Robust e-commerce platforms like Facebook Marketplace aren’t built overnight. Their growth is attributed to hundreds of product tests, countless trial and error, and resilient teams that know when to ask questions, pivot, and try something new. Stepping back, seamless payment operations are the lynchpin of successful online businesses.
I recently moderated a conversation with Deborah (Deb) Liu, President & CEO of Ancestry, who summed up the relationship between payment operations and business success: “We can’t underestimate how important payments are to a company.” Named by PaymentsSource as one of the most influential women in payments and one of Business Insider’s most powerful female engineers, Deb brings unparalleled insight to the payment space.
From helping to integrate PayPal with eBay and launching Facebook Marketplace to overseeing Ancestry’s modernization as CEO, Deb’s contributions to the evolution of e-commerce span the course of two decades.
In our illuminating conversation, Deb offers a unique perspective on how companies can streamline their operations and scale to reach wider audiences—and better serve their customers—beginning with better payments.
“Great payments enable great commerce”
Earlier in her career at PayPal, Deb was part of the team that revolutionized online checkout in partnership with eBay. At the time, eBay only accepted checks and money orders. “When we finished the integration and tested out the new checkout, suddenly 30% of payments were going through there. And then 50%,” she explained. “The velocity completely changed, and eBay grew way faster because of it.”
PayPal addressed a major pain point for eBay, by streamlining how buyers and sellers did business. In turn, e-commerce became more accessible and efficient. “By giving people the opportunity to buy and sell, or to create their own business or side gig, you’re helping them support their families,” Deb explained. “You’re changing people’s lives.”
This business evolution was only made possible by making payments easy and efficient for customers. As Deb put it, “The friction around payments was so great that it was actually suppressing commerce,” and the company’s growth was stymied.
1. Connect with your customer
Understanding your audience and what a great user experience looks like is absolutely essential—whether you’re a startup with fifty employees or a Fortune 500 company.
In Deb’s experience, failing to understand customer needs taught her one of the most important lessons of her career. “While it seems like ancient history now, there was a time when eBay was so much bigger than Amazon that they had the opportunity to buy them,” she said. “But eBay lost to Amazon because Amazon focused on the buyer, while eBay focused on the seller.” While both sides of the equation are important, eBay over-emphasized sellers’ needs and lost a huge percentage of buyers. The takeaway: really pay attention to what people need—not what you think they want.
“If you’re an ad agency, for example, you're not selling ads to sell products,” Deb explained. “You’re selling ads to the CMO or CEO so they can sell products.” While this distinction may seem minor, it’s very important that your business targets the right person or group of people. Deb encourages companies of all sizes to ask themselves: Who are we actually serving? What job needs to get done—and who needs it most?
2. Build resilient teams
Building a successful e-commerce platform requires persistence and determination—and it’s not for the risk-averse. Companies need to be discerning about who they hire and how they prepare their teams for both success and failure.
“Resilience is so important across teams,” Deb explained. “There are so many must-win companies, where failure is not an option. What happens then? Companies get really risk-averse and they would rather have 100% wins so they ship one thing, which makes them 100% successful.” This strategy does not leave room for experimentation or growth.
In the same vein, the best performing teams are able to bounce back from failure—and see their mistakes as opportunities for growth. “Teams need to hire people who are patient, curious, and not afraid of trial and error,” Deb explained.
3. Tap into new opportunities
When Deb left eBay and began at Facebook, she saw an opportunity to leverage Facebook’s social network to drive new business and scale. She pitched the idea for Marketplace and someone asked her: Why would anyone want to buy anything on Facebook? In the spirit of resilience and curiosity, Deb helped launch Facebook Marketplace.
Today, it has over one billion monthly users around the world.
In her current role as President & CEO of Ancestry, Deborah is on a similar mission to seek out new opportunities for growth. “The company may already be hugely successful and profitable. But what’s that 20% that could make it even better? That’s what we’re thinking about in Ancestry’s next chapter,” she shared.
This ingenuity, commitment to ongoing improvement, and willingness to take risks is essential for any young startup or well-established business that wants to continue meeting dynamic needs—and revolutionizing how people do business.
Successful e-commerce companies know how to connect with their customers, cultivate resilient teams, and continue to evolve to meet shifting needs. Underneath it all, robust payment operations are foundational to this success. For burgeoning startups and well-established tech companies alike, this Coffee Break discussion offers a framework for strengthening your payment operations—with the right team at the helm.