Optimising for regular explosions: Jason Wyatt, CEO at Marketplacer

Jason Wyatt

Jason Wyatt is the co-founder and Managing Director of Marketplacer.

Marketplacer are a software business that’s grown from running marketplaces (including BikeExchange, House of Home, TiniTrader, Outdoria and TIXSTAR), to delivering marketplace specific software that helps industry leaders to quickly deploy and run an online marketplace.

For a sense of scale, the business now employs around 150 people globally across the range of business lines.

Jason is a growth focused CEO, and that’s the focus of many of the interesting points of this interview:

  • The importance of consistency – to both customers and employees “I think the most important skill behind any leader in any business is consistency” (Video from 10:08)
  • Why “one strategic decision is worth a thousand operational ones.” (Video from 14:38)
  • Jason’s approach to scaling: “I’d much prefer to create an explosion with a revenue line that needs to be fixed than overinvest… We create a problem and then we actually bring people in to fix it and help build those processes as we scale.” (Video from 16:13)
  • The way Jason manages himself and his own performance in “exactly the same way we manage the organisation.” (Video from 21:24)

The video:

 

The interview:

Steve Pell: Hi, I’m Steve Pell. I’m here with Jason Wyatt from Marketplacer. We’re going to talk about your journey and your business. Perhaps before we get started, could you tell us what the business does, where you’ve come from?

Jason Wyatt: At Marketplacer we help people globally create marketplaces. Predominately we’re a technology business that enables people to create big marketplaces faster around the world.

We also own and operate our own marketplaces. We own BikeExchange, House of Home, TiniTrader, Outdoria, TIXSTAR in Australia. BikeExchange also has a global presence in the USA, England, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany.

Steve Pell: Fantastic. How did you come to found this business? How did it start?

Jason Wyatt: It was my best mate and I, Sam Salter. We were 26-27 and we came up with the idea of creating a classified business. The reality is that in Australia, there are more bikes sold than cars every single year. The curve of the Australian cycling industry, global cycling industry, was definitely on an upwards trajectory.

We knew people were looking to find, buy and sell everything bike and we thought there was nothing out there that actually modernises the retail world and enables them to drive sales in store and online, and there’s nowhere really for the second hand market to actually distance sell their products.

We started out as a classified business and we had $30,000 to start this business back then. We went out and we came up with a name, like everyone does. We were pretty green in our approach. But the first thing we did do was write a plan and get some direction behind us. We went out. We came up with a sales structure. We came up with a marketing concept and a marketing plan.

What we were able to do was build a really strong healthy business that looked after our customers and drove a lot of sales back into them. We identified the needs of our customers and really serviced them over a long period of time.

BikeExchange became a really great small to medium business in Australia. We won the Telstra Business of the Year in 2012, which really gave us a little bit of a stamp to say it’s actually a good business, it’s got good processes, it’s got great people behind it and more so great people in it. Then we were really inundated with people coming to us saying, “That’s a great idea but can I do that for the babies and kids space?” “That’s a great idea. Can I do that for the outdoor space or for the house and home?” We thought this was actually a really good opportunity.

We always had the thought, from day one, if you pull off one vertical, geez it’d be nice to go into other segments but we quickly realised that running the marketplace is really quite complicated. You’ve got to build a sense of belonging within your community and amongst your buyers and sellers and consumers and content. To do that you need a huge amount of passion, you need to understand the heartbeat of the industry. You need to understand the customers. But then you need the technology that actually works to do all that.

When creating a marketplace, you just can’t go grab a Shopify off the shelf and spin it up and get a marketplace. It doesn’t work like that. There are those core components. You need a technology platform, business processes that are custom built for a marketplace and its philosophies. Then you need to understand the community and the heartbeat for the marketing and customer perspective.

We knew we couldn’t do everything by ourselves and we had to partner with great people. We had a really good idea that our technology could scale, that our business processes and all those learnings that we’d spend five to six years back then creating, actually genuinely could scale. What we decided to do was partner with great people who wanted to create marketplaces and to be that passion leader, for a better word, within each of those industries and those community leaders.

We partnered first with Kerry Turner with TiniTrader. Kerry was a really capable strong business woman in her own right but really had a passion for the babies and kids community. We did a joint venture and licensed our technology to Kerry. We did the same for Claire Williamson and Stephen Jones in House of Home. Then we did the same with Gerry Ryan for Outdoria in the outdoor space. And we’ve recently done another one in TIXSTAR.

Our theory was that we had to scale through great people who could bring huge amounts of capability and passion into the actual brand soul of each of those marketplaces. But we could accelerate them through a huge amount of technology which they didn’t have to focus on, or the learnings and customer service policies in marketplace dedicated processes and procedures.

Through partnering with those people and putting the one plus one together, what we’ve found is we’ve been able to accelerate the growth of these other marketplaces at an incredible pace, in an incredibly short period of time.

Steve Pell: Perhaps if we just jump back. Could you just give us a sense for the scale in the organisation, how many employees, how many countries, how many offices, how big are you today?

Jason Wyatt: That’s interesting. We briefly spoke on it before we started about this. It’s funny how people always talk about the numbers of employees in any organisation. I actually think it’s a real trap when you’re creating a business, that people value the amount of employees they have.

We actually focus on the quality of employees and making and automating and getting really good processes and clear accountability in each of our areas. We have numbers of course. We have scale, of course. But I think it’s quality over quantity in everything that we try and do.

We started in Australia with two of us. We scaled our organisation to Bike Exchange, which was a small business at the time. Then we opened up these new verticals. We now have a large office in Irvine in California, a small office in Boulder, Colorado for cycling tips which is the cycling publication we own, and offices in Ireland, England, Belgium and Butzberg in Germany.

That’s the core team. Each of our businesses have a CEO in each of our businesses around the world and clear accountability and complete empowerment over running that business. They’ve obviously got helpful processes and learning that we’ve been able to share with them. Overall, I think we’re at 150 employees.

Steve Pell: Tell me about your management style? How would you describe it?

Jason Wyatt: The most important thing in our business is that people have fun and that they’re engaged with everything that they do. It’s really important because… they’re hard, marketplaces. It’s completely different to a retail business. It’s completely different to an advertising business or a publishing business.

But you know if you can build that community, you can build that sense of belonging behind the community for both yourselves and your buyers, then over a long period of time there are lots of success stories to say they are great businesses. The largest hotel business in the world doesn’t own a hotel, Airbnb. The largest taxi business in the world doesn’t own a taxi, Uber.

If you think about the management style that you need around the marketplace, we always call it Switzerland. You have to be incredibly fair with your sellers, with your buyers, and you have to create that community amongst your customers first. I think the most important thing about management style is actually how you treat your customers. If you can have that right level of empathy, willingness to drive sales, and a really premium customer experience, you can make everyone have fun along the way and along the journey.

If you can filter that through your management team and empower them to have that same ethos, that’s where we find we get great results.

As we’ve scaled the level of reporting and accountability, I think one of the key indicators is we don’t have to be asking little granular questions, we just need the right information to be flowing up at a strategic level so we know exactly where to focus our direction and focus our strategic questions.

I’ve always had this saying in our business. It’s an inch wide/mile deep. If you ask pretty basic questions and I don’t get a simple response, they won’t hesitate to go very deep very quickly. That philosophy is very true within our business.

But it’s not a deep dive to say, “Okay, you’re not doing a good job. What’s happening? There’s obviously a lack of understanding or it may be a little bit of the process that’s broken. How can we as leaders in our organisation actually fix that process and help you become a stronger manager for the future?”

Steve Pell: Something interesting that you talked about there is about the necessity for consistency internally and externally in the organisation.

You’re saying that the way you treat your customers is ultimately the way you want your managers to treat your employees.  Can you talk a little bit about that? Why that’s so important for you?

Jason Wyatt: I think the most important skill behind any leader in any business is consistency. The minute you jump around in anything you do in life, you become psychedelic and people don’t know how to behave around you. I think as you get more and more team members and you grow and scale your businesses consistency is more and more important.

I’ll give you a prime example. If you walk past someone every single morning and you say, “Hello”, the day you don’t say hello, that person says to you, “What’s going on? Why didn’t he say hello to me?” As leaders, that self-awareness around that level of consistency and your behaviours actually filters right down your organisation. In the same case it’s exactly the same philosophy for your customers.

If you let poor sellers into your community in the marketplace and you don’t have very fair rules around the buyer expectations, the buyer satisfaction that is required, then the buyers don’t know they have a consistent business behind them. That word consistency is something we drive absolutely home through our business.

Then it’s just having consistency but actually setting expectation, setting accountability, setting the standards for all the key stake holders we find in our business, whether that be our customers and the service we provide them, whether that be the expectations and accountability of every single team member from customer service to development, through to sales, through to marketing.

But once people have consistency, they know what they’re accountable for, what we find is we’ve got a platform for success. Over all of that is if they have fun doing it, which is the most important thing, we can get everybody engaged, we can let everybody have wins along the way, we can make them feel incredibly valued in their journey. That’s when we really find that we get results.

Steve Pell:  Let’s flash forward ten years. The business has been a huge success. You’ve written a management book, what’s it called?

Jason Wyatt: It’s an interesting question because I don’t know whether I’m ever going to write a management book. It’s definitely an interesting question. I’d probably call it “Belonging”. I think there’s a sole reason behind that in that if you can create an organisation or you can create a business where you can get customers to feel that they belong and they have that sense of belonging, then you’re not worried about the day-to-day grind KPIs because they passionately care about your community, whether that be your internal teams, whether that be your internal structures, whether that be your customers.

I truly think it would be “Belonging” because the one thing that I’ve learnt over a short career and owning a business, I’ve only been here for 10 years, if you can create that sense of belonging and get those strong values and belief and  have people drive them through and actually help create your values and belief, then that’s the most powerful thing you can do in any community.

I think that sits on whether it’s a sporting organisation, whether it’s a business organisation and whether it’s your family, whether it’s your country or whether it’s actually the great world that we live in.

Steve Pell: Jason, what do you think the worst piece of common advice on management of leadership is?

Jason Wyatt: It’s interesting. We’ve got a saying that was actually imparted to us by Peter Bartels. It’s the one strategic decision is worth a thousand operational ones. What I mean by that is it’s easy to get sucked into the minute little details on a day-to-day basis but actually by doing that, you’re not empowering your team.

If you’ve actually focused your day as a leader of an organisation around what are the strategic things that you can be working through, whether it’s people and culture, whether it’s new growth opportunities, whether it’s new revenue streams or new markets, whatever those strategic initiatives are whether it’s strategic alliances and how you’re working on them.

The reality is, as a leader, that’s the best thing you can be working on. You can have operational people who can implement those and making sure you’ve got good structures in place around it. One thing that if we can be any help to any start-up or any business working on is to focus on one strategic decision, it’s worth a thousand operational ones.

As leaders, you find yourself constantly getting drawn into the organisation from your management, from the people, because they want help, there’s no doubt about it, but the reality is that having that consistency and your own leadership style to say, “No, I’m not going to get sucked into that and I’m actually going to focus on the strategic decisions that make a difference.”

Steve Pell: It goes to another question that I wanted to talk to you about which is how do you balance between your strategic and your tactical work? It sounds like you just don’t engage in tactical whatsoever, is that right?

Jason Wyatt: Inch wide/mile deep. I do because you have to. That’s the reality of the world. But the thing we’re working in at the moment is actually getting the right people in place for that specific function and that specific role. So then rather than me having to go down, if you can get the right people around you to go down and actually implement that change.

It’s exactly the same philosophy. It’s delivering through people and it’s actually making them accountable for that. It’s easy to say. As you scale, there’s these functions in owning a small business when you first start it. As you scale, what we often find is we blow it up for a better word. We create a problem and then we actually bring people in to fix it and help build those processes as we scale.

Steve Pell: So you’re comfortable with a few explosions along the way, so to speak, that show you,  you actually need to do something about the problem?

Jason Wyatt: I’d much prefer to create an explosion with a revenue line that needs to be fixed than over-invest at the start to the point of processes and systems where it’s impossible for it to ever hit the ground.

Steve Pell: Can you give me an example where that’s happened in business?

Jason Wyatt: I can give you a hundred.

Steve Pell: Give me a big one.

Jason Wyatt: We have our businesses incredibly lean in their approach from day one. So instead of going out and having a team of 25 or 30 people in your operations team to marketplace, what we try and do is we try and get people across a marketplace completely. What we find is that it’s too much for them. There’s no doubt about it. There’s always a lot going on.

But what we find is they become incredibly busy and they learn a lot. We don’t get a mentality where one person is responsible for debtors, one person is responsible for answering the phone, one person is responsible for this. What we get is a lot of cross functional capability and then we find out where people want to actually genuinely focus on.

How do we do that? We do that in all of our marketplaces that we spin out. We do that in new revenue streams that we drive into our marketplaces, we don’t go and gear up and put global managers in these revenue streams. What we do is we actually limit the period of time to make this revenue line work. There’s a specific role for you, go at it across the board and make it happen.

We give people huge amount of accountability so they can go in and very quickly make decisions with a very, very flat structure, so they can be incredibly agile in execution. They don’t have a team of 50 people implementing.

Let’s blow it up and let’s get the structures underneath.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about you and your journey. What’s the worst management mistake you ever made and what it taught you?

Jason Wyatt: It’s interesting around the mistakes that you make as leaders along the way. I think the biggest mistake you make as a manager, especially in your early days, is you wedge yourself as an important person in every decision in the organisation. I spent a lot of time in helping our leaders around this. I’ve definitely been there and it happens from time to time, even today, it’s menial tasks where people aren’t thinking for themselves or where there’s not a plan in place where they can just go and implement it.

Even tactical things like, “What do I do with this customer? I’ve got this problem, how would you fix it Jason?” As soon as somebody says that to me, I’ve got a very strong response. I say, “you’re part of this team, you come to me with solutions, so how would you do it? Did you actually need the answer for confidence? Which I can give you confidence once but in the future, you know what, you’re empowered. Go for it.” It’s getting sucked down way too detailed in your organisation.

It actually comes back to that other point we just spoke about which is the focus on one strategic decision is worth a thousand operational ones. We need to empower our leaders to make those operational decisions.

Steve Pell: How do you manage yourself?

Jason Wyatt: Probably exactly the same way we manage the organisation. We try to be consistent leaders in our own right. In the same breath, I blow myself up a little bit and then I put a plan and a structure in place. Once we understand [the issues] we’ll grow good businesses underneath it every single time. It’s interesting because we’re going through that exact process at the moment.

Marketplacer only decided to license our technology a year ago. We’ve achieved some greatness in that year but now we’re going through a clear process. We know that we’ve got an amazing opportunity to help businesses and people create marketplaces globally.

What we’ve done is surrounded ourselves over the last three months with amazing people. We’ve got an amazing general manager of sales onboard who’s got a huge amount of experience in that space. We’ve got an amazing general manager in place that has a huge amount of breadth and depth in marketing and operations and strategic thinking. We’ve got an incredibly strong CTO that we’ve just employed that’s an expert in producing world class quality and beautiful software that can scale. We’ve got a fantastic commercial manager in place.

Now, if I did that a year ago when we decided to licence our technology to third parties, the reality was we didn’t know what we needed. We needed to bury ourselves for a short period of time, to really understand the customer’s needs, really understand what are the needs that would make people belong to our community at a marketplace level. Now we have a deep understanding of that. We’ve travelled the world. We’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of customers around their needs and how we can make them belong to Marketplacer.

Then once we have that in place, we’ve got amazing people that can implement that strategic vision, that enables me to get out of the day-to-day operation and focus on strategic initiatives.

Steve Pell: It sounds like it’s quite cyclical, your management style, and your life as the CEO? 

Jason Wyatt: Yes, I think I’m that type of leader. I think there are different types of leaders. I definitely think I’m a growth leader. I think I’m good at managing change and good at implementing growth within an organisation. I enjoy that. In my past careers, I’ve probably worked in organisations that haven’t been in that growth phase and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed that as much as I’ve enjoyed the growth phases as CEO.

It’s all about establishing good processes and systems, establishing new and innovated revenue streams, and then actually getting core management teams to implement that growth and strategic vision over a period of time.

Steve Pell: Jason, one more question if I can. What do you wish you knew on day one starting this business now, that you think would have really helped you if you had’ve known back then?

Jason Wyatt: One strategic decision is worth a thousand operational ones. It’s not just knowing it, it’s living it. If you can free yourself up from those day-to-day menial tasks and focus on the strategic things in your business every day.

Then you can wake up and say, “What are the three things I need to work on in our business today that’s actually going to make a difference, that’s going to drive growth, that’s going to drive culture, that’s going to drive behaviours?” Then I think you’re actually focusing on the right things in your business.

Steve Pell: Jason, thank you so much.

Jason Wyatt: Pleasure. Thank you.

This transcript has been modified slightly for readability