Changing How We Think About Tech Debt at StubHub

By Todd Northcutt, Director of Product Shared Services

There’s no sound quite as sweet as the gong ringing at a StubHub Fix-A-Thon.

That’s because when a teammate rings the gong, it is a resounding declaration to our global Product & Tech team that one small (yet irritating) tech issue — like a glitch in the checkout process or trouble using gift cards — had been resolved.

To me, that sound signified something greater. It was proof that when our teams across the world banded together to solve any tech issue that was plaguing our platforms and our customers, incredible accomplishments and breakthroughs happen.

The gong also rang in an entirely new plan of attack: Instead of tackling tech debt on a quarterly basis, we can instead weave this approach into our day-to-day workflows. Doing so gives Stubbers greater autonomy by letting anyone in any of our global offices solve an issue of their choosing — whether or not the nature of the problem is in their geography or their wheelhouse.

And it all started with the Fix-A-Thon.

A Global Fix-A-Thon

The Fix-A-Thon is a 3-day workshop that StubHub puts on each quarter to set aside focused time to solve the small problems that give our customers the biggest headaches on a consistent basis.

It was good that we were doing this. I was told by Chris Leaverton and his Customer Experience team that improving the customer experience doesn’t just offer a cost savings to the company. It creates loyalty.

To best define the issues that needed fixing, we worked with Leaverton and his team to create a master list of our customers’ biggest complaints. The Customer Experience team identified them based on call volume, call driver data (the reasons for customer contacted support) and the estimated dollar amount in operational costs we had to spend addressing these issues. We found that most customer issues occurred either during checkout or on their account pages after a ticket was purchased, but there were some sell-flow and fulfillment issues present, too.

And it was a global effort. Our P&T teams in Shanghai, Bilbao, and San Francisco worked around the clock to address these issues. Rest assured, everyone got their sleep — the time difference between the three teams allowed one team to “pass the baton” to the other without missing a step throughout the day.

While StubHub has put on Fix-A-Thons in the past, the aim of this most recent one was to give the teams a larger sense of ownership of both problems and solutions. To begin, we asked everyone to select issues they felt most passionate about fixing. In the past we have given assignments to each team, telling them which problems they would work on and how they should go about fixing them. This time, we let our teams decide which problems they wanted to tackle and deferred to them on the best way to fix things.

One pain point we had on our plate was ticket delivery after customers make a purchase. Not all tickets are available immediately after the purchase has been completed. In some cases, a venue doesn’t release the tickets until weeks (and sometimes months) after the purchase is made through StubHub.

Customers have been contacting our customer service team about this issue for a while — rightly confused about when they’ll receive their tickets. Upon investigating the problem, lead product manager Cecily Yam and her team in Shanghai discovered that there wasn’t a clear explanation about why tickets weren’t delivered right away. No wonder customers had questions!

Each event with tickets for purchase has a unique delivery date. There’s no rhyme or reason to when a ticket release may happen. Delays in ticket deliveries can vary. For instance, a musical artist on a national tour can experience different delivery delays at each venue. One venue may have a delay in ticket delivery for an artist one night but then experience no delay for a show the next night. In order to provide accurate information to our customers in every circumstance, we needed to develop a flexible way to communicate to them.

The solution: If a ticket delivery date was already scheduled for an event, this date should be displayed clearly to users upon checkout. If the ticket delivery date was still unknown, customers should see a link that directs them to an explanation. We also added the same features on the My Account pages to make sure that customers could come back after a purchase and get a status update. Teams in Shanghai coordinated with the Bilbao and San Francisco teams to quickly develop this communication solution.

When all was said and done, this year’s Fix-A-Thon solved 40 customer issues. The estimated impact of these fixes and enhancements is more than a one-point reduction in our contact rate, which equates to a reduction of 15,000 contacts a month and huge savings in our operating income annually.

One Global Team, One Dream

For StubHub’s P&T team, where you sit geographically doesn’t define exactly what kind of tech issue you can work on. A great idea can come from anywhere, and from any team member. The Fix-A-Thon process reinforced that. Someone in Shanghai could solve a problem that is traditionally owned by the Bilbao office (and vice versa).

The Fix-A-Thon has traditionally been a once-every-quarter event. Regardless of where in the world our Stubbers work, they’re all fans, and want our customers to have the best fan experience possible (just like they do for themselves).

We’ve decided that attending to our tech debt on a quarterly basis is just too infrequent. Instead, we’re taking the lessons, processes and successes from our most recent Fix-A-Thon and implementing them in our daily work.

Having global cooperation and agility is what will help us erase our tech debt. In other words, every day will be a Fix-A-Thon at StubHub. And to our San Francisco office, a word of assurance: We’ll try not to hit the gong too loudly.

Learn more about the author of this post, Todd Northcutt. Do you love the challenge of fixing problems big and small — both inside and outside your area of expertise? Join us for our next Fix-A-Thon.



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Building better fan experiences. Product-focused, tech-driven, business-minded.