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  • Down to Only One Wizard

    Is Jeff Bezos the new Steve Jobs?

    In the summer of 1994,  Jeff  Bezos quit his job in New York as a vice president at the financial-services firm D.E. Shaw. He and his wife, MacKenzie, moved to Seattle to take advantage of the explosive growth of the Internet and to start Amazon. The company’s original name, Cadabra, was nixed after someone misheard it as “cadaver.”

    When the site first launched in 1995, everyone at the company was working until 2 or 3 in the morning, kneeling on a concrete floor, to get the books packed, addressed and shipped. Jeff Bezos in 1998, above.

    Their first rental, a three-bedroom house in the suburb of Bellevue, cost $890 a month. Mr. Bezos chose it in part because it had one crucial requirement—a garage, so that he could boast of having a garage start-up like Silicon Valley legends from Hewlett-Packard on. The garage had actually been converted into a recreation room, but Mr. Bezos figured it was close enough.

    The site was launched on July 16, 1995—just as masses of people started moving onto the Internet and before many competitors had created strong commercial sites.

    Mr. Bezos moved the company to an industrial neighborhood that it shared with a needle-exchange program and a shuttered pawnshop. He had 1,100 square feet of office space on the second floor and 400 square feet in the basement to use as a warehouse. The desks were made from cheap doors, with sawed-off two-by-fours for legs. The warehouse could store just a few hundred books on their way from the distributor to customers.

    Thanks to discounts of 10% to 30%, orders started coming in as soon as the site launched. At first, there were a half-dozen orders per day. One of the programmers set up the computers so that a bell would ring every time an order came in. A great novelty at first, it quickly got annoying and had to be turned off.

    Three days after launch, Mr. Bezos got an email from Jerry Yang, one of the founders of Yahoo. “Jerry said, ‘We think your site is pretty cool; would you like us to put it on the What’s Cool page?’ ” Mr. Bezos later recalled. “We thought about it some, and we realized it might be like taking a sip from a fire hose, but we decided to go ahead and go for it.” Yahoo put the site on the list, and orders soared.

    By the end of the week, Amazon took in over $12,000 worth of orders. It was hard to keep up. That week, the company shipped just $846 worth of books. The following week brought in nearly $15,000 worth of orders, and the team was able to ship just over $7,000 worth of them.

    At launch, the site wasn’t even truly finished. Mr. Bezos’s philosophy was to get to market quickly, in order to get a jump on the competition, and to fix problems and improve the site as people started using it. Among the early mistakes, according to Mr. Bezos: “We found that customers could order a negative quantity of books! And we would credit their credit card with the price and, I assume, wait around for them to ship the books.”

    During the first few weeks, everyone at the company was working until two or three in the morning to get the books packed, addressed and shipped. Mr. Bezos had neglected to order packing tables, so people ended up on their knees on the concrete floor to package the books. He later recalled in a speech that, after hours of doing this, he commented to one of the employees that they had to get knee pads. The employee, Nicholas Lovejoy, “looked at me like I was a Martian,” Mr. Bezos said. Mr. Lovejoy suggested the obvious: Buy some tables. “I thought that was the most brilliant idea I had ever heard in my life,” he said.

    Read Full Story on Wall Street Journal.com

    Good luck.

    Calvin Wilson
    Founder and CEO
    Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals

    Filed Under: Gamechangers


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