July 5th, 1994, as the world of e-commerce started to show the shoots of springtime growth, an online bookstore called Cadabra was incorporated in the US.
A year before eBay and four years before Google, Cadabra started out in a garage. Selling its first book in 1995, within a month had sold at least one book to customers in all fifty states and forty-five different countries. A positive start, but a garage based start-up, and international demand showed the signs of the growing pains yet to come.
An obscure book about lichin plays an unexpected role in cultural company legend. The company had to buy ten book at a time from a wholesaler for the order to be processed. Given the orders were small, and cash was tight, they landed on the idea of ordering the book they needed, along with nine copies of a book about lichen, which was always out of stock. So they'd receive their one book, and a note saying they'd hear when the other nine books were available.
One of the early lawyers for the business convinced the owner that Cadabra sounded too much like cadaver, so another name needed to be thought of. Relentless was considered, (try the link here, www.relentless.com) but rejected, and liking the connotation with the world's biggest river, the river of knowledge, Cadabra became Amazon... and the rest as they say, is history.
From the company's humble beginnings, Jeff Bezos, founder, and still CEO knew that he wanted Amazon to be an 'everything store'. Books were just the beginning. In 1997, the company launched on the stock exchange, with shares at $18, and a valuation of $54m.
23 years later, and Amazon has become either 'The' global innovator of e-commerce, or a global behemoth crushing everything in its path, depending on your point of view.
Consider this. nearly 50c in every $ spent online in the US is spent with Amazon, it has 80% of the global e-book market, and it is the largest global cloud computing provider, supporting Netflix, Airbnb, and yelp, to name a few. (source CNBC video here).
Amazon is also in the entertainment business. It bought IMDB in 1998, and developed Amazon Studios in 2010. Creating and distributing original content, distributing through its Prime service, it is now a competitor for Netflix, picking up its first Oscar for Manchester by the Sea at the 2017 Academy Awards. On a personal note, if you like nostalgic US with an edge, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel is well worth a look (you will need a Prime subscription though).
Apart from a Happy Birthday nod though, Amazon is an interesting company to observe in terms of organisational culture and engagement. Tales like the lichen book story, a bear skeleton that Bezos bought in the early years and which is still in the foyer of the corporate offices, and the work hard-work hard ethic renowned in the early years, create the heroes, myths and legends of company culture and reputation.
That in itself is another blog post or two, and if you'd like to see how today-but-then can help capture your story in an easy engaging way, please feel free to get in touch here.
Thanks for reading.