41 photos of Amazon's incredible journey from the dot-com crash to a trillion-dollar company

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesJeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.
  • In July, Amazon turned 25 and saw its market value (again) exceed $US1 trillion.
  • Getting its start in founder Jeff Bezos‘ Bellevue, Washington garage, the company has a market cap of nearly a trillion dollars.
  • Here’s how Bezos started a company that survived the dot-com boom to define the world of online commerce.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With a market cap of over $US1 trillion, Amazon is one of the most valuable brands in the world.

The story of how Amazon got there is one of single-minded focus.

Thanks to the leadership of founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, and a willingness to look totally out there to investors and customers alike, Amazon was able to weather the dot-com bubble burst and turn online shopping into a matter of habit for consumers all over the globe.

On July 5, Amazon celebrated its 25th birthday.

Here’s how Amazon stopped at nothing to go from Jeff Bezos’ garage to international mega-brand in 25 years.


Jeff Bezos, a huge “Star Trek” fan, had a love of technology from a young age. He would go on to major in computer science at Princeton before accepting a job with hedge fund D.E. Shaw, where he became a senior vice president after only four years.

Photographer/Wikimedia/Public DomainLeonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek

Bezos got to play the role of a Starfleet official in the film “Star Trek Beyond” (2016).

Sources: Wired,Business Insider,

CNBC


In 1994, Bezos read an article about how this newfangled “Internet” thing had grown 2,300% in just one year. Deciding that he’d regret missing out on the Dot-Com Boom if he didn’t do something, he realised that tackling the bookstore market — then ruled by chains like Barnes & Noble — was his best way into creating an online store. The idea would fully form during a drive from Texas to Seattle.

Mary Altaffer / AP ImagesBarnes and Noble, Fifth Avenue (2005)

Sources: Business Insider, CNBC, Wired, Forbes


Bezos kicked around a lot of names for the new bookstore: MakeItSo.com, based on Captain Picard’s catchphrase in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was one. Another was “Cadabra,” to evoke a sense of magic. In fact, the company was first registered as Cadabra in 1994. But the name got changed when people misheard it as “Cadaver.”

Andy Rogers / AP ImagesBezos holds Amazon’s first sign, spray painted for an interview with a Japanese TV station (1995)

Source: The Everything Store, New York Times, Business Insider, & Business Insider


Even before the company was incorporated, Bezos started talking to Shel Kaphan about Amazon. Kaphan was the company’s first employee, and worked closely with Bezos during the company’s early days.

The Washington Post / Getty ImagesShel Kaphan, Amazon’s first employee

Source: Business Insider


The name “Amazon” was eventually selected for a bunch of reasons: It shows up first in alphabetical order, it’s one of the world’s longest rivers, and it was “exotic and different,” just like the young company wanted to be. Amazon got its start in Bezos’ garage in Bellevue, Washington, right in Microsoft’s backyard.

Nikki Kahn / Getty ImagesBezos started Amazon in the garage of his Bellevue, Washington home.

Source: Business Insider, Curbed, The Telegraph


Amazon.com finally launched in 1995. Most brick-and-mortar bookstores and even catalogues often only had 200,000 titles, but Amazon.com could offer more — a lot more.

Amazon

https://twitter.com/OnlyInBOS/status/1147120441552703489?ref_src=twsrc^tfw

Sources: Business Insider,

Entrepreneurial Marketing


The first book ever sold on Amazon.com was Douglas Hofstadter’s “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought,” sold while the company was still based in Bezos’ garage. Within two months, Amazon was doing $US20,000 of sales every week. You can also see Amazon’s first logo on the invoice here.

John Wainwright/QuoraJohn Wainwright was the first customer to ever order a book on Amazon. Here is the original packing slip and the book.

Sources: The Atlantic, Inc.


Amazon’s early headquarters was in a modest building in Seattle. The office building located at 1516 Second Avenue was next to a wig parlor and “porno store.”

Google MapsAmazon’s office building at 1516 Second Avenue, Seattle.

Source: CNBC


Amazon’s fast growth led it to go public less than two years later, on May 15th, 1997. Shares were initially priced as $US18. If you had invested $US100 in Amazon right after this IPO, you would have upwards of $US120,000 today.

Frank Micelotta / Getty ImagesBezos opens the NASDAQ stock market (2003).

Source: CNET,Investopia


But after Amazon went public, the world got its first look at Bezos’ business plan for the company. At the time, shareholders were really nervous about Bezos’ plan to defer profitability for as many as five years while the company built up its infrastructure. In November of 1997, Amazon opened the first of its legendary warehouse fulfillment centres, in Delaware.

Sources: TechCrunch, Quartz


But Amazon’s growth was unstoppable. In 1997, Jeff Bezos hand-delivered Amazon’s one millionth order to a customer in Japan. He had purchased a biography of Princess Diana and a Microsoft Windows NT manual.

Amazon

Source:

Wired


In 1998, Amazon moved into a much bigger headquarters: Seattle’s Pacific Medical Center building, now known as Pacific Tower.

Reuters ImagesPacific Medical Center in Seattle

In 1999, Time named Jeff Bezos “Person of the Year” for bringing online shopping to the masses. Just a year later, Amazon’s competitors in online shopping started to go bust when the dot-com bubble burst.

Play GIFAmazon

Source: Time


By 2000, Amazon’s transition from “bookstore” to “everything store” was well underway, with the online retailer selling music, movies, video games, home improvement supplies, and a little of everything else. To better reflect this shift, Amazon switched to the “Smile” logo that it still uses today. Note how it goes from A to Z.

Mark Lennihan / AP ImagesAmazon Smile Logo

Source: Mashable


Amazon bolstered its product selection even more in 2000 with the introduction of Amazon Marketplace, which let people (and small businesses) sell their used books directly to customers.

Source: Bloomberg


Amazon’s growth was helped by some seriously savvy moves from Bezos and company. From 2001 to 2011, Target farmed out control of its website to Amazon, essentially ceding its online presence to its rival for ten years. And until June 2006, going to ToysRUs.com just brought you to Amazon’s toy store section.

Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Source: GeekWire, Business Insider


Of course, there were some lemons, too. Bezos was personally very excited when Amazon became the leading online retailer of Segway personal transports, but they didn’t exactly change the world.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesBezof rides a Segway.

Souce: Wall Street Journal


On the other hand, some ideas worked out really well. In 2001, the first version of Amazon Web Services was introduced, essentially letting software developers rent out servers from Amazon’s massive, nondescript data centres to run their apps at high volumes. Amazon Web Services hit over $US7 billion in revenue in the Q4 of 2018.

Reuters ImagesAmazon Web Services logo in Las Vegas.

Sources: CNBC,The Guardian


In 2005, Amazon introduced Amazon Prime, its “All-You-Can-Eat” shipping plan where you pay a flat fee and get access to unlimited 2-day shipping for a year. When it first launched, it was $US79 per year, but in 2018 it went up to $US120 per year. Today, it includes streaming movies, music, and other perks.

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Source: Washington Post, Amazon


In 2006, Amazon’s online video service Unbox launched, complete with a Tivo partnership. Unbox would evolve into Amazon Instant Video, and then Amazon Prime Video. Amazon invested heavily in Instant Video with the 2010 launch of Amazon Studios, an original TV production studio. In 2015, the show “Transparent” became the first program from an online video service to win a Golden Globe for best series. In 2017, “Manchester by the Sea” was the first film from a streaming service to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Source: Amazon, Vulture, Variety


Over the years, the “Harry Potter” books kept setting — and then breaking — Amazon’s ordering records, as people turned to the online shop to make sure their copies arrived right on release day. In 2007, the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” became the all-time Amazon bestseller.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was an Amazon best-seller in 2007.

Source: Amazon


In 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle electronic book reader. It wasn’t the first eBook reader by any means, but it was the first to become popular in the mainstream — Amazon’s relationships with book publishers, plus built-in free cellular Internet service in the first versions of the device, meant that people could get books anywhere.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesBezos holds Kindle 2 at its unveiling (2009).

Sources: Wired, New York Times, The Register


In fact, 2007 saw Amazon build out a bunch of other new businesses, like MP3 music downloads and the AmazonFresh grocery service in Seattle.

Wikimedia CommonsAmazonFresh truck in Seattle (2012).

Sources: Reuters, Recode


In 2010, the growing Amazon started to move out from its Pacific Tower headquarters and into its urban campus in South Lake Union, Seattle urban campus — it basically feels like a city neighbourhood, not an office.

Matt Weinberger/Business InsiderAmazon’s Day 1 tower, part of its South Lake Union urban campus.

A plaque near a door in the Day 1 building features a quote from Jeff Bezos:

“There’s 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.”

Source: Curbed, The Guardian


In 2011, Amazon really doubled down on its hardware business with the launch of the Kindle Fire, which ran a custom version of Android called FireOS. At $US199, it was the cheapest tablet around, turning it into a smash hit.

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesBezos holding the new Kindle Fire (2011).

Sources: Hollywood Reporter, Lifewire


Over this period, Amazon just kept growing — so its approximately 50 warehouses nationwide had to push to meet the demand, which led to reports of inhospitable working conditions: workers had strict quotas to meet, and at one center, employees reportedly had to work in 114 degree heat.

Matt Cardy/Getty ImagesAmazon fulfillment center in Skewen, Wales (2011).

Sources: GeekWire, Gawker, Business Insider


In 2012, Amazon bought a startup called Kiva Systems and used its technology to build robots to help manage the tremendous demand.

Justin Sullivan / Getty ImagesA Kiva robot moves a rack of merchandise at an Amazon fulfillment center Tracy, California (2015).

Source: PitchBook


In 2013, President Barack Obama chose to give an economic policy speech at one of Amazon’s warehouse fulfillment centres, praising the company for providing jobs to middle-class workers.

Jessica McGowan / Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama makes a speech about the economy and jobs at an Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee (2013).

Source: Business Insider


But Amazon has also come under scrutiny for its business practices, both in the warehouse and in the office.

Sean Gallup / Getty ImagesWorkers protest outside of Amazon Warehouse in Leipzig, Germany (2013)

In 2013 and 2014, Amazon warehouse union workers in Germany had a series of strikes to protest what they said were low wages.

In 2015, a New York Times report highlighted criticism from current and former Amazon employees regarding the company’s intense workplace culture.


Amazon has also had some flops. In 2014, Amazon introduced the Fire Phone, its first-ever smartphone, trying to extend the popularity of the Kindle Fire tablets into a new market. But it was a famous flop, with Amazon soon clearing them out for a penny a pop.

Ted S. Warren / AP ImagesBezos introduces the Amazon Fire Phone (2014)

But it might try again.

Source: Business Insider


In 2014, Amazon debuted its Echo smart speaker speaker, with its virtual assistant Alexa.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


In 2015, Amazon overtook Walmart to become the most valuable retailer in the world.

Gary Cameron/REUTERS; Mike Blake/REUTERS; Samantha Lee/Business InsiderAmazon vs. Walmart

Source: Business Insider


Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in 2015 in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson / AP ImagesCustomers entering Amazon’s first bookstore (2015).

Source: Business Insider


In June 2017, Amazon acquired the Whole Foods supermarket chain for $US13.7 billion.

Business Insider/Hayley Peterson

Source: Business Insider & Business Insider


Bezos hit the number one spot in the Forbes billionaire rankings as the richest person in the world for the first time in July 2017.

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty; Skye Gould/Business InsiderJeff Bezos and Mackenzie Bezos are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage.

Source: Forbes


September 2017 marked the beginning of Amazon’s controversial search for the so-called HQ2, a second headquarters for the retail giant.

Bebeto Matthews / AP ImagesProtesters carry anti-Amazon posters during a coalition rally and press conference opposing Amazon headquarters getting subsidies to locate in the New York neighbourhood of Long Island City, Queens (2018)

Cities submitted extensive proposals – 238 total – to woo Amazon. In November 2018, the company selected two locations: Arlington, Virginia and New York City. In February 2019, Amazon pulled out of its New York City plans after pushback from local politicians. Still, Amazon plans to boost its New York office space footprint.

Source: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider


In September 2018, Amazon briefly became the second-ever $US1 trillion company, following Apple. Its stock price has since wobbled around that line.

Mark Lennihan / AP ImagesAmazon hits $US1 trillion market cap.

Source: Business Insider


Amazon raised minimum wage for its workers to $US15 per hour on November 1, 2018.

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty ImagesWorker at Amazon fulfillment center.

Source: Business Insider


Bezos announced his divorce from his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos, in January 2019.

Evan Agostini / AP ImagesJeff and MacKenzie Bezos at the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Shortly after Bezos announced the divorce, the National Enquirer reported that the CEO had been having an affair with former news anchor Lauren Sanchez, and included leaked text messages between the two.

Ultimately, MacKenzie Bezos got to keep 25% of their stake in Amazon.

Source: Business Insider & Business Insider


Amazon turned 25 years old on July 5, 2019.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Twenty-five years is an impressive milestone, especially considering Amazon’s humble origins. But according to Bezos, his company won’t be eternal: “Amazon is not too big to fail… In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail.”

Source: Business Insider


Amazon’s market value rose above $US1 trillion again on July 11, 2019.

Reed Saxon/AP Images

Needless to say, Amazon is going strong, for now.

Source: CNBC

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