There aren’t too many people who can say that they never ordered something from Amazon. When Amazon first launched in 1995, the website sold only books. Even from the beginning, Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, wanted Amazon to be “an everything store.” Jeff managed to reach his goals and then some, but there are still things about this company that people don’t know. Here are 15 fascinating facts you probably didn’t know about Amazon.
Amazon Wasn’t the Original Name
In the beginning, Jeff didn’t want to call the company Amazon. His first idea was to call it Cadabra because it sounded magical. Amazon’s first lawyer, Todd Tarbert convinced him that it sounded too much like, cadaver, especially on the phone. He wanted to go with the name, Relentless, but eventually settled on Amazon. He liked the fact that the company would be named after the largest river in the world. If you visit Relentless.com; however, you will be redirected to Amazon. The original logo is of the Amazon River.
The Early Days
In the early days, each time someone made a sale, they would ring a bell. When they heard the bell, the employees would gather around the computer to see if they knew the buyer. After a few weeks, the bell was ringing so often that it had to be turned off.
Amazon first started in Jeff’s garage, and the servers took so much power that Jeff and his wife couldn’t use a hairdryer or the vacuum cleaner because it would blow a fuse.
Within the first month of Amazon’s launch, they had sold books to customers in all 50 states and 45 different countries.
For retailers to order books, the distributors required them to order 10 books. Amazon didn’t need that much inventory, and they didn’t have enough money, so they found a loophole. While the distributors required Amazon to order 10 books, they didn’t need to receive that many. They would order one book that they needed, and nine copies of an obscure lichen book, which was always out of stock. This allowed them to get the one book that they actually needed.
Barnes & Noble
In the early days of Amazon, Jeff, his wife, MacKenzie, and their third employee, Shel Kaphan, would have meetings that the local Barnes & Noble. In 1996, they met up with the owners of Barnes & Noble for dinner. The execs said that they admired Jeff, but would soon be launching a website that would crush Amazon. When their site did launch, it didn’t crush Amazon like they believed it would, and one of the company’s founders, Len Riggio, wanted to call it Book Predator.
60-Hour Work Weeks
In the beginning, the employees were expected to work at least 60 hours per week. One employee worked so much during the first eight months that he totally forgot that he parked his blue station wagon near his apartment. He was biking to and from work, and he didn’t even have time to read his mail. When he finally did, he noticed that there were several parking tickets, a notice of an impending tow, a tow notice, and a notice that his station wagon was sold at auction.
The First Crazy Christmas
Amazon’s first crazy Christmas season was in 1998. They were so short-staffed that every employee had to take a graveyard shift at the fulfillment center to meet the orders. They would bring their friends and family members with then and sleep in their cars before going to work the next day. After that Christmas, Jeff vowed never to go though that again. This is why Amazon hires so many seasonal workers.
When eBay first gained popularity, Amazon tried to build its own auction site to compete. Unfortunately, the idea was a flop. Jeff loved it, and he ended up purchasing a $40,000 skeleton of an Ice Age cave bear at auction. He displayed it in the lobby of the company’s headquarters. Next to the bear is a sign that reads, “Please Don’t Feed The Bear.” Today, the bear and the sign are still there.
Jeff liked always to move fast, which often caused extreme chaos in Amazon’s distribution centers. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the facilities weren’t preferred for the excessive numbers of orders. The facilities would get shut down due to system outages. Employees often ignored products so that they would pile up, and there was no preparation for new product categories. When the kitchen category was first introduced, knives without protection came hurling down conveyor shoots. The speed of Jeff and the orders coming in made things crazy until the necessary adjustments were made.
In 2002, Jeff introduced the concept of two-pizza teams, which the employees hated. He would set up two teams of 10, and the team members were expected to work together without speaking. He believed that if the employees needed to communicate, it was a sign of dysfunction.
The ? is the most dreaded part of an email coming from Jeff. If a customer has an issue, they can email Jeff directly, and he will forward the email to the appropriate person along with a ?. This is the equivalent of a ticking time bomb. When an employee got this, they had just a few hours to solve the issue, and it had to go through management. Jeff said that is was the best way of making sure that the customers’ voice was heard thought the whole company.
In 2004, Amazon launched a search engine called A9.com. The team started a project called Block View, which was a visual Yellow Pages. On a budget of just $100,000, Amazon flew photographers to 20 major cities where they rented cars and took photos of restaurants. They dropped Block View in 2006, just in time to make room for Google to start Street View in 2007.
Amazon hires seasonal workers, but it is still a very stressful time. Because of this, Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s operations manager, told employees in early 2000 that anyone who accomplished an critical goal could call him and yell into the phone at the top of their lungs. Wilke says that these screams nearly blew out his speakers.
Things at the fulfillment centers can get really stressful, and at times, employees rebel. One employee who was ready to quit rode the conveyor belt through the whole facility. In 2006, an employee in Kansas would show up at the beginning of his shift and leave at the end but didn’t do anything in between. He had tunneled a den inside a massive pile of empty pallets. He used Amazon products to make a bed, he used Amazon books to line the walls, and she snacked of stolen Amazon food. When this was all discovered, he was fired.
The original name for the Amazon Kindle was Fiona. The name came from a book called the Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The team who worked on the Kindles loved the name Fiona, and they begged Jeff to keep it. He decided to go with Kindle because it evoked the idea of starting a fire.
Jeff was known for his explosive or sarcastic remarks if he wasn’t happy with an employee’s performance. To make life easier for his employees, Jeff hired a leadership coach to help him tone it down a bit, making it a more pleasant environment for his employees.