eBay’s Core Values – Original and Updated

by Steve on January 23, 2009 · 6 comments

In the early days of eBay, founder Pierre Omidyar spoke often about the core values he saw as essential to eBay. He was setting out to do something different. Since big business is inherently hurtful and bad, eBay would be a "touchy, feelie," human company. About people, high ideals, love and peace. (Okay, now I feel a little creepy.)

Numbers two through five are rarely mentioned these days. The first one is still thrown around occasionally. Here are (were) eBay's "core values"*:

1. We believe people are basically good.
2. We believe everyone has something to contribute.
3. We believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people.
4. We recognize and respect everyone as a unique individual.
5. We encourage you to treat others the way that you want to be treated.

*(Source: eBay Guide to Community Resources)

These five "values" were written on cards, and handed out to new employees. They were posted here and there around the campus to make sure they were remembered. Every so often, someone would bust out a guitar and sing Richie Havens version of "Freedom" from Woodstock.

animal_farm_pigsThe Five Commandments of Animalism

Most of us probably saw a cartoon in school called "Animal Farm," based on the novel by George Orwell. It was an amazing story of a farm, taken over by the animals, primarily the pigs. They ran off the bad old human farmer (Farmer Jones) and set out to do something different. If you'll remember, in the movie version, they came up with five commandments, written so all the animals could see them:

The Five Commandments of Animalism:

  1. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  2. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  3. Four legs good, two legs bad.
  4. No animal shall kill another animal.
  5. All animals are equal.

Eventually, the pigs got a little taste of the good life, and things began to change. They began to sleep in Farmer Jones' house, wear his clothes and even walk on two feet. One by one the commandments were changed through the story until they finally read like this:

Edited Five Commandments of Animalism:

  1. No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
  2. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
  3. Four legs good, two legs better!
  4. No animal shall kill another animal without cause.
  5. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Of course, the story was an allegory dealing with Communism. It pointed out how the leaders took over with grandiose ideas, but were ultimately corrupted by the same things as their previously hated leader.

There is a loose similarity between this story and eBay. Pierre's ideals have been diluted to the point that they sound silly today. The equality and "niceness" that he intended, sound naive. However if you listen to Pierre today, he says it's been necessary to "adapt" to a new environment. He seems to want us to believe what we see now, is what he intended all along.

eBay's (New) Core Values

This could be the revised version of the core eBay Values:

  1. We believe people are basically good, as long as they don't sell electronically delivered items or accept paper payments.
  2. We believe everyone has something to contribute, which is why we have raised our fees. (Thank you for your contributions.)
  3. We believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people, unless you want to leave negative feedback for a buyer.
  4. "Dear eBay Seller," We recognize and respect everyone as a unique individual. "Best regards, eBay Trust and Safety"
  5. We encourage you to treat others the way that you want to be treated. And if you don't like it here, we understand if you want to look for a better place to sell. -- Oh wait! No we didn't really mean that! Could you come back?

What if small sellers came up with their own core values? What does a company have to be or do to get our business? What do online venues need to respect if they want us to grow their marketplace? Here's five things to start:

Small Seller Core Values

  1. We believe we are basically good.
  2. We believe we have something to contribute, and it's not our profits.
  3. We believe that an honest open environment brings out the best in us. Don't screw it up.
  4. We want to be recognized as individuals, and respected as such. Talk to us.
  5. We encourage you to treat us fairly, or we will take our business elsewhere.

Did I miss anything?

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