EBay CEO Anticipates 4-year, 400% Revenue Boost

LOS ANGELES — Despite the Internet economy’s implosion, eBay Inc.’s top executive vows the best times are ahead as the company looks for annual revenue to more than quadruple during the next four years.

“Anyone who thinks the Internet is dead, or is a fad, I think is tremendously shortsighted,” said Chief Executive and President Meg Whitman at a trade show in Los Angeles Wednesday.

For sure, plans were built by dot-com companies on “overly optimistic business models,” she explained. But, she added: “Our house is built on solid ground.”

The auction site, which has $900 million in cash and expects to generate about $665 million in revenue this year, eyes $3 billion in revenue by 2005, Ms. Whitman said.

Ms. Whitman made her remarks at the eighth annual Internet World spring conference, where more than 50,000 attendees converged for one of the industry’s biggest trade shows. Last year’s show attracted about 5,000 more people.

Attendance at the conference, sponsored by Penton Media Inc. (PME), fell short of the fall 2000 Internet conference in New York City, which was the largest Web trade show ever. Nearly 60,000 people attended.

EBay (EBAY) generated plenty of hoopla early this week when it said its auction Web site would adopt some of Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) software and sites, like MSN.

The strategic relationship is the first of a series of deals by Microsoft as it attempts to start its Internet initiative, .Net. Microsoft wants to make .Net a standard set of Internet tools, much as Windows is a standard operating system for many personal computers.

The arrangement will let software programmers use Microsoft-Web design tools to develop applications that work with the eBay site. That could bring eBay’s auctions to pagers, DirecTV — which is a Web-connected television service — and hand-held computers.

Ms. Whitman declined to disclose financial terms of the deal.

The pact with Microsoft stems from a project called API, a set of technologies the company is developing to give software programmers a standard method for designing applications linked with popular eBay sites.

Ms. Whitman said other partnerships can be expected, but she declined to elaborate other than to say talks are in the works with retailers, liquidators and other businesses involved in “overstocks and returns” of merchandise.

“Think of this as the first step,” she said.

A project to distribute eBay’s auction services on major stations by television networks is still in the discussion stage, she said. “We are in talks with several networks,” she said. “It’s a great branding idea, but there are no announcements.”

EBay, with more than 22 million registered users, also is looking at a distributed network where only portions of its site could potentially collapse, rather than the entire network being taken down, Ms. Whitman said.

Responding to a question about the sale of Nazi memorabilia on the eBay auction site, Ms. Whitman said sales of such historic goods would continue, but that internal review of a description of the sale would be screened to make sure that it isn’t “filled with hate” language.

“We thought this would be the best way to handle First Amendment rights,” she said.

Copyright (c) 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.