Today we think of Amazon as world-striding behemoth, the very pinnacle of startup success. But once it was just a dream of it's founder with huge odds of failure. Then it became a humble online bookstore, and only through many failures and fight backs did it become the famed "Everything Store."
In short, Amazon's success - like all huge successes - was only inevitable in retrospect. Actually walking the road that led to this point demanded incredible resourcefulness. Where did founder Jeff Bezos develop the toughness to face down so many obstacles?
Bezos is Princeton-educated former banker so you might guess education or work experience, but as the Amazon founder revealed in an intimate (the funny!) recent interview with his little brother Mark at Los Angeles' Summit 2017 (hat tip: Business Insider), he credits neither for his extreme determination and drive.
It wasn't the Ivy League that made him the man he is today, he claims, it was working on his grandfather's ranch.
Cattle not college
The brothers spend a good portion of the interview reminiscing about the man they called 'Pop,' and telling colorful and sometimes hilarious stories of their grandfather's heroic levels of self-reliance. This was a man who built his own house from a kit, forged his own needles to suture cattle, and once repaired a thoroughly busted bulldozer despite having, initially, exactly zero experience with repairing that type of heavy machinery.
"He was incredibly self-reliant," Bezos (the elder) explains. "As a kid I got to see him solve his own problems." It was a trait that rubbed off on his grandson. "We learned a lot of things from watching him because he would take on major projects that he didn't really know how to do and then figure out how to do them." And that, Bezos, went on to explain, is a key trait if you want to pursue any sort of big dream:
As a lot of entrepreneurs know, the whole point of moving things forward is you run into problems, you run into failures, things don't work. You have to back up and try again. Each one of those times you have a setback and you back up and try again, you're using resourcefulness, you're using self-reliance. You're trying to invent your way out of a box.
Amazon, he insists, is no exception, joking that the company is a good place to fail because "we have so much practice."
For instance, when Bezos and the management team realized they needed to add third party sellers to the site to boost the selection available to customers, they first tried Amazon Auctions. No one came (except, of course, his brother, who reports buying a mug). Then they tried fixed priced auctions and failed again. Finally, they came across the idea of simply putting third party items on the same pages as their own inventory. That took off and an e-commerce phenomenon was born.
Where did Bezos learn the resourcefulness to weather so many setbacks? Don't look to his business background or school. Look to summers on the ranch, he insists.
Want to hear tons more intimate details of Bezos's life outside Amazon (including his parenting philosophy, his stint as 'a professional blind dater,' his unusual criteria for selecting a wife, and plenty of family photos)? Check out the entertaining complete interview below: