I’ll take the book, the lawnmower and the size 6 pumps.
A successful entrepreneur seems to be ever restless, even when they are already successful. For Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, a great future as an investment banker wasn’t enough – his dream was to create a new business on what was in 1994 a relatively unknown innovation – the World Wide Web.
It all began innocently enough. Bezos was looking for new companies to invest in and during his research noticed that web usage was growing at an astonishing rate, 2,300% a month. Seeing the potential of the Internet, he started thinking about what he could sell online. There really weren’t any businesses to model, as e-commerce was still in its infancy. After considering a couple dozen product lines, he settled on books, largely because of the sheer volume of books out in the world and the extremely limited selection at a neighborhood bookstore.
While his wife drove across the country to Seattle, Bezos tapped out his business plan on a laptop while he tapped potential investors on the phone.
The now legendary business took root in a two car garage in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. From the start, Bezos wanted to create a site where people could hang out and talk about books, share reviews and, of course, roam the virtual aisles and make purchases easily and effortlessly.
The “Earth’s Biggest Book Store” opened in July 1995 with a million titles. Orders began to flow in almost immediately. Within a year, the company had grown from just five employees to 100 and racked up sales of $15.7 million. Within three years, sales rose to $610 million with 3,000 employees worldwide.
Of course, as we all know now, books were just the beginning. Bezos and his team quickly discovered that customers wanted more than just books and added an ever expanding list of product categories to keep them coming back for more.
And come back they did. It’s been estimated that fully two-thirds of every person in America with an Internet connection has ordered from Amazon at one time or another. Starting off with just books, the company has continually diversified into new areas, including software and hardware, as evidenced by their best-selling Kindle line of tablets.
Part of the secret sauce of their success is the continual analysis of the data, making often bold decisions based on the slightest trend, or gleaning some trend that no one else in the marketplace had yet seen in their numbers. This, combined with their ability to ship products to customers all over the world, often overnight, transformed consumer expectations about what a shopping experience should be. The aftershocks in some categories, such as clothing and food, are still being felt.
Amazon wisely realized that expanding their offerings was key to success, as was great customer service. While they originally advertised themselves as the world’s biggest bookstore, a claim hotly contested by the bricks and mortar bookstores that were struggling to keep up, Amazon realized that they could use their online commerce system to offer a range of goods, making it easy for Amazon and its third party partners to reach vast numbers of customers. Their mission, “To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Most would agree that this Washington Business Legend has largely succeeded and there seems to be no end in sight to their success.