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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 1997 Interview
  • 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.

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

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