Jeff Bezos, the man who just wanted to sell books online

November 1, 2022 by
Frank Calviño

Success Quick Tales - One of the richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos, is the owner and founder of Amazon, the most well-known e-commerce retail marketplace globally. 

But, how did all this come to happen? Why Bezos was so successful? What he did do right and above all, why? Today, in Sucess Quick Tales, we want to take a short look at Bezos’s story, its key moments, and the main learnings and insights we can take from it. Let us begin! 

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Bezos: It’s easier to be smart than to be kind 

Bezos was born in January 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His mother, Jacklyn Gise, was 17 years old and in a relationship with Ted Jorgensen that lasted only a few months after the birth of her son.

💡 Jeff never knew his biological father. Miguel 'Mike' Bezos, a Cuban immigrant, who would end up making a living as an engineer for ExxonMobil, took his place when he married Jackie shortly thereafter. 

He became his natural father. He adopted him and gave him his last name, so Jeffrey Preston grew up as Bezos alongside his siblings Mark and Christina. First in Albuquerque, later in Houston, and finally in Miami.

He spent his summers on his maternal grandparents' ranch in Cotulla, Texas. There he learned to take care of livestock and fought off boredom with games of calculus and probability: how much oxygen does a person consume, how much does each family member spend on food, and how many years of life can you lose to tobacco? 

When Bezos was nine years old, he told his grandmother Mattie that he was going to die if she kept smoking like that, not knowing that she already had cancer. Hearing this, the woman burst into tears. 

💡 When Bezos went to his grandfather to ask about the reaction of his grandmother Mattie, his grandfather Laurence gave him an answer that will forever haunt Bezos: "it's harder to be kind than to be smart," in clear reference that, being smart is a responsibility because you can actually notice things that perhaps other people can’t see or understand, or that they simply just don’t want to talk about it. 

💡 Laurence will be an influence on Bezos throughout his life. And his scientific background - Laurence was part of DARPA for his entire professional career - will inspire Bezos to pursue technology as a professional horizon.

Just a bookstore… but online 

Being Bezos a fan of computers and technology, he chooses to study Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Princeton University, New Jersey. 

He graduated in 1986 and soon began working, first as a programmer and later as a financial analyst in an investment company. 

💡 But when he discovered that the Internet was growing at 2,300% per year in a number of users, he decided to turn his life around.

He left Wall Street with no fear of regret and crossed the country with his wife Mackenzie to plan his own online business. 

💡 In 1994, he met with 60 family members, friends, and potential investors to persuade them to invest $50,000 in his revolutionary idea of creating an Internet bookstore. 

He convinced only 22, including his parents (who entrusted $300,000 to the project) and his siblings. He gave each of them less than 1% of the company's shares, a percentage that today makes them multi-millionaires if they still have it.

From the garage of his Seattle home, he started Cadabra, an online bookstore that sold its first book in 1995. 

Until this point, Bezos's only plan was to sell books. But, if one thing has always defined Bezos is a combination of a deep passion for technology and a keen eye for trends and numbers. 

Amazon: The Everything Store? 

Bezos achieved massive success selling books online. The books are perfect merchandise for e-commerce - a terminology that didn't even exist at the time -  being non-perishable, lightweight, and easy-to-store products. 

💡 The fact that books were lightweight also helped a lot in establishing an operational system that will later evolve into the amazing Amazon logistic, allowing Bezos to deliver its products to almost any location in the entire world. 

Looking in hindsight, the books were the perfect stepping stone for anyone pioneering e-commerce. 

Following the online bookstore concept success, Bezos started to think about selling more products with similar characteristics to the books. 

💡 In 1998, Amazon extended beyond books and started selling music CDs, and by the following year, it had added more product categories, such as toys, electronics, and tools. By December 1999, Amazon had shipped 20 million items to 150 countries around the globe.

It soon became Amazon to sell almost anything and escape the dismal shadow of a name that sounded almost the same as 'corpse'. It went public, grew, and fell to shoot its results back up, revolutionize global eCommerce and signal the character of Bezos' empire.

It is much more than a retail business, it offers B2B and warehouse logistic services, financing, and loan services and now it even has a multimedia streaming division with Amazon Prime. 

Amazon operates in nine of the 10 largest industry sectors in the whole world and has made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world for years until he was surpassed by Elon Musk.

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