For years there has been an urban legend that, eBay was to find Pez dispensers for the founder’s wife. The story was fabricated by a public relations manager in 1997 to interest the media and create a public buzz. Public buzz was created, helping to propel the company into the minds of consumers, would-be merchants and barterers.
The first item to sell on eBay (then AuctionWeb) was a broken laser pointer, by the French born Iranian immigrant and eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar. The transaction closed in September of 1995, not long after Omidyar finished the code for the website in the living room of his Silicon Valley home.
By June 1996, Omidyar’s website had generated around $10,000 in revenue and Omidyar hired his first employee. Soon after, Omidyar quit his computer programmer job. By the end of 1996 the total value of items sold on eBay reached $7.2 million and had over 41,000 registered users. By 1997 eBay began facilitating over 200,000 transactions a month. This caught the attention of a venture capital group who then invested $5 million in the company.
EBay has both streamlined and globalized traditional person-to-person trading, which has traditionally been conducted through such forms as garage sales, collectibles shows, flea markets and more, with their web interface. This facilitates easy exploration for buyers and enables the sellers to immediately list an item for sale within minutes of registering.
From an idea in an average computer programmer’s living room in 1995 to being ranked 326 on the list of the Fortune 500 in 2008, eBay is the quintessential American success story.