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 that he wanted Amazon to be “an everything store.”
In an incredibly interesting book, author Brad Stone paints a picture of the early days of Amazon and how it grew into the behemoth that it is today.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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 favoured 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.
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.
The company was dramatically under-staffed. Every employee had to take a graveyard shift in the fulfillment centres to meet orders. They would bring their friends and family and would often sleep in their cars before going to work the next day.
After that, Amazon vowed that it would never have a shortage of labour to meet demand for the holidays again, which is why Amazon hires so many seasonal workers today.
The idea flopped, but Bezos himself loved it.
He purchased a $US40,000 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 read '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 centres.
Amazon suffered extreme growing pains in the late 90s and early 2000s. Facilities would get shut down for hours because of system outages, piles of products would sit around ignored by workers, and there was no preparation for new product categories.
When the kitchen category was first introduced, knives without protective packaging would come hurtling down conveyor shoots. It was extremely dangerous.
Employees would be organised into groups of fewer than ten people -- the perfect number to be satisfied by two pizzas for dinner -- and were expected to work autonomously. Teams had to set strict goals, with equations to measure their success. Those equations were called 'fitness functions,' and tracking those goals is how Bezos managed his teams.
'Communication is a sign of dysfunction,' Bezos said. 'It means people aren't working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.'
Many employees hated 'two-pizza teams,' and especially the stress of the fitness functions.
In 2004, Amazon launched a search engine, A9.com.
The A9 team started a project called Block View, a visual Yellow Pages, which would pair street-level photographs of stores and restaurants with their listings in A9's search results. On a budget of less than $US100,000, Amazon flew photographers to twenty major cities where they rented vehicles to start taking pictures of restaurants.
Amazon eventually dropped Block View in 2006, and Google didn't start Street View until 2007.
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