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If you like Jeff Bezos's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
Stephen Case,
Michael Dell,
Michael Eisner,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
John Hennessy,
Reid Hoffman,
Ray Kurzweil,
Craig McCaw,
Pierre Omidyar,
Larry Page,
George Rathmann,
Fred Smith and
Ted Turner

Jeff Bezos can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Jeff Bezos's recommended reading: A Wrinkle in Time

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Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos
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Jeff Bezos Interview (page: 3 / 6)

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  Jeff Bezos

Why were you drawn to computer science?

Jeff Bezos: I don't know. I think it's always hard to know why you're drawn to a particular thing. I think part of it is if you have a facility with that thing, of course it's satisfying to do it and so in a way that's self-reinforcing. And, certainly I always had a facility with computers. I always got along well with them and they're such extraordinary tools. You can teach them to do things and then they actually do them. It's kind of an incredible tool that we've built here in the 20th Century. That was a love affair that really did start in the fourth grade, and by the time I got to high school -- I think when I was in 11th grade I got an Apple II Plus -- and continued fooling around with computers, and then by the time I got to Princeton I was taking all the computer classes, and actually not just learning how to hack, but learning about algorithms and some of the mathematics behind computer science, and it's fascinating. It's really a very involving and fun subject.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What were your intentions when you left Princeton? What did you set out to do?

Jeff Bezos: I toyed with the idea of starting a company and even talked to a couple of friends about starting a company, and ultimately decided that it would be smarter to wait and learn a little bit more about business and the way the world works. You know, one of the things that it's very hard to believe when you're 22 or 23 years old is that you don't already know everything. It turns out -- people learn more and more as they get older -- that you seem to learn, you seem to realize that you know less and less every year that goes by. I can only imagine that by the time I'm 70 I will realize I know nothing. So that was, I think, a very good decision to not do that. I went to work for a start-up company, but one in New York City that was building a network for helping brokerage firms clear trades. It is kind of an obscure thing, and it's not very interesting to go into, but it used my technical skills, and it was very fun work, and I loved the people I was working with. From then on, I started working at the intersection of computers and finance, and stayed on Wall Street for a long time, ultimately worked for a company that did this thing called quantitative hedge fund trading. What we did was we programmed the computers and then the computers made stock trades, and that was very interesting too. And that was where I was working when I came across the fact that the web was growing at 2,300 percent a year, and that's what led to the forming of

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

That was the defining moment, the flash of inspiration?

Jeff Bezos: The wake up call was finding this startling statistic that web usage in the spring of 1994 was growing at 2,300 percent a year. You know, things just don't grow that fast. It's highly unusual, and that started me about thinking, "What kind of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?"

You can't have been the only one to see that growth statistic.

Jeff Bezos: No. In fact, not only was I not the only one, but a lot of people saw it much earlier.

Not everyone has been able to realize that potential the way you have. What do you think enabled you to see what you saw and to act on it?

Jeff Bezos: I think there are a couple of things. One of the things everybody should realize is that any time a start-up company turns into a substantial company over the years, there was a lot of luck involved. There are a lot of entrepreneurs. There are a lot of people who are very smart, very hardworking, very few ever have the planetary alignment that leads to a tiny little company growing into something substantial. So that requires not only a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, a big team of people who are all dedicated, but it also requires that not only the planets align, but that you get a few galaxies in there aligning, too. That's certainly what happened to us.

Our timing was good, our choice of product categories -- books -- was a very good choice. And we did a lot of analysis on that to pick that category as the first best category for E-commerce online, but there were no guarantees that that was a good category. At the time we launched this business it wasn't even crystal clear that the technology would improve fast enough that ordinary people -- non-computer people -- would even want to bother with this technology. So, that was good luck.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Here you were sitting in New York City in a very good job, a lucrative position with a future. You go home and you say to your wife you want to throw all that over and get in the car and go to Seattle. What possessed you to do that? What was her reaction? What is the role of risk taking?

Jeff Bezos: I went to my boss and said to him, "You know, I'm going to go do this crazy thing and I'm going to start this company selling books online." This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, "Let's go on a walk." And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, "You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn't already have a good job." He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision. So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, "Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do." It's true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called -- which only a nerd would call -- a "regret minimization framework." So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, "Okay, now I'm looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have." I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn't regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that's very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, "What will I think at that time?" it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That's the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won't regret later.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Most regrets, by the way, are acts of omission and not commission. If you do bad things, if you go murder somebody, that would be bad and that would be an act of commission that you would regret. But most everyday, ordinary non-murderers, when they're 80 years old, their big regrets are omissions.

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This page last revised on Nov 26, 2013 01:54 EDT
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