In 1997/1998 I loved eBay and was on it daily. At the time, I’d buy sports cards from across the country to resell them in my local region. On eBay, I’d focus on Atlanta Braves players — my favorite team — and buy stars like Chipper Jones at half the Beckett pricing guide value from dealers in places like Seattle. Then, as a high school senior, I’d drive to baseball card shows and setup a dealer table selling to people in the local market. I did shows all across North Florida from Pensacola to Tallahassee to Jacksonville. The arbitrage opportunity was buying cards over the Internet outside the region at half price and selling them face-to-face at shows for full price — eBay made this possible.
I’ve been reliving these memories recently while reading the stories from twenty-year-old The Perfect Store: Inside eBay. The author, Adam Cohen, captures the founding and scaling of eBay through a number of stories in chronological order. The life of Pierre Omidyar and eBay is an incredible story for anyone who loves the entrepreneurial journey.
A few startups lessons from The Perfect Store:
- Most great entrepreneur stories start with a tinkerer scratching an itch
- Passionate communities — especially raving fans — are the secret ingredient to word of mouth growth, which is the best indicator of product/market fit
- Leveling up management teams is always a challenge, no matter the startup
- Startup cultures are defined by the first few people and often live on indefinitely
- Key mentors and coaches early in the experience can add incredible value
- Defining a memorable origin story, no matter how liberally created, makes continued lore that much more viral (no, eBay wasn’t start for Pez dispensers)
- Today’s tech stacks and cloud infrastructure are easily taken for granted (eBay was regularly down for 10+ hours at a time during hyper growth)
Entrepreneurs interested in the early years of Internet startups and the power of marketplaces should read the The Perfect Store: Inside eBay and soak up the many lessons.