In Origin Story, an episode of This American Life, Host Ira Glass talks to business professor Pino Audia and Fast Company magazine columnist Dan Heath about corporate creation myths, and why so many of them involve garages.
Along the way, it’s mentioned that the whole story about eBay being founded to trade Pez dispensers is a myth. Reporter David Rowan explains:
It was the warm, smalltown story of a corporate giant’s humble beginnings that enticed Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, even the fact-obsessed New Yorker. When Pam Wesley wanted to boost her collection of Pez sweet dispensers, her fiance, Pierre Omidyar, built a website for her to trade them. That website grew to be the huge online auction house eBay, one of the internet gold rush’s few success stories – even though, in the words of the company’s PR chief, Mary Lou Song, it began simply “as kind of a love token”.
It was a touching tale, recounted in endless profiles on both sides of the Atlantic, with only one flaw: it was a lie. As Song admits in a new book by Adam Cohen, The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, she invented the story five years ago to generate publicity for an otherwise dull tech company. “No one wants to hear about a 30-year-old genius who wanted to create a perfect market,” Song confesses. So she constructed what corporate PRs call a “creation myth”, and hoodwinked some of the world’s most respected reporters. Some of her victims are furious.