Meet the Buyer of the Broken Laser Pointer

Sebastian Rupley, eBay News Team

Mark Fraser purchased the first item that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar listed on the site in 1995: a broken laser pointer.

At the close of the first day of the eBay Seller Summit, founder Pierre Omidyar joined CEO Devin Wenig on stage for a fireside chat that included a big surprise. After Pierre fielded questions on everything from the early days of eBay to his philanthropy, Devin showed a video featuring a very early eBay buyer.

In fact, the video featured Pierre’s very first buyer: Mark Fraser. In 1995, Pierre had listed a broken laser pointer for sale on the site (then known as Auction Web) that he created over that year's Labor Day weekend. To his surprise, someone came forward and bought the laser pointer for $14.83.

The broken laser pointer entered lore but the buyer’s identity, or the reason for his interest in broken laser pointers, has never been known – until now.

In the video (click above to see it), Fraser – who came forward last week after seeing TV coverage of eBay’s 20th birthday celebration - says hello to Pierre directly, as well as Devin, and even holds up the original laser pointer, which he has had ever since 1995. The surprise registered on Pierre’s face as he watched and listened at the Seller Summit.


Earlier in the conversation, Pierre discussed his early intentions with his fledgling version of Auction Web. “In the early days of the web,” he said, “corporations were taking to it in droves, but nobody out there was really talking about using the web to empower other people. We started out by trying to bring the power of the Internet to regular people, not just corporations.”

He remembered that during Auction Web’s early days, people would send their payments in in the form of coins taped to index cards. He also said that from the very early days until now, the trust found in the eBay ecosystem comes from the belief that “people are basically good.”

“I believe that people are generally good,” he said, “and I felt that we should have a community that embraces a system of values.”


Not all of Pierre’s first steps were right on the mark. For example, he related a story about an early eBay listing for a 1952 Rolls Royce.

“Oh, the seller had done a beautiful job of supplying extraordinary photos,” Pierre said. “It was a great listing, but I kept looking at it and thinking that nobody will ever buy a car online.”

He laughed as he recalled that today, in the US alone, a car or truck is bought on the eBay mobile app every four minutes.

At the end of the fireside chat, the eBay sellers gathered in the audience rose and gave Pierre a standing ovation.