Twenty years ago, on July 16, 1995, Amazon.com, the 'Earth's Largest Bookstore,' opened its virtual doors to all Web users. Amazon is one of the biggest success stories of the Internet and its two-decade history is peppered with innumerable interesting tales and observations. Here are 20 facts about the company that Jeff Bezos founded that might amaze you.
1. Amazon has frugality in its DNA. Unlike many other technology companies, food at the company's cafeteria is not subsidised, employees have to pay for parking and vending machines take credit cards.
2. A reason why Amazon is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, and not in California or New York is because according to a US Supreme Court ruling merchants did not have to collect sales tax in states where they did not have physical operations. This meant that given the relatively small population of the state of Washington, the company would be required only to collect state sales tax from only a small percentage of its customers.
(Amazon's first office building)
3. Proposed names for the company included Cadabra Inc, MakeItSo.com (after Captain Picard's frequent command in Star Trek), Awake.com, Browse.com, Bookmall.com, Aard.com, and Relentless.com.
4. Bezos finally zeroed in on Amazon as the name of his company after pouring through the 'A' section of the dictionary. 'A' because website listings then were arranged alphabetically and therefore a name beginning with an 'A' would appear towards the top. 'Amazon' because, "This is not only the largest river in the world, it's many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all other rivers away." The domain name amazon.com was registered on November 1, 1994.
(Amazon's first home page)
5. Amazon has a building named after its first customer, John Wainwright, who on April 3, 1995 (much before the site opened to the general public) purchased Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter for $27.95.
6. There is also another building at Amazon's Seattle campus named after Rufus, a Welsh corgi, who was a pet to an employee couple. The dog liked to attend meetings and had frequent tummy troubles on being overfed by employees. Rufus had become a sort of a mascot for the company and there was also a superstition that he had to tap with his paw on the keyboard to launch a new feature on the website.
7. PowerPoint presentations are not very welcome at Amazon meetings. Employees are instead expected to write out their points as prose in multi-page narratives. This, Bezos believes, encourages critical thinking.
8. In its initial days Amazon held no inventory. So whenever a customer bought a book, Amazon themselves ordered it and when the book would arrive Amazon would ship it off to the customer. It, therefore, took Amazon a week to deliver most books and could even many weeks for hard-to-find titles.
9. The original Kindle was nickmaned Fiona, based on a character from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, a futuristic novel about an engineer who steals a rare interactive textbook to give to his daughter. Amazon has also named one of its buildings Fiona. The Kindle 2 was codenamed Turing, after a castle in The Diamond Age.
(The original Amazon Kindle, 2007)
10. Amazon didn't advertise on television for seven years from 2000 to 2007 and resumed TV ads only with introduction of the Kindle.
11. As the development of the Kindle had taken so long, Amazon discovered that one of its Taiwanese suppliers had discontinued making a key component in the wireless module and the company had to spent months getting a replacement.
12. 'Milliravi' was a term used by Bezos to indicate a significant mathematical error of a million dollars or more. This was in detest of Ravi Suria, a Chennai-born Lehman Brothers analyst who wrote a series of negative reports about Amazon that hit the company's share prices. In April, 2003 when Amazon announced its quarterly earnings, the press release had an odd headline - Meaningful Innovation Leads, Launches, Inspires Relentless Amazon Visitor Improvements - that also doubled as a quote attributed to Bezos. The intended meaning was lost to the journalists and analysts present but to Amazon employees - the first letters of each word spelt - 'Milliravi.' On his part, Ravi Suria notes that he hasn't purchased anything from Amazon ever since.
(Amazon's 'Milliravi' press release)
13. When Amazon launched Amazon Web Services, it kept the rates low to avoid repeating "Steve Jobs's mistake" of pricing the iPhone with a huge profit margin that very soon led in influx of competition into the smartphone market.
14. Ever since its president and COO Joe Galli quit Amazon in 2000, the company hasn't designated anyone as a President or a COO.
15. Three days before Amazon's IPO, rival Barnes & Noble filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that Amazon was falsely advertising itself to be the 'Earth's Largest Bookstore'.
16. Bezos once had a habit of keeping a chair empty in meetings to represent the customer.
17. Amazon reported its first profitable quarter only in January 2002, almost seven years after it launched and that too a meagre $5 million.
18. It is difficult to find a customer care number on Amazon.com because Bezos wants everything done via email. He believes that customers should be able to solve their problems themselves with the aid of self-help tools and if they do call he wants their queries answered promptly and their issues settled conclusively.
19. Amazon initially had a 30-day deletion policy for items added to the cart. After an angry customer sent an email saying that the policy was stupid, they tweaked their program.
20. Amazon launched A9.com as a search engine to combat Google but the general search engine at A9.com was a failure and was shut down soon.
(Information sourced from: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com)