Every guitar has a story. For the “Red Special,” that story begins with Brian May. In the 1960s, May designed and built the electric guitar with his father because he couldn’t afford a new one. The instrument’s oak fretboard, hand-wired pickup and infamous mahogany veneer would eventually play the signature sound of one of history’s most famous rock-and-roll bands: Queen.
For the aspiring Brian Mays of today, there’s an easier option for acquiring unique musical instruments. Think “Etsy, but for artists and makers as well as entrepreneurs and businesses.” Since 2013, Reverb has been connecting buyers and sellers of guitars, pianos, drum kits and much more across the globe.
CTO Jason Wain never tires of hearing the stories behind instruments. After attending a musical instrument industry conference, Wain said users thanked Reverb for the positive impact it made on their lives.
“One seller was so excited to share that she found the same guitar her grandpa used to play on Reverb,” Wain said.
Another heart-warming anecdote? One father told Wain he was able to pay for his child’s college education with the money he made selling on the site.
In order to provide a loyal and rewarding experience for users, Wain said it’s crucial to foster a collaborative software engineering team. Building tech for both B2B and B2C consumers requires investing in user feedback and data analysis to ensure the marketplace is working on all platforms. To accomplish this, Wain said cross-departmental communication is key. For example, Reverb’s product and engineering teams work closely with the customer operations team, which speaks to buyers and sellers daily.
“This creates a constant feedback loop on how our work is impacting the end users,” Wain said.
Constant feedback means constant growth and at Reverb, there’s always another high note to hit. For example, they’ve recently made changes to their product A/B testing framework to better understand the impact of site improvements.
“By empowering our team to repeatedly work through the obstacles and complexities they’re facing to improve experimentation, we’re strengthening leadership and collaboration across the team,” Wain said.
Tell us about your professional background. What brought you to Reverb?
I’ve been developing software or managing software engineering teams for over 15 years, most recently as senior director of engineering at Etsy. Like Etsy, Reverb is a two-sided marketplace for artists and makers as well as entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes. Both companies have interesting and difficult technical and product challenges, which means lots of opportunities for developers and engineers at all levels to learn and grow. At the same time, the two companies operate in very different industries, so I was excited for the opportunity to apply best practices from Etsy where I can while also working with our team to solve new challenges unique to the musical instrument industry.
When it comes to joining the Reverb team, two things attracted me right away. First, we’re working with arguably one of the largest music gear databases in the world. We have to navigate not only different instrument types — from guitars and amps to drums and synthesizers — but also within each category, as instruments vary by model, year, color, condition and much more. Additionally, we’re building tools and solutions for a truly passionate audience that relies on our marketplace for income to support their families, inspiration to fuel their passions and tools to create new music. It inspires our team to do their best work every day.
How does your past experience influence how you build Reverb’s engineering, product management and data science teams?
I love building teams with people who care deeply about the problems they are solving and want to understand how the tech we’re building is positively impacting our users. At Reverb, we get constant feedback from our users because they rely on our product daily: to keep the doors of their small business open, to find the perfect instrument to inspire their next song and more. I want to create a strong sense of ownership for the engineers, designers, product managers and other team members who are closest to the work. A big part of that is ensuring that they’re seeing the impact of their work, big and small.
The other day, our team launched a new button for sellers to use to cancel misprinted shipping labels. The feedback was instantaneous! One seller reached out and told our team to “take a victory lap because you’re stars.” It’s gratifying for teams to see how the smallest improvements to our marketplace can instantly improve our users’ lives.
I’m a very team-oriented person and think that fostering a collaborative environment across disciplines leads to the best results.”
What is the biggest challenge in building tech for a B2B and B2C marketplace? How is your team working to overcome that challenge?
Building tech for a marketplace that sits at the intersection of B2B and B2C is much more complex than traditional retail and e-commerce tech. We’re not one shop that sells its own products to many users. We have millions of buyers and sellers on both sides of the transaction across the globe. On top of that, each piece of “inventory” for sale on the site is uploaded by individual shops and sellers. When you’re the seller in this scenario, missing or incorrect info or a spelling error could be the difference between getting your item in front of the right buyers or never making a sale.
On a site like Reverb, things have the potential to be further complicated by the amount and variety of products found on the site. Not only is there a wide range of categories — including everything from electric and bass guitars to keyboards, band instruments, DJ gear, music software and even recorded music — but also, each instrument differs based on characteristics such as the year it was made, color, model, condition and even the city in which it was made. For a tech team, it's exciting because there are rarely simple solutions that work for all of our users. We invest a lot in both data analysis and user feedback to understand the full picture of their goals and challenges.
Describe your management style.
I’m a very team-oriented person and think that fostering a collaborative environment across disciplines leads to the best results. For example, Reverb’s product and engineering teams work closely with our customer operations team, which speaks with our buyers and sellers daily. This creates a constant feedback loop on how our work is impacting the end users. My goal as CTO is to break down silos, empower teams with the right context and create shared ownership of important goals across teams.
At Reverb, we believe that to grow a leading marketplace for music makers all over the world, we also have to grow our people. We are thoughtful about ensuring there is strong leadership throughout the organization and that we’re developing future leaders.
As an example, we’ve recently been making major changes to our product A/B experimentation framework so that we can better understand the impact of all the improvements we make to Reverb. By empowering our team to repeatedly work through the obstacles and complexities they’re facing to improve experimentation, we’re strengthening leadership and collaboration across the team.
What does Reverb’s product roadmap look like in 2020?
To fulfill our mission of making the world more musical, we have to create tools, services and product improvements that help buyers and sellers connect over the perfect piece of gear. On the buyer side, our job is to help music makers of all levels navigate our huge selection of music gear to find the exact retailer and instrument they’re looking for or something they didn’t know they wanted.
When it comes to sellers, they come to Reverb to access our huge community of buyers and to take advantage of the tools and integrations we offer to sell more products. Our focus is to make it easier for sellers to better promote their music gear listings so they can find the perfect buyer.
We have a strong focus on using data to make good decisions about the products we build.”
What is one trait candidates must have to thrive working at Reverb?
I’ll cheat here and give two answers. The first one is humility. In my experience, that’s the most important factor in someone contributing to a high-performing team. If they’re willing to listen and be wrong and care about something bigger than themselves, that goes a long way.
The other one is empathy. There’s a lot of emotion in music; many of the sales are instruments people are really passionate about. Our teams need to be able to empathize with that passion and use that to inform the work we do. Seeing the impact of our work on our community is so powerful.
Tell us what the tech community can expect from Reverb in 2020.
We have a strong focus on using data to make good decisions about the products we build. This is an evergreen problem in most tech companies, but especially in the musical gear space where there’s always some new piece of gear coming onto the market, whether that be from a major manufacturer like Fender or a small boutique guitar pedal creator. Using data wisely leads to all sorts of fun challenges as we continue to grow. We plan on continuing to refine our experimentation and measurement capabilities while we lean on our great culture of iterating quickly to learn from the work that we do.