He gave up his job in an investment firm at Wall Street when his career in the world of finance was doing immensely well. Instead, he started his online bookstore in 1994. No prizes for guessing the answer! The story is now part of the business world’s folklore and the man is a legend – Jeff Bezos.
It was 1994, and Jeff Bezos had moved to Seattle where he established his firm in a garage. A year later, after the site was beta-tested, it became official: Amazon.com
Why Amazon, you wonder? Bezos named his site after the South American lifeline, River Amazon. The original name of the site was cadabra.com. However, Bezos soon realized that it was important to start a business whose name started with A, as that would top most lists automatically!
It was not a smooth road for him. A lawsuit was filed against him by Barnes & Noble, which pointed out that Amazon wasn’t the largest bookstore in the world as claimed, but was merely a book broker instead. The case was settled in 1997, only to be followed by another allegation from Walmart that Bezos’ firm had hired ex-Walmart executives to gather its secrets.
It was in 1997 that Amazon.com went public, and by the next two years, it had become the leader in the e-commerce sector. By 1998, the company had diversified into sale of videos, and CDs. Later, it was clothes, toys, electronics and pretty much everything. In 2007 came the Kindle, an e-book reader. Also in the same year, Bezos announced that he would invest in Blue Origin, a Seattle-based aerospace firm which develops technologies to provide space journeys to its customers. In 2011, he unveiled the Kindle Fire tablet, and the next September, it was the Kindle Fire HD, which posed a competition to the iPad.
From the early years of stumbles and bumps to his current (as of March 2016) net worth of $50 billion as the CEO and Founder, Amazon.com, Bezos has come a long way. The 52-year-old has been continuing on his quest of the ‘next big thing’. In April 2014, he announced a television set-top box for streaming media content. Last year, he bought the Washington Post for $250 million in cash.
Recognition has come his way over all these years. He is No 5 on the Forbes list of ‘The World’s Billionaires.’ Very early on, in 1999, he was recognized as the Person of the Year by the Time magazine. If you thought his interests were only limited to e-commerce, think again. In March 2012-2013, he famously led a privately funded Apollo 11 engine recovery project and actually recovered some parts of two rocket engines from the seafloor of the Atlantic.
Jeff, who was born to 19-year-old Jackie Bezos, was adopted by Mike Bezos who was not his biological father. According to his mother, her biggest challenge while raising Jeff was to “stay a step ahead of, or, at least, next to him”, according to a wired.com profile of Bezos. In fact, in his late grade years in school, Jeff was obsessed with a device called ‘Infinity Cube’ which was a set of mirrors, motorized, and allowing one to gaze into infinity. However, the cube was expensive and Jackie wouldn’t allow her son to buy it (priced $20). Jeff did the next best thing, one any innovator would do. He bought the pieces at an inexpensive price and built it on his own.
The wired.com profile also notes that Jeff was inspired by his grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise, who encouraged his tinkering with toys and educational games. There were all kinds of stuff he could tinker with in the family garage, from an old vacuum cleaner to an umbrella’s spine!
Years later, he went on a cross-country road trip to Seattle with wife MacKenzie Bezos, a trip that saw him working out the founding principles and roadmap for Amazon.com, before setting up an office in his home garage.
In line with this constant need to keep the customer happy and come up with newer things is the idea of drones to customers. Where that will take Amazon is not known, but Bezos has always dreamed big. Even as an 18-year-old, when he was named high-school valedictorian. The interview appeared in 1982 in the Miami Herald when Bezos told the newspaper that he “wanted to build space hotels, amusement parks, and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit. The whole idea is to preserve the earth,” he said.
However, for a man with such soaring dreams, he has his feet firmly on the ground. The quote in the Wired magazine in November 2011 exemplifies his philosophy: “A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny because shiny doesn’t last.”
Keep the customer happy!
In 2016, as Amazon.com has completed two decades, it is still being managed like a start-up, though it earned revenues of $107 billion in 2015. Amazon seems to prefer growth to profits, and the motto is deeply tied with Bezos’ personal vision. For him, the customer is at the heart of everything. In a famous letter to shareholders in 2012, Bezos said that delighting customers proactively earns their trust, which makes way for more business from them.
In an interview with New York Times, John Rossman, author of ‘The Amazon Way’ spoke about the leadership ideas that drive Amazon. Rossman, who was an executive at Amazon in the 2000s, pointed out in the September 2014 interview that “They operate without the kind of constraints that hold down so many other companies. The mandate of the organization, to explore and invent, gives them a good shot at coming up with new things. The business that Amazon is in today, the things they do to delight their customers, will change. In ten years, they will be in new businesses”.