt with a Google logo.
The two of us arrived at 10AM on Day 3 and immediately raised a few eyebrows at the registration counter because of my shirt. I was asked if I was employed by Google, to which I replied, "No, we are with MyStoreSpace.com" A supervisor was called in who repeated the question about Google and asked us to state our intentions. We said that we are at the convention to promote our new product and to network with eBay sellers and tools providers. After a few awkward minutes and suspicious looks, we were finally allowed to pay the registration fee and proceed to the exposition floor.
The rest of the day was incredibly productive. We received an overwhelming amount of interest and encouragement from nearly every single eBay seller we spoke with, many of whom were very interested in exploring an opportunity to expand beyond eBay with their own web storefront. After we started doing demos on my laptop at the lunch tables, things got even better. People were instantly impressed with how a shopper could drag and drop items into our shopping cart and how the cart remains visible throughout the shopping experience but never requires the user to go to a different screen to manage it. Our second pioneering feature - the "what you see is what you get" store builder inside the web browser was also a home run. We got a lot of wows when we demonstrated how you can reorder items and categories just by dragging them around the page, how new things appear on the same page when you click an "add" button, and how you can edit and save prices and text fields by clicking and typing, all without leaving the page.
But even more enthusiastic and perhaps surprising was the response we received from other e-commerce tools exhibitors. One of the vendors asked to see our demo and were amazed with our shopping cart. They said they had been looking for ways to improve the shopping carts in the stores they build for their clients and had never seen a drag-and-drop, always-on-top cart. Quite a few members of their large team came over to look at our demo. The interest was flattering and we walked away with a possible partnership opportunity. Likewise, we enjoyed talking to a couple of startups who've built nice looking auction and inventory management systems. Both teams said that a top feature requested by their customers is a way to create standalone storefronts in addition to auction listings. Neither company provided this yet, and of course we offered to help!
While talking to sellers, we found ourselves describing Google Checkout over and over again. The stores created with mystorespace.com currently accept payments only through Google Checkout. We focused on the facts, saying that Google Checkout is as good as PayPal but less expensive. We also said that we would like to give our merchants choice in how to accept payments and plan on supporting both PayPal and Google Checkout in the future. However, some of the sellers became very outspoken on this subject, criticizing eBay and PayPal for exorbitant transaction fees. Others, who happened to overhear the conversation would join in and exclaim "yeah, someone like Google should really do something about it!" So we ended up inadvertently inciting a few small rebellions throughout the convention by mentioning Google Checkout. We were happy to answer questions about it because we use it at MyStoreSpace.com and we think it's a great product. Little did we know that the very act of talking about Google Checkout would precipitate our needless expulsion from the closing gala party with an excessive show of force by eBay's VP of Marketing himself!
We had a great dinner at the closing festivities and enjoyed the entertainment. Waiting in line for the darts, coin toss, or skeeball games was a great opportunity to talk to more sellers about their businesses and about our product. We stayed for the energetic performance by Kool and the Gang. Toward the second half of their set, I was suddenly tapped on the shoulder by a man who introduced himself as Gary Briggs. I didn't catch his title due to the loud music, but a Google search later revealed it to be "Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for eBay North America." He approached me in a manner reminiscent of someone trying to start a bar fight, with another colleague who remained anonymous. "Are you with Google?" he asked. I said "No," and showed him my badge with mystorespace.com as the company name. "You're not promoting Google Checkout, are you?" he demanded. I was shocked by this intrusion, accustomed to software conventions and trade shows where companies are receptive of one-another's technology. I replied (somewhat smartly) that no, since I didn't work for Google, why would I be promoting Google Checkout, "but what if I was?" He said "I wouldn't appreciate it, that's all.... Have a good time gentlemen," and walked away.
Thinking that was the end to our encounter with Mr. Briggs, we continued enjoying the concert. But just ten minutes later I was pulled aside again, this time by at least three or four physically intimidating security personnel. My co-founder and I were escorted away from the crowd, where we were once again met by Gary Briggs, who repeated the same questions as before. I repeated my answers. He said that several people told him that the guy in the Google shirt was promoting Google Checkout on the expo floor (I imagine rumors got started with someone overhearing an excited seller proclaiming their dissatisfaction with PayPal fees and the hope of salvation through Google Checkout to us). I tried to explain that we were there to promote our own, different kind of product, which just happens to use Google Checkout at the moment, that I really don't work for Google, and that I bought my shirt and backpack at googlestore.com and wear them to a lot of computer conventions. They didn't believe us and demanded to see our business cards and fliers, two things that we had long run out of! I don't remember much from the rest of the interrogation since I was beginning to feel insulted and angry for being intimidated, but I eventually ended it by saying that I didn't want to talk to them any more and that we'll just concede and leave. Gary Briggs grinned and waved "buh-bye." Two of the security staff followed my co-founder and I through the quarter-mile exhibition floor, out the doors, down the corridor, and all the way to the building exit.
On the shuttle to the parking lot, several people overheard us talking about the ordeal and inquired about mystorespace.com. We were out of fliers, but we saw a few reach for their PDAs to write down our URL. We spent some time in the parking lot telling them about our store builder before finally calling it a day. And a great day it (mostly) was! I can't wait to receive feedback from all the sellers we met at the expo who agreed to try our product. I don't expect to teach the auction giant to embrace openness, but we fully intend to give their users a great product when they decide to expand beyond auction listings!