Entrepreneurs

Jeff Bezos Just Announced He’s Stepping Down as Amazon CEO in Exactly 39 Days. Here’s the Reason Why

Who knew Jeff Bezos was so sentimental? (Well, besides readers of my free ebook, Jeff Bezos Regrets Nothing.)

On Wednesday, he announced he’ll step down as CEO of Amazon in favor of Andy Jassy on July 5–39 days from now according to my count.

Why that date? Because it will mark the 27th anniversary of when Bezos originally filed papers to incorporate the company.

One of the most interesting things about the early days of Amazon is simply that Bezos did it: walked away from his highly lucrative hedge fund job to start an Internet bookstore in a garage in Washington State.

Perhaps you were at least arguably an adult back then, and you’ve kicked yourself once or twice for not seeing the future. Or perhaps you’re younger and have never not known a world without Amazon.

Either way, here are some illutrations of just how unlikely Amazon’s success seemed at the time. What was the world like back then? What were some of the other icons of entrepreneurship in the tech world doing? Read on.

Less than half a percent

First off, even just explaining what that Internet was back then was difficult. Access was slow, costly, and rare. Just 0.447 percent of the world even had the ability to access the Internet, and if you did have consumer access, it was probably dial-up. AOL cost $19.95 for five hours of access a month.

That said, the rate of growth was extreme: from 0.252 percent in 1993 to 0.777 percent in 1995. By 1999 in the U.S.: 26.2 percent; by 2006, 41.5 percent. (Today, we’re at 93 percent broadband access.)

Here’s what it looked like to go into a store and try to buy a computer. (Seriously, worth watching.)

Cadabra.com?

The White House didn’t yet have a website. Other websites were terrible. Here’s what Microsoft’s looked like.

Domain names were free. It wasn’t until 1995 that you had to pay to register one. Perhaps that’s why Bezos was able to get not only Amazon.com, but also Awake.com, Browse.com, Bookmall.com, Relentless.com, and even MakeItso.com.

(He was, and remains, a big Star Trek fan.

Nevertheless, he originally named the company Cadabra Inc., as in, “abracadabra.” According to Brad Stone’s book, The Everything Store, the lawyer who handled the incorporation pointed out that it sounded like “cadaver.” So that name didn’t last.

It did last long enough, however, for Bezos to announce on Usenet that he was hiring …

“extremely talented C/C++/Unix developers to help pioneer commerce on the Internet. … Your compensation will include meaningful equity ownership. … Jeff Bezos, Cadabra, Inc., 10704 N.E. 28th St. Bellevue, WA 98004”

Musk, Obama, Jobs, Buffett…

Let’s talk about other big names now. Bezos’s rival these days, Elon Musk, was working two summer internships: at Pinnacle Research Institute, an energy storage start-up, and Palo Alto-based Rocket Science Games.

Mark Zuckerberg had just turned 10. Future co-founder of SnapChat Evan Spiegel had just turned 4. Warren Buffett had just come out against cigarette investments, sort of.

Barack Obama was an associate in a 13-member law firm in Chicago, and had never run for office. Steve Jobs was running NeXT, which was in the midst of turning its first profit ($1 million).

Sergey Brin had just graduated the year before from the University of Maryland; Larry Page was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. The two co-founders of Google wouldn’t meet for a few more years.

Blockbuster and Netflix

None of the browsers you use today were around in any form. Netscape wouldn’t launch until 1995.

Arguably, the Cold War had only just ended; Russia and the U.S. agreed not to target nuclear missiles at each other only in January of that year.

The “Chunnel” beneath the English Channel connecting England and France had just opened, and Nelson Mandela had just become president of South Africa

Viacom was about to buy Blockbuster for $8.4 billion; Netflix wouldn’t be founded for three more years. However, there was already at least one online bookstore: Powell’s Books, which lives on as a chain in the Portland, Oregon area. 

Pizza on demand

Honestly, of all the very few commercial Internet enterprises available at the time, the most intriguing in retrospect might have been that Pizza Hut had already launched its inaugural foray into online delivery, with a program called PizzaNet.

The functionality was quite smart, given limited technology: Any order nationwide would submit a form to the company’s offices in Wichita, Kansas; workers there would figure out which Pizza Hut was closest to the customer, and call it on the phone to place the order.

It’s unknown whether  Bezos ever tried to order one, but he did famously talk about his two-pizza rule later. 

Anyway, as we look back, success often looks inevitable in retrospect. But the odds of the company Bezos started 27 years ago becoming what it has were remote. 

Remember that next time you’re thinking of starting something new. And maybe bookmark this page, and check it out again in 2048. 

(Don’t forget the free ebook, Jeff Bezos Regrets Nothing.)

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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