When Amazon first launched in 1995 as a website that only sold books, founder Jeff Bezos had a vision for the company’s explosive growth and e-commerce domination.
He knew from the very beginning, he wanted Amazon to be “an everything store.”
In author Brad Stone’s 2013 book on the origins of Amazon, he paints a picture of the early days of the company and how it grew into the behemoth that it is today.
Jillian D’Onfro contributed to an earlier version of this story.
“Amazon” wasn’t the company’s original name.
Jeff Bezos originally wanted to give the company the magical sounding name “Cadabra.”
Amazon’s first lawyer, Todd Tarbert, convinced him that the name sounded too similar to “Cadaver,” especially over the phone.
Bezos also favored the name “Relentless.” If you visit Relentless.com today, guess where it navigates to…
He finally chose “Amazon” because he liked that the company would be named after the largest river in the world, hence the company’s original logo.
In the early days of Amazon, a bell would ring in the office every time someone made a purchase, and everyone would gather around to see if they knew the customer.
It only took a few weeks before the bell was ringing so frequently that they had to turn it off.
Also, Amazon got started out of Bezos’ garage and the servers that the company used required so much power that Bezos and his wife couldn’t run a hair dryer or a vacuum in the house without blowing a fuse.
In the first month of its launch, Amazon had already sold books to people in all 50 states and in 45 different countries.
Learn more about some of Amazon’s first employees here.
Book distributors required retailers to order ten books at a time, and Amazon didn’t need that much inventory yet (or have that much money).
So, the team discovered a loophole. Although the distributors required that Amazon ordered 10 books, the company didn’t need to receive that many. So, they would order one book they needed, and nine copies of an obscure lichen book, which was always out of stock.
In the early days, Bezos, his wife MacKenzie, and their third employee, Shel Kaphan, would hold meetings in a local Barnes and Noble.
In 1996, Bezos met up with the owners of Barnes & Noble for dinner, and the execs said they admired Bezos but were going to launch a website soon that would crush Amazon. When that site did launch, one of the company’s founders, Len Riggio, wanted to call it Book Predator.
Jeff Bezos expected employees to work 60 hour weeks, at least. The idea of work-life balance didn’t exist.
One early employee worked so tirelessly over 8 months — biking back and forth from work in the very early morning and very late night — that he completely forgot about the blue station wagon that he’d parked near his apartment.
He never had time to read his mail, and when he finally did, he found a handful of parking tickets, a notice that his car had been towed, a few warnings from the towing company, and a final message that his car had been sold at an auction.
Amazon’s first crazy Christmas season came in 1998.
The company was dramatically under-staffed. Every employee had to take a graveyard shift in the fulfillment centers to meet orders. They would bring their friends and…