Almost a year is spent obsessively exercising, calorically counting, and actively recovering, but what does a professional athlete do with those few glorious weeks of off-season? Travel? Go home? Build backyard suspension bridges?
The options, while seemingly diverse, are deceptively limited. The precise date to end a season is difficult to predict, the amount of time off is limited, and a triathlete’s assets are often rather… viscous. On account of those factors, planning an off-season with organized activities or multiple other people is quite difficult. As ludibund and limacine as my company most obviously is, it is infrequent that friends and family can plan in advance a two week vacation at some point in October, November or December that is cheap for me and might possibly be coordinated with a race that might be in New Zealand, Colombia or Cozumel. Not that this is a problem, it’s just that options are limited.
Fortunately, despite these general limitations, I had a kick-ass November and December this year because eBay generously gave me a 7 week internship. Some eBay executives had visited the Colorado Springs Olympic training center in early May. Later in the year, they invited few athletes out to San Jose for internships with various parts of the company. I was really lucky to have met Paul Todd, the eBay VP of Strategy, at the May dinner and he somehow finagled me my dream internship in the Strategy division of eBay Global Marketplaces.
I started the internship as soon as my ITU season ended with a 4th place finish at the Guatape World Cup:
I had definitely been hoping to end my season on a slightly higher note, but I missed a 3 man bike breakaway that ended up being the podium. Back to work.
I hadn’t known quite what to expect when I started with eBay. I knew the department, but right until the day I started the only suggestions I’d been given were to read classic literature, sell something on eBay, and research “Innovation.” Considering the last job I’d held was washing bouncy castles in the 10th grade, I realized I was going into this pretty raw.
- The place that puts whatever can be bought up for sale
I’d graduated Summa Cum Laude with a double major from Wake Forest, was valedictorian of my high school with near perfect SAT, ACT scores, and met with then President Bush for my academic prowess, but I felt generally like a dunce compared to the people I was working with at eBay. The employees my age at eBay all seemed to have just graduated with Harvard or Stanford MBAs. The more elderly statesmen in Strategy could have all taught at Harvard. The person I worked most closely with, Peter Coles, had been the Harvard MBA professor until working at eBay. Everyone else seemed to have been consultants for McKinsey for at least 10 years, before taking the more relaxing route of Corporate Strategy. I was slightly intimidated.
Despite my obvious lack of training, everyone at eBay was incredibly helpful. THey taught me the lingo (guess what BFA stands for), how to do financial research, and, most importantly, how to create the very specific smoke blue powerpoints.
Before arriving, I had assumed that I would mainly be delivering coffee or some other such menial task, but I was blown away with how important they at least made my work feel. In the strategy department, essentially all of the possible new developments for eBay are analyzed and then presented to management. Each project is digested in the form of powerpoints, which are created by groups of around 3 or so people. This was the place where the pretty epic “eBay Now” program was launched. eBay Now is a service that, in specific cities, delivers any item to your door in under an hour by way of courier driving a Mini. Why a Mini, you ask? Probably because of this:
Anyway, I was at eBay over a couple winter months, so there were essentially no other interns around. This was awesome, because it meant I was just thrown into whatever the strategy department was working on at the time. I jumped around between a few different projects and gradually become more adept at the work. This is not to say that they gained much from my presence, but I felt like I knew what was going on and could make marginally better than meaningless contributions.
In my final project, I worked with Galina Vlaeva and Subryaman Sankar, who were incredible. Peter Coles, who had guided me through my first few weeks, was working at another of eBay’s holdings during my final weeks. Galina and Sankar had to deal with me making horrible powerpoints and trying to contribute ‘invaluable’ insights. They were incredibly patient and I learned a bunch about the international side of eBay.
By the end, I was blown away by how big eBay is, how complicated it is to run, and how different it is from Amazon. eBay has a huge international presence and can connect sellers from places like Russia or South Korea to America. This is just one aspect which adds to administrative difficulty, because they have to control listings dependent upon import/export laws without being able to control the behaviors of sellers and buyers. eBay also doesn’t hold inventory, while Amazon does, which allows Amazon to have greater control over shipping times and prices (hence the possibility of Prime, etc). eBay also has sells brand new items (figured I’d make this known, considering that very few people I’ve talked to know this) and they have to figure out how to allow individual sellers to compete with the big corporations who are starting to sell through eBay.
That got too detailed, but I just thought eBay was cool. The strategy department was constantly thinking about ways to improve the company, both for sellers and buyers. That’s pretty hard to do, because sellers want high profits while buyers want low prices and eBay succeeds most when both are happy. It was cool to see, and I think eBay is ending up with a site which can provide the best selection online as well as the opportunity to find products being auctioned for significantly less than market price.
What I was most happy about was that this internship let me figure out what I want to do after triathlon. I know for the next few years I won’t do anything except focus on training, but I’ve developed a decent resume and know that once I’m done I could focus on consulting or corporate strategy and find a career that I enjoy.
One great decision I made during the internship was to (re) join Paulo Sousa’s triathlon squad. I was very sad to leave Mike Doane because I’ve had some of my best results with him, but I needed to surround myself with a team of dedicated athletes and Powadise seemed like a great place to do it. I’m really happy to be training with Joe Maloy, Eric Lagerstrom, Jason Pedersen, Heather and Trevor Wurtele, Jen Spieldenner, Derek Garcia and Kevin Ryan.