9th Anniversary: Interview Bonanza's CEO

An interview with Bill Harding, CEO of Bonanza

You asked, he answered. Thanks to all the sellers who sent in great questions for our very own Bill Harding. There's no better way to wrap up our 9th Anniversary celebration week than with a candid interview from the man behind the curtain. Let's begin!

I believe that in today’s economy, it is easier to keep a venue going that offers all products (such as Bonanza does) rather than one dedicated to handmades. Still, I would like to know: is Bonanza’s future secure, as far as you can see? 

Bonanza has been around almost as long as Etsy, and we’ve grown every year since our inception (in terms of users, features, and revenue). Because we’ve expanded Bonanza incrementally, we have the luxury of being free from the influence of venture capitalists or the stock market. This gives us the latitude to build the best features for sellers without needing to wring every last dime of possible profit out of our company. We have the license to build our vision of “the perfect product” for our users, even when it’s not going to increase our revenue.

Last year, we spent a lot of time working to make it easy to unsubscribe from emails. Is this going to drive our profits skyward? More likely the opposite. But it’s opportunities like those that earn us goodwill over the long term.

How many people is this wonderful site supporting? How many employees, including owners, are at Bonanza every day? 

We have supported many thousands of sellers who have sold $10,000+ on Bonanza, so we like to think we are supporting a broad swath of entrepreneurs across the country and world :)

As far as people we are supporting in Seattle, we’re on pace to surpass 50 employees at our HQ this year.

Will you be able to always keep the free booths? 

Seems to have worked pretty well for us over the last 9 years, right? Our top goal is to provide the best experience for entrepreneurs among all marketplaces, bar none. If we required users to pay us before they had even made a sale, we’d be sabotaging our top goal.

Do you live in Seattle, and do you like it there? Any plans to move your family elsewhere?

From May to September, there’s no better place in the world to live than Seattle. Winters are punishing though. When every non-working hour is spent in the dark, for several months, it is not the stuff of happy human existence.

That said, unless it’s February, I will continue to haunt this city.

Do you own any other ecommerce sites? 

Owning one ecommerce site has provided enough work to keep us busy so far. :D

What comes to mind when you think back on the first year of Bonanza?

Getting woken up at 5am when the servers crashed. Having to leave in the middle of an election party when the servers crashed. Going on vacation and then hanging out in the hotel room for most of it, when the servers crashed. Like most babies, Baby Bonanza was a fussy critter requiring a lot of late nights and early mornings from its unprepared Founder.

There are lots of other marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay. What made you confident that Bonanza would be a success? How did this idea to set up Bonanza come to you? And where did you get the courage from to forget about competition and all possible risks and do it anyway?

In retrospect, what made me confident enough to start was naivety.

But I slowly put together a gritty team, and we found a niche helping small business owners who wanted a product built to help them grow their business. Nowadays, what gives us confidence is seeing how, by working harder and paying attention to details, we stand apart from the crowd of more general-purpose marketplaces. Our focus will remain on building the most simple and powerful product on behalf of our customers. It has worked very well for us so far.

eBay has been frustrating for sellers through the years. How do we know that Bonanza won’t eventually escalate fees and turn into a second eBay?  

I’d look at our history. We have a track record, established over years, of listening to our sellers (on the blog, via feedback forum, etc) and working hard to serve their interests. We already have a revenue model that works great for us (letting sellers pick their own final value fees), higher fees are not the answer to making a more successful business. We are impressed by the restraint Etsy and Shopify have shown in keeping FVFs reasonable, even as they’ve grown. I think all three of our companies have learned from the missteps of our predecessors.

What would you say is the single most important thing that contributed to your success? Whether it be your morning routine, to the books you read, to your mindset on goal setting, what would you say is the biggest contributing factor to you achieving such success in your life?

Gosh, that’s a tough question to answer fully in the space of an AMA, but I’ll give it a shot! In a nutshell, I spend a lot of time thinking about what values are important to cultivate in myself, and then try to hire other people who share those values. If I were to pick the top few values:

  • Grit. It is the quality that describes people who set a goal, stick to it when it becomes unpleasant, and stay focused on getting as much as possible off the todo list every day. Often, there’s a lot of overlap between “gritty” people and “passionate” ones, because passion helps us stay on track when we feel like giving up. This ability to persevere also explains why most gritty people are optimists. I’m not so sure if grit can be cultivated, but this podcast thinks it can be, and Freakonomics is usually right.
  • Nuance. The gist is that I avoid simple stories and one-sided narratives. Human life is irreducibly complex, but our brain yearns to slap a label on whatever we observe (e.g., “smart,” “rude,” “successful”). This sounds a little like a high-minded idea, but it’s highly applicable to the decision making process. It releases us from the trap of believing that our business succeeds or fails if we can execute one weird trick or one cunning strategy. The reality is that we succeed when we work hard and make a series of well-informed choices over years. Reality is boring.
  • Detail-oriented. This is the companion to nuance. Great products come about when they are built from the ground up by people who speak the language of details, examples, and data. Ideally by dogfooding those products. Having an eye for detail requires continuous focused attention that tends to cluster in smart and productive people. It’s also a lot easier to teach a detail-oriented person to zoom out and look at the big picture than vice versa.
  • Benefit of the doubt. It’s posted on our wall as a company value, and has been since we had an office. Working with cynical people erodes what can be achieved. We’ve worked very hard to make Bonanza an environment where BOD is afforded by default. The payoff is that we slowly grow into the oversized belief that others place in us.

That’s pretty far from “a single most important thing,” but after hearing me rave about nuance, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Where do you see Bonanza in the next 5 years? 

Same sellers we know and love, several times as many hungry buyers.

What’s something sellers would be surprised to learn about you?

  • I’m attempting to run my second marathon in a few weeks.
  • I have almost zero regularly scheduled meetings.
  • I almost never watch TV (yay) or read books (boo).
  • I paid my way through college without student loans by learning how to live on $3/day of food.

If you like free things, keep reading.

What better way to celebrate Bonanza’s 9th Anniversary than to dress up a little? Customize your booth during the festivities and enter to win a deluxe booth prize package. Bonanza has designed easy-to-use tools to help you spruce up your booth and show your shoppers why shopping with you means having the most fun at the party!

Make a great first impression on your shoppers by dressing up your booth banner. Choose from Bonanza’s gallery of beautiful designs or upload your own. Just be sure to select a banner that visually represents your store and offerings to build your brand identity. You can freshen up your banner in the Title & Overview tab of your Booth Settings. Add a few fun accessories for that perfect finishing touch. Pro members can link your customizable booth panels to your most popular items, seasonal merchandise and any promotional markdowns or coupons that you want to promote to your buyers. Shoppers will see these attractive ads displayed above your listings and want to stick around to browse and learn more. This exclusive pro member feature can be found in the Booth Appearance tab of your Booth Settings.

As you mingle, use your booth profile to introduce yourself. This is your opportunity to tell your shoppers what makes your business so special. Your customers will be convinced that making a purchase is a great idea after hearing about your company’s history, the quality of your products and your passion for customer service. Make a lasting impression. Spiffy up your Profile via the Account dropdown menu on the upper-left hand side of any page. Whether you go black tie, creative casual, or all out sparkle, use your booth features to show off what makes your business and our community so unique. Enter to win by June 23, 2017. Now let’s go celebrate what we’ve built together! 

The winner will receive a Fine 9 Deluxe Booth Prize Package, which includes:

  • 1 TurboTraffic Package
  • A Seller Spotlight on the Bonanza Blog 
  • A booth consultation from our team of experts
  • A Custom Badge for your profile
  • Item(s) from your booth featured in a homepage HPL
  • An item feature on Facebook / Twitter
  • Featured item in newsletter
  • A Bonanza T-shirt
  • A Bonanza Sticker variety pack

To qualify for this contest, you must have completed the "About Me" section of your profile and the "Booth Overview" section of your booth settings. You must also have a customized booth banner. Then, fill out this brief survey after you've updated your booth banner and profile. 

This week is Bonanza’s 9th Anniversary and we want to celebrate with you! Join the party. Save an additional 25% off annual Gold, Platinum, and Titan membership subscriptions, now through June 25th.

Sign up now to save on membership-only features designed for professional sellers like you:

  • Attract up to 300% more shoppers with Turbo Traffic (Platinum, Titan)
  • Up to 100,000 listings, no restrictions on digital downloads (Titan)
  • Advanced eBay import filters (Platinum, Titan)
  • More insight with advanced item stats (Gold, Platinum, Titan)
  • Personalized care and exclusive access to phone support (Titan)
  • More advertising channels with no additional commission (Titan)

Purchasing an annual membership during our sale will save you up to $900 off the monthly subscription price. With no contracts required, what do you have to lose? Don’t miss this opportunity for huge savings on a membership that will benefit your business all year long.

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