Snipe! Bid for Fun or for Profit:
eSnipe's Early Business Model
While I'm not responsible for taking money, I am responsible
for making it when I snipe. I love my
job, and thank eBay I do, because eSnipe doesn't make a red
cent if I fail. That includes when you snipe $100 on an
old Fender Performer guitar that was inadvertently placed in
the wrong category just to see if anyone else will bid. Repeat:
If I snipe perfectly but you try to get some outlandish deal,
eSnipe doesn't charge a thing. eBay snipers make out like
bandits. Snipe bandits. It's how I make the big bucks.
Sniping is honorable, if a bit on
the edge. Sniping is sort of like legalized gambling in a
way; some people think it's a bit dodgy, but I ask them
this. Suppose you ran across something on eBay right before
the auction ended? You weren't using eSnipe or anything, you just happened to
find what you wanted 30 seconds before the end of the
auction. Do you realize that if you placed a bid you'd be
The idea of charging only if I succeeded was not an obvious
one. We faced a lot of unknowns in those early days of 2000.
For one thing, we didn't know how many customers we'd lose.
Owner Tom Campbell figured it would be 90%. His much more savvy
wife and eSnipe automated design analyst partner counted on
losing a mere 50%. (The actual number? 10%, and we gained those
back within the first month so. But that's another story.)
How would you build out a business model around the snipe?
Lots of people suggested a subscription service, but that would
have edged out the low-end eBay sniper. Others, namely Stephen,
suggested a fraction of a cent per bid whether the bid won or
not. But the final decision was the way it works now: You pay
us only if we succeed. Even if my failure is strictly your
problem (you forget to update your eBay passwod with us, for
example, or bid unrealistically low).
It's Not a Shopping Cart, Tom. Tom, Do You Hear
Me? It's a... Sniping Cart?
Here's when being a programmer can be a cruddy job.
Even one at the top of your profession, like Stephen. Because
he had a devil of a time explaining the eSnipe bid pricing
system to Tom, who was the one who invented it. Tom kept saying
this all had to be easy, and Stephen kept saying it was
different from anything else, and Tom kept saying: how is eBay
sniping this way different from buying
on Amazon? You, who wrote one of the first Microsoft ASP.NET
shopping carts should understand that?
Oh. Oh. Because Stephen pointed out that on Amazon, you know
the price of everything in advance. On eSnipe, you don't know
the price fo anything until the last snipe is in. This is not a
snipe shopping cart. It's a, well, a something else. A basket
full of snipes with no price until the product has already been
delivered to the customer! Then they have to pay after the
fact! Oh, Tom said. And granted more time to work on this odd
new concept. So a snipe ain't a book after all.
What if You Had to Snipe Perfectly Day In and
Day Out Without a Break?
Put yourself in my shoes. Ah, circuits. I snipe accurately
and fast, day in and day out, bidding like a maniac with his
pants (circuits?) on fire, sniping my little electronic heart
out, even if you're trying for a bargain of urban legend
proportions. Surely, programmers among you will say, one can
optimize the snipe process?
But of course. Even so, on Sunday I find myself hammering
out snipe after snipe to the tune of more than 30,000 bids
placed a day. With that many bids, you can imagine there are
lots of tech support issues. So they're outsourced to India,
eSnipe Keeps the Snipe In-Country:
How You Can Get Great Support
Here in the USA
eSnipe doesn't have a messageboard. Maybe they should. But
one reason they don't is incredibly efficient tech support, by
native-born Americans who speak English, here in America. How
can you snipe her and support here
too? By clever use of automation. Tom Campbell did all the
support himself for the first six months and developed a
semi-automated technique of writing email snippets (snipe-its?)
for every possible support case, then writing the introduction
of the email (and anything not supported by the snipe-its) by
hand. It worked well. He then turned over the job to someone
who was immensely better at it: Stephen's wife Tristan, who had
been a 911 dispatcher before that. (Hello, Frying Pan? Meet
Fire). More on snipe support later. Suffice it to say she lets
me snipe at night with a clean conscience.