“I never had it in mind that I would start a company one day and it would really be successful. I have just been motivated by working on interesting technology.” ~ Pierre Omidyar
Pierre Omidyar didn’t expect to make a dime, let alone become a billionaire when he set up a small online auction on his private website. But within five months, what had started out as a hobby had become a $3 billion empire with more than 2 million subscribers.Omidyar was 28 years old when he sat down over a long holiday weekend to write the original computer code for what eventually became the sensation called eBay. What he did instead, revolutionized how people buy and sell, EVERYTHING in the world today.
Unlike many other high-tech entrepreneurs, Omidyar didn’t set out to become an Internet tycoon. Born in Paris, he moved to Maryland, U.S.A, as a child when his father accepted a residency at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. A precocious teen, he became interested in computers and would regularly sneak out of physical-education classes to play with his high school’s PCs. Rather than punish Omidyar for ditching class, the principal hired him to write a computer program to print catalog cards for the school library at $6 per hour. It wasn’t much, but it was a beginning. He wrote his first computer program at age 14. He graduated from Tufts University in 1988 with a degree in computer science and went to work for a company that developed Macintosh software.
Did you know? The first item ever auctioned on eBay was a broken laser pointer Omidyar had bought for $30. Within two weeks, he was amazed to find someone who was willing to pay $14 for it. The rapid expansion of eBay’s traffic did not come without growing pains. In 1999 the company suffered a number of service interruptions, one lasting 22 hours. He and his company made over 10,000 phone calls to the site’s top users to apologize for the interruption and assure them that everything possible would be done to keep the site up and running in the future. That was how much he valued his customers’ human emotions and faith in his site.
“I say that you should pursue your passion. If you’re passionate about something and you work hard, then I think you’ll be successful. If you start a business because you think you’re going to make a lot of money at it, then you probably won’t be successful, because that’s the wrong reason to start a business. You have to really believe in what you’re doing, be passionate enough about it so that you will put in the hours and the hard work that it takes to actually succeed there, and then you’ll be successful,” he said.
“He acknowledged that one of the things he learned over the course of time is that a lot of people don’t just go ahead and try things. They’ll have an idea but they’ll say or convince themselves or other people will convince them that it can’t be done. Actually I think that the first is even more dangerous and more serious. The most important thing is to convince yourself that it can be done,” he added
Omidyar spends most of his time on Omidyar Network LLC, the philanthropic organization he and his wife, Pamela, established in 1998 to fund groups that empower people in new ways. He even announced to forgo millions of dollars in federal tax breaks to invest in companies as well as nonprofit groups
What influenced Omidyar most in this decision was the inspiration he took from watching eBay users learn to trust 125 million total strangers. Disabled people on public assistance turned into self-supporting entrepreneurs; Guatemalan villagers started selling their hand-woven wares to people on Park Avenue. Says Omidyar: “You have to ask yourself, is it really true that business can only be about making money? Have a certain set of values that encourage people to adopt and the only way your customers are going to adopt those values is if they see that you’re living those values as well. It’s all about treating each other the way you want to be treated yourself so that you can do business with one another.
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