“If you give people the benefit of the doubt, you will rarely be disappointed.”
These words from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar led to a vision of harnessing technology to enable trade between people. Twenty-two years later, eBay remains true to this founding premise and is now one of the world’s largest commerce platforms.
Today, we take for granted how easy and seamless it has become to conduct business with one another and trade online. We order food on a mobile app from almost any restaurant and it arrives at our door within an hour; we get in a stranger’s car for a ride across town; we spend our family vacations in some other stranger’s home. It’s all so normal now -- no big deal. But in 1995, when Mark Fraser of Salt Spring Island, Canada, sent $14.83 to a person he’d never met (Pierre) —never even spoken with —to buy a laser pointer he saw on a website, it was a remarkable act and started an even more remarkable movement.
That first transaction on what would become eBay was a simple yet powerful proof point of how technology could be used to create opportunity and economically empower anyone with an Internet connection and the will to succeed. This democratization of commerce through technology was, and has been, eBay’s Purpose ever since our founding. It’s why eBay exists, and it comes to life every day across our vast global commerce network.
“Purpose-ness” in business has become increasingly en vogue over the past few years, and this is a positive and encouraging trend. Not every business or company serves a higher societal purpose. But those that do can make a significant positive impact and also stand a greater likelihood of enduring over time. It is even more compelling when a company’s purpose is rooted in its origins. For eBay, our Purpose was born through the sale of that laser pointer back in 1995, and it’s the thread that connects the entire eBay community of buyers, sellers and employees.
Embedding Purpose into business
Millions of transactions happen on our platform every year. As a marketplace comprised of more than 171 million active buyers and millions of sellers, each transaction on eBay is usually a person connecting with another person. Last year alone, $84 billion worth of transactions happened through eBay.
And behind almost every transaction, there is a story. Often our sellers are small or medium-sized businesses that began on eBay as individual entrepreneurs, many of whom have grown into mature and thriving businesses. Tanya Crew, of Carson City, Nevada, is one of many thousands of people who have built their businesses on eBay. When she started out, Tanya was told she would be a failure in life. She sold her first product on eBay 11 years ago while in college. Today, Tanya is the CEO of a $3 million motorcycle parts business on eBay. We should all be so lucky to be such failures!
Emmanuel Antig of Ormac City, Philippines, was on the verge of poverty 14 years ago, when his nephew showed him how to use the Internet. The first word he searched was ‘seashell’, and that led to the beginning of his seashell business on eBay. Today, Emmanuel’s business employs 12 people and exports around the world.
To compete outside the local market and remain competitive, Mario Calabrese expanded his local family’s footwear business on eBay to reach a global audience.
Then there is Piotr of Osielsko, Poland, who at age 70, wrote his master’s thesis on growing cactuses in vitro. With encouragement from his daughters, Piotr began selling plants on eBay. Today, Piotr sells 50-100 plants a day.
Our platform exists to help people around the world find their version of perfect from sellers like Tanya, Emmanuel, Piotr and countless others like them. From the unique item to the everyday, there are more than 1 billion items listed on eBay. This is Purpose at-scale.
Our Purpose is also at the heart of one of the most powerful giving platforms in commerce – eBay for Charity. Originally built to help support the families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, eBay for Charity is more than three-quarters of the way toward reaching our goal of $1 billion in charity funds raised by 2020. All this is made possible by the combined power of our platform and community -- eBay buyers and sellers.
Take Laurie Wong of Powder Springs, Georgia, who runs a community resource center and food pantry, Reflections of Trinity, as an eBay business. She sells items donated to her church on eBay to help support people in need in her community. Sales on the Reflections of Trinity eBay charity shop have surpassed more than $1 million, enabling Laurie’s organization to sustain vital community services. eBay does not charge any fees on these sales, and also enables people to donate at checkout if they would like to. This too is Purpose at-scale.
As we continue to build eBay as a disrupter and commerce leader, we are developing and deploying innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality to not only shape the future of commerce but also to serve the needs of those who rely on our platform. We implement these technologies in the service of our millions of buyers and sellers --using technology as a tool for empowerment and job creation. We recognize that there are real and serious policy issues related to the role of technology and the future of work that businesses and governments must work together to resolve. By staying true to our Purpose while building our business, we have a clear North Star to guide our path, while continuing to deliver ongoing, long-term benefits for our global community.
We won’t always get it exactly right, but we will continue to work to chart a path that is true to our heritage and that activates our founding ethos of economic empowerment. This is what makes eBay, eBay, and it makes me proud to be part of the journey. All from the sale of one laser pointer….