Extract from The PC Pioneers
On this day in 1967 Pierre Morad Omidyar was born in France – he would go on to launch eBay.
He had Iranian parents, a surgeon father and a mother with a PhD in linguistics. When he was six years old his family moved to Maryland, USA where his father took up a residency at the John Hopkins University Medical Center. Omidyar grew up in Washington DC.
His interest in computing stemmed from learning to programme in BASIC on a Tandy TRS-80 and then later switching to Apple computers. His first serious program was produced at the age of fourteen when he developed software to catalogue his school’s books. He attended Tufts University, near Boston, graduating in 1988 in computer science.
He joined Claris, an Apple subsidiary, where he was part of the team involved in the MacDraw product. In May 1991 with friends he co-founded the Ink Development Corp. It set out to develop software for GoCorporation’s PenPoint operating system; but this high-profile project failed, in part as a result of the Apple Newton and Microsoft’s entry into this space. Ink switched camps to work on Windows for Pen Computing.
Rather more successfully it also came up with solutions for Internet shopping; the company was soon renamed eShop Inc. As eShop it developed eShop Technology to satisfy the eCommerce requirements for a merchandising and shopping system, and eShop Plaza, a virtual mall.
Omidyar worked on eShop but later suggested he was more interested in the consumer-to-consumer market, rather than the business-to-consumer aspects. He moved in 1994 to work with General Magic and the Magic Cap (Magic communicating applications platform), a platform for mobiles.
eShop Inc was acquired by Microsoft in June 1996 for its patents in online sales technologies and was incorporated into Merchant Server.
While still working for General Magic, over the weekend of 3-4 September 1995 Omidyar launched a service that he hoped would create a perfect market between consumers. He had designed Auction Web in his spare time from home; it was an online auction site designed for individual consumers.
Person-to-person trading had in the past been via classified advertising, car boot sales, garage sales and hobbyist events. Omidyar saw a way to connect people in a new process via the Internet.
The early focus was aimed at the enthusiastic people involved in collectibles and computer parts. This was not, as some of the organisation’s early PR suggested, designed for his girlfriend Pam’s interest in Pez candy dispenser collectibles.
The seller would set a minimum price for an item on the site and buyers would compete to outbid each other; in this way the seller would get the maximum price for the item. Browsing and bidding on items was established as free of any charges. At first sellers had a free ride too.
But to meet the costs levied by the internet service provider Omidyar soon introduced charges for the seller. There was a basic listing fee (optional add-on charges to make the listing more noticeable) and a nominal percentage of the finally agreed selling price to be paid. The site would notify the buyer and seller of the agreed deal, presuming the auction reached a price in excess of the seller’s minimum.
This notification made clear that the contract was between the seller and buyer (not the site) and the transaction was completed offline. This would become eBay…