For some time I’ve been meaning to hook up with Pierre Omidyar, the founder and Chair of eBay. We finally got together at lunch earlier this week in Redwood City, where his foundation is based. I’d heard Pierre is just about the most down-to-earth, “normal” fellow one might want to meet, it in fact it turned out to be true. He kicked out of Valley life in 1999 and moved to the desert outside Las Vegas (he also spends a lot of time in France). He comes back every so often for eBay meetings and to meet with his foundation staff, and it’s this foundation that really gets him up in the morning these days. He’s made news recently by announcing a new strategy for the organization, one which blends a bent for social change with capitalism – in other words, he’s expanding from philanthropy into the investment game, but he plans to focus on businesses that connect people to each other to create the kind of wholesale change that eBay did. Omidyar repeated to me a very repeatable observation: that eBay has been the vehicle for millions of strangers to establish relationships of trust with each other.
Hence his investment in Meetup, for example. It’s the first business Omidyar has seen with the same ability to connect folks for social good. Good for Scott!
Pierre and I had a good lunch, talking over many issues for the book. But really, our conversation always came back to community, the core driver of value at eBay. We discussed Tim’s concept of the “architecture of participation” and how critical it is in the Web 2.0 world, and how much of the media world has yet to grok it. You can’t outsource participation to the ghettos of discussion threads, in other words. The online media world is still looking for its Pong, as Martin says, but I think we’re getting close. Publications are essentially reflections of communities. And I believe the best blogs are publications, in a very classical sense.
In any case, those were the kind of tangents we took during lunch. We did talk search and SFO and such, but I’ve gotta save that for the book.
One thought on “Lunch With Pierre”
It seems impossible nowadays to read anything at all about Pierre Omidyar that doesn’t contain eulogies about what a down-to-earth philanthropist-cum-philosopher-cum-saint cum all round nice guy he is and oh by the way he really hates being a billionaire. How on earth has that other great West Coast monopolist – William H. Gates, whose offerings have also had a pretty significant “social” impact on the world – managed to attract nothing but bile? Bill has given away some $25bn to real charities (like treating malaria and AIDS in Africa) while Pierre struggles to spend a couple of million on community projects before the lure of investing in an online networking BUSINESS proves too much.
eBay itself is truly one of the world’s great monopolies – it’s only a matter of time before it gets bigger than Microsoft (indeed, the high cost and security issues of the 2 companies’ products are uncannily similar). Its critical mass dependent model is absolutely unassailable. While everyone could drop Google tomorrow if a better search tool came along (and believe me, that’ll happen, hence Google’s timing with the IPO) ebay can rely on market share and nothing else… so it can continue to print dollars whilst doing its vital, socially conscious community building work 😉
5 or 6 years ago there were many smaller auction sites – many of them free – that I’m sure would have loved to have made a social contribution the way eBay does today, except they were blown out of the water by a behemoth that wanted to make sure that IT was the only one doing the social work.
I think some truly fantastic PR has been at work for PO here… Comments??