Jeff Bezos: Bio: An Eye On The Future

Jeff Bezos merely wants to be Earth's biggest seller of everything

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The company grew and grew and grew. It grew so fast that it surprised him how little he knew. "No plan survives its first encounter with reality," he says. One night, while Bezos was on his knees complaining about how sore he was from packing, he said to a co-worker, "You know what we need? Kneepads!" The employee looked at him like he was an idiot. "What we need," the co-worker said evenly, "is packing tables."

In May 1996, Amazon landed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The story did two things: it introduced Amazon to a whole new stream of customers, and it caught the attention of rivals like Barnes & Noble and Borders Group, which hadn't yet moved online. would appear a year later--just before Amazon's initial public offering, which went off at a modest $18 a share. Never mind that the celebrated venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was its biggest institutional investor before the IPO. Wall Streeters were afraid of the threat posed by the giant Barnes & Noble, whose national network of bookstores looked unbeatable, prompting George Colony, president of Forrester Research, a prominent technology-analysis firm, to pronounce the company "Amazon.toast." Other naysayers referred to it as"--".org being a domain name reserved for nonprofit companies. But did nothing to stall Amazon's amazing sales.

The stock began to move too, propelling Bezos' personal wealth into the tens of millions, then into the hundreds of millions. And then, when analyst Henry Blodget, now with Merrill Lynch, said he believed Amazon was a $400-a-share company, Bezos became another Rockefeller. As of last week, his shares were worth $10.5 billion.

Ah, but money... Who cares about that? Bezos has cashed in less than $25 million worth of his stock, but that's enough to live well on, come what may. He and his wife live in a sprawling, single-story modern home in the suburbs north of Seattle.

Bezos is beyond talking about his wealth or whether Amazon will be successful. Instead, he talks about a "nirvana" state of consumer service, in which you'll come to Amazon, and the one thing you've been looking for all your life will be featured on the page that day. You may not even know you've been looking for the thing or that it even exists, but since the site is so familiar with your consumption habits, it knows.

If the world goes his way, Bezos could become even richer than his neighbor Bill Gates. Then what? "At some point," he says, giving MacKenzie a hug as the two of them stand around in the kitchen, "we want to figure out how to do philanthropic work that's highly leveraged. It's very easy to give away money ineffectively. But doing it well requires at least as much attention and energy as building a successful company."

He says the trick to solving some of the world's problems is to think, Amazon-like, in the long term. "Say you want to solve world hunger. If you think in terms of a five-year time frame, you get really depressed; it's an intractable problem. But if you say, well, let's see how we could solve this in 100 years--it's a problem because you'll be dead by then, but the solution becomes more tractable."

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