Pierre Omidyar is an Iranian American entrepreneur and philanthropist who is best known as the founder of eBay, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces, and the co-founder of Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm.
Born on June 21, 1967, in Paris, France, Omidyar grew up in Maryland and attended Tufts University, where he earned a degree in computer science. After graduation, he worked for several technology companies before founding eBay in 1995.
Omidyar’s parents, who were Iranian immigrants pursuing higher education, gave birth to him in Paris where he was named Parviz. His mother, Elahé Mir-Djalali Omidyar, holds a doctorate in linguistics from the Sorbonne and is an academic. His father, Cyrus Omidyar, completed his medical education and training in France and is now a surgeon practicing in Aliso Viejo, California.
When Omidyar was a child, his family moved to the United States where his father worked as a urologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Omidyar attended Punahou School in Honolulu for a couple of years and later graduated from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland in 1984.
During his ninth-grade year at The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia, Omidyar developed an interest in computers. He began his undergraduate degree at Tufts University and later completed it at the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with a B.S. in computer science in 1988. Currently, Omidyar serves on the Board of Trustees at Punahou School.
After completing his studies at Berkeley, Omidyar began his career at Claris, a subsidiary of Apple Computer. There, he was part of the team that improved MacDraw to MacDraw II. Later, in 1991, he co-founded Ink Development, a startup focused on pen-based computing. The company was later renamed eShop Inc. and shifted its focus to e-commerce.
In 1996, Microsoft acquired eShop for a sum of less than $50 million, which resulted in Omidyar receiving $1 million from the deal.
At the age of 28, in 1995, Omidyar started developing computer code for an online platform that would allow direct person-to-person auctions of collectible items. He created a simple prototype on his personal web page, and on Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 1995, he launched Auction Web, an online service that eventually became eBay.
Initially, Auction Web was just one of several items on Omidyar’s website, eBay.com. The site had a section dedicated to the Ebola virus, among other topics. The first item ever sold on the site was a broken laser pointer, which surprised Omidyar. However, the buyer assured him that he was collecting broken laser pointers deliberately. The site’s popularity grew as more people started registering and trading a vast variety of goods.
Omidyar incorporated the enterprise, and the small fee he collected on each sale financed the expansion of the site. The revenue generated soon exceeded his salary at General Magic, and nine months later, Omidyar decided to focus entirely on his new enterprise.
By 1996, when Omidyar signed a licensing deal to offer airline tickets online, the site had hosted 250,000 auctions. In the first month of 1997, it hosted two million. By the middle of that year, eBay was hosting nearly 800,000 auctions a day.
In 1997, Omidyar renamed the company from AuctionWeb to eBay and began advertising the service aggressively. The name “eBay” was his second choice, as his first choice, Echo Bay, was already registered to a Canadian mining company. The frequently repeated story that eBay was founded to help Omidyar’s fiancée trade Pez candy dispensers was fabricated by a public relations manager in 1997 to interest the media. This was revealed in Adam Cohen’s 2002 book and confirmed by eBay.
Under Omidyar’s leadership, eBay quickly grew into a global online marketplace with millions of users around the world. In 2002, he stepped down as CEO of eBay but remained involved with the company as chairman of the board until 2015.
In addition to his work with eBay, Omidyar is also known for his philanthropy. In 2004, he founded the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm that supports a variety of social and economic causes around the world, including education, financial inclusion, and government transparency. The organization has committed more than $1.5 billion to various causes since its inception.
Omidyar also introduced a digital investigative reporting news platform in 2010 named Honolulu Civil Beat to cover civic issues in Hawaii. The site received recognition as the Best News Website in Hawaii for three consecutive years from 2010 to 2012. In September 2013, Honolulu Civil Beat and HuffPost teamed up to launch HuffPost Hawaii.
Following the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013, Omidyar was motivated to create a journalism venture called First Look Media. The Intercept was launched by First Look Media on February 10, 2014, and featured journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, Dan Froomkin, John Temple, and Jay Rosen.
As of September 2021, Forbes estimated Pierre Omidyar’s net worth to be $19.2 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in the United States.
Omidyar has received numerous awards and recognitions for his business and philanthropic achievements. Here are some of his notable accomplishments: