When Pierre Omidyar launched a clunky website from a spare bedroom over Labor Day weekend of 1995, he wanted to see if he could use the Internet to create a perfect market. He never guessed his old-computer-parts and Beanie Baby exchange would revolutionize the world of commerce.
Now, Adam Cohen, the only journalist ever to get full access to the company, tells the remarkable story of eBay's rise. He describes how eBay built the most passionate community ever to form in cyberspace and forged a business that triumphed over larger, better-funded rivals. And he explores the ever-widening array of enlistees in the eBay revolution, from a stay-at-home mom who had to rent a warehouse for her thriving business selling bubble-wrap on eBay to the young MBA who started eBay Motors (which within months of its launch was on track to sell $1 billion in cars a year), to collectors nervously bidding thousands of dollars on antique clothing-irons.
Adam Cohen's fascinating look inside eBay is essential reading for anyone trying to figure out what's next. If you want to truly understand the Internet economy, "The Perfect Store" is indispensable.
This book's huge cast of supporting characters is considerably more interesting than its nominal stars, eBay's founders and senior management. To some extent that's unavoidable. How can anyone be more colorful than the Elvis aficionados and bubble-wrap entrepreneurs that inhabit eBay's virtual landscape? Yet readers may wish for a little more meat to the descriptions of those who built eBay into the leading online auction site. Cofounder Jeff Skoll and CEO Meg Whitman, MBAs from Stanford and Harvard, never come across as anything but one-dimensional. The most refreshing detail about Pierre Omidyar, eBay's other cofounder, is that before making his billions in the company's IPO he always knocked off work after eight hours. Unfortunately, with Omidyar the book descends into the usual hagiography of high-tech entrepreneurs. Cohen, a New York Times editorial board member and former technology reporter for Time, is much more evenhanded toward the hordes of eBay loyalists and more than a few detractors. Their zeal supports his claim that part of the company's market dominance is based on a sense of "community." The company has carefully cultivated this perception, one of the book's most fascinating revelations. In the early days, staffers routinely sounded off on the site's bulletin boards using pseudonyms, even denying that they worked for eBay when asked. Cohen's quality of writing and research is above average for a high-tech tome. One wonders, however, if his "insider access" he claims to be the first journalist to be granted this at eBay makes him a little too nice to the principals.