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Exponential Growth And A Turnaround Or Two In B2C And B2B E-Commerce, With Eric Eichmann

Those who want to succeed in building their own business must learn what it takes to grow on a constant basis, not just in terms of money but in team management as well. J.R. Lowry sits down with Eric Eichmann, CEO of ESW, to share his most valuable secrets to achieving exponential growth. Tune in as he looks back on his career journey, presenting the biggest lessons about business transition, workplace culture, and leadership approaches. Eric also opens up about his realizations during his time at AOL and his first CEO role at Criteo.

Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit A full written transcript of this episode is also available at

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Exponential Growth And A Turnaround Or Two In B2C And B2B E-Commerce, With Eric Eichmann

Current CEO Of ESW, Past CEO Of Spark Networks And Criteo

This show is brought to you by PathWise is dedicated to helping you live the career you deserve, providing coaching, content, courses, and community. Basic membership is free, so visit PathWise and join. My guest is Eric Eichmann. Eric was appointed as the CEO of ESW. He brings over twenty years of leadership experience in technology and eCommerce disruption to the role.

Prior to joining ESW, he served as the CEO of Spark Networks, a global leader in online dating. Before that, he was the CEO of Criteo, a global leader in commerce marketing. Under his leadership, Criteo achieved remarkable growth, surpassing market expectations for nineteen consecutive quarters. Eric also held positions as a Chief Operating Officer at LivingSocial, the Chief Operating Officer at Rosetta Stone, a Senior Vice President of Ad Operations and Technology at America Online, and a Senior Manager at McKinsey. He holds a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from EPFL and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.


Eric, welcome. It’s good to catch up. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to having our conversation. Thanks for being on the show.

Thank you very much. I appreciate you inviting me.

Becoming CEO

You’ve got a pretty new job, a new CEO gig. Do you want to fill us in on your new role?

I’m the CEO at ESW, formerly eShopWorld. I started a couple of months ago in August 2023. The company has about 1,000 employees in 4 main cities, Dublin being the main center, New York where I reside being the second one, and then we have Madrid. We also have Newry. She’s in the Northern part of Ireland. It’s an exciting opportunity. ESW, most people know it, is a B2B business. We enable eCommerce companies or brands to sell their wares and their goods across the globe. We help them go to over 200 countries. That’s exciting. Our mission is to make worldwide eCommerce powerful and simple.

How did you end up in this role? Was it through a recruiter?

Yeah. It was a recruiter that contacted me. Part of it had to do with my experience in Europe with Criteo, which I’m sure we’ll talk about. That was a great experience. People know me in particular for cross-border global opportunities that span Europe, the US, and other countries. That’s how he found me.

What made you want to take the role? What was it that appealed to you?

eCommerce has been in a lot of what I’ve done in the past. Interestingly enough, this is part of the job because we are a software company, but at the same time, we enable these brands to send goods all over the world. There’s a shipping component that we connect to. My first job after engineering school was in freight forwarding, which was shipping. That had an appeal behind it.

It’s a great opportunity. What we call cross-border commerce is growing at 25% a year. The industry is still to be defined, so the end game is not known yet. That was interesting. There were elements that I had worked on before, like the fact that the company is in Europe and a big market is the US. All of those things have made it attractive to me.

How are you finding it so far?

It’s good as it happens. I’m thinking about the founder. The founder had sold the company to a joint venture of two large corporations. He had been there for a couple of years. He wants to go and do something else. He’s an entrepreneur. I come in and I have to reignite the team, if you will. I have to change the culture and define new initiatives. All in all, it’s been terrific. It’s been very productive for six months. The future looks good.

It’s got to be hard to follow in the founder’s shoes.

It depends because I’ve done this a couple of times. In the past at Criteo, I was CEO after the founder took the chairman role on the board. He remained very involved, so that was a little bit harder because he had certain assumptions. Making changes was harder because he would challenge a lot of the changes. When he ran the company, things worked a certain way and they worked well, so that was harder.

In this case, it depends on the personality of the founder. In this case, he really has given me the reins. Initially, he helped me and wanted to make sure he wasn’t giving his baby to somebody who would not take care of it. He has taken a step back, so it’s much easier. He’s still on the board, but I have to call him and ask him questions. What would happen in other companies is the founders would still talk to employees. He’s out of the picture. It’s working quite well because it feels like a true CEO role where there’s no bias that’s brought into the company. I’m able to run it on my own.

You don’t have the listed company challenges this time around.

Part of the opportunity, and this is public information, is the company would like to take ESW public. More than the challenge of being a public company, which I’ve done a couple of times before, it is more about getting the company up in shape to be able to have the option of an IPO. In the process of getting the company in shape, when you take over a company as CEO, there are always challenges, opportunities, and things you have to do to reshape the company to do well.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Eric Eichmann | Exponential Growth

Eric Eichmann: More than the challenge of being a public company, leaders must shape it in a way that it has the option of an IPO.


If, in addition to that, there’s a public element to it, it takes a lot of time away from you to drive the business. More than the financial market pressure, there is a time allocation that you have to dedicate to that which takes away from running the company. You’re right. In part, not being a public company does help.

It is a big-time draw. Other than thinking about, “What are our earnings going to be this quarter? Are they aligned with the street’s expectations?” You talk to investors. You speak at investor conferences. It’s a big consumer of time for public company CEOs and sometimes other C-level staff and C-level leaders in those companies too.

In addition to the time it takes, you give guidance. You want to meet the guidance. You have to explain. If there are opportunities or changes that you want to make that are in the interest of the company in the long-term, not that you can’t do it as a public company, but it’s an additional burden to explain all of that and tell the public markets what you’re doing, why things are potentially changing, and all of that. As a company that’s outside of the public markets, it’s easier to do those things. You do have to go through the board, explain, and all that, but at least it’s easier to do those changes, those parameters, and those considerations of what the market thinks, where I need to go and explain, and all that is not there.

Workplace Culture And Business Transition

You mentioned culture a few minutes ago. To what extent are you trying to adapt yourself to the way the company has operated under its founder and the culture? Where are you looking at making those changes?

Any company that’s successful, and in this case, it’s always a successful company, has many elements that have worked well in the past. When you start a new role like this, you always have to look at what has worked well and why it has worked well. The last thing you want to do is not be humble and come in and think you know better. You have to understand that when you come in. You then have to understand the challenge or the opportunity that’s ahead of you and figure out what things need to change.

I’ve been in many environments and many cultures. From that perspective, I can listen, understand, and adapt. In the case of ESW, when I arrived we needed to integrate an acquisition that had not been integrated and turn it into one company. There was a challenge around culture because there were two different companies. Bringing it together was one of the challenges. We did that in the first six months. That was an important one.

The other thing is the founder sold the company. It’s a great company, but maybe the agility and excitement that existed pre-selling the company wasn’t the same there. There was a need to reassess the culture and get employees engaged again. We went through an exercise with the senior management to redefine the mission and redefine the values.

There in redefining the values, it was to figure out what was keeping us from being as successful as we could be. That was a great exercise because that was with the team. I had particular opinions about things. Ultimately, in January 2024, a few months ago, we had this big event where we unveiled, if you will, the new values and all that. They were very well-received.

To a certain extent, what we’ve done is keep a lot of the grounding that has made the company successful and redefine a set of values. Some of them require changes in behavior. Not everything we did in the past is going to be successful in the future, but it will help us go to the next challenge and what looks like a great market opportunity.

More than other companies like Criteo, which we’ll talk about, there, the culture was quite strong and well-defined. Tweaks needed to be made. In this case, we need to track a new course in terms of the culture of the company. That’s a process. Telling people, “There are the things that we care about and the things that are going to make us successful,” doesn’t mean that it changes. We need to incorporate and help people work. We started the first step, which is defining what we want to do. We have to make sure that we make that change happen. We’re in the process of doing that.

Advice For CEOs

When you come in as a CEO, I’ve seen it happen. I haven’t done it personally, but the organization, there’s a bit of a natural lift that you get by virtue of the fact that there’s a new leader. If you manage that transition right and you respect enough of the past, but you get the voices that maybe have been quiet about what they would like to change, and there are always those things that people say that they would like to change, you can find that good balance, get everybody with you, and also breathe new life into the organization.

You’d be surprised how aware people are of the things that are not working. You get the benefit of the new guy in town coming in. There’s an expectation that you’re going to do things differently. There’s an acceptance from people, “We’re going to do some things differently.” There’s more of a bigger predisposition, if you will, to change. That facilitates the task when you bring somebody new.

You have a little bit of a honeymoon period where people accept things but you can’t let it last too long. You need to make some of the changes early on to make sure that people say and understand that that’s part of what’s going to be the new course. If you leave things the same for a year and you don’t change anything, people will fall back into old behaviors. That was why this was an important part of my first six months.

Time At McKenzie

Let’s go back a few years to when you and I were classmates in the McKinsey Chicago office. What do you remember from your time at McKinsey? What did you learn? What did you take away?

It was interesting because I had been an engineer, and when I went to business school, there was a whole new world that I didn’t know. I knew computers. I was in the freight forwarding industry. I had a very limited set of experiences. McKinsey really opened the door to a whole new world of experiences. I was an engineer. Numbers, fact-based analysis, and all of those things were right, but how you brought that to a management setting not just when you’re in classes in business school and things like that but how you apply that to companies was a key learning. That’s the basics of consulting. McKinsey does a very good job at making sure that you get formed on that end.

The second thing that I found, and it’s clear to me even a few years after McKinsey, is the ability to synthesize findings and present them in a way that tells a story that you can get all stakeholders to understand is super important. Get the board, the employees, the markets, and all of that to understand the story around what’s the opportunity, what are your strengths, and what are you going to do to get there. You can get there, but McKinsey accelerates the ability for you to think about it that way because you’re presenting to CEOs and they need to understand the story quickly. They don’t have time. That’s another thing that when I think about my McKinsey experience, that was something that I found very helpful.

The last thing is because you get experience with companies, they’re going to pay big dollars for the consulting advice from McKinsey. They put you through tough problems. Generally, coming up with a strategy answer is maybe 1/2 or 1/3 of the answer to make it happen. This became very clear to me afterward. In McKinsey, not as much because we talked about it and put it in the decks potentially, but then executing it was harder. It’s putting all the elements together. You have to think about the process. You have to think about the people. All of that needs to fall in place.

Execution is much harder to do. A great strategy, you can pay for it eventually, but then executing it is always the harder part. I don’t think that became clear to me until I went into operating roles after McKinsey. We would joke around as consultants. We’re like, “We came up with the great thing, but they screwed it up.” It is the harder part of operating a business I find.

You can pay for a great strategy, but executing it is the hard part. Share on X

It’s also more fun. When I left McKinsey, I went to Fidelity. I got put into an operation strategy role. It wasn’t a line role per se, but it had a heavy dose of, “Let’s develop a plan for how we’re going to evolve our operations, and then let’s go implement it.” I remember being about twelve months into that job thinking, “This is about as much fun as I’ve ever had at work,” because we are in the throes of the implementation. It’s the things you never got to do at McKinsey because it was too expensive to keep a consulting team around to do all the execution work. At one point, you’ve got to wean yourself off of them.

The other thing that you don’t necessarily appreciate is McKinsey, consulting firms, and these environments value very conceptual people. If you can tell a good story, not that those things are not important because they are, but do good analysis and all of that, those were the things that were valued. Once I got into operating companies, sometimes, you have people who were not conceptual but they got it done. Those people were super valuable.

I didn’t really appreciate that as much when I was in McKinsey, having operators. They don’t need to think about big strategies, but they have something to get done. They get it done and they get it done the right way. They sometimes are better people or leaders than these conceptual, very sophisticated thinkers. That was also something that was a bit of a learning after McKinsey.

I thought about it this way when I left business school. I’m like okay, “I’m going to learn in McKinsey.” Everybody understood it that way. A lot of people thought this was a great way for you to get experience very quickly and have the fundamentals of thinking about what your management issues, challenges, and opportunities are.

Getting Into AOL

How’d you end up at AOL after that? I don’t remember.

I was in McKinsey. I met my soon-to-be wife at McKinsey. She went to study at INSEAD in France. I went with her. I was at McKinsey in France. They made me work in different countries in Switzerland, Scotland, and then Paris. I ended up working on industrial clients mostly on very interesting projects, like a valuation project, a transformation project, and a strategy project.

When we came back to the US, we went to the Washington DC office. I ended up working in the late ‘90s, so ‘97 to ‘99 or so, on industrial clients with transformation and all that. At the same time, we had the craziness of the internet happening. That’s what I was excited about. I remember the weekends. The last thing I wanted to think about was the industrial clients. I would read what was going on on the internet how things were being redefined and the potential of it.

McKinsey did not do as much tech work back then. When it did, everybody wanted to be on it. I had a good friend from business school who was at AOL. He said, “Why don’t you come and talk to us? Maybe there’s something that you’d like to do here.” I did and they offered me a role. I decided, “Why not? It’s a good time to jump into something different.”

For me, it was the right decision because I was not enjoying it as much. I enjoyed the people at McKinsey. The stuff that we were working on was important, but it didn’t get my blood flowing, if you will. It didn’t get me excited. AOL was at the center of the world back then. They were growing like crazy. I joined, I remember, the weekend after July 4th in 1999. It was the heyday. Things were going crazy.

Was that before or after they bought Time Warner?

This was before. It was six months before. At AOL, it’s crazy. We’d go from one meeting to another. It was always a different issue. It was always about finding different companies and how they were going to adopt digital and how they would use AOL to get their digital strategy going. It was super exciting. There was all this interesting stuff that was going on.

I remember my boss would tell me, “You are in charge of this.” I would go and be in all these meetings in my first few weeks and I would come back with a deck. I’d say, “This is what we need to do.” My boss would look at the deck and say, “Why are you not doing it?” I’m like, “I wanted you to agree. That’s why I prepared this.” He’ll say, “Go and do it. Don’t put things together. Do it.” That was a bit of a wake-up call of the values in a lot of it. Most of it is in doing it, not in thinking about it. Thinking about what you need to do is important, but not spending a whole bunch of time trying to convince people to do it.

Business values are more about doing than thinking. Share on X

It was an exciting time at AOL. It was before Time Warner. I remember one morning, I was driving to AOL. This was in Dallas, Virginia. I lived in DC. I heard on the news that it was a purchase, but it was a merger between AOL and Time Warner. A lot of us were scratching our heads at AOL. We were like, “Why?” The idea back then was that content was going to be king.

They were right.

Not really. I don’t think so. Content was going to be king, but they had brands like Time Inc. and all of that, which ended up not being important at all. We took it very hard because some of the teams did the merger and got all the synergies. Content is king, but user-generated content has become a big deal in interactions. People thought of content being consumed in a very passive way back then when they thought that was what was going to win and the rest of it was going to be infrastructure leading to that content. It was not so.

AOL bought before the crash of 2000 in March 2000 if you remember. What happened is the company found itself in a situation that was much tougher than the environment they had before. A lot of the people that had made a lot of money retired. It was great for me not from a financial perspective, but it was great for me because it presented a whole bunch of opportunities for people like me in the company. I was promoted very quickly. I was in charge of transforming their advertising business from one that was these big deals that were not working and that were these obvious kinds of things. Good things were going to happen. I had to restructure those deals.

A lot of the internal businesses of AOL required what we call ad inventory to survive. Ad inventory had an opportunity cost and they were not returning it, so I ended up being in charge of that. I ended up being in charge of the advertising business not from a sales perspective, but the best I could describe it was the COO of the advertising business. I had the technology part, the operations part, and the pricing of the product part. That was a big transformation to go from these deals to a real advertising business.

We had a couple of things that we did at the time. We acquired a company called It was performance advertising. We had a lot of performance advertisers. We could put them all in there. We did a deal and shaped their product with DoubleClick or advertising technology to serve big brands. When I left, this was a business that was instead of being these large businesses of multimillion-dollar businesses with big deals that didn’t perform, we had your normal advertising business, which was run-of-the-mill campaigns that were much smaller but that were repetitive and were judged as such. That was a successful run for me.

At the end of that, what I really wanted to do was I did all this transformation. It was great. I went from Director to SVP at AOL. I thought, “Terrific,” but then, I went to one of my mentors at the time, Ted Leonss, the Owner of the Capitals and a pretty well-known person in the business world. I said, “I’d love to run a business. I want a full P&L.” He said to me, “That’s great, but the CEO job is not available,” because that’s where it all went. There’s no other place where you owned a P&L and all the operations. That’s when I decided, “I’d love to try something else. I’d love to try something smaller too.”

AOL was a company that was difficult to operate in. With the processes, political might not be the right word, but it was hard to get stuff because the organization and the accountability were not very clear. I said, “Let’s go to something smaller.” That’s how I found Rosetta Stone. If you think McKinsey was a great way to get educated on business and CEO-type issues, AOL for me was the quick and dirty operating learning curve. I was in an operating role. I was left alone to deal with all these things and I took on more. For me, that was the forming years from an operating perspective. It ended up being a great time even though it was hard. I worked very hard, but it was a good thing for my career in terms of learning.

It was the best-performing stock in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, not when I was there. The stock when I joined was at 85% or something like that, and then it split and went all the way to 99%. Yeah. In my first six months, I was like, “Maybe this might turn out to be a good thing,” but then the Time Warner thing happened. The internet fell off. Yahoo! lost 90% of their value. eBay lost 90% of its value. We at AOL could have acquired all these companies, but the Time Warner board said, “We got to focus on the integration of Time Warner.” It was not afterward. After 2000, the stock was not the best-performing stock.

Agreed. The thing about AOL is it’s a little bit of a joke. People still have their AOL emails or whatever as their primary email.

It’s not my primary, but I still have it.

I do too, and I’m trying to kill it off. It’s amazing how many different places still have it. It was the high flyer, the fact that it pulled off that Time Warner deal, they set the foundations for a lot of what ultimately became the next generation, which was Google, and in terms of the advertising model and all of that. They got killed along with a lot of other companies by that massive down period.

They were formative years for the internet than what it became. A lot of companies were born out of 2000. Facebook was born out of that. Google was born out of that. We did a big deal with Google where we got warrants into Google that turned out to be $3 billion for AOL. At the time, those were small companies. Amazon was starting too. At some point, they came to AOL and said, “We want to sell books.” AOL said, “Are you crazy?” A lot of these companies were born out of that crisis in that period of time in the early 2000s.

It’s very true. The advertising part of the industry is massive.

It’s interesting because back then, out of the advertising group that we have at AOL, there were 3 or 4 people that went to found companies that became very important in redefining what advertising became. All these marketplaces for advertising and all these things were founded by a lot of the people at DoubleClick. DoubleClick had a number of people that became important in redefining it.

DoubleClick was acquired by Google. It became their advertising business. Except for the search business, it was their advertising business. They are the most important infrastructure and provider of services in advertising. That continues to be the case. All of that came from that period of trouble and transformation in the early 2000s.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Eric Eichmann | Exponential Growth

Eric Eichmann: AOL is the most important infrastructure and service provider in advertising today, and all of that came from a period of trouble and transformation in the early 2000s.


You went to Rosetta Stone, and then you went to LivingSocial. You were the COO there too. You then got your first CEO job at Criteo. How did that come about? What was it like being a first-time CEO?

Rosetta Stone was interesting because it was a company that was at the beginning of growth but didn’t have a lot of infrastructure. We put that in place and then took it public. That was a great experience. I jumped over to LivingSocial, which was in the same business as Groupon. That was a tremendous experience in that there was so much money flowing in that space. We grew that company very rapidly.

First CEO Job

I remember I headed internationally. I had twenty people in London and the board said, “You’re number two in the US. You’re good to go. Grow internationally.” We went from 20 people in London to 3,000 people in 16 countries or 17 countries in a year. It was crazy. We said no to many companies. There was a good rationale for it, but then the money stopped and I had to close half the companies I had acquired within the last three months. It was this creative destruction and disruption type thing that I had never lived through at the speed that it went through. That was all a great experience for me for being in smaller companies like Rosetta Stone and LivingSocial and seeing it grow.

Criteo came to me at a time when their growth stagnated in Europe, which was their biggest market. This was advertising technology, so retargeting mostly. They were using the data from eCommerce companies that led people to serve ads, bring them back, and buy stuff on their sites. Their growth stagnated in Europe. The board said, “We need to figure out a way to find another business from the assets that we have.”

I was brought into a CRO to run their traditional business of retargeting. Quickly, I saw that they did not have a go-to-market that was scalable. Their compensation plans were not adapted to what they needed to be. They didn’t think that they should do mid-market, which ended up being 30% of the revenue. The US was not growing. It was only 8% of the company. Once we fixed all of that, we started having growth again.

On the tech side, we also had, at the time, a lot of tech tech, so we could not evolve the product. We hired a guy from Google. He came in and said, “I need you to take the red pill. One is you can’t do anything in terms of features for nine months.” We were being killed by competitors, so we did that. There were enough initiatives on the go-to-market side to drive growth so we could take the company public. We took it public.

I quickly went from COO to COO. The founder who had come back to Europe from California to run the company said, “You run today. I’m going to go back.” We had tremendous growth. Japan became our second largest country. We had a deal with Yahoo! Japan. That was phenomenal. We grew the company from $300 million to over $2.4 billion in revenue. That was a very rapid growth. I became CEO at the end of 2015. The founder took a step back. He went on to be the chairman of the board and I took that role.

At the time, we had become a public company. We were very successful in the market in terms of the revenues and the financial results. We ended up being, at some point, a $3.4 billion company. That was great. The financial markets always considered that Criteo had the problem or the risk of Facebook, Google, and Apple changing the rules of the game because they controlled how you track data. At some point, Apple did. They didn’t allow you to track data across sites. That was a problem for us. We continued to grow, but our growth slowed down dramatically.

While I was at Criteo, we started a pivot to what we call retail media. It’s part of 40% of the business. We bought a company, HookLogic, in New York that was doing retail media. If you’re an eCommerce company, it’s not enough to make money on the goods you sell. That’s very thin. You need to make money. This is a famous flywheel from Amazon advertising. We were helping them make money from performance advertising on their sites. We knew it was going to turn out to be also a business where we could provide the tools for them to make money not just on performance advertising, but on brand advertising. We made that pivot at the time and started growing that business.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Eric Eichmann | Exponential Growth

Eric Eichmann: If you are in an e-commerce company, it is not enough to make money on the goods you sell. You also need to make miles in the famous flywheel model of Amazon.


I was CEO for two and a half years at Criteo and then left. The founder had done a couple of things in California and decided to come back to Europe. He convinced the board, “I want to be the CEO again.” I said, “If that’s the case, I’m going to go off and do something different.” It was a phenomenal experience. I moved to London with my family from DC and sold our house. It was a big risk.

I didn’t realize it at the time because when I arrived and I saw the problems that Criteo had, I thought the company was doing great. When I arrived there, there was no growth. Fortunately, there were lots of things that could be done to accelerate growth. Maybe a little bit of luck here and there and some experience that I brought allowed me to be successful there. It could have turned out differently. Who knows? It turned out to be a great story. I learned a lot. I was running a company that had 2,500 employees of which almost 1,000 were in France, so it was a very international role. Our second country in terms of employees was the US with about 500 employees. It was truly international.

Even though I bought all these companies all over the world, the center of gravity was very much in Europe. Even though from a go-to-market perspective and from a lot of the relationships that we need to have with companies in the ecosystems, it was very US-centric. It was a truly global role with centers of excellence in the US and Western Europe. It was a great experience for me. It was terrific. I loved London. The family loved London. They didn’t like it at the beginning. I was not a popular person at home, but then they loved it. I went with my oldest to London. She loves the city. They have all these great memories from it. It ended up as a great experience for us.

Online Dating

You then went on online dating.

This is interesting because I thought I was going to stay in B2B eCommerce. I had a couple of opportunities that ended up not working out mostly because those companies wanted me to move to Texas or other places. The family was done with moves, and I was not about to move on my own. I took this opportunity, Spark Networks, which was a portfolio of online dating brands. It mostly targeted an older audience. It’s not targeted at the young generation like Tinder or others.

Some of the brands will tell you this. SilverSingles. We also had brands like Christian Mingle. It was three companies that were put together and had not been integrated. It was a real turnaround. I thought, “Why not?” I have been in consumer technology in the past. Rosetta Stone is a good example. LivingSocial is a good example as well as AOL and a lot of the channels. I thought “Why not? It’s interesting. There are lots of new things.”

The company, based out of Berlin, Germany traded on the New York Stock Exchange, but also with an infrastructure in terms of corporate infrastructure in Germany. That added a whole bunch of complexity. When I arrived at the company, the company was about to go bankrupt. I didn’t realize it too. They told me, “No problem. We have some business. All the revenues are in.” I arrived in December 2019 and I’m like, “We’re not going to have any cash at the end of December.”

This was a completely different experience for me, the company struggling. You didn’t have three weeks to analyze things. You need to keep it operating. We had cost a lot in the beginning. This was in 2020. The pandemic hit. Like many people, we thought, “This is going to be a three-month thing.” I had to operate based in a US company where the majority of the staff was in Berlin.

The pandemic was pretty good for us at the beginning because online dating took off because people were stuck at home. If you’re single, you’re alone. That gave us some room to integrate the company. We had acquired a brand called Zoosk, a California-based company that was declining. We were able to turn it around, particularly the product. They had not invested in the product quite a bit.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Eric Eichmann | Exponential Growth

Exponential Growth: It was great to invest in online dating during the pandemic because people were stuck at home.

We tried to restructure the debt. At the time, they had raised that to buy Zoosk before I arrived. The debt terms were quite difficult because they went to somebody who was mostly specialized in distressed situations. That was all new to me. I was used to dealing with shareholders but not debt holders. They could be very difficult in particular if you’re not doing as well as they think you should be doing.

We tried to restructure debt in the first year of the pandemic. We couldn’t do that. All debt companies were restructuring their portfolios because everything was going in all kinds of directions. It gave us a little bit of time to turn around the company. It had to change all the management in the company. It’s a real turnaround situation where you have to take drastic actions right and left.

We ended up restructuring the debt. We got Zoosk, this brand, to start performing well. To give an example of the situation, we would close our audits six months after the year-end because they had not integrated the systems. Everything was manual. We had an auditor who was used to dealing with large companies. They’ve treated us as a large company.

There were all kinds of issues in this company, but we got it back. At the beginning of ‘22, we restructured the debt. With the board, we decided, “Let’s put the company up for sale.” It was a bad year to sell companies in 2022. That process was not successful. I ended up leaving the company, and then the company ended up in the hands of data holders.

For me, it was a fascinating experience. It’s something I had not seen with all these movements. We had activist investors going up to the company. It was very interesting. It was a lot of learning for me. It was stressful. Criteo had a good product market fit. They hadn’t optimized the elements to start growth again. These guys had problems with the products. They had a corporate structure that was difficult. That was a structural issue for the company.

Also, the other thing that was tough is that after the pandemic, I thought, “People are not going to be stuck inside, but they’re going to want to date people, so it’s going to be a wash.” The market fell. Guys like Match, their stock price went down 80%. We tried to sell in that environment. It wasn’t the best, but I don’t regret it at all. I thought it was a great experience. I met great people and had a blast even though it was a very stressful experience.

You’ve been a CEO for 8 or 9 years at this point. What do you know that you wish you had known when you started at Criteo in your first days as a CEO?

Maybe an early lesson at Criteo is that the business environment is always messy. It’s always a bit of a tug-of-war. You don’t know. As a CEO, even if you’re not sure of the direction, you have to make sure that the company’s very clear on where you’re going. In the early days at Criteo, I wanted to keep my options open so we would have a strategy. Depending on the environment, things change.

One of the clear things is if you’re the CEO of the company, you need to be very clear about what you’re doing for the company. Even if you’re not completely sure, you can always change afterward if there are good reasons, but you need to get everybody going in the same direction to make sure you have a chance. That was one thing. Another thing that’s important, and I learned this at different places, is prioritizing is super important.

For example, at Criteo, there were so many shiny objects along the way, but we were clear that the retargeting market was a huge market. We had to kill things, take things away, and make sure people knew that that’s what we’re going after. I found that was the same thing in every company I went to. If you leave it up to the company, there are always going to be thousands of initiatives that bloom. It’s not that it’s a bad thing. You want to encourage thinking, but you can have a company working on ten things at the same time. You really have to prioritize.

Getting things done right and finishing them on time is hard enough. If you have too many things, you really can’t do that. It’s really important, one, to be very clear about what you’re doing. Particularly, if you start doing well, that’s when the pressure of trying a whole bunch of new things comes in. That was the second very important thing.

The third is if you feel that people are not performing, make the changes quickly. Keeping a person in place who is not performing for whatever reason, maybe the person lost interest or they were putting a job that was not their thing, who sends such a bad message to other people in the company and creates a terrible environment. You want people that are positive. You want people who are pushing forward. The rest of the company sees that as, “This is the example that we need to follow.”

If you feel that people are not performing well in your business team, make the changes quickly. Share on X

The third thing is if you feel as you come in that you have to make changes in people, make them sooner rather than later because that can come back and haunt you. It becomes harder to make those changes the more time goes by because you find ways and things that you say, “I can wait a little bit more. This person is doing this part of the job better than the other person.” That’s a really important message that you need to send.

Frankly, as a CEO, maybe they don’t expect you. They don’t think, “This person needs to make these changes,” but it’s understood that you’re there to make things better. Otherwise, what are you doing? Sometimes, it is rare that making things better doesn’t go through changes in personnel. Make those changes as quickly as you can.

Accept mistakes. If you make a mistake, no matter what, accept them as quickly. They say to hire slowly and fire quickly. That’s in one area. Also in strategy, if something doesn’t work, don’t try to keep it going for a long time to justify that it was a good idea. If you made a mistake, be humble and say, “That was a mistake. Let’s move on.” That’s the quality that sometimes is not there in companies. People have initiatives that take on a life of their own. They use resources and attention of the company that should be spent somewhere else. Those would be some of the things that come to mind.

You have to be okay with failure, and you have to be willing to move on. One last question. For people who are reading, what advice would you give them about how to get the most out of their career?

I can talk about my experience and what were moments that made a big difference. Jumping a bit into situations that were unknown is where I grew the most. AOL is a great example. LivingSocial was a great example too. There are risky situations. Criteo was a risky situation. I moved my whole family not knowing what was going to transpire. It ended up working.

You should take those risks. That’s where you get the most growth, being in different situations and trying new things. I find that it’s easier to do that when you’re younger because as you get older, you have more constraints, like family constraints and financial constraints of what you can and cannot do. Try that.

It depends. It depends on your personality. Sometimes, people love to try new things, but also, try new industries. I was fortunate enough to be in industries that were growing. The market, in general, was growing. If you can do that, it is better to be in a so-so company and be in a market that’s growing than to be in a terrific company in a declining market. I would also choose areas that have growth.

Even if it’s uncertain, they have potential. Those are generally more exciting leads to maybe less stable situations but more opportunities. AOL had a lot of opportunities. Criteo had a lot of opportunities. In some of the other companies, the turnarounds were not as much, but there, I got a lot of learning. It’s a new situation. I went into online dating not knowing anything about it. I had been married for over 25 years, so I didn’t know anything about online dating when I joined except for the Match deal that we did at AOL many years before.

Take the leap. The worst that can happen is you’ll learn a lot and you’ll go again and look for something new. The best that can happen is you end up being in a situation where the company grows a lot and you grow along with it. Take some risks. In particular, when you’re younger, try a lot of things. You never know what you’re going to like too. Everybody performs better doing something that they love. Those are the things at least I’ve experienced. I don’t know if you can write that in a book and say that’s the way to go because everybody’s different.

Closing Words

Thanks for doing this. It’s fun to catch up.

You’re welcome. Same here. Thank you.


I want to thank Eric for joining me to discuss his career journey and what he’s learned along the way, his guidance for aspiring leaders, and more generally about how to think about your career. If you’re ready to take control of your career, visit If you’d like more regular career insights, you can become a member. It’s free. You can also sign up on the website for the PathWise newsletter. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Thanks. Have a great day.


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About Eric Eichmann

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Eric Eichmann | Exponential GrowthEric Eichmann is the CEO of ESW, and he brings over 20 years of leadership experience in technology and ecommerce disruption to the role. Prior to joining ESW, he served as the CEO of Spark Networks, a global leader in online dating. Before that, he was the CEO of Criteo, a global leader in commerce marketing. Under his leadership, Criteo achieved remarkable growth, surpassing market expectations for 19 consecutive quarters.

Eric has also held positions as Chief Operating Officer at Living Social, Chief Operating Officer at Rosetta Stone, Senior Vice President of Ad Operations and Technology at AOL, and Senior Manager at McKinsey. He holds a master’s degree in computer engineering from EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.


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