Tue. Dec 10th, 2019

An unearthed video from 1997 shows a young Jeff Bezos explaining why he built Amazon’s empire on books

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An unearthed video from 1997 shows a young Jeff Bezos explaining why he built Amazon’s empire on books

Jeff Bezos 1997 interview

  • A 1997 video of Jeff Bezos has gone viral on Twitter, giving direct insight into how the CEO went about building Amazon in its earliest days.
  • In the video Bezos explains why he picked books as the first product he ever sold on Amazon. He made a list of 20 products he could sell online, and landed on books because there’s greater choice than any of the other categories.
  • Amazon, of course, no longer just sells books but has become an $881 billion retail empire known as ‘the everything store.’
  • The video shows just how well Bezos understood the internet and the importance of giving consumers exactly what they want.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A video of Jeff Bezos dating back 20 years has gone viral with more than 1.2 million views on Twitter.

The video was circulated by analyst Brian Roemmele and is from the 1997 Special Libraries Conference in June,  three years after Bezos founded Amazon in 1994.

The video has been widely shared for its direct insight into how Bezos, now the world’s richest man, went about building what would become an $881 billion retail empire from scratch. It also shows how well he understood the internet and the importance of giving customers exactly what they want.

At the time of the video, Amazon would have been a newly public company. It went public in May 1997 at $18 a share. Its shares are now worth $1,778.

The video opens with a young (and distinctly pre-swole) Bezos explaining who he is.

Asked by the interviewer where he got the idea for Amazon.com, Bezos responded:

“Three years ago I was in New York City working for a quantitative hedge fund when I came across the startling statistic the web usage was growing at 2,300% a year so I decided I would try and find a business plan that made sense in the context of that growth and I picked books as the first best product to sell online.”

Bezos chose to start Amazon with books because there’s an almost infinite selection

Bezos explained why he originally settled on selling books as the first step in what would eventually become his online shopping empire.

He said: “I picked books as the first best product to sell online, making a list of like 20 different products that you might be able to sell.

“Books were great as the first best because books are incredibly unusual in one respect, that is that there are more items in the book category than there are items in any other category by far.”

There were more books than CDs, he argued.

“Music is number two, there are about 200,000 active music CDs at any given time,” he said.

“But in the book space there are over 3 million different books worldwide active in print at any given time across all languages, more than 1.5 million in English alone. So when you have that many items you can literally build a store online that couldn’t exist any other way,” he said.

Later in the interview Bezos also mentions a phrase that has since become a motto for him and for Amazon. “What’s really incredible about this is that this is day one, this is the very beginning,” he said.

Twenty years later Amazon warehouses bear signs saying “It’s still day one.” 

The Amazon founder concludes the interview by saying: “I think a millennia from now, people will look back and say ‘Wow, the late 20th century was really a great time to be alive on this planet.”

It certainly would be for Bezos, who has become the richest man in the world with a net worth of $111 billion at time of writing.

You can watch the full interview here:

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SEE ALSO: Jeff Bezos is reportedly keen on buying an NFL team

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