Amazon is one of the giants of the computer age. It has made Jeff Bezos, its founder, the 12th richest man in America. It has chewed up retail giants like Barnes & Noble and Borders. It is famous for inventions like the Kindle and the delivery of e‑books wirelessly to you wherever you are. Yet the company’s real inventiveness is in the data delivery systems it created to manage its inventory: cloud computing. It’s possible you’ve never heard of Amazon Web Services, but it has completely revolutionized how the Internet is served.
All of these achievements build into a compelling picture of one of the most innovative and revolutionary companies in the world today. And yet we don’t necessarily consider Amazon to be up there with the likes of Google (in which Bezos is an original investor), Microsoft or Apple. Nor does it hold a place in our hearts like a company such as Disney. After reading Brad Stone’s complex corporate biography, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, it may be necessary to reassess that.
The Everything Store is named after Bezos’ overarching dream to create an online retail outlet that supplies “everything to everyone.” He came up with the idea back in the early 1990s when he was working at a quantitative hedge fund on Wall Street. He left soon after to open his “online bookstore” in a move that was seen as rash, to say the least.
Bezos is clearly a flammable, if not flamboyant, man. Stone details his legendary temper tantrums in what is a well-researched and insightful look at a high IQ individual with an enthusiastic imagination. But rather than simply being a character portrait, the book describes – with textbook-perfect economic journalism – the creation of an icon. This is a must-read for anyone interested in either the history, or the future, of online entities. It is filled with all the “brand dreaming” that seems popular these days, but is neither cloying nor particularly psychological.
Instead, it is factual, detailed and highly specific about the underlying tax reasons for the company’s incorporation in Seattle, the unsentimental ruthlessness of Bezos and the cleverness with which he can solve arcane technical problems. It also covers the burnouts and abuse suffered by all his employers, the love and respect he saves for his family and, ultimately, the astonishing achievements of his company.
Stone takes us on a journey through the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, and how Amazon navigated those troubled times. His book details the growing pains of the young company bursting with a 900% growth rate. It also explains the importance of agile software management, and what that means to a company as complex as Amazon.
The book even takes us into the future of Amazon, with Bezos’s multi-billion dollar space exploration project, Blue Origin. It leaves us with no doubt that if any half-crazed computer billionaire is ever going to build a life in outer space, it will be Bezos.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is published by Little, Brown and Company.
Author: Sheridan Jobbins is a journalist and screenwriter.
Image: Work is carried out at Amazon’s logistics centre in Graben near Augsburg December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Dalder