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Lesson #3: Nice Guys Can Finish First

In creating eBay, Omidyar began with five basic values: “We believe people are basically good; we believe everyone has something to contribute; we believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people; we recognize and respect everyone as a unique individual; we encourage you to treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Omidyar’s astounding success with eBay is evidence of the fact that nice guys can finish first in the often cutthroat business world, where they are normally presumed to be eaten alive. How often does one find a billionaire entrepreneur who, when asked how he achieved his success, recites advice his mother gave him about the necessity of treating people how he would want to be treated in a crowded world. It was that attitude that formed the underlying premise of eBay. “I founded the company on the notion that people were basically good,” says Omidyar, “and that if you give them the benefit of the doubt you’re rarely disappointed.”

Omidyar realized early on that in order for the online system of trading that eBay offered to become successful, it would be crucial to facilitate the building of relationships and trust. However, unlike retail stores where retailers have control and can train salespeople, customer experiences with eBay are based solely on interaction with each other. “So the only thing you can do is have a certain set of values that you encourage people to adopt,” says Omidyar, “and the only way your customers are going to adopt those values is if they see that you’re living those values as well.” It was to this end that eBay implemented a user forum, as well as user ratings, allowing members to post public feedback on their past trades.

To date, Omidyar’s theory has proven correct. “There are 30 cases out of every one million transactions where somebody actually goes to the trouble to report fraud,” he says. But, for the most part, transactions happen without any problems. “It's all about treating each other the way you want to be treated yourself so that you can do business with one another.”

Believing in the basic good nature of people and treating people fairly and with respect extended both into Omidyar’s personal and professional life. Not only does it make good business sense, but it is his preferred way of life. It is also something Omidyar tries to stress throughout the entire company. “We have to do it internally at eBay at the company as well, because if we don’t then eventually that seeps through, and customers will see that and that will harm our business,” he says. “So our business is based on that.”

So, can nice guys finish last? According to Omidyar, not only is it possible, but it is necessary in this case. “Nice guys, a responsible company that has its heart in the right place – that’s run by real human beings – it has to be successful, because if we weren’t that way, eBay would not be successful,” he says. “eBay wouldn’t exist. It would not be possible.”

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