A year later, Omidyar was working on Auction Web full time, having had his salary quickly exceeded by the site’s profits. Already, he had processed 250,000 auctions. A year after that, in 1997, that number had spiked to 2 million. And by the middle of that year, the site was processing 800,000 auctions a day. Omidyar was on a roll, and things started to get more serious.
To grow as aggressively as he wanted, he knew several things were going to have to take place: a mature rebranding, smart advertising, and the right leadership. All of these things were achieved in quick succession, as he renamed the company eBay (a shortened version of his first choice, EchoBay), and launched widespread marketing campaigns. He also signed a licensing deal making it possible for people to buy and sell airline tickets online.
The last step was to stock his company with the right people. That started with full-time employee number one, Jeff Skoll. A Stanford Business School graduate, Skoll had been working on Internet projects for publishing company Knight-Ridder. Joining the already profitable eBay seemed like a no-brainer, and Skoll’s first task was to write a formal business plan (one that guided the company to ultimate success).
Then, in 1998, Meg Whitman came aboard as President and CEO, as Omidyar assumed a chairman role, still involved but relinquishing primary leadership. Whitman was a good choice, groomed at other distinct brands like DreamWorks, Procter & Gamble, and Hasbro. Under her leadership between 1998 and 2008, eBay grew from 30 employees and $4 million in annual revenue to over 15,000 employees and $8 billion in yearly revenue.
Shortly after she came aboard, eBay went public, selling 178 million shares for about $4.5 billion. On its first day out, the share price came close to tripling, making Omidyar and his early employees instant billionaires.
Even so, Omidyar stayed very involved with the direction of the company. And some of his decisions made a big difference in its early years. Following the IPO, the site was plagued with outage issues that shook consumer confidence, but Omidyar spearheaded the effort to reach out to them directly. In one instance, he directed the company to make 10,000 phone calls to its top users to assure them that everything was being done to improve the site’s service record.