The amazing life of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos Michael Seto/Business InsiderAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is one of the most powerful figures in tech with a net worth of roughly $57 billion.

Today, his “Everything Store” sells over $100 billion worth of goods per year.

Unfamiliar with Bezos’ story?

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

Jeff Bezos' mum, Jackie, was a teenager when she had him in January 1964. She had recently married Cuban immigrant Mike Bezos, who adopted Jeff. Jeff didn't learn that Mike wasn't his real father until he was 10 but says he was more fazed about learning he needed to get glasses than he was about the news.

When Bezos was four, his mother told his biological father, who was a circus performer at one point, to stay out of their lives. When Brad Stone interviewed his father for his book 'The Everything Store,' the man had no idea who his son had become.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Not Bezos' biological father.

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Bezos showed signs of brilliance from an early age. When he was a toddler, he took apart his crib with a screwdriver because he wanted to sleep in a real bed.

Between 4 and 16, Bezos spent summers on his grandparents' ranch in Texas, doing farm work like repairing windmills and castrating bulls.

His grandfather, Preston Gise, was a huge inspiration for Bezos and helped kindle his passion for intellectual pursuits. At a commencement address in 2010, Bezos said that Gise taught him that 'it's harder to be kind than clever.'

Bezos fell in love with reruns of the original 'Star Trek' and became a fan of the later versions, too. Early on, he thought about calling Amazon MakeItSo.com in reference to a famous line from Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

In school, Jeff told teachers 'the future of mankind is not on this planet.' As a kid, he wanted to be a space entrepreneur. Now he owns a space exploration company called Blue Origin.

Blue Origin

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After spending a miserable summer working at McDonald's as a teen, Bezos and his girlfriend started the DREAM Institute, a 10-day summer camp for kids. They charged $600 per kid but managed to sign-up six students. The 'Lord of the Rings' series made the required reading list.

He eventually went to college at Princeton and majored in computer science. Upon graduation, he turned down job offers from Intel and Bell Labs to join a startup called Fitel.

A young Bezos at an early computer

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After he quit Fitel, Bezos almost launched a news-by-fax service startup with Halsey Minor, who would later found CNET.

Instead, he got a job at hedge fund firm D.E. Shaw. He became a senior vice president after only four years.

DE Shaw

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Meanwhile, Bezos took ballroom dancing classes as part of a scheme to increase his 'women flow.' Just as Wall Streeters have a process for increasing their 'deal flow,' Bezos thought about meeting girls analytically.

In 1994, Bezos read that the web had grown 2,300% in one year. This number astounded him, and he decided he needed to find some way to take advantage of its rapid growth. He made a list of 20 possible product categories to sell online and decided that books were the best option.

Bezos decided to leave D.E. Shaw even though he had a great job.

'When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff,' he said later. 'I knew when I was eighty that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn't something you worry about when you're eighty years old. At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionising event. When I thought about it that way… it was incredibly easy to make the decision.'

And so Amazon was born. MacKenzie and Jeff flew to Texas to borrow a car from his father, and then they drove to Seattle. Bezos was making revenue projections in the passenger seat the whole way, though the couple did stop to watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon.

Bezos started Amazon.com in a garage with a potbellied stove. He held most of his meetings at the neighbourhood Barnes & Noble.

In the early days, 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 it was ringing so often the they had to make it stop.

In the first month of its launch, Amazon had already sold books to people in all 50 states and in 45 different countries, and it continued to grow. Amazon went public in 1997.

Amazon shares have continued to go up since the crash (until the recent market correction). It has now gone beyond selling books to selling almost everything you could imagine, including appliances, clothing, and even cloud computing services.

Yahoo finance

He's also famous for creating a frugal company culture that doesn't offer the type of perks like free food and massages.

Karyne Levy/Business Insider

In 1998, Bezos also became an early investor in Google. He invested $250,000, which was about 3.3 million shares when the company IPO'd in 2004 -- that would be worth about $2.2 billion today. (He hasn't revealed whether or not he kept any of his stock after the IPO).

Today, Bezos is worth about $57 billion.

Jeff Vinick/Getty Images

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What does Bezos do with all his money? In 2012, he donated $2.5 million to defend gay marriage in Washington.

David Ryder/Getty Images

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Bezos has also donated $42 million and part of his land in Texas to the construction of The Clock Of The Long Now, an underground clock designed to work for 10,000 years.

In August 2013, Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million.

His space travel company Blue Origin made history last year when it became the first company to successfully launch a reusable rocket.

His interest in flying also got him in trouble. In 2003, Jeff Bezos almost died in a helicopter crash while scouting a site for the company's test-launch facility in the boondocks of west Texas.

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This isn't Bezos' helicopter.

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He owns a house on Lake Washington, as well as a $24.25 million Beverly Hills estate.

Amazon continues to expand its hardware ambitions. It launched its own TV streaming box as well as a smartphone in recent years.

Business Insider / Jillian D'Onfro

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The Fire Phone was a major flop, but Bezos isn't slowing down his hardware initiatives. In an interview with Business Insider last year, he said, 'If you look at our device portfolio broadly, our hardware team is doing a great job...Fire TV, Fire TV Stick -- we're having trouble building enough. With the phone, I just ask you to stay tuned.'

Michael Seto/Business Insider

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