IMAGINE you spent a bank holiday weekend drawing up a computer programme, and a few years later you’re a billionaire.

That’s exactly what happened to Pierre Morad Omidyar on the Labor Day weekend of September 1995, when he developed the original computer code for an online person-to-person sales service.

25 years ago today, on September 3, 1995, he created what was then called Auction Web.

We know it better today as eBay, a true giant of modern computing and reputedly the most successful “auction house” of all time.


OMIDYAR was born in Paris to an Iranian surgeon, Cyrus Omidyar, and his wife, an academic in the field of linguistics.

Due to his father’s work, they moved to the USA when Omidyar, now 53, was a young child. He studied at various universities and left after graduation to work for Claris, a subsidiary of Apple. In 1991 he co-founded Ink Development in California’s Silicon Valley, and the company changed to eShop Inc in 1993.

Fascinated by the possibilities of person-to-person sales over the internet, especially for collectibles, Omidyar founded Auction Web, though he was already destined to become a millionaire as Microsoft was going to buy eShop Inc for a reported $50 million in 1996. He was working for the General Magic software company at the time of the fateful Labor Day.

Auction Web’s first sale was a broken laser pointer, and it taught Omidyar a valuable lesson about collectibles, which are still a huge part of eBay’s business. For it turned out that the Canadian buyer, Mark Fraser, was a collector of broken laser pointers – and he paid $13 for it.

Put collectors together with sellers and you have a business, Omidyar learned.

News spread of Auction Web, which transitioned two years later to eBay after he found that someone owned his original choice of name – Echo Bay.

Omidyar began his career as an entrepreneur with a positive view of life: “In the early days of eBay, I articulated for the very first time this belief that people are basically good.”


THE story was put about by a public relations type that Omidyar had only started eBay to help his fiancée Pez sell or trade candy dispensers. The media fell for the story and the massive publicity helped him and his business partner Jeffrey Skoll raise cash for development.

To his credit Omidyar admits to the fib – it’s on the eBay website.


OMIDYAR and Skoll began to employ computer experts and in July 1996, he quit his job to run eBay as he was already making more money through it. They set up an office in San Jose, California. The world then went crazy for toys called Beanie Babies, and thanks to shrewd marketing, eBay all but cornered the market in sales with almost $500m worth being sold in 1997.

All the while, Omidyar was developing the culture of eBay, emphasising that it was a community of buyers and sellers. He once said: “What makes eBay successful – the real value and the real power at eBay – is the community. It’s the buyers and sellers coming together and forming a marketplace.”

It was a hugely successful and much copied philosophy in computing.

In September 1998, Omidyar and Skoll took eBay public offering shares to the NASDAQ market at an anticipated $18 per share.

On its first day of trading the shares soared to $53.50, making Omidyar and Skoll instant billionaires. Global expansion followed the next year, with websites opening to serve the UK and Germany. There are now offices in 19 countries and eBay is available in over 200 countries around the world.

Variations followed – eBay motors and stores, half.com, and the Giving Works charity auctions which have raised tens of millions worldwide, passing the $1 billion mark last year.

It continued to expand. PayPal was acquired and after a decade was spun off into a separate company, while Skype was bought and sold for a profit. The company still continues to innovate and invest and earlier this year sold ticket sales site StubHub for more than $4bn.

Omidyar has taken a back seat in recent years and lives quietly in Honolulu, but the march of eBay continues with revenues last year of more than $10bn.