Broken Laser Pointers
Pierre Omidyar became fascinated with the ways people connect through shared interests. While in college, he wrote a program to help with memory management for Apple Mackintosh programmers. He distributed it online as “shareware” and asked users to pay through the honor system. Checks did not flood in; it was more of a drip in reality. In 1991 he moved on to start a company with three friends called Ink Development Corp, from which he created eShop Inc.
Moving forward to 1995 Labor Day Weekend, Omidyar launched an online service called Auction Web. The first item sold was a broken laser pointer. Omidyar was baffled. When he checked in with the buyer, he assured him that he purposely bought the broken laser pointer. In fact, he collected them. As the site began to flourish, Omidyar become increasingly cognizant of the human quality embedded in his site – people wanted to connect through shared interests and had an affinity for products with stories. He tapped into this sentiment.
In 1997, he renamed the company eBay and began aggressively marketing. Users came flooding in. However, the consequences of such rapid growth caught up to eBay, resulting in debilitating growing pains. In 1999, the site crashed for more than 22 hours, causing a massive uproar in its huge customer base. This failure made the news and dented the reputation of eBay.
Omidyar, along with Meg Whitman, the CEO, refused to concede defeat and ensured that eBay got back on its feet. The eBay team called 10,000 of its top users to apologize for the inconvenience. The team also started the slow and arduous journey over the next 6-9 months to solidify the technological infrastructure of eBay. Today, eBay is one of the most successful companies in the world. Omidyar went on to start a philanthropic firm named Omidyar Network and launched First Look Media, a platform for independent journalism.
Image Credit: Michelle Andonian (OnInnovation interview: Pierre Omidyar, https://www.oninnovation.com.au/, Copyright 2010The Henry Ford)