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A sit-down with Downs: Proxibid president on ecommerce, balance, growth

When Ryan Downs came on board as president of Proxibid in August 2010, Downs, an Omaha native and veteran of eBay and PayPal, expressed considerable excitement over his new gig. "This is a really rare opportunity to be involved in a disruptive Web company that's growing like crazy, that is relentlessly focused on the customer,

Ryan Downs joined Proxibid as president in August 2010 after spending time at eBay and PayPal. Photo by Danny Schreiber. 

When Ryan Downs came on board as president* of Proxibid in August 2010, Downs, an Omaha native and veteran of eBay and PayPal, expressed considerable excitement over his new gig. “This is a really rare opportunity to be involved in a disruptive Web company that’s growing like crazy, that is relentlessly focused on the customer, focused on culture,” Downs said at the time in an interview with Auction Bytes, “and I get to do it right here in the middle of the country where I live, and I don’t have to relocate my family. I would say that it just doesn’t get any better than that for me.”

One year later, Downs’ enthusiasm about the opportunity didn’t seem to have diminished any. In September, just more than a year after Downs joined Proxibid, Silicon Prairie News caught up with the president to review his first year at the helm and preview what the future holds for Proxibid, an Omaha-based real auction marketplace that was founded in 2002.

Considerable time has passed since Danny Schreiber and I sat down with Downs at Proxibid’s offices, and plenty has happened since then. Shortly after our September interview, Proxibid officially unveiled “Project Superman,” the largest product upgrade in company history. Then, in late October, the company launched Proxibid Tickets.

But we’ve sifted through the transcript of that interview to weed out any untimely material and highlight Downs’ most pertinent thoughts.

Startup status

Downs addressed questions about whether he views Proxibid, now a decade old, as a startup:

“I don’t know if Proxibid feels like a startup today. Having been around startups, they tend to be a little less defined and even more chaotic perhaps. But I guess it does feel like a startup in this respect: there’s a renewed energy around innovation. And there’s an accelerated pace of innovation compared to what we’ve experienced over the last several years.

“There’s tremendous enthusiasm in the workforce for the things we’re doing, and frankly we’re accelerating growth, too. So there are a lot of things that do feel like a startup, but there are a lot of elements that are more consistent with a mature company that are real advantages for us.”

Meeting ecommerce standards

Downs emphasized Proxibid’s push to keep up with the industry standards for general ecommerce sites, which tend to be more stringent than the standards for auction sites.

“What we’re doing is we’re kind of marrying two worlds — that traditional offline auction world and ecommerce as it’s been pretty well defined over the last 15 years. And we actually take those standards and introduce them into that traditional offline world. …

“We’re shaping this auction world to feel more comfortable to people who haven’t been part of live auctions before.”

Proxibid’s headquarters in west Omaha have been at the center of “Project Superman” and the launch of Proxibid Tickets, among other endeavors, in recent months. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

Big changes

Downs addressed the most significant changes he’s seen at the company since he took over as president in August 2010:

“There are probably three things that are the most significant in the last year, since I started. One is a complete upgrade in our technical capability. … It is a completely different world here technically than it was when I started. And that was priority number one. Priority number two is … the user experience and bringing, you know, standard ecommerce practices into this platform. And the third thing has really been bringing in other external talent that has done some of this stuff before. … There are many (new hires) in the building. In finance, in product, in risk management, in other areas.”

Future priorities

Downs looked ahead to what’s on the horizon for Proxibid, whittling the company’s checklist down to four main objectives.

  1. Growth of the marketplace: “Continue to (bring) on board high quality auction companies … and then the second piece of that is the bidder acquisiton, so really broadening that net, making the platform more attractive to more bidders.”
  2. International expansion: “We will continue to press on the international front and probably make some pretty big moves next year in that area.”
  3. Re-architecture of the platform: “We need to go through an upgrade of the back-end as well — databases, middleware. We have done a massive amount of work on the actual infrastructure; the data centers, and the internet connectivity and power and all of that has been upgraded significantly over the last year. But we are going to need to update the overall architecture of the platform.”
  4. Continued improvement of user experience: “(Project Superman) is not the end. There’s going to be a (step) 2, 3, 4 and 5. Continue to take out friction. Continue to segment.”

Marketplace balance

Downs touched on the importance of Proxibid finding a happy medium between catering to the auctioneer and catering to the bidder:

“I think the key to a marketplace business is you do have to balance in it. …

“The reality is anything you do that is positive for either side really helps both. That’s what a marketplace is; it’s people on both sides of a transaction that want a great experience. And so that’s one thing that we’ve really talked about over the last year a lot as a company internally is, ‘How do we find that right balance?’ And we have those conversations with our clients. …

“There’s been a little bit of culture change around that and discussion around that, but I think we’e finding the right balance.”

For the founding story of Proxibid, see our post: “CEO Bruce Hoberman & co-founder Joe Petsick tell the Proxibid story“.

*Update Nov. 30 at 8:45 a.m. Downs is Proxibid’s president. Previously, the story incorrectly identified him as the company’s CEO. Bruce Hoberman is Proxibid’s CEO. 

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