The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone is a book detailing some factors that led to the rise of Amazon as one of the largest corporate success stories of all time. I opened it expecting to skim through some parts, but ended up reading it in full in one sitting, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It left me with a strong sense of what makes Amazon, well, Amazon. And the best answer to that question is without a doubt, Bezos himself.
Rather than a full book review, I’m going to share some quotes from The Everything Store that stood out to me. One fun thing to note is that when this book was published in 2013, Amazon was ‘only’ a $150B company, but today is worth over 1.5 trillion. It’s a wonderful book and is worth buying if you want to read stories about Jeff Bezos’ extreme confidence in himself and his company as they overcome challenges one after another full-speed ahead, from local stores to Barnes and Noble to Ebay to Walmart and beyond. Below are some quotes that I particularly liked, only from the first fourth of the book. I was quoting the book more than anticipated, so I stopped this post early but will leave it up as an advertisement for the book.
Bezos is an excruciatingly prudent communicator for his own company.
He is sphinxlike with details of his plans, keeping thoughts and intentions
private, and he’s an enigma in the Seattle business community and in the
broader technology industry. He rarely speaks at conferences and gives
media interviews infrequently.
There is so much stuff that has yet to be invented.
There’s so much new that’s going to happen.
People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to
be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.
Amazon’s internal customs are deeply idiosyncratic. PowerPoint decks
or slide presentations are never used in meetings. Instead, employees are
required to write six-page narratives laying out their points in prose, because
Bezos believes doing so fosters critical thinking. For each new product, they
craft their documents in the style of a press release. The goal is to frame a
proposed initiative in the way a customer might hear about it for the first
time. Each meeting begins with everyone silently reading the document, and
discussion commences afterward
“If you want to get to the truth about what makes us different, it’s this,”
Bezos says, veering into a familiar Jeffism: “We are genuinely customer-
centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented and we genuinely like to invent.
Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor,
rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay
dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years
they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close-followers
rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth
about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of
those three elements.”
Bezos interpolated from this that Web activity overall had gone up that year by a factor of roughly 2,300—a 230,000 percent increase. “Things just don’t grow that fast,” Bezos later said. “It’s highly unusual, and that started me thinking, What kind of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?”
Jackie Bezos suggested to her son that he run his new company at night or on the weekends. “No, things are changing fast,” Bezos told her. “I need to move quickly.”
Internet records show that during that time, they registered the Web domains Awake.com, Browse.com, and Bookmall.com. Bezos also briefly considered Aard.com, from a Dutch word, as a way to stake a claim at the top of most listings of websites, which at the time were arranged alphabetically.
Bezos and his wife grew fond of another possibility: Relentless.com. Friends suggested that it sounded a bit sinister. But something about it must have captivated Bezos: he registered the URL in September 1994, and he kept it. Type Relentless.com into the Web today and it takes you to Amazon.
They set up shop in the converted garage of Bezos’s house, an enclosed space without insulation and with a large, black potbellied stove at its center. Bezos built the first two desks out of sixty-dollar blond-wood doors from Home Depot, an endeavor that later carried almost biblical significance at Amazon, like Noah building the ark.
During that time, the name Cadabra lived on, serving as a temporary placeholder. But in late October of 1994, Bezos pored through the A section of the dictionary and had an epiphany when he reached the word Amazon. Earth’s largest river; Earth’s largest bookstore.3 He walked into the garage one morning and informed his colleagues of the company’s new name. He gave the impression that he didn’t care to hear anyone’s opinion on it, and he registered the new URL on November 1, 1994. “This is not only the largest river in the world, it’s many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all other rivers away,” Bezos said.
One early challenge was that the book distributors required retailers to order ten books at a time. Amazon didn’t yet have that kind of sales volume, and Bezos later enjoyed telling the story of how he got around it. “We found a loophole,” he said. “Their systems were programmed in such a way that you didn’t have to receive ten books, you only had to order ten books. So we found an obscure book about lichens that they had in their system but was out of stock. We began ordering the one book we wanted and nine copies of the lichen book. They would ship out the book we needed and a note that said, ‘Sorry, but we’re out of the lichen book.’
A week after the launch, Jerry Yang and David Filo, Stanford graduate students, wrote them an e-mail and asked if they would like to be featured on a site called Yahoo that listed cool things on the Web. At that time, Yahoo was one of the most highly trafficked sites on the Web and the default home page for many of the Internet’s earliest users.
In the meetings, Bezos presented what was, at best, an ambiguous picture of Amazon’s future. At the time, it had about $139,000 in assets, $69,000 of which was in cash. The company had lost $52,000 in 1994 and was on track to lose another $300,000 that year. Against that meager start, Bezos would tell investors he projected $74 million in sales by 2000 if things went moderately well, and $114 million in sales if they went much better than expected. (Actual net sales in 2000: $1.64 billion.)
Bezos later told the online journal of the Wharton School, “We got the normal comments from well-meaning people who basically didn’t believe the business plan; they just didn’t think it would work.”11 Among the concerns was this prediction: “If you’re successful, you’re going to need a warehouse the size of the Library of Congress,” one investor told him.
When his goals did slip out, they were improbably grandiose. Though the startup’s focus was clearly on books, Davis recalls Bezos saying he wanted to build “the next Sears,” a lasting company that was a major force in retail. Lovejoy, a kayaking enthusiast, remembers Bezos telling him that he envisioned a day when the site would sell not only books about kayaks but kayaks themselves, subscriptions to kayaking magazines, and reservations for kayaking trips—everything related to the sport. “I thought he was a little bit crazy,” says Lovejoy.
The IPO process was painful in another way: During the seven-week SEC-mandated “quiet period,” Bezos was not permitted to talk to the press. “I can’t believe we have to delay our business by seven years,” he complained, equating weeks to years because he believed that the Internet was evolving at such an accelerated rate. Staying out of the press soon became even more difficult. Three days before Amazon’s IPO, Barnes & Noble filed a lawsuit against Amazon in federal court alleging that Amazon was falsely advertising itself to be the Earth’s Largest Bookstore. Riggio was appropriately worried about Amazon, but with the lawsuit he ended up giving his smaller competitor more attention. Later that month, the Riggios unveiled their own website, and many seemed ready to see Amazon crushed. The CEO of Forrester Research, a widely followed technology research firm, issued a report in which he called the company “Amazon.Toast.”
It was a distilled version of the dissatisfaction felt by many early Amazon employees. With his convincing gospel, Bezos had persuaded them all to have faith, and they were richly rewarded as a result. Then the steely-eyed founder replaced them with a new and more experienced group of believers. Watching the company move on without them gave these employees a gnawing sensation, as if their child had left home and moved in with another family. But in the end, as Bezos made abundantly clear to Shel Kaphan,family. But in the end, as Bezos made abundantly clear to Shel Kaphan, Amazon had only one true parent.
“You seem like a really nice guy, so don’t take this the wrong way, but you really need to sell to Barnes and Noble and get out now,” one student bluntly informed Bezos. Brian Birtwistle, a student in the class, recalls that Bezos was humble and circumspect. “You may be right,” Amazon’s founder told the students. “But I think you might be underestimating the degree to which established brick-and-mortar business, or any company that might be used to doing things a certain way, will find it hard to be nimble or to focus attention on a new channel. I guess we’ll see.”
“There will be a proliferation of companies in this space and most will die. There will be only a few enduring brands, and we will be one of them.”
During that time, no one placed bigger, bolder bets on the Internet than Jeff Bezos. Bezos believed more than anyone that the Web would change the landscape for companies and customers, so he sprinted ahead without the least hesitation. “I think our company is undervalued” became another oft- repeated Jeffism. “The world just doesn’t understand what Amazon is going to be.”
As the company grew, Bezos offered another sign that his ambitions were larger than anyone had suspected. He started hiring more Walmart executives.
Around that time, Wright showed Bezos the blueprints for a new warehouse in Fernley, Nevada, thirty miles east of Reno. The founder’s eyes lit up. “This is beautiful, Jimmy,” Bezos said. Wright asked who he needed to show the plans to and what kind of return on investment he would have to demonstrate. “Don’t worry about that,” Bezos said. “Just get it built.” “Don’t I have to get approval to do this?” Wright asked. “You just did,” Bezos said. Over the next year, Wright went on a wild $300 million spending spree.
“Walmart did not even have Internet in the building back then,” says Kerry Morris, a product buyer who moved from Walmart to Amazon. “We weren’t online. We weren’t e-mailing. None of us even knew what he meant by online retail.”
The venture capitalists backing eBay asked around and heard that one did not work with Jeff Bezos; one worked for him.
Bezos went skiing in Aspen that winter with Cook and Doerr and finally told them what was coming. “He said, ‘We’re going to win, so you probably want to consider whether to stay on the eBay board,’ ” says Cook. “He thought it would be the only natural outcome.”
If you liked these quotes, consider reading the full copy (perhaps even buying it from Amazon), it’s definitely a nice read about an amazing company and individual.