We all know Jeff Bezos as the billionaire mogul who built the company that made it possible for us to buy pretty much anything we want online and see it show up on our doorstep, post-haste. What we don’t really think about as much is that Amazon had to come from somewhere.
It didn’t just materialize out of nowhere, and the founder and CEO of the company, Bezos, participated in a journey, from childhood until today, that shaped him into the entrepreneur who would transform ecommerce forever.
When you look at the progression Bezos went through and the steps he took to end up where he is now, it almost seems like he knew exactly what he was going to do, from the very beginning.
Of course, he couldn’t have known the empire he would later build, but every phase of his life brought him closer to that destination by preparing him with the knowledge and experience that he would need for creating the perfect marriage between ecommerce and large-scale brand identity.
Bezos’ Legacy Would Become the Standard
Before Amazon came along and found the pulse of the people who bought things over the Internet, ecommerce was basically working with one hand tied behind its back. Amazon took the brakes off and revolutionized the way people shop online, with every other online seller following their lead and trailing behind.
Notwithstanding all of the other services offered by Amazon, their wheelhouse shopping platform streamlines the customer experience to a degree that isn’t found anywhere else. They seem to have thought of everything and make it so easy to make a purchase that you barely notice that you just bought something.
The empire that Bezos created wasn’t built in a day. Without knowing where he was headed, he was preparing himself for the time we live in now, when he presides over the immense company that serves consumers possibly better than any other company in history.
Where Did This Guy Come From?
The truth is that Bezos is a regular guy from Albuquerque, NM, although he obviously became more as time went on. It always seems strange when we see hugely influential individuals or companies who come out of very obscure and seemingly innocuous places, like Albuquerque, for example, but it’s less unusual than you think because those big, open spaces tend to produce extraordinary things.
But first, he started to show intense interest in some key areas during his formative years. Born on January 12, 1964, it became clear early on that Bezos was a tinkerer from the time he was a small child and took advantage of the space in his parents’ home to build things and create his own experiments, especially those which involved electrical contraptions.
He was an extremely bright kid who showed signs of an aptitude for innovation and creativity, with a unique skill for working with computers, which he happily employed as soon as computers became available.
A Rare High School Experience
Probably the most outstanding sign that Bezos would be more than just a hired geek was the fact that he started his first business while he was still in high school, The Dream Institute.
There aren’t too many high school students who not only have the desire to start their own business in the first place, but who actually have the wherewithal to serve customers and keep it running. Bezos was probably a pretty strange kid, while he was of course destined for greatness despite his weirdness.
He was a rare individual as a young man in school who had high ambitions and actually had the ability to turn those dreams into a reality. Just imagine it. You’re going to your daily classes in high school, going to lunch, hanging out with your friends, and driving your teachers crazy, like any other pupil.
All the while, however, what you’re really preoccupied with is how you can start your own business and come up with something that you can create by yourself and sell to your fellow students and friends. It’s not a typical high school experience, but it’s one that makes sense to an individual who is naturally wired to be an entrepreneur.
Bezos Picked Up Speed in College
What better place than college to learn your craft (or crafts) and acquire a wealth of knowledge about the career you’re going to pursue? At Princeton—yes, he went to Princeton—Bezos was wildly confident, choosing an honors physics concentration route, but as many college students do, he found that it might not be quite as good a fit for him as he initially thought.
Physics was clearly something in which Bezos was interested, or else he wouldn’t have chosen it as his major; however, he found it to be a little outside of his skillset, to use physics as a basis for his work in the real world.
He realized that applied physics wasn’t going to be something that he could effectively put to work, and applied physics was always the goal because Bezos wouldn’t take on a field that he could not use practically.
In other words, he was the type of person who has so much commitment to any work in which he takes part, that he will not decide to take on a project or line of work unless he knows that he will be successful at it. Theoretical physics could never be an option for him.
Bezos Discovers a Vital Part of His Talent
Consequently, he switched his concentration to computer science instead, in which he found that he could excel quite a bit more, as he had always been proficient at using computers of any kind.
At this point, it was starting to come together for him because after a good, long period of time when you’re studying in a field that isn’t right for you, and then you switch to something else and find that it was where you should have been all along, that’s when it all begins to click.
When Bezos was a young kid, he was tinkering with computers and electronics every chance he got because he apparently figured out, even that young, that he was good at it. He wasn’t just good at it. It turned out to be his expertise, as was made clear when he, “graduated summa cum laude in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering” (Biography) from Princeton.
Adding Business & Corporate Experience to His Toolbelt
Upon graduating from college, Bezos had his pick of a number of prestigious companies on Wall Street who were offering him a job, in addition to quite a few other startups and promising companies. That tends to happen when you graduate summa cum laude from Princeton, and so he had managed to set up his future fairly securely.
The ironic part of it is that Bezos wasn’t trying to get a nice, cushy position at one of these big companies. What he wanted was to learn from the experience so that he could hone his skills as an entrepreneur, not to settle into an investment banking job.
Bezos had been developing the skill set of someone deeply invested in computer science and electrical engineering for years up until this point because it’s what he loves, but there was a missing ingredient. That missing ingredient was the business management and development component which would prove to be so valuable later on.
Necessity Breeds Invention
This was the key, even if Bezos didn’t quite realize it yet; however, he may have known already that it was a magical combination of computer science knowledge and proficiency at business management.
During the time when he was working for these firms, it’s not as if he strategically chose those jobs to round-out his training. He simply took those jobs because he had to make money, and it was another area in which he was interested.
As a result, though, the experience he gained while working for Fitel, Bankers Trust, and D.E. Shaw was exactly what he needed to grow as an entrepreneur, to the point where he would eventually be able to turn the small, book-selling online business into the powerful corporation that it is today.
All of the ingredients that were coming together during this time are starting to mix together into a stew, to flavor the base that would become the foundation for not only Bezos’ later career, but his unmatched legacy.
Striking Out on His Own
Bezos was an imaginative, driven person from the time he was a child, and that spark has never been diminished over the years, either. After moving from one company to the next for a decade or so, dominating in each one of them, he became hungry for more.
Again, working for large, prestigious companies was not what Bezos was after, even though they were an invaluable stepping stone and extremely valuable for training himself in business. Obviously, what he was learning at those companies would prove to be very necessary to have greater success while running Amazon in the future.
It’s not like he was just biding his time while working for those companies early on, either. In fact, he was promoted to be the youngest senior vice president of D.E. Shaw & Co. after only a couple of years, and it was around that time when he realized that he was destined to do more and struck out on his own.
In 1995, Bezos made the leap and officially opened Amazon for the first time. For Bezos, it was just the logical next step and a long time coming (though still a very auspicious day for him, no doubt), but the day Amazon opened for business could be said to be a world-changing event.
On one hand, it’s just another ecommerce business opening up, but seeing how far-reaching Amazon is today and the number of people whom it has reached all over the world, you would agree that it’s quite a bit more than the sum of its parts.
Experience Culminates in Breakthrough
Bezos went through a seemingly textbook development of his skills and experience over the years, from childhood, to his teens, to college, and on to a journey through corporate America, which is a completely different animal, all unto itself.
All of the pursuits and experiences with which he occupied himself gave him the knowledge and tools he needed to create the empire that we all know very well today. His interests in electrical engineering and computing which he had from childhood, combined with an experiential education in business and corporate organization, were the perfect recipe for a massively successful company that mixed all of it together.
When you look at the progression Bezos went through over the years, an empire like Amazon seems destined to happen. But even Bezos probably never predicted just how powerful and ubiquitous Amazon would eventually become.
The feeling that shopping with Amazon gives people is tough to put your finger on because, though we all know how easy it is to use, there is just something about logging onto Amazon’s site, finding exactly what you want, making your purchase, and seeing something show up on your doorstep faster than most any other ecommerce site, that feels amazing.
We find ourselves turning to Amazon for just about anything we need, right down to the groceries for our families. Jeff Bezos turned a fairly humble online bookstore into a massive, well-oiled ecommerce machine that not only sells nearly any product known to man, but also sells happiness, in a way.
1. “Jeff Bezos, American Entrepreneur,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, June 6, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jeff-Bezos
2. “Jeff Bezos Biography,” Biography, https://www.biography.com/business-figure/jeff-bezos
3. Emmie Martin, “Jeff Bezos Hasn’t Always Had the Golden Touch: Here’s What the Amazon Founder Was Doing in His 20s,” CNBC, August 2, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/02/what-amazon-billionaire-jeff-bezos-was-doing-in-his-20s.html
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.