This 1997 Jeff Bezos interview proves he saw the future coming

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, explains his plan for success.

  • Jeff Bezos had a clear vision for Amazon.com from the start.
  • He was inspired by a statistic he learned while working at a hedge fund: In the '90s, web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.
  • Bezos explains why books, in particular, make for a perfect item to sell on the internet.
"What's really incredible about this is that this is day one. This is the very beginning. This is the Kitty Hawk stage of electronic commerce."
– Jeff Bezos

A number of the billionaires of today made their money by having the foresight while the web was still in its infancy. None were more successful than Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and now the richest man in the world (at least until his divorce goes through).

In a 1997 interview, the year when he first became a millionaire by raising $54 million from Amazon's IPO, Bezos relates the story of how he came up with the idea for the online juggernaut. He was in New York City in 1994, working for a qualitative hedge fund, when he came across the "startling" statistic that "web usage was growing at 2,300 percent a year." This inspired him to look for a business plan that would "make sense in the context of that growth."

After making a list of 20 different products to sell online, he picked books as the best one to orient the business around. Why books? Because unlike other products, there are "more items in the book category than any other category by far."

"Attention is the scare commodity of the late 20th century," says Bezos.

How Jeff Bezos calculated success

He compared books to music, the number two best item for the web. Bezos pointed out that at any given time there were 200,000 CDs "active" worldwide (let's not forget this was 1997). But at that same time, there were 3 million books "active in the book space" in different languages, with more than 1.5 million in English alone.

The genius of recognizing the unique potential of an online bookstore that Bezos says "couldn't exist any other way" was complemented by his vision in how to actually make such a store work. His company only kept an inventory of a couple of thousand bestselling books while having access to 400,000 others from an electronic network of wholesale distributors. These "almost in time" titles would be available within a day. Amazon also made a deal with another 20,000 publishers to have access to 1.1 million titles, which would take a couple of weeks to get. They also thought of how to connect to a million out-of-print titles by connecting with appropriate dealers.

Digital thinking in the print age

The Amazon founder also explained how his company would continue to capture people's attention amid the glut of information. His secret? Doing something "new and innovative", creating an online business the likes of which did not exist, that "actually has real value for the customer." Doing that creates marketing opportunities from newspapers and generates "huge" positive word of mouth that helps grow the business. In the first year, all growth for Amazon was fueled by word of mouth and media exposure, not ads. In fact, as far as ads, in 1997 he expressed a preference for online ads versus traditional paper ones since the digital ones were much easier to track and quantify. He called it a marketing "Nirvana".

"What's really incredible about this is that this is day one. This is the very beginning. This is the Kitty Hawk stage of electronic commerce," said Bezos.

In the end of the interview, Bezos also made a prediction for a millennium from now, saying that we're going to find out that "people will look back and say the late 20th century was a great time to be alive on this planet."

Check out the full interview here.

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

It’s just a sheet of glass. With AI.

A new paradigm for machine vision has just been demonstrated.

Image source: aleknext/Shutterstock
Technology & Innovation
  • Scientists have invented a way for a sheet of glass to perform neural computing.
  • The glass uses light patterns to identify images without a computer or power.
  • It's image recognition at the speed of light.
Keep reading Show less

New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Keep reading Show less

Elon Musk’s Neuralink unveils device to connect your brain to a smartphone

"A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain," Musk said, referring to tests of the device.

Neuralink
Technology & Innovation
  • Neuralink seeks to build a brain-machine interface that would connect human brains with computers.
  • No tests have been performed in humans, but the company hopes to obtain FDA approval and begin human trials in 2020.
  • Musk said the technology essentially provides humans the option of "merging with AI."
Keep reading Show less