For years, music and sports fans kept their ticket stubs as souvenirs. But Marty Boos knows that the days of paper tickets and, thus, souvenir stubs are nearly over. Boos is CIO of StubHub, a digital ticket marketplace with a presence in nearly 50 countries. StubHub, which was founded in 2000 and bought by eBay in 2007, allows people to buy and sell tickets to tens of thousands of live events.
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Boos, who joined the company in 2012, says he has seen an accelerating shift from desktop transactions to buyers and sellers conducting their searches and sales via smartphones. In fact, he says that, today, fans may not even get paper tickets at all, as a growing number of venues either allow or require attendees to use mobile-based ticketing to enter.
In this SearchCIO interview, Boos talks about the changes he made to support a StubHub mobile strategy, the necessity of on-demand development -- his team will do 2,500 software releases in 2017 -- mining petabytes of data and what he did on his month-long sabbatical.
How has the new StubHub mobile strategy changed your staffing and strategic needs?
Marty Boos: Five years ago, we didn't have a mobile team, because almost 100% of our sales came from desktop. Now, half our traffic comes from mobile devices, and it continues to increase every day. We have a native app for Android and iOS and a tablet app for iOS. Many of our tickets are sold day of show -- even an hour before a show -- and if you're getting a ticket to a show an hour before, you're probably already out and on your mobile phone. We see that continue to grow and grow both in the U.S. and internationally.
How did you meet the growing demand for mobile capabilities?
Boos: First, it was optimizing for the mobile web and then looking at how we provide a great experience. So, we doubled-down by focusing on native apps. As we started to see more and more of our traffic coming in through mobile, and even Google optimizing for mobile, it was inevitable that we had to be there. And in just the last three years, there's been mobile entry into venues. Now, some are doing mobile-only entry. You have to have a mobile device to get in.
We wanted to be the leader in that space, so we've done lot of work to make sure we're integrated with partners to allow us to do this mobile-only ticketing. That continues to evolve. We're going to see more and more of that over the next three to five years. It's like the way boarding passes have gone; now the bar code really is the ticket.
StubHub mobile transformation: Customer intelligence
What has been your biggest challenge at StubHub so far?
Boos: The better we get, the more customers expect from us. So, we're making sure we're able to deliver an experience to the customer [where they can do] what they're trying to accomplish and that we can make recommendations based on past behaviors. We have business-to-consumer and then the C2C [customer-to-customer] inventory. We make sure they have the tools to price and sell their tickets so they can make the most money; I think people think the value of the ticket is the face value of it, but that may or may not be true. And we built a lot of pricing guidance in and intelligence in for buyers, to say, 'Are you looking for the cheapest ticket, the best ticket, the best deal on a ticket?'
Marty BoosCIO, StubHub
It was tough for us to build and tune that, but we're getting positive feedback from our customers.
How does the StubHub mobile journey affect that work?
Boos: We have more sellers [and] more buyers, and building that to scale and then with the migration from desktop to mobile, [having to] change how it works on the different device types, [is challenging]. … When you're sitting on a desktop, I can get a lot of rich content to you. But if you're on a 3G network walking around, I probably don't want to push all that content to you because it will never load. So, a lot of what we do is optimizing for the mobile experience. That's something we focus really heavily on because it matters. We want to make sure we have the best experience regardless of what device or network you're on.
What's your biggest priority for your IT team?
Boos: It has always been doing what's right for the customer -- making sure we provide the best possible service. It's a three-part transaction. They're focused on tools and experience for the sellers, they're focused on the tools and experience for the buyers, and then having to deliver and make sure the buyer gets into the event and in case there's any issue having great service on the customer service side. We've integrated a lot of technology for service, and for buyers and sellers, and a tremendous amount of work goes into eliminating the friction.
Role of Delphix in StubHub mobile development
What challenges did you have to overcome to eliminate friction?
Boos: Developers needed some dev environment to build and test their code, but we found that the lack of a full set of data was impacting their ability to write great code. It used to take two weeks to create a new dev environment and then the data was stale. So, we use Delphix [Dynamic Data platform] to virtualize databases with compressed storage. Delphix has allowed us to create very quickly these dev environments on demand, so developers can create a new feature, run a test and then can flash back to the starting point and run it again with some optimization. It was key to us having the agility and speed to create dev environments.
What's the selling point of having this kind of capability?
Boos: The problem of having good test data has plagued us forever. This allows us to have fresher test data and to build on top of things. I'll do 2,500 releases this year -- five to 10 a day sometimes. Sometimes they're big features, sometimes they're little features, sometimes they're bug fixes or new seat maps for events. So, we need that speed to react to the industry.
Training data specialists, AI chatbots
You've also talked about getting a handle on data. What's your data strategy?
Boos: We have a tremendous amount of data -- 17 years' worth of data on ticketing, trends, pricing, consumers. So, we do a lot of data mining. We have a traditional data warehouse. We have huge Hadoop clusters for machine learning to do trends and fraud detection. We have multiple teams that support ingestion of the data, and we have a full analytics team that analyzes that data on a near real-time basis. But back in 2012, we had no big data [capabilities]. Everything that exists today -- petabytes of information -- has been built over the past four years. Now, we're into optimization and the building of the models that allow us to service our customers better.
What was the challenge in building up your data program?
Boos: Trying to find operational experience and engineering expertise around big data and Hadoop and [Apache] Spark was difficult. So, we took some of our best guys and they learned a lot here. We decided to do that because they understood our business. And we augmented the team with some external experts.
What's next with data?
Boos: We're focusing on machine learning, doing it primarily around pricing models. It's an evolving piece of our business and we want to do more of it. We've also done some experimentation around AI. We've built a chatbot that has an AI component in the back end. But we're in the first inning of that journey. We know it's important and we have a team focused on it.
Sabbatical from StubHub mobile transformation
You recently had a month off?
Boos: One of the greatest things about being part of the eBay family is it has a policy that, after five years, you get a one-month sabbatical. Many people use it to just unplug. One of our rules is you take your email off your cellphone. I delayed my sabbatical for almost a year, but I took mine in late September. [As part of it] I spent a week in Europe and saw the Rolling Stones twice.
We have found that a lot of our people, if they're on a one- or two-week vacation, they're glancing at their email all the time. But this is a great way to disconnect. It's a great way to detach and recharge and then come back in and hit it hard. I had not done a sabbatical in my whole career. What most of us do, most get that recharge time when we leave a job. We leave a job, take some time off and then find another job. EBay realizes that and thinks it's better to have a sabbatical. I encourage all my people to take their sabbaticals.
How do you manage staff when some workers are away for a month?
Boos: You become eligible for sabbatical based on your hiring date. Many of our workers have the same starting data, because it's when eBay bought StubHub. So, when I started, 30% were gone. June, July and August in 2012 it was like a ghost town here. We have a follow-the-sun model on support, so every day at 6 p.m., California time, we turn it over to our Shanghai team and every morning at 6 a.m., they turn it back over to us. So, in terms of support, that's covered, but in our engineering teams, we just planned around it. We adapted. Maybe somebody is working a little more, maybe we go from two people on a shift to one, maybe we overlap shifts. Occasionally, we have someone with very specialized knowledge, when we might have to bring in a contractor for a month. But in most cases, we figure out how to overlap people so we're always covered. We have this StubHub culture [that] we're all in it together. So, it's in all of our best interests to make sure this all works out.
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