On January 8, 2018, as Amazon Inc.’s stock soared to an all-time high of $1250 a share, its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns 17% of the company, dethroned Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates to become the world’s richest person. Since then, the company’s stock has risen an additional 20 percent, increasing the entrepreneur’s net worth from $105 billion to $125 billion! To put it in perspective, that is more than the GDP of over 125 of the world’s 195 nations.
The incredible journey began in 1994 when Bezos was working as a software engineer for global investment management firm D.E. Shaw. One day, while surfing the still nascent Internet for new investment ideas, he read that the World Wide Web usage was increasing by 2,300 percent every month! The impressive statistic gave the Princeton University graduate an idea — what if he could use this fast-growing new medium to sell goods to the public? Though pursuing his dream would mean leaving his cushy Wall Street job that came with a six-figure salary, the then 30-year-old was convinced he was on the right track.
After considering about 20 potential products, including software and CD’s, Bezos decided to sell books. They were easy to package, hard to damage, and most importantly, his virtual store could offer all of the millions of book titles available, something even the biggest physical bookstores were unable to accommodate. After scouting out locations across the US, the entrepreneur, and his wife MacKenzie, chose the Seattle, Washington metropolitan area for their new venture. In addition to being home to a big pool of high-tech talent that would be needed to build the online store, it was also close to Ingram Book Group's Oregon warehouse.
Armed with a million dollars, the majority from his parents' trust fund, Bezos and five employees began building the world’s first virtual bookstore inside the garage of his Bellevue home. The first order of business was to find a suitable name. After his first choice, Cadabra, (short for abracadabra) was misinterpreted as “cadaver” by his lawyer, Bezos settled on Amazon. After all, it was appropriate to name the “Earth’s largest bookstore” after one of the world’s largest rivers. The fact that the name’s first letter would ensure Amazon would always be at the top of any website listing weighed heavily on the decision as well.
In July 1995, Amazon.com opened its “doors” to customers with over a million book titles. Bezos and MacKenzie initially rang a bell to celebrate every sale. However, the fun tradition had to be abandoned within a few months as book sales escalated sharply. After expanding the offerings to include CD’s and videos, Bezos sent out 1,000 e-mails to existing customers asking them what else they would like delivered to their doors. The entrepreneur says, “The list came back incredibly long. It was basically just whatever the person had on their mind at the moment.” Thanks to the suggestions, the “Earth’s biggest bookstore” morphed into the “world’s biggest store.”
In 2005, recognizing that customers wanted their orders fast without paying exorbitant rates, Bezos introduced the two-day subscription-based Amazon Prime. In 2012, he made the $99 annual membership even more attractive with Amazon Video which, in addition to streaming movies and television shows, also produces original shows. In 2017, the company made its first foray into physical stores with the acquisition of leading organic grocery chain Whole Foods. And Bezos is not done yet — in January 2018, Amazon announced it was partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to form a company to provide U.S. workers and families with better health insurance options than what is currently available.
So what is daily life like for the world’s richest man who revolutionized the way we shop? Amazingly normal, if you are Jeff Bezos. The 54-year-old is a stickler for at least eight hours of sleep and having breakfast with his wife and four children. He also is responsible for doing the dishes after dinner every night!
The entrepreneur says, “We all get to choose our life stories. You either choose a life of ‘ease and comfort,’ or of ‘service and adventure,’ and when you’re 80, you’ll be more proud of the latter.” When asked how he will feel at that age, Bezos quips, “At 80? I think I’ll be a happy, happy man.”
Resources: biography.com,businessinsider.com,techchruch.com, cnbc.com,bloomberg.com