LivingSocial named Gautam Thakar as its next chief executive Tuesday afternoon, plucking the Shopping.com and eBay executive from Silicon Valley to run the District-based deals company.
Thakar’s name may not be well known in Washington technology circles — even LivingSocial’s executive search committee wasn’t familiar with him before the hunt for a new CEO began in January — but he brings a background in e-commerce and digital advertising to LivingSocial as the company plots a path forward.
Thakar was not made available for a comment, but here’s what we know so far about the region’s newest, and perhaps most anticipated, tech executive.
He joined eBay when it acquired a start-up.
Thakar joined online commerce giant eBay in 2005 as the country manager for its marketplace in India. He eventually became senior director of international marketing before transitioning into several roles at eBay-owned Shopping.com. Currently, he serves as CEO of Shopping.com and general manager of eBay’s advertising business. But before all that, he worked as chief marketing officer for an e-commerce start-up in India called Baazee.com. EBay paid $50 million to acquire Baazee.com’s outstanding shares, according to a news release from June 2004.
He’s used to a competitive market — and being an underdog.
EBay notes in its quarterly and annual reports that Shopping.com, the company Thakar oversees as chief executive, faces numerous competitors elbowing for marketshare. Take this boilerplate language from eBay’s 2013 annual report:
Our online shopping comparison websites (Shopping.com) compete with sites such as Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Buy.com, Nextag.com, Pricegrabber.com, Shopzilla, Buscapé in Latin America (owned by Naspers) and Yahoo! Product Search, which offer shopping search engines that allow consumers to search the Internet for specified products.
Data from Web traffic tracker ComScore show Shopping.com’s number of unique visitors in the United States has been on the decline. The company tallied nearly 1.8 million unique visitors in June, down 65 percent compared to the nearly 5.1 million it attracted in the same month last year. Those numbers mean Shopping.com ranks 13 for unique visitors in the U.S. among top price comparison Web sites, according to ComScore. The top three spots in June 2014 were held by Google Shopping (20.3 million), PriceGrabber (15.9 million) and Shopzilla/Aisle A Sites (15.88 million).
He fits the company’s culture.
Technology firms speak at length about the nebulous concept of company culture, a concept perhaps best described as the blend of work ethic and personal levity that colors daily life in the office. No matter how you define it, most executives will say it can make or break even the best job candidate. LivingSocial’s outgoing executive Tim O’Shaughnessy said in an interview that Thakar has got it.
“You can’t touch it or put it in a box, so it is inherently harder [to determine],” O’Shaughnessy said. “The more time we spend with somebody, whether it’s for the CEO position or another position, the better chance we have of understanding whether they’re the right cultural fit.”
He’s comfortable with change.
Thakar penned a column for SiliconIndia in September 2012 entitled, “Leading through Change.” In the piece, he outlines five tips for executives who are initiating a strategy change within a company — something Thakar is very likely to do as he takes the reins at LivingSocial.
His pieces of advice include being transparent with employees about a shift in strategy, seeking employee feedback on a strategy change before it is final, creating short-term goals that validate employees’ work, and communicate early and often with your workforce.
Perhaps the advice most applicable to LivingSocial is the need for employees to disengaged with the past strategy and embrace a new one. Those who cling to an old strategy can hamper a company’s progress and breed resentment among co-workers, Thakar writes.
Teams will need some time to grieve the loss of what is changing, but you need to keep that time frame very short. People who do not buy into the new strategy need to be nudged out of the organization at the earliest. It is okay to disagree before the decision is made but once that is done, it is time to commit.
He’s a family man.
On a more personal note, Thakar is the father of a young family. When he relocates from California to the Washington region, Thakar will be joined by his wife and their 3-year old son.