Chairman and founder Pierre Omidyar and CEO Meg Whitman of EBay.com, the online auction service, in California on June 15, 1998.
James D. Wilson—Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
September 3, 2015

The origin story of eBay—which was founded 20 years ago, as AuctionWeb, on Sept. 3, 1995–is fairly well-known: other tech giants have their garages, eBay has its Pez dispenser. Or, rather, founder Pierre Omidyar’s then-fiancée didn’t have a Pez dispenser. It was her desire to more easily expand her collection that inspired Omidyar to create a way for her to arrange sales and purchases online.

But, as any number of start-ups have found, a good idea and good code do not a profitable business make. And the reason for eBay’s transition from small project to a functioning company is much less cute than the Pez story. Omidyar was running the business at home, and his Internet provider started to charge him more, as TIME explained in a 1999 story about the rise in online auctions:

As of May 2015, Forbes placed eBay’s market value at nearly $69 billion.

Read more from 1999, here in the TIME Vault: The Attic of E

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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