Pierre Omidyar: the EBay story and the business angel afterwards

EBay, the world largest open market place is something that now people take for granted. It is so common and easy to buy and sell things through this website that virtually everybody has done at least one transaction in their lives through EBay.

Maybe 20 years ago, and Patrick Dwyer can agree on this, this idea would have been total craziness, and EBay would have been merely a place where collectors exchanged item and engaged into interesting discussions about their passion. But with the internet and mobile technology, this website is the most successful business endeavour that has ever existed, and it keeps growing.

Why all this fuss about EBay? Well, its owner and creator Pierre Omidyar, even though born in France, made his dream come true  and fortune here in the United States and created this amazing website and tool from the land of the free, where everything is possible. He became a millionaire and here is the story on how EBay was born and how Omidyar is helping other business grow by being a very influential business angel.

Pierre Omidyar was born in Paris in 1967. At the age of 6, his father was offered a place to finish his medical residence at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore. Computers and gadgets were always his passion and in his early school years hi was already doing anything possible to focus on his hobby. He would regularly sneak out of physical-education classes to play with his high school’s PCs and do crazy things to the computer. The school principal was the first one that saw the potential, and instead of punishing him, the principal hired him to write a computer program to print catalogue cards for the school library at $6 per hour. Already making money out of his business, on the road towards being a millionaire and he didn’t even know it.

Pierre Omidyar_founder of eBay_patrick dwyer
Image courtesy of JD Lasica at Flickr.com

After school he applied for the bachelor´s degree in computer science at Tufts University where he graduated in the year 1988. After graduating, he worked as a software developer for a company that its core business was developing software for Macintosh. Here he did not only improve what he already knew, but also learned new things in the world of software production, marketing and sales.

His entrepreneur life started while in the university when he was studying at Tufts. He wrote a program to help Apple Macintosh programmers manage memory and then went to distribute it online as “shareware,”. His goal was to make some money and he asked users to pay on the honor system, but he didn’t make that much of money, not even enough to pay for the rented post office box.

In 1991, Pierre and three of his friends founded a company that developed software that enabled computers to read instructions given with a pen and not using a keyboard. The company was called Ink Development Corporation. As a hobby and in his spare time, he set up an early e-commerce site called eShop on the company’s Web site. Computers reading pen instructions proved to be a technology flop, but the eShop site proved to be very lucrative and the whole company, fortunately, was bought by Microsoft.

Omidyar was tired of start-ups and went to work for a regular nine to five job where he was also freelancing creating webpages. His girlfriend was a collector of Pez dispensers and was having trouble finding people interested in the item in the internet.

The first sparks of EBay started here. Pierre Omidyar had already been working on the code since Eshop and wanted to help and impress his girlfriend by creating a space for an online auction service on his personal account to start on auction on the Pez dispensers. To his surprise collectors of Barbie dolls, Beanie Babies and household junk of all sorts appeared and started doing business  in this site as well and to get in contact and exchange information. By February, the site had become so popular that it was impossible to manage with Omidyar’s personal Internet account.

Omidyar saw the impossible happen in front of his eyes and saw that the site attracted too many buyers and sellers of all sort of merchandise and strange collector´s items. He soon had to set up a separate site devoted to auctions, which he called EBay, “electronic Bay,” a reference to the San Francisco Bay area. By charging between 25 cents and $2 to sellers for posting their auction notice, and taking a small percentage of the sale, the company made money simply by setting up a place for buyers and sellers to meet.

Pierre Omidyar is one of the examples of the new financial titans that are emerging from even newer businesses in the internet and new technology markets.

Read this article to know about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg


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