Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon.com. The richest guy in the world. Is Amazon taking over the world a good thing?
It’s a question to those who run the company… What would you say to someone who feels as though humans are increasingly being treated like robots? And the answer was >> That’s not the experience that they had in setting it up.
CEO, Worldwide Consumer, Amazon
And those no longer there. Most people would assume there’s a pretty high safety standard on Amazon. And that assumption would be incorrect.
Some people asking if Amazon is a monopoly.
The question for the democracy is, are we okay with one company essentially winning capitalism?
How do you and Jeff think about the call to break you guys up?
>> Simply because the company’s been successful doesn’t mean it’s somehow too big.
CEO, Amazon Web Services
On FRONTLINE… Domination was very much the idea. “Amazon Empire”. Jeff Bezos has already conquered the retail frontier. Now he’s got a plan to colonize the planets. Bezos is laying out his plans for colonizing space. Bezos is known for going big, and now he’s literally shooting for the moon.
In May of 2019, Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, unveiled his latest invention. This is Blue Moon. It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay.
Jeff has said over and over again that the most important work he’s doing is work in space.
What he’s built-in Amazon is really important and really interesting, and it’s revolutionized commerce. “But it’s only revolutionized commerce.”
Bezos’s plan is to chart a new course for the future of humanity. Manufactured worlds rotated to create artificial gravity with centrifugal force. These are very large structures, miles on end. And they hold a million people or more each.
It’s an idea he’s had since he was a teenager.
“The earth is finite, and if the world economy and the population is to keep expanding, space is the only way to go.”
He still believes that. The way Jeff Bezos sees is it is that consumerism is an example of how today’s society lives better than our parents did and our grandparents. And he wants, you know, future generations to continue to have an increasingly better lifestyle.
These are beautiful. People are going to want to live here.
Bezos unveiled his extra-terrestrial plans at a time of growing concern about the empire he’s built here on earth. It was all over the news “Amazon is the great disrupter, from books to retail to grocery stores.”
For more than 25 years, Jeff Bezos has been disrupting and transforming almost every aspect of our modern lives.
Once you start connecting the dots, you see that Amazon is building all of the invisible infrastructures for our futures. – AMY WEBB CEO Future Today Institute
Amazon announced a healthcare partnership… Amazon is helping the C.I.A. build a secure cloud…
How much of the internet do you run?
That’s a good question, um, it’s a lot, though. – Jeff Bezos
But in recent years, Amazon and Bezos have come under scrutiny for their aggressive tactics and expanding power. Everything that is admirable about Amazon is also something that we should fear about it. – Franklin Foer (The Atlantic)
For the past year, It’s been investigating how Jeff Bezos built his empire, and at what cost?
And so think about this. Big things start small. — Jeff bezos
THE RISE AND REIGN OF JEFF BEZOS
Jeff Bezos’s empire has its roots not in Silicon Valley, but on Wall Street. That’s where the young Princeton graduate went to work in the early 1990s, at a secretive hedge fund called D.E. Shaw.
David Shaw was the one who revolutionized Wall Street by introducing data. And I think Jeff really embraced that, that idea that, “Hey, if you have data, ultimately, you win.”
One of the things that David Shaw asked Jeff Bezos to do was to go and investigate new businesses, and in particular, this new thing in the early ’90s called the World Wide Web.
We all know that a communications revolution is underway in this country.
What is the internet?
It’s sort of the mother of all networks.
It’s information highways.
It’s kind of like your remote control to the world.
Bezos was quick to see the untapped potential of the new digital landscape and was determined to get in on it.
I came across this startling statistic that web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.
So, I decided I would try and find a business plan that made sense in the context of that growth, and I picked books as the first best product to sell online.
Because books are incredibly unusual in one respect, and that is that there are more items in the book category than there are items in any other category by far.
So, when you have that many items, you can literally build a store online that couldn’t exist any other way.
— Jeff bezos
The store he was imagining didn’t exist, so he decided to build it himself.
The reaction to Jeff’s idea to start selling books on the internet was pretty incredulous, you know, from a lot of the people close to him. His mom tried to convince him to just do it at night or over the weekends. She didn’t want to see him give up his job.
Jeff Bezos ‘longtime friend’
Jeff called, and he told me that he and MacKenzie were quitting their jobs, and they were moving to Seattle and starting a company. I said, “Great, well, what are you going to do?” He said, “We’re going to sell books.” I said, “Nice.” He said, “On the internet.” I said, “Oh.
Jeff, why will anybody buy anything from you?”
And he said, “Well, we’re going to have more books than anybody else.”
One of the first names Bezos considered for his new website was Relentless.com.
Why “Relentless?” Relentless meant, “We move on no matter what.”
He ultimately, obviously, decided that “Relentless” wasn’t quite the right fit.
Amazon, earth’s largest river, was. Amazon means gigantic.
In terms of relentlessness, stopping at nothing, that’s, is that an apt description of Jeff?
No. It’s not that Jeff stops at nothing, it’s that when Jeff sets his mind on a goal that he thinks he can achieve, he won’t stop until he’s proven wrong or until he achieves it.
Jeff and MacKenzie had rented a house in Bellevue. And then we moved to a small, second-floor office in the south part of Seattle.
What the company is now was nowhere in my wildest imagination. Nowhere, so, the fact that it could have the-the kind of position in the world that it has now, I had no clue.
Former Chief Technology Officer, Amazon
In July 1995, Amazon.com went live.
It was an incredible novelty, it was tiny and obscure, and it’s very hard to imagine, but the entire universe that Amazon now dominates did not exist. Amazon.com, this virtual shop claims to be the world’s largest bookstore. It didn’t take long for Bezos’s vision to prove prescient.
What makes Amazon different is a vast selection, convenience. They deliver right to the desktop. If the catalog were printed on paper, it would be the size of seven New York City phonebooks.
The company quickly outgrew the garage and soon had more than 50 employees. In 1996, James Marcus applied to be number 55.
There was a very palpable excitement in the air at this place, and of course, at this point, Jeff Bezos was the first person to interview every prospective employee. So I was ushered into his office. He wanted to see how fast you were on your feet. He also always wanted to know your S.A.T. scores. Every time, yes.
Former Amazon.com Editor
Jeff wasn’t a figure out of folklore at that point, he was not the-the wealthiest man in the world. He was a small, nondescript, sandy-haired man sitting at a desk with quite a large and eruptive laugh. But he wasn’t threatening, he was a normal guy to a sort of amazing extent. It belied, you know, an enormous, Napoleonic ambition.
Thomas Edison’s famous for saying,
“One percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.”
It turns out ideas are the easy part, execution is everything.— Jeff bezos
Domination was on Jeff’s mind from the beginning. One of his sort of second-in-command people said to me, “You have to understand that Jeff wants to sell many more things than books. And Jeff’s idea is that in the near-distant future, you could buy a kayak from Amazon.
And if, and after you brought the kayak, you could figure out good places to kayak and buy travel services from Amazon.” So, those ambitions were very clear, and this was very early on. But he was clearly thinking in those terms from the get-go.
If you signed on to work at a-a kind of futuristic bookstore, and the guy who owned it was suddenly talking about selling, you know, every object in the universe, you just weren’t sure how seriously to take it.
Inside the company, Bezos was a hard-charging manager relentlessly focused on the principle that would make Amazon one of the most trusted brands in the world: the customer always comes first.
This culture of customer obsession… Obsessive focus on customer… Obsesses over our customers… Totally obsessing over the customer experience.
We used to call it customer ecstasy. It means building, delivering, focusing on your customer. And we did it, you know, in the very, very early days at every stage.
- Jennifer Cast was there in the early days and is one of six top Amazon executives the company put forward to speak to us.
Customer obsession was our North Star. And so, you know, it was a place where they knew we were a part of something that was new, the internet. There was an excitement that they were doing something that hadn’t been done before. It was exhilarating. They were all aligned around the building for customers.
- There was an empty chair that would often be put at meetings. The question is who was in the empty chair?
That empty chair was there to remind us all to understand the customer, have empathy for the customer, understand the details of the customer experience. The customer isn’t there, They have to bring forward the voice of the customer.
And Bezos quickly learned that in this new online world, he could understand exactly how customers were behaving. All orders do need to be placed online. It was made clear from the beginning that data collection was also one of Amazon’s businesses. All customer behavior that flowed through the site was recorded and tracked. And that itself was a valuable commodity.
They could track how a customer navigated through the site. So they could see what you looked at, they could also see what you paused at, they could see what you put in your basket but didn’t order, they could see what you put in your basket and did order.
So that’s when they started realizing, “Man, this is rich. This is rich, rich, rich.” And so they’ve used it for everything.
What do you do with that information?
That’s the data that allows predicting or try to predict, what books you would like that you haven’t discovered yet.
Bezos treated the site as a laboratory, where he studied customer behavior along with his chief scientist Andreas Weigend.
I was shocked to see how predictable people are. If you take the time of the day into account, if you take maybe when they were last on the site, how long they were on the site last time, how long they’re on the site today, you know what they’re falling for.
— Andreas Weigend
Whoever owns, collects, the data, if you have access to it and rights to data, then you are king. It’s all about the data. Everything.
They did not think about it as exploiting, they thought about helping people make better decisions.
Amazon has added 880,000 new customers… While Bezos was using these insights to bring more and more customers into Amazon…
The number of customers who use the website has increased fourfold… There was one thing he hadn’t done yet.
The company’s never made a profit.
Bezos would spend years losing money trying to beat his competition, and he convinced investors to go along with it.
One of Jeff Bezos’ greatest accomplishments has been his ability to get Wall Street to accept the fact the first 20-some years, Amazon wasn’t going to be very profitable. And that’s okay because they’re building infrastructure that will create huge opportunities for them to gain scale and gain customers and gain business.
He spelled it out in a letter to shareholders after the company first went public:
“It’s all about the long term,”
he wrote, rather than short-term profits or Wall Street reactions.
He essentially says, “We are going to forego profits in order to take market share. That our strategy is to lose money, which enables us then to put other companies out of business who can’t afford to lose money.”
That strategy wouldn’t sit well with critics like Stacy Mitchell, who advocates for small businesses.
In essence, at the very beginning, he’s signaling to shareholders, “I have a strategy to monopolize the market, and that’s going to reward you, but it’s going to be far down the road, and will you come along with me?” And they said yes.
Investors also recognized Bezos’ essential advantage over physical stores, which had to charge their customers sales tax, unlike online businesses.
So, not collecting sales tax gave Amazon a big leg up over bricks and mortar retailers. And that was central to their early strategy of gaining market share as quickly as they can.
What booksellers were saying is that “This is driving the customers to Amazon. They’ll come into the store, they’ll browse, they find what they want, but then they’ll go buy it on Amazon because they can save that sales tax.”
So it was a very irksome, early, big issue for the book vendors, first of all, they were kind of the canaries in the mine, so to speak, and then lots of other retailers.
Amazon has added thousands of warehouse workers and three million square feet of space.
Amazon’s sales-tax advantage would be central to its success as it expanded beyond books, into other products.
Amazon has a fantastic selection of things you can look at. Electronics and then of course toys. Yeah, thank you, here is, Amazon got to have the friendly Pokémon. This is more than ten times the selection that you will find in a typical, physical world software store.
But Bezos was still a long way from his goal of Amazon being the place where you could buy everything online. And he saw a way to achieve it. Amazon could soon become the Walmart of the internet. There were thousands of businesses eager to sell online. Bezos offered them a way to do it.
Amazon transformed itself from an online bookstore to an online mall. He transformed Amazon into a retail platform where anyone could sell their goods to his customers and invited thousands of other businesses to be a part of it.
It’s the easiest place for anybody, small or large, who wants to set up shop online to sell online, because they can access our 12 million-plus customers. Anybody, all comers. Amazon was talking about hundreds of thousands of companies with literally tens of millions of products. Name-brand stores started selling on Bezos’s platform, and so did tens of thousands of small entrepreneurs.
Everyone knew Amazon.com. The only people that knew SuperDuperHoops.com were the ones that were searching to buy a basketball hoop and saw our name on an advertisement.
It was really a no-brainer. They knew that they would, you know, increase the sales. First-year did 100,000, next year did a million, we did two million, four million, It was doubling every year in the early days. It was great for the companies– and even greater for Jeff Bezos.
Amazon has become the most recognizable name in e-commerce.
Not only would Jeff take a cut of everything other businesses sold, but he’d also keep his own store on the platform, competing against everyone else in the marketplace he owned and controlled.
Bezos owns the Main Street. He has the Main Street real estate. Not just one building on the corner, the entire Main Street. How Amazon would wield its power over the online marketplace would eventually become a question for government regulators, but early on, there were indications.
The first to see them were book publishers.
Amazon took over a large market share of the publishing industry very, very fast. They were very quickly in a position to demand concessions. You know, I think that was a moment where publishers started to realize, “Oh, wait a minute, like, we… they’re our partner, but they now have the beginnings of a boot on our windpipe.”
Inside the company, they had launched a strategy that some called “the Gazelle Project,” because they’d heard Bezos wanted them to pursue publishers the way a cheetah pursues a sickly gazelle.