How Amazon's Jeff Bezos Became a Billionaire
Have you ever wondered how the unbelievably rich and successful founder of Amazon came to be the person he is today? The story behind Jeff Bezos and the making of Amazon is certainly an interesting one.
Let’s delve into the humble beginnings of this genius entrepreneur to learn how he built Amazon from the ground up and what strange quirks he is said to have in his daily life. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn what it takes to become an American billionaire like Jeff Bezos.
Born to a Teen Mom
On January 12, 1964, Jeffrey Preston Bezos was born to Jacklyn Gise and Ted Jorgenson in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His mother was only 17 years old at the time, his father was 19, and the young couple was not destined to last very long together. His father suffered from excessive drinking, and his mother filed for divorce when he was just 17 months old.
A New Father
In 1968, when Bezos was just four years old, Jacklyn Gise remarried a man named Miguel Bezos, who had arrived in the U.S. from Cuba in 1962 at the young age of 16 without knowing how to speak English. "His grit, determination and optimism are inspiring," says Bezos of the man who raised him.
An Inventor from the Start
Even as a kid, Bezos was already inventing things. He apparently created a science laboratory in the family's garage and came up with different science projects to test out in his spare time. Two half-siblings came along over the years, and he even built his own alarm system to keep them out of his stuff.
Summers on the Ranch
Jeff Bezos was close to his grandparents, and he often spent summers on their Texas ranch as a child. In a commencement speech Bezos gave at Princeton, he described how he "helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle and do other chores" around the farm. It was a far cry from his world of laboratories and alarm clocks, but it undoubtedly taught Bezos some practical life skills and a great work ethic.
High School Valedictorian
Bezos’ love for science only intensified during high school. He attended a Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida and was later awarded the Silver Knight Award. He also started his first business during this time, creating The Dream Institute, a summer camp for kids in fourth through sixth grades.
Dreams of Being a Theoretical Physicist
Bezos pursued his love of science and technology at the prestigious Princeton University, where he studied electrical engineering and computer science. In 1986, he graduated with a reported 4.2 grade-point average. If you've been to college, you know that's some serious brain power!
Some might be surprised to learn the humble Amazon founder got his start on Wall Street. He had a brief stint working at a financial telecommunications startup just out of college, and then he quickly moved into the banking world. In 1990, he joined an investment management firm called D.E. Shaw & Co., and he became the company's vice president in just four years.
A Simple Statistic That Started It All
According to Entrepreneur, Bezos got the idea to start an internet business from a statistic he read online. It wasn't like he was searching for the statistic, either. He was simply surfing the web for potential opportunities D.E. Shaw & Co. could invest in when he read the fateful information.
Amazon is a household name that is pretty much synonymous with online shopping. Interestingly, at its inception it was almost called Cadabra. Wait, as in Abracadabra? That thing magicians say? On a phone call with his lawyer, Bezos threw the name out as an idea for the business.
Earth's Biggest Bookstore
The Amazon you know and love today, where you can find just about anything under the sun, wasn't always so expansive, if you’ll recall. In fact, Bezos originally thought he would only be selling books, as indicated by the original tagline "Earth's biggest bookstore."
The thing about Jeff Bezos is he doesn’t do anything halfway. When he decided to quit his job and pursue a risky business venture, he really went for it. Shortly after quitting, Bezos took his wife MacKenzie and dog Kamala and moved to Seattle, Washington.
Started in a Garage
Like a couple of other famous tech startups, Amazon started in a garage. Bezos knew a thing or two about innovation in garages from his childhood science experiments, so it probably felt perfect to him. With only five other employees, the Amazon team created its programs and designed the website.
The Two-Pizza Methodology
Bezos has a famous "two pizza rule" that he applies to running a business. His philosophy is that a team should be able to be fed by two pizzas — and nothing more. If they need more than two pizzas, the group is too big. Too many people means nothing gets done. Too few people means not enough gets done.
A Man Who Does His Own Footwork
Imagine the number of packages shipping out daily for Amazon orders. You see them in front of neighbors' doors, around the apartment complex and in your own mailbox. Every time one arrives, it almost feels like Christmas morning.
In the beginning, Amazon kept a pretty low profile. Most of its revenue generation depended on word-of-mouth, email and plug-in online communities. Eventually, however, Amazon received its first major publicity, thanks to Yahoo. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang put Amazon on the "What's Cool" Yahoo webpage, gaining Amazon a much bigger audience.
Amazon's Fast Growth
In just two years, Amazon had made $15.7 million in sales and increased its workforce to 100 employees. The growth was consistent and quick. Three years later, those numbers had increased to $610 million and 3,000, respectively, with workers in Britain and Germany.
2012 Holiday Season
Interestingly, the holiday season of 2012 was one for the books in the eyes of Amazon's founder. By that time, Amazon had expanded to include the sale of a wide variety of items and had established itself as the ruler of online shopping. It continued to be even more wildly successful with each passing year.
The Customer Knows Best
Bezos has always stated that the customer comes first. Since the beginning, he has held customer satisfaction in the highest esteem, making sure there were plenty of opportunities for product reviews and returns. Bezos even said, "The number one thing that has made us successful by far is obsessive-compulsive focus on the customer, as opposed to obsession over the competitor."
Remember how Amazon originally started as a bookstore? Books were the main product, and Bezos never imagined the heights the company would eventually reach. As Amazon's success increased, so did Bezos' ambition. The sale of CDs was quickly incorporated into Amazon, changing the tagline from "Earth's biggest bookstore" to "Books, music, and more."
Amazon Prime Originals
Did you think Amazon's rapid expansion would surely stop at that point? Level out, at least? If so, you were dead wrong. With the success of Netflix and Hulu, Bezos saw yet another opportunity for his business. In 2011, Amazon Prime members were given access to TV shows and movies for streaming online, all without ads.
The Washington Post
In 2013, Jeff Bezos made the move to purchase The Washington Post for $250 million. This might seem like a strange move for an internet mogul, but Bezos explains that it actually made sense to him. Although he admittedly knew nothing about newspapers, he did know about the internet, and that's what he believed could really benefit the newspaper industry.
Jeff Bezos and Space
One of the prominent aspects of Bezos' personality is his passion for space. In his high school valedictorian speech, he talked about his dream of humanity living in settlements orbiting the Earth, turning the planet into a giant nature preserve. In his opinion, this is how we save humanity from climate change.
The number of innovative interests Jeff Bezos has are endless. With Amazon, The Washington Post and Blue Origin, he already has a lot going on in his life — but he never seems to settle for what he already has.
Bezos has earned the nickname "change junkie" by many. Does he obsessively collect spare change? No, the "change" refers to his constant need to adapt. He is a firm believer in adjusting to circumstances, embracing all that is new and welcoming change. In other words, keeping up with the times.
Lover of the Written Word
Despite promoting the use of e-books and Kindles, Jeff Bezos has a love of the written word in its physical form. Many say that he much prefers ink and paper to a glowing computer screen.
So what is it like to work for Jeff Bezos? As with any well-known person, many varying accounts are out there describing his personality when it comes to work. Some commend his creative, inspiring attitude, while others claim he micromanages and berates employees.
Jeff Bezos' geeky side is one that many people enjoy. His jolly laugh has become something of a trademark, and a former employee describes him as a "geeky tinkerer." Thinking about how things work is undoubtedly a favorite activity of his, and his excitement over space and technology certainly earns him the geek label all by itself.
Jeff Bezos' religion is Christianity, although the exact denomination is not known. Mostly, he prefers to keep his religious beliefs private, instead advocating for respect and inclusion of all religions. He has also used his platform to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie have three biological sons together and an adopted daughter from China. MacKenzie was by his side for the startup of Amazon, and they spent a total of 25 years together. Sadly, the couple recently finalized a divorce with a $38 billion settlement.
Forbes puts Jeff Bezos' net worth around $108 billion (the site updates in real time). He currently ranks number one on the Forbes 400 list, just above Bill Gates. That's certainly an impressive ranking and an amount of money that it’s hard to comprehend.