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eBay's Whitman Says Web is Doing Just Fine

LOS ANGELES -- Serving up just what a down-in-the-dumps crowd at Internet World needed to hear, Meg Whitman, CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based auction giant eBay gave a bullish forecast for the Internet in general and her company specifically in her conference-opening keynote address.

"Obviously we don't think the Internet is dead," says Whitman. "It's clear to me the Internet' future is very bright. It's still one of greatest inventions of all time and is changing everything. Anyone who thinks it's a fad is desperately short sighted."

At Penton Media's 8th Annual Internet World Spring in Los Angeles, the charismatic leader of eBay eschewed slides and props for a straightforward chat with the Internet faithful in which she took stock of the previous five years of the Internet's growth and spelled out what needs to happen for future growth.

From autos to the Internet, Whitman noted that all industries have had to endure a period of over-speculation and subsequent shakeout. Still, per-user growth of the Internet is projected at a none-too-shabby 23 percent a year.

But to ensure that growth continues, Whitman cited three things that needed to occur:

  • Take stock: People need time to digest the new products and services made available through the Internet
  • Broadband proliferation: Currently, only 5 percent of the population access the Web through broadband services. But broadband users spent 60 percent more time online. "Until more people are able to experience the rich and fast access broadband offers, it's going to be a major impediment to businesses on the Net trying to reach consumers," says Whitman
  • Stay focused: Internet companies must stay focused on the goals and not stray into being all things to all people

"When it comes to running a successful business, there is only one economy," Whitman said.

By most measures, eBay has consistently proven to be a success based on profitability and continuing growth. Whitman joined eBay in January, 1998, when the company was already growing at 70 percent a month. Today, she said eBay serves a whopping 140 million page views a day, and gained 4.5 million new users in the fourth quarter of 2000 alone. Whitman said eBay does about $17 million dollars in transactions a day, and is on track to grow an aggressive 50 percent-a-year clip for the next several years, up to $3 billion by 2005.

"Ebay was the first level playing field for buyers and sellers of all shapes and sizes," said Whitman. We facilitate efficient transactions and hold no inventory. Best of all, eBay is an exciting community based on shared areas of interest and open feedback communications.

"One of the reasons I think that eBay is so successful is that we have also stuck to a sound business plan from the beginning. At eBay, everyone knows that we all do one thing. We work everyday to be the world's largest and most compelling ecommerce platform on the net," she added.

Among the other secrets that eBay cited were partnerships with companies like AOL, Disney and GM. In addition, Whitman gave Microsoft's .NET strategy a plug. As reported, Microsoft and eBay Monday united in a partnership to jointly expand their global online presence while streamlining the online buying process.