In 2014, Brad stone published ‘The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon,’ chronicling Amazon’s journey from its inception until the year of publishing.
In 2021, Brad Stone released another book, Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, chronicling Amazon’s growth from 2014 to 2021.
Both books are essential reading for those who want to make sense of Amazon’s all-encompassing and, at times, perplexing business.
I read ‘The Everything Store,’ Stone’s first book on Amazon, and made a book summary in Dec 2020. So, when Stone released ‘Amazon Unbound’ in May 2021, I decided to read it to make better sense of Amazon and while I was at it, I made some notes.
In my summary below, I’ve selected company initiatives and incidents from the book that had a significant impact on Amazon as the sub-titles, and then included a brief explanation of each of them.
I’ve structured the notes such that it should help both kinds of people — those looking to skip reading the full book but getting an understanding of its content and people who’ve read it but want to revisit the content.
‘Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire’ Book Summary
The Failure of the Fire Phone
A few years before, Apple, Google, and Samsung had staked out large positions in the dawning smartphone market but had left the impression that terrain might remain for innovative newcomers. Typically, Jeff Bezos was not about to cede a critical strategic position in the unfolding digital terrain to other companies, especially when he believed the ground was still fertile for innovative approaches.
On June 18, 2014, Bezos unveiled the Fire Phone at a Seattle event space called Fremont Studios, where he attempted to summon some of the charismatic magic of the late Steve Jobs and waxed enthusiastic about the device’s 3D display and gesture tracking.
Reviews of the phone were scathing. The smartphone market had shifted and matured during the painful four years that the Fire Phone was in development, and what had started as an attempt at creating a novel product now seemed strangely out of touch with customer expectations. Because it did not run Google’s authorized version of Android, it did not have popular apps such as Gmail and YouTube. While it was cheaper than the forthcoming iPhone 6, it was more expensive than the multitude of low-cost, no-frills handsets made by Asian manufacturers, which were heavily subsidized at the time by the wireless carriers in exchange for two-year contracts.
In October, the company wrote down $170 million in inventory and canceled the project, acknowledging one of its most expensive failures.
Launch Of Amazon Echo
The introduction of the Amazon Echo on November 6, 2014, was molded by the failure of the Fire Phone only months before it. There was no press conference or visionary speech. The team announced the Echo with a press release and two-minute explanatory video on YouTube that showed a family cheerfully talking to Alexa.
Then they asked customers to join a waiting list to buy an Echo and reviewed the list carefully, considering factors like whether applicants were users of Amazon Music and owned a Kindle. Recognizing that it was an untested market, they also ordered an initial batch of only eighty thousand devices, compared to a preliminary order of more than three hundred thousand Fire Phones, and distributed them gradually over the next few months.
After the Echo shipped, the team could see when the devices were turned on and that people were actually using them. Bezos’s intuition had been right: there was something vaguely magical in summoning a computer in your home without touching the glass of a smartphone, something valuable in having a responsive speaker that could play music, respond to practical requests (“how many cups are there in a quart?”), and even banter with playful ones (“Alexa, are you married?”).
Over the course of the 2015 holiday season, Amazon sold a million Echo devices. At the end of 2016, after eight million U.S. households had purchased an Echo or Echo Dot, device exec Dave Limp announced internally that Amazon had become the top-selling speaker company in the world. By 2019, Amazon had sold more than 100 million Echo devices. In the span of a decade, a product spawned by Bezos’s love of science fiction and infatuation with invention had become a universally recognized product whose miscues and challenges to conventional notions of privacy were widely covered by the media.
In November 2012, Jeff Bezos was asked by the TV interviewer Charlie Rose a question that had become a recurring favorite of journalists: Will Amazon ever buy or open physical stores? “Only if we can have a truly differentiated idea,” he replied. “We want to do something that is uniquely Amazon. We haven’t found it yet, but if we can find that idea, we would love to.”
At the time, Bezos was not only observing how advancements in processing power and decreases in computing costs were helping computers understand human speech. He was also tracking the potential for computers with cameras to actually see—to recognize and understand images and video. Earlier that year, he had circulated among Amazon’s senior engineers an article in the New York Times that described how a Google supercomputer had pored over ten million images and taught itself to recognize cats. “Jeff had faith that this was a really important trend that we should pay attention to,” said Joseph Sirosh, chief technology officer of Amazon’s retail business at the time. “Just as he got really enthusiastic about computer voice recognition, he was also really excited about computer vision.”
The allure of computer vision, along with his interest in pressing Amazon’s advantage in the cloud to push the frontiers of artificial intelligence, again sparked the fertile imagination of Amazon’s founder. More than 90 percent of retail transactions were conducted in physical stores, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Perhaps there was a way to tap this vast reservoir of sales with a completely self-service physical store that harnessed emerging technologies like computer vision and robotics.
When the first Amazon Go store finally opened to the public in January 2018, it was heralded as a peek into the future. (“The whole process was so quick and seamless, I almost forgot the items weren’t free,” wrote CNET.) But with the small size of the store, limited selection of items, and enormous expenses on salaries and operations, the numbers behind the project horrified finance execs. One told me that the original Go store, its adjoining kitchens and data center cost more than $10 million. “If you were a venture capitalist, this just did not make sense anymore,” said another executive privy to the decision-making. But Bezos wanted to forge ahead. “Jeff is master of ‘this isn’t working today, but could work tomorrow.’ If customers like it, he’s got the cash flow to fund it,” this exec said. In 2017, Amazon spent $22.6 billion on R&D, compared to Alphabet ($16.6 billion), Intel ($13.1 billion), and Microsoft ($12.3 billion). The tax-savvy CEO likely understood that these significant R&D expenses for projects like the Go store and Alexa were not only helping to secure Amazon’s future but could generate tax credits or be written off, lowering Amazon’s overall tax bill.
Amazon Go remained a money loser. But Bezos was still looking at it as a bet on computer vision and artificial intelligence, the kind of long-term, high-stakes experiment that was necessary to produce meaningful outcomes for large companies. As he wrote in his 2015 shareholder letter: We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold.
Amazon Enters India
As Jeff Bezos chased Amazon’s next wave of growth by backing ambitious technology projects like the Go store, Alexa, and Fire Phone, he also opened an online store in India, the country of 1.3 billion people whose cosmopolitan cities were rapidly embracing smartphones and broadband internet access.
Over the course of several years, Amazon would sink billions of dollars into the country. His bet there was a renewal of Amazon’s manifest destiny—to sell not only everything, but everywhere.
Amazon Expands to Other Countries
Amazon’s progress in India was emboldening. Bezos and the S-team figured that if e-commerce could take off in India, there must be untapped opportunity in other developing countries. Their next priority for international expansion, in 2014, came via the French-Canadian Amazon executive Alexandre Gagnon. Having served as the technical advisor to S-team member Diego Piacentini and helped with the launches in Italy and Spain, Gagnon had also been in charge of bringing Amazon north into Canada.
He realized that one of their primary advantages in that move had been the proximity of U.S. warehouses, which helped to fulfill some items that were not popular enough to be stored in Canada’s local FCs. A single, networked continental supply chain could also work in Mexico, which had the fifteenth largest GDP in the world at the time.
Amazon Reveals the Hidden Profitability of its AWS Segment
In its 2015 April earnings report, Amazon revealed for the first time the financial health of its ten-year-old cloud business, Amazon Web Services, and shocked Wall Street with its underlying sales growth and profitability.
Over its first decade, AWS’s revenues and profits were a closely guarded secret. The division generated $4.6 billion in sales in 2014 and was growing at a 50 percent annual clip. But Amazon disguised those numbers, along with nascent advertising revenues, in a sundry “other” category on its income statement, so that potential competitors like Microsoft and Google would not recognize how attractive a business cloud computing actually was. Observers and analysts could only guess at the financial dimensions of a unique enterprise computing business, anomalously tucked inside an online retailer. AWS generated $45.4 billion in sales in 2020.
Jeff Bezos Buys Washington Post & Turns Around its Fortunes
The Post was owned by the venerable Graham family and run by Donald Graham, the son of legendary owner Katharine Graham, and for years it had been on shaky financial footing. It remained a local paper serving the D.C. region, with a specialization in national politics, at a time when local advertising was moving to the web and the classified ad business was being vaporized by websites like Craigslist. The financial crisis of 2008 only compounded that decay. Seven straight years of revenue declines tended to “focus the mind,” as Don Graham liked to say.
When major media organizations like the rival New York Times started adding paywalls in 2011, the Post was late to the trend; its paywall was porous and easily circumvented by readers. By 2013, an atmosphere of melancholic decline had gripped the boxy, mid-century concrete headquarters of the Washington Post Co. at 1150 15th Street NW in downtown Washington The newsroom, once more than a thousand journalists strong, had been reduced by waves of layoffs to around six hundred. Morale was low, with deep distrust between the business and editorial divisions. The company didn’t have the resources to invest in national and international news and distribution, or to free itself from the straitjacket of regional news and its deteriorating economics. So Graham agreed to sell the paper.
Post executives sought a wealthy, technologically sophisticated individual who cared about the paper’s journalistic mission. Jeff Bezos was at the top of the list, alongside other internet billionaires like eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Bezos’s initial response to the Post’s investment bankers, and sporadic conversations with Graham, a longtime friend, was cool. Only that July 2013, when Bezos asked Graham to meet privately at the annual Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, did Graham realize that Bezos had researched the opportunity and was more interested than he had previously let on. In the brief talks that followed, Bezos accepted Graham’s initial $250 million asking price and paid cash. Amazon’s founder acquired the newspaper—not via Amazon but personally.
Between 2014 and 2015, unique visitors to the Post’s websites and apps grew by 56 percent. In October 2015, the Post briefly surpassed the New York Times in unique monthly visitors.
Predictably, Bezos took the most interest in the Post’s products and technology. He forged a partnership with CIO Shailesh Prakash, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, and boasted that the newspaper had better engineers than many Silicon Valley startups. He obsessed over shaving milliseconds from the time it took web pages and complex graphics to load. He also asked for customized metrics that could measure the reader’s true interest in stories, and whether an article was truly “riveting.” When Bezos acquired the paper, Prakash had been developing a content system for the Post, called Arc Publishing, to manage functions like online publishing, blogging, podcasting, and advertising. Naturally, Bezos loved the idea of supplying that technology to other papers and encouraged Prakash to license it to broadcasters and any company that needed publishing software. By 2021, Arc powered fourteen hundred websites and was on a path to generating $100 million in annual revenue.
The Post was now a private company, so it no longer released financial information. But between the years 2015 and 2018, according to an executive privy to the numbers, ad revenues jumped from $40 million to $140 million and digital subscribers rose by more than 300 percent, exceeding 1.5 million for the first time. (That number would reach 3 million by the time of Marty Baron’s retirement in January 2021.) While the paper had lost around $10 million in 2015, it made more than $100 million in the three years after that—a remarkable turnaround from the projected losses Bezos had rejected. “I can’t believe how fast this is happening,” he said to the Pancake Group after witnessing the extent of the turnaround.
Genesis of Prime Video
In late 2010, Amazon was one of several companies selling online access to an identical catalog of movies and TV shows. Customers could spend a few dollars to stream a title once over the internet or they could pay more to “own” it and access it repeatedly. Meanwhile, Netflix had introduced an $8-a-month service totally independent from its original DVD-by-mail program; it allowed subscribers to stream the older TV shows and films in the company’s digital catalog at any time. Even though Netflix’s library generally did not include new releases and the company was not yet producing its own content, its customers, as well as investors, were responding favorably to its push for a less restrictive and more customer-friendly future for home entertainment.
Characteristically, Bezos was unwilling to cede a significant opportunity to a rival. He asked Bill Carr, the vice president in charge of digital music and video, to come up with a way to compete in the emerging business of subscription video on demand, or SVOD. They met frequently over the course of the next few months, and then one day Bezos presented the answer himself: they would offer a subscription video service for free—to members of Amazon Prime.
To Carr and other execs, the idea was perplexing. Prime, originally $79 a year, guaranteed Amazon customers that their purchases would show up in two days without an extra shipping charge. Bezos now wanted to define Prime as something different and less transactional: an all-access entry pass to a library of digital content. “I didn’t get it at first,” Bill Carr said. “But what I had learned at that point of my career is that when Jeff comes up with a novel idea, you listen carefully, ask a lot of questions to get clarification of how to think about it, and then come back to him later with details.”
In retrospect, the solution was ingenious. Amazon customers would have balked at paying extra for a service that was inferior to Netflix’s more established offering. Introducing streaming as a “free” benefit—people do tend to gravitate toward free things—could tip some Prime members into rationalizing their annual membership fee, even if they only ordered from the site a few times a year. (Amazon would then raise the price of Prime twice: to $99 in 2014 and $119 in 2018.)
Amazon Prime Video: From licensing shows to making them
These were still lean times for Amazon, so Carr was given what he felt was a considerable budget, of around $30 million, to launch the service, called Prime Video. He had no idea that four years later, Amazon executives would be gathering to consider paying $240 million to license a library of programming from 20th Century Fox, including hit shows like 24. During the meeting, they debated whether Amazon had ever spent that much on anything in its twenty-year history.
Amazon licensed the hour-long drama Justified from Sony Pictures, Downton Abbey from PBS, Orphan Black from BBC America, and countless other popular shows. Netflix struck a wide-ranging deal with Disney for its Marvel and Pixar films and animated classics, as well as with ABC for shows like Scandal and The CW for Gossip Girl. In 2014, Amazon had forty thousand titles in its video catalog; Netflix had sixty thousand. Reed Hastings and Netflix stayed ahead of Amazon at every turn. “Netflix drove our strategy a lot,” Carr said. “I’m not ashamed to say we learned from them.”
Duels with Netflix to acquire premium programming and distribution were expensive, exhausting, and in the end, did little to change the competitive balance of power. Both companies had learned a valuable lesson, gleaned a generation ago by premium TV channels like HBO and Showtime: by competing to pay top dollar to license various films and shows, they had enriched the Hollywood studios and other entertainment industry incumbents but ended up with cash-draining services that were difficult to distinguish from each other.
If they wanted to attract viewers with truly unique video offerings, it made much more sense to try to create hit TV shows and films themselves.
The company spent an estimated $3.2 billion on Prime Video in 2016 and nearly $4.5 billion in 2017. Even its usually agreeable board of directors was apprehensive over the growing expenditure and asked pointed questions about it. “Jeff was ahead of us in thinking about the relationship between content and Prime” is how former board member and venture capitalist Bing Gordon put it. Bezos contended that the media business enhanced the appeal and “stickiness” of Amazon Prime, which in turn motivated people to spend more on Amazon. “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes,” he said on stage at a technology conference in 2016.
Bezos continued to spend heavily on video. Prime Video consumed $5 billion in 2018 and $7 billion in 2019. Prime Video was yet another of Jeff Bezos’s big bets over a fruitful decade.
ulfillment by Amazon
The counterintuitive idea behind FBA was to allow sellers to send their merchandise to Amazon’s warehouses, and to let Amazon store and ship it to customers. These companies still owned their inventory and set their own prices, but their products qualified for two-day shipping to Prime members. Bringing independent merchants onto the site and into Amazon’s fulfillment centers allowed the company to increase the volume of products it pushed through its warehouses and to increase its revenues compared to its fixed costs.
Amazon Onboards Chinese Sellers to Sell in the West
By 2015, Amazon had conspicuously failed to develop an online marketplace for Chinese sellers within China. This represented another opportunity to do business in the world’s most populous country. As part of a new initiative dubbed Marco Polo, after the thirteenth-century Italian explorer, Amazon hired teams in Beijing to sign up local sellers, translate Seller Central into Mandarin, and provide live customer support for merchants.
To lower freight costs and streamline the process of shipping overseas, the company also developed an initiative called Dragon Boat. The service consolidated merchandise in coastal hubs like Shanghai and Shenzhen, moved them in bulk through customs, and then shipped them in containers that Amazon reserved at wholesale rates from shipping companies like Maersk.
Amazon Buys Whole Foods to Establish a Better Foothold in Grocery
On April 21, 2017, Matt Yale, the head of regulatory affairs at Tusk Ventures, one of the firms advising Whole Foods amid the assault from activist investors, called Jay Carney, an acquaintance from the Obama administration. Would Amazon be interested in meeting with the organic grocer to discuss a strategic transaction? Carney referred the contact to Bezos and Jeff Wilke, who passed it along to Peter Krawiec, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide corporate development. On April 27, the two companies started negotiating under the veil of a strict nondisclosure agreement.
On May 23, Amazon offered to buy the company for $41 dollars a share, nearly a 27 percent premium over its share price. Amazon added that it wouldn’t negotiate further and threatened to withdraw the offer if it leaked. Whole Foods responded by asking for $45; Amazon upped the amount, barely, to $42 per share, and said that was its final offer.
The companies announced the $13.7 billion deal on June 16, 2017, shocking the world. The most famous e-commerce company was buying one of the most iconic grocery chains.
In a remarkable sign of Wall Street’s confidence in Bezos’s every move, the deal sent shares of Amazon skyrocketing that day and added $15.6 billion to its market cap, pushing it past $475 billion. (It also temporarily sent the stocks of rival grocers spiraling downward and was a boon for Instacart, which was quickly the beneficiary of their panicked scramble to move online and counter the Amazon threat.)
When a bespectacled twenty-six-year-old former middle-school band teacher named Dave Clark joined Amazon in 1999, the company operated only seven warehouses in the U.S. and three in Europe, which were barely able to handle the frenetic holiday sales peak. By the time he took over as head of global operations in 2012, Amazon ran around forty fulfillment centers in the U.S. and another two dozen overseas. But the massive buildings were mostly located in remote areas, a strategy to minimize Amazon’s labor expenses and tax burden, not to best serve customers.
They also relied on lower-wage employees walking an average of twelve miles a day to find and pick the right items from shelves. By August 2017, after it had agreed to collect sales taxes in most U.S. states and completed its acquisition of Whole Foods Market, Amazon’s supply chain looked dramatically different. It was comprised of around 140 FCs in the U.S. and another few dozen abroad, many of them in urban areas and crowded with squat orange robots zooming to and from employees, carrying yellow stacks of shelves crammed with merchandise. Amazon also had hundreds of new smaller buildings: sortation centers that organized packages by zip codes, Prime Now centers for groceries, delivery stations where contract drivers picked up packages for transport to customers’ homes, and airport hubs for a new fleet of gleaming white cargo jets with “Prime Air” written in blue font on the side.
Amazon Acquires Robotics Startup Kiva to Fasten Fulfillment Center Automation
Fulfillment expenses had jumped by 58 percent in 2011 and 40 percent in 2012. Amazon hired fifty thousand temporary workers in its domestic FCs over the 2012 holidays alone; those numbers would keep going up and up and up to meet anticipated increases in sales.
The new operations leader would have to take a hard-nosed run at the entire supply chain and figure out how to use technology to get more efficient.
Clark was a leading contender for the job. A major part of his candidacy was his bid to acquire the North Reading, Massachusetts–based robotics startup, Kiva Systems, which made the Roomba-like mobile robots. Instead of pickers walking a dozen miles a day to select items from shelves spread out over giant warehouses, Kiva robots maneuvered portable containers of merchandise around the building, an orchestral symphony conducted by the invisible hand of software.
Amazon made a low-ball offer to buy Kiva over the spring of 2011. Mountz rejected the proposal. At the same time, Amazon began quietly evaluating other robotics companies and asking them to build a mobile warehouse robot. The effort failed though, and Amazon increased its offer for Kiva. An investment banker who represented Kiva said that the subsequent talks “were the most painful negotiations I’ve ever been through,” with Amazon characteristically arguing every point. After the $775 million deal closed in early 2012, Kiva execs visited Seattle and saw one of Amazon’s unsuccessful robot prototypes parked in a conference room.
In perhaps an indication of Bezos’s initial trepidation about advertising, he had kicked off the effort in the mid-2000s by thinking not about the type of ads the company could accept but the kinds that it shouldn’t. S-team members remember Bezos handing out a list of products that he felt should never be promoted on the site, such as guns, alcohol, online dating sites, dietary supplements, and financial services that pushed people into high-interest loans.
The S-team spent hours debating the list and the relative merits of getting into the advertising business. Despite these reservations, Bezos was a proponent of bringing ads onto Amazon and using them to support low prices. He talked about two hypothetical e-commerce websites: one with ads that subsidized low prices and another that was ad-free but had higher prices. Customers, he said, would always flock to the website with better deals. “We are stupid if we don’t do it” was his usual conclusion, according to several S-team members.
Amazon could have established itself quickly as an online advertising juggernaut. While Google knew what people searched for and Facebook knew what they liked, Amazon had one of the most substantive data points of all: what they actually bought. Yet it was only after online ads fueled the historic rises of Yahoo, Google, and Facebook that Amazon entered the advertising business in a meaningful way—and even then, it was with an abundance of caution and a number of false starts.
By 2017, revenues from sponsored products had eclipsed those from display advertising like banner ads and would soon after leave them in the dust. That year, sales in the “other” category on Amazon’s income statement (the former home of AWS revenues), where the company parked advertising revenues, hit $4.65 billion—a 58 percent jump from the year before. Amazon had discovered a veritable gold mine in its own backyard.
Amid the resplendent success of Amazon and the striking revival of the Washington Post, Blue Origin was the straggler in Bezos’s expanding empire of accomplishment. A program to fly tourists to suborbital space on a reusable rocket called New Shepard had suffered numerous delays and lost two unmanned vehicles to fiery explosions—or “rapid unscheduled disassemblies,” in the macabre lexicon of the rocket scientists.
An even more ambitious project to take tourists and cargo into orbit on a much bulkier rocket, New Glenn, was years away from completion. Meanwhile, SpaceX, the private space company that Tesla cofounder Elon Musk founded two years after Blue Origin, was making significant headway as well as history. Its steadfast Falcon 9 rocket was regularly sending commercial and military satellites into orbit and had just been designated to resupply the International Space Station. That April 2016, the firm landed a Falcon 9 booster on a drone platform floating in the Atlantic Ocean. It was an extraordinary technical achievement, one that offered a sharp contrast between the two space firms and their billionaire backers.
Bezos had predicted that Blue Origin would eventually create a return on his massive investment. “I do expect that over a very long-term horizon, perhaps even decades from now, Blue will be self-sustaining, operationally profitable and will yield returns,” he wrote. “It will just take an unusually long time.” But as he continued to evangelize in public for Blue Origin, Bezos began to frame the operation less as a hobby or business pursuit and more as a kind of long-term philanthropy. “I get increasing conviction with every passing year that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work that I’m doing,” he said in a May 2018 onstage interview with Mathias Döpfner, CEO of media giant Axel Springer.
“I’m pursuing this work, because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don’t want my great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren to live in a civilization of stasis.” His generation’s destiny, he explained, was to lower the cost of access to space and unleash the same forces of creativity that had unlocked the golden age of innovation on the internet. The goal was a trillion humans one day living and working throughout the solar system on space stations that operated on the plentiful power of the sun.
This soaring objective was inspired by one of Bezos’s favorite space theorists, the late physicist Gerard K. O’Neill. It was also a useful one for the world’s wealthiest person, whose charitable contributions were now the subject of constant scrutiny and criticism. Instead of an e-commerce kingpin with an expensive hobby, Bezos was a great industrialist making a grand gift to humanity. The philanthropic message was a new one to many of his longtime colleagues at Blue Origin. It also helped to obscure the more evident reality that Blue was still struggling twenty years into its existence.
By the spring of 2021, it still hadn’t brought a tourist past the Kármán line or ever flown to orbit. These were inconvenient facts that Bezos’s rival, Elon Musk, who also framed his efforts in space as a way to inspire humanity and potentially save it from extinction, took every opportunity to point out.
Antitrust Invetsigations Intesify
in July 2019, Bezos’s personal net worth had dropped from $170 billion to $110 billion. Yet such was the buoyancy of Amazon’s stock price that he retained the title of richest person alive and recovered all of that surrendered ground within twelve months. His personal wealth was larger than the gross domestic product of Hungary; larger than even the market capitalization of General Motors.
The dual rise of Jeff Bezos’s fortune and his company’s market cap generated not just plaudits for a historic business accomplishment but also an incongruous amount of anger. In the final years of the company’s most prosperous decade, there was a dawning sense that the system was rigged, that consumers and smaller firms were caught in Amazon’s merciless grip, and that it and other tech giants were swallowing the economy whole.
Emboldened politicians across the spectrum on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean started to investigate the power of Amazon and its big tech brethren, Google, Facebook, and Apple, initiating several campaigns to curb their rampant growth. If not yet the conclusive battle over the tech giants and their far-reaching influence, it was, at the very least, the opening salvo in a coming war.
Project Kuiper, an ambitious plan to launch satellites that would provide high-speed internet connectivity to people around the world. Amazon’s $10 billion project directly challenged the Starlink satellite system already deployed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The two companies battled before regulators over portions of the radio spectrum and lower Earth altitudes where signals are strongest; once again, it pitted two of the wealthiest people in the world against each other in another high-profile competition.
Bezos continued to oversee Amazon’s play in the roughly $4 trillion U.S. healthcare market. This included Amazon Pharmacy, a long-gestating service that allowed Amazon customers to order prescriptions online, which the company introduced publicly that November as Covid-19 raged on in the U.S.
Other elements of their health efforts were the Fitbit-like Halo smart band, unveiled in August of 2020, and Amazon Care, a smartphone app-based service that offered Amazon employees in Washington State virtual consultations with physicians, and which Amazon was just beginning to roll out to other companies. Bezos believed there was significant potential for disruption and innovation in healthcare and met regularly with a secretive group inside the company, dubbed the “grand challenge,” whose purpose was to generate and pursue ideas in the field.
Bezos remained consumed with identifying promising new business opportunities that could significantly improve his company’s already robust fortunes. He also continued to cede more authority over the older divisions to key deputies, like Andy Jassy and Dave Clark. And on February 2, 2021, in a historic announcement, Amazon disclosed that he would also cede something else: his job as CEO.
Atop its quarterly financial report, the company announced that later in the year, Bezos would transition to executive chairman and hand over the chief executive role to Jassy, the longtime leader of AWS, who long ago was his first full-time technical advisor.
More Books By Brad Stone
We’ve created a list of books every aspiring/existing entrepreneur should read, and it’s nothing the book lists you will come across when you search for “Best Business Books” on Google. You can check out the list and our explanation of why we created it here.