Trade Me founder Sam Morgan insists he is still steering the company and not its Australian-based owner since 2006, John Fairfax Holdings (also publisher of Computerworld).
His control even extends to such apparently low-level decisions as how to categorise the goods on offer at the auction website.
Recently a controversy has erupted in the online forums on Trade Me about the removal of a category for New Zealand books. Anyone in search of a book about NZ or by a New Zealand author has to trawl the more general book categories, customers have complained, and anyone wishing to sell such a book may have a more difficult decision to make about where to place it.
This change has been seen as symptomatic of an Australian-driven big-company takeover, and forum contributors challenged journalists (particularly those working for Fairfax publications) to get a response from the top.
Computerworld got one, during a curious “fireside chat” session by Morgan at the Webstock conference. The abolition of the NZ books category “was a genuine mistake and it will be fixed”, he said.
Morgan admits that the success of the company has meant he is a little more distant from direct involvement with the customers and he rarely reads the “boards” [customer forums] these days — though he was aware of the NZ books discussion.
“When the world around you changes, you’re bound to change a little bit.”
Morgan was interviewed at Webstock by Rowan Simpson, the number-three employee at Trade Me.
It was not exactly a challenging interview, but there were breakouts for questions from the floor. Morgan talked about a new interest in funding operations in “micro-credit” in Third World countries. Such schemes enable people who want to start a small business to get a loan to help them at a more reasonable interest rate than a conventional financial institution would provide, particularly in the absence of collateral.
Trade Me derived advantages from starting in a small country, where there was no strong competition from multinational incumbents, Morgan says. Any future rival to the site will probably come not from the likes of eBay, he says, but from “two students in a scungy flat” with new ideas on how to do it better.