The Rise and Rise of Jeff Bezos
A look into the success story of the world’s wealthiest billionaire, and his vision for humanity’s future
On a fateful day in 1994, a Wall Street investment banker decided to quit his cushy job and start an internet company from the confines of his garage.
His startup idea? A Seattle-based online bookstore named Cadabra, derived from the ubiquitous magical incantation, abracadabra.
Little did he know that he was about to embark on a journey that would ultimately revolutionize the world of commerce and technology for decades to come.
The founder, Jeff Bezos, soon realised that people often mistook the name for “cadaver”. Horrified, he rapidly changed it to Amazon, mainly because it began with the first letter of the alphabet and because of its association with the vast South American river.
Bezos led the company with a single motto — Get Big Fast, and within a month of its inception, Amazon.com began shipping books to every state in the United States, in addition to 45 other countries. In 1997, he took the company public at $18 per share, giving it a valuation of $300 million.
Despite its high valuation, most financial analysts viewed Amazon with skepticism, and mockingly referred to it as Amazon.bomb. It was doomed to fail, they said. They predicted that Amazon would ultimately lose in the marketplace to the competing e-commerce sites of established bookselling chains such as Barnes and Noble and Borders. The fact that Amazon failed to turn a yearly profit until 2003 seemed to vindicate its naysayers.
However, Bezos knew that the Internet had an unbridled potential for growth. He recognized the power of the then-nascent Internet to challenge the traditional brick-and-mortar stores, something that his doubters were yet to comprehend.
Sticking to their founder’s motto, Amazon kept expanding even through the infamous dot-com crash of 2000, to the surprise of many. Under his leadership, Amazon rapidly expanded in the following years by diversifying into music, electronics, web hosting, clothing, and much more.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Amazon’s Rapid Growth
In 2013, Amazon achieved the distinction of becoming the largest online retailer in the world. By 2018, Amazon became the second company to achieve a market value of over $1 trillion, after Apple. With razor-thin margins in the retail business, many wondered, how did Amazon get so big?
Jeff Bezos has always been transparent about the core management principles that fuel Amazon’s growth. In particular, he credits Amazon’s success to its commitment to the following three areas:
1. Accepting the occasional failure as the price of innovation.
According to Bezos, failure breeds innovation. Unlike most companies who seek to avoid failure like the plague, Amazon understood the need to innovate to stay relevant, and isn’t solely focused on minimizing profits.
“One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins….”, said Bezos, in his 2015 letter to shareholders.
2. Work every day like it’s the first day of business.
Bezos’ distinctive style of management espouses a mindset of working with a sense of urgency. In his 2016 letter to shareholders, he explained why operating in this manner is crucial:
“Day two is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
3. Giving customers what they want, before they know it.
Amazon’s widely popular Prime Membership program is a result of their desire to develop solutions that make Amazon an indispensable part of their customers’ lives.
“No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it”, said Bezos, in his 2017 letter to shareholders.
Humanity in the Stars
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Bezos’ meteoric rise has been the sheer scale and magnitude of his pet project, Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer founded in 2000.
Blue Origin was created with an objective to develop “technologies to enable human access to space at a dramatically lower cost and increased reliability”. Bezos has repeatedly stated that he wants to see millions of people living and working in space, and to get heavy industry and power generation off Earth, so that Earth can be preserved.
In May 2019, Bezos described his ambitious vision of the future: a trillion people in space, living not on moons or planets, but space colonies in a style originally envisioned by a Princeton physicist, Gerard K. O’Neill.
Recognizing the infeasibility of building such colonies in the present, he conceded that these space colonies would have to be built by future generations. What he and others today could do today, he said, is to start building the infrastructure. In the short-term, that includes a lunar lander, Blue Moon, to deliver small rovers and other scientific packages to the Moon.
While Earth has plenty of problems today, humanity faces existential concerns in the decades to come, and drastic solutions such as this have to be considered in this light. His critics may accuse him of being too dreamy about outer space, but as the oft-quoted saying goes, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer”.