Pierre Omidyar, the creator of eBay
Pierre Morad Omidyar is famous today for the creation of the auction site eBay which made him a billionaire at the age of 31, when eBay had the Initial Public Offering in 1998. He was born in Paris in a family of Iranian immigrants who were sent to France to study at the Sorbonne University.
The mother, Elahe Mir-Djalali Omidyar became a distinguished academic and his father was a surgeon. They moved to the United States when Pierre was a little boy and he started going to the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia where he first discovered an interest in computers. He wrote his first program at the age of 14 which helped catalog the books in the school library.
In 1984 he graduated from the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland and then went to the Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts receiving his bachelor in 1988 with a specialization in computer science.
He started working a short while after at Claris, a subsidiary of Apple Computer and here he helped upgrade the MacDraw to MacDraw II. Three years later, in 1991 he was a co-founder of Ink Development, a pen-based computing startup which was then transformed into an e-commerce company named eShop.
When the was 28, in 1995 he started to write the code for an online site that permitted the direct auction of items and he put the prototype on his personal page on September 4, 1995, launching the service he then called Auction Web and which would later on become eBay. In 1996 his company eShop was purchased by Microsoft.
Apparently the idea of online auction software wasn’t new, and eBay was sued in May 2003 by Thomas Woolston who invented a similar program during the late 1990s which was also patented by him.
Pierre hosted the site on a website which was originally created by him to inform the public about the Ebola virus and the first item sold on the site was a broken laser pointer. This made Omidyar quite curious about the fact that someone would actually buy something that wasn’t functioning and he took an interest in the case, finding out that there was someone out there who was really collecting broken laser pointers and this was just the first out of many such wondrous events.
The increasing variety of products auctioned quickly increased the popularity of the site and with the small fee collected on each sale he financed the expansion of the site, managing to earn more from the revenue than what he was earning at General Magic. Nine months after the site was online he quit his job to dedicate completely to the auction project and was on his way to become extremely wealthy.
He signed a deal in 1996 to deal airline tickets online and by the first month of 1997 two million auctions were hosted, reaching almost 800,000 auctions each day by the middle of the year and thus the name of the company was changed to eBay and advertising began in an aggressive manner, making the name known to anyone. He came up with the name after trying “echobay” and realizing it was already taken.
Some stories circulate about the way in which eBay came into being as a way of helping the fiancée of Omidyar, Pam, to trade Pez candy dispenser. The story was invented by one of the public relations manager as a way of attracting the attention of the media and this was later confirmed by the eBay leadership. Pam and Pierre would later on marry and have three children together.
The president and CEO of the company was Meg Whitman from March 1998 which led eBay until January 2008 when she retired and the first public offering was launched in September 1998, making Omidyar and Jeffrey Skoll (the first employee and the first president of eBay) official billionaires. Under her supervision the company expanded with new site launches for Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom reaching 2.1 million members by the end of 1998.
The highly successful venture with eBay attracted the attention of other e-commerce giants like Amazon.com which began to run its own auctions and it basically changed the way in which commerce was done.
With the created fortune, Omidyar invested in the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach, California and he launched an investigative reporting news service called Honolulu Civil Beat in 2010 to present the civic affairs of Hawaii, earning the Best News Website award in the region for three years in a row. This made the Huffington Post interested in beginning a partnership and it was signed on September 4, 2013 when HuffPost Hawaii was launched.
The first board position outside of eBay was accepted by Omidyar in January 2000 when he joined the ePeople board of directors and he started the philanthropic firm Omidyar Network that focuses on harnessing the power of markets to allow better lives for individuals, being established in 2004 together with his wife Pam. It tries to bring economic, social and political change through innovative organizations.
Another philanthropic venture was begun by them in 2010 when together with the Nduna Foundation and the help of Richard Branson they founded the Enterprise Zimbabwe.
When the Guardian began disclosing the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Pierre became highly interested and he started a collaboration with Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who published those documents of the National Security Agency, creating First Look Media which would have its first online publication in the beginning of 2014 under the name of The Intercept, so maintain “the fundamental importance of a free and independent press” as Omidyar would state.
Pierre and his wife and children live in Henderson, Nevada but he also invested in various resort properties in the Southern California, Mexico and Hawaii.
He is a part of the Giving Pledge and donated important sums to help the fight against human trafficking to the Humanity United foundation. He received a honorary degree from the Tufts University in 2011 naming him Doctor of Public Service and he is currently estimated at a net worth of $8.1 billion by Forbes magazine.