Amazon started as an online book seller in the garage of Jeff Bezos’ home in Bellevue, Washington. With humble beginnings, Bezos dreamed big as he wanted Amazon to be “an everything store” from the very start.
Now with over 310 million active customers worldwide, let us show you interesting facts about Amazon you may not know:
1. Amazon was almost “Cadabra” and “Relentless.”
Jeff Bezos originally picked the magical word “Cadabra” as a name for the company. However, Amazon’s first lawyer told him it can easily be misheard as “cadaver,” especially over the phone.
Bezos also considered Browse.com, Awake.com, Bookmall.com, MakeItSo.com (inspired by Star Trek) and Relentless.com. He really liked the last one, as he bought the URL in 1994 and it still redirects to Amazon.com until today. His friends told him that Relentless sounded a little bit sinister, so he changed it again.
With the help of a dictionary, Bezos finally picked Amazon, as it meant “exotic and different,” just like how he wanted his business to be. It was also inspired by the Amazon River being the largest in the world, as he intends to make his store the biggest in the world, hence influencing the company’s first logo. Plus, starting with letter “A” was considered as an advantage because website listings were alphabetical at that time.
2. The first book Amazon sold was about research on artificial intelligence.
In April 3, 1995, software engineer John Wainwright placed the first order on Amazon for Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, a scholarly book on artificial intelligence and machine learning by Douglas Hofstadte.
3. Amazon used to have a bell ringing every time they received an order.
According to Brad Stone’s book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, a bell would ring in the Amazon’s office every time someone made a purchase during its early days, and everyone would gather around to see if they knew the customer.
After a few weeks, the bell was ringing frequently that they had to shut it off.
4. Amazon employees used to have meetings at Barnes & Noble, which turned out to be a rival.
During its early days, Bezos, his wife MacKenzie, and Amazon’s first employee Shel Kaphan held their meetings inside a local Barnes & Noble store. Eventually, Amazon became Barnes & Noble’s biggest competitor as it is today.
During Amazon’s first year, it hired mobile billboards that displayed the saying “Can’t find that book you wanted?” with Amazon’s web address and drove it near Barnes & Noble stores.
In 1997, Barnes & Noble sued Amazon for using “the world’s largest bookstore” slogan, claiming that the latter is not a bookstore but a book broker. The lawsuit was later settled out of court and Amazon continued to use the slogan.
5. Amazon hired many seasonal workers after its crazy Christmas sale in 1998.
Amazon was gravely understaffed and every employee had to take a graveyard shift during the Christmas season that time. They would often sleep inside their cars before going to work the next day and brought their friends and family to meet orders in the fulfillment centers.
The company learned from the experience and promised it would never happen again, so it has hired many seasonal workers ever since.
6. Kindle was originally named “Fiona.”
When Amazon’s Kindle was in its developmental stages, it was codenamed as Fiona, a character from a book named The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. In the book, Fiona has a book-like device that holds all human knowledge.
The team who developed Amazon’s e-book reader persuaded Bezos to take it as the device’s name as they saw it perfectly appropriate for it. However, Bezos preferred Kindle because it suggests the idea of starting a fire.
7. During stressful seasons, Amazon employees were allowed to scream to express relief.
Even with additional seasonal workers, the logistic teams were still under high tension and stress during the holiday season. Amazon’s operations manager in 2000s, Jeff Wilke, allowed any team or employee who achieved a significant goal to yell into the phone at him as a therapeutic release for stress. Some of the screams blew out his speakers, Wilke told Brad Stone.
8. A 40-minute website down lost Amazon almost $5M.
When Amazon’s website went down in August 2013, the company lost around $4.8 million. Time is literally money when you’re an online selling giant.
9. Amazon’s fastest delivery may have been 23 minutes.
When the same-day delivery for Amazon Prime was launched in Manhattan, New York, the company claimed that a customer got an order, which was an Easy-Bake Oven, in a record of 23 minutes.
10. Bezos introduced the “two-pizza team” concept to in 2002.
Amazon believed in teamwork, but it must be done with few members so that a team could work autonomously. For Bezos, small teams – a group that should not be larger than what two pizzas can feed – make it easier to communicate more effectively.
Bezos also encouraged employees to set strict goals with “fitness functions” as an equation to measure success. Many employees were stressed with the expectations of the fitness functions and hated the “two-pizza teams.”
11. Beszos was known as a tough and demanding boss at Amazon who would often explode at employees.
When a colleague couldn’t meet his standards, Bezos could become sarcastic or explosive. He was capable of being harsh when he heard something he didn’t like. According to Amazon’s employees, Bezos has delivered these cold statements:
“Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
“I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
“Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
“Why are you wasting my life?”
When Bezos tried to compete with eBay’s auction platform, he purchased a $40,000 skeleton of an Ice Age cave bear and displayed it in the lobby of its Seattle headquarters. The idea flopped, but the specimen is still there, along with the sign “Please Don’t Feed The Bear.”
13. Many of Amazon’s former employees started their own successful companies.
Charlie Cheever, the founder of question and answer site Quora, and Jason Kilar, the CEO of online streaming business Hulu, were both Amazon alumni. The Indian online shopping website Flipkart.com was also founded by Amazon’s former employees Sanchin and Binny Bansal.