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Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame: Pierre Omidyar

ebay logoCountry of origin: France

Year came to U.S.: 1973

Education: BS Computer Science, Tufts University

Businesses: eBay (1995) and Omidyar Technology Ventures

Headquarters: San Jose, CA

2015 revenue: $9.5 billion

U.S. employment: 6,200

Ranked 300 in the 2016 Fortune 500

 

  • The first item sold on eBay was Omidyar’s broken laser pointer.
  • Omidyar was born in France to Iranian parents, moved to Maryland and attended Tufts University.

 

Pierre omidyarThe sale of a broken laser pointer for $14.83 triggered the start of a billion-dollar Internet company employing 33,500 people worldwide and serving hundreds of millions of customers in more than 30 countries. It also launched Internet auctions as a model for future e-commerce.

Pierre Omidyar, the man who launched eBay, was not yet 40 when he was ranked as the world’s 76th richest person in 2010, yet he had already pledged to give away all but one percent of his fortune over the next 20 years.

Omidyar was born in Paris to Iranian parents. They moved to Maryland when he was six years old for his father’s residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. A fascination with computers led Omidyar to study computer science at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

In 1991, he co-founded a company with friends that included an Internet shopping feature. Five years later, eShop was sold to Microsoft, but Omidyar’s fascination with the technical problems of establishing an online venue for direct person-to-person auctions persisted.

He created a prototype on his personal Web page called Auction Web in 1995. The first item up for sale was his broken laser pointer. It was a test to see if there was really a market for such things.

There was. The broken laser pointer was sold.

By the next year, Auction Web had hosted 250,000 auctions. In the first month of 1997, it hosted two million. Auction Web then became eBay and Omidyar became a billionaire at the age of 31 with eBay’s Initial Public Offering in 1998. While no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of eBay, Omidyar retains a seat on the board of directors. In 2016, he opened his own venture capital firm, Omidyar Technology Ventures, to launch the next generation of technology pioneers.

In 2010, he and his wife signed on to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, which asks billionaires give at least half of their fortunes to charity. Through his philanthropic investment firm, Omidyar Network, he has invested $115 million in the fight against human trafficking with a donation to their Humanity United foundation. Their $100 million endowment to Tufts was the largest in the university’s history.

His interest in online journalism, investigative reporting and public affairs lead Omidyar to launch First Look Media in late 2013. The Intercept, its first digital magazine, premiered in February 2014 with work from investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Updated August 2016
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