When Amazon was founded on July 5, 1994, as a book-only website, founder Jeff Bezos had a vision for the company, with explosive growth and e-commerce dominance, and Jeff Bezos originally wanted to call Amazon Amazon ‘Cadabra’. He knew from the beginning that he wanted Amazon to be “a store of everything”.
Now, Bezos will step down as CEO after 27 years and tens of billions in earnings. In author Brad Stone’s 2013 book on Amazon’s origins, he paints a picture of the company’s early days, and how it grew to become the giant it is today.
“Amazon” was not the original company name
Jeff Bezos originally wanted to give the company the magic name “Cadabra”. Amazon’s first attorney, Todd Tarbert, convinced him that the name sounded too much like “Corpse,” especially over the phone. (Bezos also preferred the name “Relentless. If you visit Relentless.com today, go to Amazon.)
He finally chose “Amazon” because he liked the company to be named after the biggest river in the world, hence the company’s original logo.
In Amazon’s early days, a bell rang in the office every time someone made a purchase and everyone gathered to see if they knew the customer.
It only took a few weeks for the bell to ring so often that they had to turn it off. Within the first month of its launch, Amazon had sold books to people in all 50 US states and 45 different countries.
An obscure book about lichens (an algae and skin disease) saved Amazon from bankruptcy.
Book distributors required retailers to order ten books at a time, and Amazon still didn’t need as much stock (or had as much money). Then the team discovered a loophole: while distributors required Amazon to order 10 books, the company didn’t need to receive that many.
Then they would order one book they needed and nine copies of an obscure book of lichen, which was always out of stock.
Amazon moved out of Bezos’ garage, and in the beginning, Bezos held meetings at Barnes & Noble.
In Amazon’s early days, the servers the company used required so much power that Bezos and his wife couldn’t use a hair dryer or a vacuum at home without blowing a fuse.
Jeff Bezos expected employees to work 60 hours a week at least. The idea of balance between personal and professional life did not exist.
One of the first employees worked tirelessly for eight months – cycling to and from work early and so late at night – that he completely forgot about the car he parked near his apartment.
He never had time to read his mail, and when he finally did, he found several parking tickets, a notice that his car had been towed, some notices from the towing company, and a final message that his car had been sold. at an auction.
Amazon’s first intense Christmas season arrived in 1998.
The company was dramatically understaffed. Each employee had to take a shift at the distribution centers to fill orders. They brought their friends and family and often slept in their cars before going to work the next day.
After that, Amazon swore there would never be a shortage of manpower to meet the holiday demand, and that’s why today Amazon hires many seasonal workers.
When eBay entered the scene, Amazon tried to build its own auction site to compete. The idea failed, but Bezos himself loved it.
He bought a $40,000 (about €34,000) skeleton of an Ice Age cave bear and displayed it in the lobby of the company’s headquarters. Next to it was a sign that said “Please Don’t Feed the Bear.” It’s still there today.
Bezos liked to move incredibly fast, which often created chaos, especially in Amazon’s distribution centers.
Amazon suffered extreme growth pains in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Facilities would be closed for hours because of system outages, piles of products would remain ignored by workers, and there was no preparation for new product categories. When the kitchen category was introduced, there were knives without protective packaging on the shelves, and they were extremely dangerous.
In early 2002, Bezos introduced the concept of “two pizza teams” at Amazon.
Employees would be organized into groups of less than 10 people – the perfect number to be satisfied with two pizzas for dinner – and would work autonomously. Teams had to set rigid goals with ratios to measure their success.
These equations were called “fitness functions”, and they tracked those goals, being the way Bezos managed his teams. “Communication is a sign of dysfunction,” Bezos said. “That means people aren’t working together in an organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate with each other less, not more. ” Many employees hated “two pizza teams” and especially the stress of physical activities.
Disgruntled customers can email Jeff Bezos directly and he will forward the message to the right person, with a dreaded addition: “?”
“When Amazon employees receive a question-marked email from Bezos, they react as if they’ve discovered a time bomb. You will have a few hours to resolve any issues the CEO flagged and prepare a full explanation of how it happened, a response that will be reviewed by a succession of managers before the response is presented to Bezos himself.
These procedures, as these emails are known, are Bezos’ way of ensuring that the voice of the customer is constantly heard within the company. “
Before Google had “Street View”, Amazon had “Block View”.
In 2004, Amazon launched a search engine, A9.com. The A9 team started a project called Block View, a visual yellow page, that would combine photos of stores and restaurants with their listings in A9’s search results. With a budget of less than $100,000, Amazon transported photographers to 20 major cities where they rented vehicles to start taking pictures of restaurants. Amazon finally abandoned Block View in 2006, and Google didn’t start Street View until 2007.
Amazon employees were encouraged to use “primitive screams” as a therapeutic exercise during the high tension of the holiday season.
Amazon hires seasonal workers, but the holiday season is still extremely stressful for logistics teams, and in the early 2000s, Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s operations manager, allowed any person or team that accomplished a significant goal to close down. eyes, lean back and yell into the phone at the top of your lungs. Wilke told Brad Stone that some of the early screams nearly blew out their loudspeakers.
Amazon’s call centers have had problems with their working conditions from the start, and many disgruntled workers have found ways to revolt.
Once, an employee who was getting ready to leave jumped on the distribution center conveyor belt and happily led her around the facility. One of the craziest stories, however, may be from 2006 and involves a temp worker at a Kansas call center: “He showed up at the beginning of his shift and left at the end, but he never recorded any time between them. It took at least a week for anyone to figure out what was happening: he had dug a lair inside a huge pile of empty wooden pallets.
Completely hidden, he used Amazon products to make a bed, tore up photos from Amazon books to line his makeshift walls, and stole food to snack on. When he was discovered, he was (unsurprisingly) fired. “
“Fiona” was the original codename for Amazon’s Kindle.
The Kindle’s original name comes from a book called “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson. It was a novel set in the future about an engineer who steals a rare interactive book to give to his knowledge-hungry daughter, Fiona. The team that worked on the Kindle prototypes thought of that fictional book as the model for the device they were going to work on.
The team ended up begging Bezos to keep Fiona’s name, but he opted for another suggestion, Kindle, because it evoked the idea of
start a fire.
Jeff Bezos was a demanding boss and could explode with employees. Rumor has it that he has hired a leadership coach to help him tone down.
Bezos was known for his explosive or sarcastic responses to employees if he wasn’t happy with what they reported to him, and he hired a leadership coach to try to rein in his harsh evaluations.
Here is one such example in Brad Stone’s book: “During a memorable meeting, Bezos scolded [Diane] Lye and his colleagues in their usual devastating way, telling them they were stupid and telling them they should ‘come back in a week, when they find out what happened’. And then, he still took a few steps, froze midway, as if something had just happened, turned around and added, ‘But great job, guys.’ “