The Beginnings 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

eBay is the world's largest online marketplace. Sellers range from small-volume hobby sellers to mom and pop businesses to giant corporations like Macy's and Dick's Sporting Goods. Everyone wants a piece of the eBay pie, and for good reason. eBay has over 162 million active users worldwide with over 800 million items for sale on the site at any given time. But it wasn't always this way. eBay grew from one man's idea. eBay started in 1995 as an idea for collectors to buy and sell Pez dispensers. Founder Pierre Omidyar began eBay as a favor to his girlfriend.

Auction Web

In September 1995 Pierre Omidyar launched a site called Auction Web, which would evolve to be the eBay we know today. He could not have imagined that his idea would explode into something that is now a household word. Here is the back story on Omidyar and his journey to start eBay.

Born in Paris in 1967, Omidyar moved to Baltimore, Maryland, as his physician father accepted a medical residency at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. He had an interest in computers as a teenager, preferring playing on the high school's computers to attending PE class. The principal of the school saw Omidyar's potential and, rather than punishing him for skipping gym class, hired him to handle programming and printing library catalog cards for $6 an hour.

Omidyar continued on the path to attend Tufts University and pursue a bachelor's degree. While studying there, he developed a program for Apple Macintosh for memory management. By 1991, Omidyar and three other students created a company to develop programs for pen-computing. He was wise enough to create a rudimentary e-commerce platform he named eShop. Pen-computing didn't take off, but the concept for e-commerce caught Microsoft's attention and they bought the company from Omidyar.

Omidyar moved on to designing web pages. His girlfriend, who later became his wife, was a Pez dispenser enthusiast and collector. She was frustrated with the internet and her search to find other Pez collectors. In an effort to help his girlfriend, Omidyar created an area on his website for her to reach out to other Pez collectors and network with other like-minded people in the collector space.

Beginning eBay

eBay, or as it was first known, Electronic Bay, began on Labor Day 1995. It was quite rudimentary by today's standards—with no guarantees, no fees, no third-party interaction to moderate disputes, and no payment platform. Omidyar and his girlfriend were shocked to see that a variety of collectibles, used items, and random stuff began appearing on the site. Within five months, eBay outgrew Omidyar's personal account and had to be moved to a business platform. Members were charged a small fee to list on the site. eBay continued to grow by leaps and bounds and Omidyar actually told the New York Times in an interview that "so many checks were piling up at my door that I had to hire help to open them all." He is now worth roughly $11 billion.

Since its beginnings in 1995 eBay has seen explosive growth and is one of the most recognized companies in history. A few statistics from 2016:

  • 162 million users
  • 25 million sellers
  • 800 million items listed
  • 279 million downloads of the eBay app
  • 11,600 employees

Although eBay started out as a marketplace for collectors, anything and everything can be and has been sold on the site, including:

  • Clothing, shoes, and accessories
  • Automobiles, boats, RVs, and motorcycles
  • Electronics
  • Computers and accessories
  • Cell phones and accessories
  • Toys, games, and puzzles
  • World War 2 memorabilia
  • Food, candy, and beverages
  • Vintage items
  • Sporting goods
  • Personalized items
  • Music, musical instruments, and gear
  • Wedding supplies
  • Real estate
  • Pet supplies
  • Tickets and experiences

Just about anything can be sold on eBay, and anyone with a computer, internet access, and items to sell can make money selling on eBay.