Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fast Company: ebay, and Business in Siberia

I caught up on the latest print version of Fast Company on a flight, and I have to admit I'm loving it via print. I read almost ever word, while on the site I just browse occasionally. And now I can point to fun stuff, since the mag is all online.

First, some slightly irksome "news": ebay is trying to revamp itself in the face of flattening numbers. Like a lot of business press, this makes a hero-to-be out of a new exec hire, Matt Carey, CTO. He learns in paragraph one during a focus group that the site is hard to use. He determines to "make the buying process efficient and fun again."

Having heard the industry gossip for years about the company -- mostly from designers who've left in droves -- the people who knew it was hard to use and knew it needed usability and design work weren't listened to when it might have prevented flattening numbers in the first place. Too risky to change what was seen as successful! Till the big picture numbers start to look scary, and the competition spreads, I guess. That's when it might already be too late. A reminder that design and usability are strategic competencies not handled well by most executive boards at most companies.

On to more fun: Nightmare in Boomtown, a story you could not make up. With all the twisted personalities at work, it would make a good movie. It's the saga of a fallen rabbi gone to Kazakhstan to do business, and getting eaten alive by the corrupt system and an angry gangster rival who wanted a $5 million dollar discount he didn't get. It probably cost a few hundred thousand, but the ex-rabbi gets locked up in a Siberian jail for a year and virtually abandonned by any officials who should care.

In October 2006, after 11 months in Siberia, Seidenfeld was loaded aboard a prison train to be extradited from Russia to Kazakhstan. For 32 days, he was stuffed into a 3½-foot-by-7-foot cell in a boxcar with one toilet for 60 convicts. His fiancĂ©e, Natiya, doggedly followed the train on its 3,000-mile journey, intercepting it as it stopped at detention centers. Word of the presence of a wealthy Western businessman had traveled fast among the prisoners, and Seidenfeld learned early on the importance of isolating himself as much as possible. Natiya secured lawyers wherever the train stopped, bribed officials, and did whatever she could to make sure Seidenfeld traveled in his own cell. He kept his head down while shuffling to and from different prison stops to avoid the batons of the more-sadistic guards. "If I had been kept with the rest of the population, I might not be around today," he says.
Really a fascinating read....

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