As eBay’s Meg Whitman becomes co-chair of Sen. John McCain’s national campaign, she talks to our Lesley Stahl about retiring from the business world and about her future. The following is part II of a VII-part, exclusive interview that took place on Tuesday, March 11. To read the entire interview, click the links at the end of the article.
LESLEY: Let’s talk about eBay, because it’s fun. And I’m wondering if you have, over the years, bought and sold things on the site?
MEG: Oh, yes. Of course.
LESLEY: You did? Yourself? Like what?
LESLEY: Like what?
MEG: Oh, gosh. Well I have a feedback rating of over 650, which means that I have bought or sold at least 650 items on eBay over the last 10 years. And it is everything from sporting goods for all of our family – any time we buy sporting goods, we buy it on eBay. We’ve sold sporting equipment on eBay, especially when the boys were younger. They would outgrow hockey skates, they would outgrow skis, they’d outgrow sneakers, they’d outgrow everything. You know how boys grow so fast.
LESLEY: It was like a revolving door with you. Buy it, it comes in …
MEG: … it would go out on eBay.
LESLEY: And when they’re growing, in about two weeks, right? What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen people put up for sale on eBay? I mean, you must be laughing half the time.
MEG: Oh, gosh. Well, one of the really fun things about eBay is the entrepreneurial aspect of the community that has … you know, really, they will put up anything that you could imagine for sale, whether that is a $4.7 million small jet, whether that is old silver that someone found in their attic, whether they’re funny things. There was a guy who got divorced from his wife and somehow in the divorce settlement ended up with her wedding dress.
LESLEY: Oh, no. He put it out there?
MEG: He put it on himself.
LESLEY: Oh, my God.
MEG: He did a video and sold it on eBay. And he got tremendous national news around this. He was called the “Wedding Dress Guy” and he was on all the major news outlets. It was hilarious. He had a little riff that went along with it about his wife and the divorce. It was very funny.
LESLEY: A lot of people who had just started selling things on eBay as a lark ended up quitting their jobs and turning this into their business – auctioning stuff off on eBay. Do they really make a good living just doing that?
MEG: Well, many people do, yes. We have about – around the world, about 1.3 million people make most, if not all, of their living selling on eBay.
LESLEY: More than a million people making their living just on eBay?
LESLEY: Now, maybe a lot of people know that. But I don’t. I find that stunning.
MEG: And there’s a reason for it. One is, you can be successful doing what you love. You are best suited on eBay if you pick a category or a class of items that you know something about. So maybe that’s high tech electronic equipment, maybe it’s audio equipment, maybe it’s Barbie dolls, maybe it’s collectibles, or a certain niche of collectibles, of coins, of china. And if you know a lot about something, you know how to price your items, you know how to merchandise your items and you can build a small business, really, starting out of a spare bedroom or starting out of your garage, with virtually no costs. Unlike setting up a store, where you have to rent space and pay heat and utility and light, you can start something and grow it at the pace you want to grow it.
We have lots of working moms who actually work on their eBay business between eight o’clock and three, when their kids are at school. Their kids come home and they’re done with eBay until the kids go to bed. And then they’ll do another couple of hours at eBay. So you can have tremendous flexibility. I mean it’s one of the great things about being a small business person in America: you can have some time flexibility.
LESLEY: How much can they make a year?
MEG: Oh, you know, people can supplement their income from several thousand dollars a month to … I think our top seller on eBay grosses $20 million.
LESLEY: A year?
LESLEY: A year. Wow.