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How did eBay start?

A brief history of eBay


The logo of online retailer eBay stands at the CeBIT technology trade fair on March 1, 2011 in Hanover, Germany
Sean Gallup/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

To look at eBay today you'd never guess that it sprang from a modest, even comical beginning. Lacking is the glamour of the hotshot enterpreneurial firm and high-voltage venture capital so commonly seen in other companies that are babies of the dot-com bubble. Instead, eBay can be traced back to a home page and a broken laser pointer.

Sometime before September, 1995, 28-year-old software developer Pierre Omidyar, who had previously worked with Claris developing software for Apple computers, sat down to write the code that would eventually evolve into what we know as eBay today.

Originally called AuctionWeb and hosted on the same server as Pierre's page about the ebola virus, the site began with the listing of a single broken laser pointer. Though Pierre had intended the listing to be a test more than a serious offer to sell at auction, he was shocked when the item sold for $14.83. Pierre knew that he'd created something big as soon as he contacted the winning bidder to ask if he understood that the pointer was broken.

"I'm a collector of broken laser pointers," came the reply.

AuctionWeb soon took over Pierre's entire domain, www.ebay.com, short for Echo Bay, which was the name of his consulting firm at the time. By 1996 the company was large enough to require the skills of a Stanford MBA in Jeffrey Skoll, who came aboard an already profitable ship. Meg Whitman, a Harvard graduate, soon followed as president and CEO, along with a strong business team under whose leadership eBay grew rapidly, branching out from collectibles into nearly every type of market. eBay's vision for success transitioned from one of commerce—buying and selling things—to one of connecting people around the world together.

With exponential growth and strong branding, eBay thrived, eclipsing many of the other upstart auction sites that dotted the dot-com bubble. By the time eBay had gone public in 1998, both Omidyar and Skoll were billionaires.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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