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Pierre Omidyar
Pierre Omidyar
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Pierre Omidyar Interview (page: 2 / 8)

Founder and Chairman, eBay

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  Pierre Omidyar

Could you ever have imagined how big eBay became and how fast?

Pierre Omidyar: Absolutely not.

For the first, I think, three years -- at least the first two full years of our history -- we grew at 20 to 30 percent every single month and I don't think any other business has seen -- I mean, every business in the start-up phase sees that kind of growth for a short period of time, but for such an extended period of time! And so as we were doing projections in terms of, okay, so this is what we've seen in the past, what can we project for growth next year, next quarter or whatever, so we can do budgeting and all that, we would only say, "Well this can't last, you know, this can't last. There's no way you can grow this fast." So clearly there's no way I anticipated it, and even as we were growing -- even with smart people -- and I finally hired business people to actually look at this thing, everyone was saying, "No, no, there's no way it can continue to grow this fast." But it has, which is remarkable.

Along the way, inevitably there are detours, there are disappointments, there are failures. If you have not suffered those, maybe the right question for you is not, "How do you deal with failure?" Maybe the right question is, "How do you deal with success?"

Pierre Omidyar Interview Photo
Pierre Omidyar: I'll tackle both sides of that question. I knock on wood every time I think about it, because I think we were really blessed with a great community of people that embraced the idea and embraced the values. It's all about treating each other the way you want to be treated yourself so that you can do business with one another. The business just grew on its own, and we just had to get out of the way and let it grow.

I know that the job of a typical entrepreneur is a lot harder than that, because I had done that before. I was a cofounder of another company before eBay. So we had it a lot easier than most. When we went to raise money, rather than trying to convince people to invest in eBay, we had to tell people to stop knocking on the door. We had our selection and we made a choice and found a strategic partner, and we took their money and we put it in the bank and we never touched it. It's been mostly success, especially in the early days of eBay. The enormous growth and success brought a lot of challenges, too.

You can't predict growth and success -- no one in their right mind would predict 30 percent growth for another year every month -- I mean, monthly growth for another year. So we were behind on a lot of things and a lot of the infrastructure, and we had some fairly public failures in the middle of '99, and where our systems went down for 22 hours and then went down for eight hours after that. And we had a very large community then. Not as large as today obviously, but still very large, front page news. We had CNN satellite trucks in the parking lot. I mean, it was big, big. "The world is watching, this company is gone. It's going away." And I think failure of that magnitude, or a challenge of that magnitude, is really important and I'm glad that we faced it so early in our evolution, because Meg, who is the CEO -- I brought on Meg in March of '98 -- she really woke up to the fact that infrastructure and technology was critical and just really built that organization out over the next -- it was a six to nine month process for us to kind of get over that. And so I think those challenges are also really critical and really important. And what you learn from them is, of course, kind of what they say, "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger," and it's true. And what you learn from those challenges and those failures are what will get you past the next ones.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Did you have any doubts? Did you have fears of failure?

Pierre Omidyar: I was the pretty consistent bull and the cheerleader on eBay actually. I just felt -- once I realized the human connection that people were making with one another over the service -- I just knew that there's just nothing that can happen that can make it go away. And even after a massive outage like that, you really anger your community, they are depending on -- a lot of them are dependent on us at that time for their livelihood and still do today -- so it's really a hardship. Even after that, they come back and they say, "Okay, well, we know you're doing your best. We're with you." And so I've always had, you know -- I've always had kind of this unshakable faith that it's going to endure.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

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This page last revised on Oct 20, 2010 00:15 EST
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