Using Social Commerce to Bring People Together: an Interview with PayPal’s Matan Bar

Written by Published in Interviews, Product Management

Matan Bar is the head of PayPal’s Consumer Product Center and global lead for its Peer to Peer Payments business. He will be a speaker at Product Management Festival 2017. In our interview, Matan shares with us how he went from being a soldier to entrepreneur, his experience in selling his startup to eBay (and staying on board afterward), and what it’s like to launch products that impact millions of users worldwide with every release.

Could you tell us a bit about your professional journey?

Matan: I started my first serious role while I was in the Israeli army, which is mandatory service from 18-21 years old. The great thing about it was that in the army, I got exposure to so much cutting-edge technology and I learned to handle large responsibilities early on. So at 18 years old, I was managing a 20-person engineering team for the army’s intelligence unit. It was my first technology experience.

After the army, I went to Tel Aviv University for Computer Science, and in my last year, I started the Gifts Project. It was a startup which enabled people to buy group gifts online via Facebook and email. For example, when someone had a wedding registry, a group of friends could get together to pay for a gift, and that payment would be made through our offering. Soon afterwards, our service was getting integrated into online platforms for retailers like eBay and Crate and Barrel with whom gift registries were popular.

We were able to raise money and become a “big company” and two and a half years later, eBay offered to acquire us.

The decision whether to sell was a hard one. I was 26 years old at the time and the offer was a compelling one, but the business was doing really well and we were having fun. What compelled us to eventually sell was that eBay wanted my co-founders and me to start a new independent center of innovation here in Tel Aviv. It was an incredible opportunity, and we could really do something with a big company’s resources and make an even bigger impact.

So my co-founders and I led the new unit. We stayed in the e-commerce space and designed and built rapid prototypes to test out our designs.

When PayPal and Ebay split in 2015, I decided to go with PayPal, and I became the head of its global team that handled the peer to peer payments platform, which is a $64 billion business now. It was quite a change, going from an independently run innovation center to managing a group where every release impacts millions of users around the world.

Your company, The Gifts Project, was acquired by eBay a few years ago. How did you help your team manage the transition moving from a standalone entity to a division of a larger company?

Matan: It was a huge challenge. I think anytime a startup joins into a global company, you’ll have differences. But we didn’t have anyone leave for the first 2.5 years post-acquisition! Not surprisingly, two of our biggest differences were culture and scale.

In the startup, it was a fast-paced environment. We had 20 people, needed few policies and processes, and communicated in a fast, direct, and informal manner. There was definitely some adjustment when we moved to eBay, but eBay was very welcoming and accommodated many differences.

Likewise, to help with the transition from our end, my co-founders and I evaluated when situations called for making trade-offs and what cultural elements we wanted to maintain and which to adapt. We wanted to keep the startup spirit and blend/accommodate some differences.

For example, technology-wise, we continued to develop with our own technology on the front end because we could do it faster from it. But on the back end, we had to move the servers to eBay’s infrastructure.

And I’ll say that no matter how many video conferences you do, it doesn’t beat in-person meetings. Travel was key!

In the beginning, we allocated a large amount for the travel budget. It was important to have people from other locations come see what and how we do things and vice versa. I actually travel, even now, from Tel Aviv to San Jose and stay there for one week each month.

The other big difference is scale. Our team formed the new innovation center for eBay. We made rapid prototypes and quickly sunsetted anything deemed unviable. Then I began leading the global Peer to Peer Payments team, which delivered products like the PayPal app to 200 countries in 25 languages. We now needed to coordinate with legal, regulatory, marketing, and so many more groups for each launch: we were working on a completely different scale! It was important to create cadences that became incorporated into our processes to ensure we didn’t miss anything. Things like weekly sprint planning meetings ensured that the teams were not too independent, nor too secluded. To keep things moving quickly, we tried to minimize dependencies, but the reality is that working independently can really only get us so far. And at a larger scale, especially for product and engineering, the speed might be slower, but it’s more deliberate as we have more responsibilities to consider.

In your current role, you manage a global Peer to Peer Payments team, so presumably many are in different countries and time zones. How do you handle that with your teams to ensure cohesiveness?

Matan: It was critical to set up a structure initially. The critical principle for success for us was “3 in a box.” This was an approach we still use today where where we have a cross-interdisciplinary group of product managers, engineers, and designers co-located and working together to do a project. We divide up our projects, most are split between Tel Aviv and San Jose teams, and the teams work on discrete projects so that each group can work quickly and reduce dependencies on other teams. But they’re all part of a bigger team and know how each of their projects fit into the larger picture.

A second way we stay tight as a team is from actively defining a global culture for us, and this includes “ceremonies” – how to handle meetings, commemorate work anniversaries and birthdays, etc.

We defined principles that were critical for the team members to follow, and we even have a PM in San Jose office who is the culture manager. I’ve paid particular attention to this area, and it’s an ongoing effort – consistency is the key to maintaining culture. This way, everybody knows what the expect given certain situations.

Finally, I know I said it before, but it is important to have cadences. Processes – to a degree – needed to be put in place. There are meetings that are sacred and never canceled – the weekly team meeting and product and analytic reviews for example. Process is very important to working with a global team. Coming from a start-up and not liking them, I’ve come to appreciate good (but still not many!) processes.

Matan’s talk at PMF in November 2017 will be “If the Value Isn’t Clear, the Price will Always be Too High.” See the PMF schedule for more information on our speakers and topics.  

(Update to this interview: Matan has recently left PayPal to start his own company. Stay tuned for more details!)

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