Thursday, October 11, 2012

They said it couldn't be done

October 10, 2012

Jackie was 17 years old when she got married and had a baby. She was still in high school and within one year she was divorced and on her own. A few years later she remarried a Cuban immigrant named Mike and he adopted her son Jeff. As a boy Jeff was a big Star Trek fan. At school when his friends would act out episodes of Star Trek, instead of being Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock, Jeff would be the voice of the computer. He was different and in a remarkable way, he was comfortable being different.

When Jeff graduated from college, he had a fascination with computers. At the age of 28 he noticed a trend. It was the mid-1990s and one in ten households had their own computer. The internet had just been released to the public and the number of people using it was growing at 2300% per year. Jeff had an idea. He convinced his parents to invest some money; he packed a car with everything he owned, and headed to Seattle, WA. While his wife drove the car, Jeff wrote a business plan. They arrived in Seattle, rented a house, and Jeff set up his business in the garage.

As Jeff showed his plan to professionals they all complained about one major issue; Jeff’s business idea wasn’t going to make a profit for over six years. One person said, “Jeff, this isn’t a business, this is a hobby. No one will invest and no one will work for a guy with an idea that doesn’t make a profit and has an office in his garage.” The comments struck a chord with Jeff, but he believed in his idea so he decided to move forward in spite of the unknown.

When it was time to hire employees he decided it would be better if he interviewed them at the Barnes & Noble bookstore instead of his garage. As part of the interview process he asked them to take a good look at the bookstore because he wanted them to realize that the store was not big enough or open long enough to satisfy customers. His potential employees were confused because the store was huge and it was open from eight in the morning to midnight. Maybe Jeff was more than different; maybe he was a bit crazy.

Jeff’s idea was to sell books over the internet. According to his business plan, he didn’t think he would sell any books for six months because it would take a long time for people to discover his little company even existed. Jeff’s company,, started small but his vision was big – offer millions of books for sale online at anytime, delivered anywhere, and at a lower price.

Jeff’s idea was so simple and easy to use that the business took off. In 30 days they sold books to people in all 50 US States and in 45 countries generating $20,000 in sales. The first year Amazon had sales of $500,000 and by the second year, they topped $15 million. In 2011, Amazon had over $17 billion in sales. As amazing as their rise in sales has been, Amazon lost money for many years. Jeff continued to face criticism, especially when the dot com companies experienced a bust around the year 2000. Amazon’s stock price dropped from $100 per share to $6. Jeff’s response was that he couldn’t predict the future but he believed that not only could Amazon become the biggest online bookstore but it could also become the largest online store in the world.

He was right. Today Amazon generates 1 of every 3 dollars spent online. They sell everything from books to auto products and they even deliver perishable groceries in the Seattle area. Jeff Bezos was recently named the most successful internet entrepreneur in the world, and his net worth is over $20 billion. He still admits he doesn’t know what the future holds, but one of his projects is building a clock that will tell time for 10,000 years; it’s a symbol for long-term thinking.

Jeff’s story reminds me of one of my personal mantras…get comfortable with ambiguity. Unless you are a fortune teller, don’t let the unknown get in the way of pursuing your dreams. There’s no benefit to waiting for everything in life to line up perfectly. It never does. Chart your course, jump in a boat, and enjoy the Amazon River of life. Getting wet along the way is part of what makes life’s journey interesting.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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