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If you like Pierre Omidyar's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
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Pierre Omidyar
Pierre Omidyar
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Pierre Omidyar Interview

Founder and Chairman, eBay

October 27, 2000
London, England

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  Pierre Omidyar

What do you think motivates you to do what you do?

Pierre Omidyar: I've got a passion for solving a problem that I think I can solve in a new way. And that maybe it helps that nobody has done it before as well. I mean, we always have -- you know, there's a sense of pride of doing something brand new, and I'm particularly inspired by problems that seem easily solvable. Not the difficult problems that some of the physicists that are here, for example, are talking about, but problems that seem easily solvable, that no one has bothered to attack because they think it's impossible, you know. And so with eBay, the whole idea there was just to help people do business with one another on the Internet. And people thought it was impossible because how could people on the Internet -- remember this is 1995 -- how could they trust each other? How could they get to know each other? And I thought that was silly. You know, it was a silly concern because people are basically good, honest people. So that was very motivating. It was, "Gee, I'll just do it. I'll just show them. Let's see what happens."

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Pierre Omidyar Interview Photo
Pierre Omidyar Interview Photo

Was the origin of eBay as accidental as we've read?

Pierre Omidyar: The business success was, absolutely, but the birth of the idea is definitely a media-enhanced story.

You mean the Pez candy?

Pierre Omidyar: The Pez thing, right. Yeah. My wife -- who was my fiancée at the time -- whenever she hears about it she rolls her eyes. "Tell them I'm a management consultant. Tell them I have a master's degree in molecular biology. I am not just this little Pez candy collector." That was part of the inspiration, but frankly it was a small part of it for me. At the beginning, I didn't get the human side of it that that story really embodies, which is the most important asset.

The most important thing of eBay is the human side now. At the beginning I didn't get that. For me it was an experiment. It was like I said, I wanted to create an efficient market where individuals could benefit from participating in an efficient market, kind of level the playing field. And I thought, "Gee, the Internet, the web, it's perfect for this." This is more of an intellectual pursuit, you know, than anything else. It was just an idea that I had, and I started it as an experiment, as a side hobby basically, while I had my day job. And it just kind of grew. Within six months it was earning revenue that was paying my costs. Within nine months the revenue was more than I was making on my day job, and that's kind of when the light bulb went off. "Knock, knock, knock. You've got a business here, do something about it." So that's when that really started.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

You made an interesting distinction between the human side, as opposed to solving a technological problem.

Pierre Omidyar: Right. Absolutely.

If you think about it, commerce and trade is at the base of all human activity, and it's a bit of an exaggeration, but I like to talk about, you know, in the old days people would bring their stuff to market and they'd do business and then they'd go back to their hillside homes or wherever. And eventually they were doing this enough that you had to build a wall around them to protect them, and that was the birth of cities and so forth. And again, gross generalizations and simplifications, but fundamentally everything we do in human activities is related to trade and there's something, I think, that's wired in human beings that drives us to commerce. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but the human side. So that's the human side I'm referring to. With eBay it became apparent very quickly, because in order to do a trade -- a transaction with someone -- you actually have to get to know that person and build a trusting relationship first. So you have to build trust before you will enter into a transaction. And so in order to build trust you have to communicate. You have to get to know one another and so very quickly I started getting letters about -- actually some of the early letters were more negative. They were, you know, "This guy is a jerk," kind of thing, and I said, "Okay, there's some human element to that I wasn't expecting. Please be nice. You know, not everyone is a jerk. Maybe there's a misunderstanding. Give people the benefit of the doubt." But you know, so very, very quickly I learned that it was actually the human element that was really driving it more than the commerce. So that was very interesting.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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