Pierre Omidyar on eBay and Pez Dispensers, Leaving the Valley and the Most Important Thing He’s Ever Done

It’s almost a cliché that great Silicon Valley entrepreneurs don’t go sit on a beach when they make a lot of money, they get back to work building another company or at least investing in other people’s companies. But what did eBay founder Pierre Omidyar do? Moved to Honolulu where he can be found sitting on beaches.

But don’t let the top line narrative fool you, Omidyar hasn’t just been looking at sunsets all these years. He’s been busy making good on his commitment to give away some 99% of his multi-billion dollar fortune and lately has been launching Peer News, a new kind of online news service that won’t have reporters or articles in the classic sense, nor will it allow anonymous comments or make money off advertising. He’s definitely got at least the media world captivated once again.

eBay, philanthropy and now a local Hawaiian news site may seem like wildly disparate ventures for the same man to take, but as Omidyar explains in the video below they’re all connected by the ideas of platform and community—two words that have also underlined much of the Web 2.0 movement.

Just like eBay was a platform that gave people everywhere the opportunity to build out a business and change their economic reality, so too does the Omidyar Network seek to give passionate, would-be entrepreneurs an opportunity to change their world and their reality. As Omidyar puts it, he doesn’t have a “cause;” he gets excited about other people’s causes. Similarly at eBay he wasn’t a collector, but he loved hearing about other people’s collections.

On community, eBay was one of the first places that pioneered trust online through its reputation and feedback systems. Omidyar is hoping to bring that same kind of trust and fair-dealing to the local news world with Peer News—which is the reason anonymous commenters will not be welcome.

Omidyar talks about all of this and more in the video below, shot in his office in Honolulu. I started out by asking him about that great founders myth that he started eBay so his wife could trade Pez dispensers. (The one people claimed years later was just a good pitch for reporters.)

[vimeo 10310339]