Jeff Bezos' at 60: 9 lesser known facts from his epic journey

From building homemade alarm systems at 4 to graduating with a summa cum laude from Princeton, Bezos' early life was a testament to an exceptional mind. As we celebrate his 60th birthday today, let’s look at 9 interesting facts about the Amazon boss.

Jeff Bezos' at 60: 9 lesser known facts from his epic journey

Friday January 12, 2024,

8 min Read

Today, at the cusp of his 60th orbit around the sun, we celebrate the man who transformed a garage into a galaxy-grazing empire. Yes, it’s none other than the investor, media proprietor, computer engineer, commercial astronaut, founder, CEO and president of Amazon, and the third richest man in the world–Jeff Bezos.

But the Bezos’ story isn't just about billion-dollar deals and sky-high wealth of US$176 billion. It's a journey fuelled by a young boy's fascination with science fiction, a teenage tech whiz's insatiable curiosity, and the audacious vision of a Wall Street wunderkind who dared to ditch the space suit for a dream born in a Seattle garage.

From building homemade alarm systems at 4 to graduating with a summa cum laude from Princeton, Bezos' early life was a testament to an exceptional mind. In 1994, with a name plucked from a dictionary and a vision for a virtual bookstore, Amazon was born. What started as a humble online bookseller has transformed into the world's e-commerce behemoth, redefining retail and influencing everything from cloud computing to streaming services. But Bezos' ambitions stretch far beyond Earth's atmosphere. He's set his sights on the stars, building rockets and chasing childhood dreams of space exploration.

As we celebrate Jeff Bezos' 60th birthday today, let’s look at 9 interesting facts about the Amazon boss. 

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

Fact #1: Jeff Bezos' biological father used to be a circus performer

According to the 2013 biography of Jeff Bezos by Brad Stone, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, the now-billionaire's biological father was a unicyclist and circus performer. When Stone tracked down Jorgensen to interview him for his biography, he had reportedly not seen his son in decades and hadn't realised he was his biological father. Jorgensen reached out to his son, and the two made amends, with Bezos telling him "he harboured no ill will towards Jorgensen at all," according to Stone. 

Jorgensen died on March 16, 2015, at the age of 70.

Fact #2: Bezos started his first business in his high school days

While he was in high school, Bezos launched his first venture— ‘the Dream Institute’, an educational summer camp catering to nine to 12-year-olds. Bezos and his then-girlfriend collaborated on the camp, charging its six attendees US$600 per person.

Before initiating the camp, Bezos gained work experience at McDonald's during one summer. At the age of 16, he took on a job at McDonald's, an experience he credits with instilling a sense of responsibility and adeptness in working under pressure. 

This gig also ignited his enthusiasm for service automation, customer service, and employee management.

Fact #3: He founded Amazon in his garage

Following the launch of a prototype for the Amazon website and the invitation of 300 friends for beta testing, Bezos, along with a handful of early employees, embarked on developing software for the site in his garage. The limited space prompted Bezos to conduct meetings at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. As operations expanded, the small team relocated to work out of a two-bedroom house.

Notably, Bezos' ex-wife, MacKenzie, played a significant role in Amazon's early establishment. After their divorce in 2019, concluding a 25-year marriage, MacKenzie received a 25% stake in the couple's Amazon stock, valued at approximately $38 billion at that time.

Fact #4: Amazon could’ve been called ‘Cadabra’ today

Originally leaning towards a more magical-sounding moniker, Bezos was dissuaded by Amazon's first lawyer, Todd Tarbert, who cautioned against the potential confusion with the word "cadaver," particularly over the phone. 

He did think of other business name options such as "MakeItSo" and "Relentless", but ultimately settled on "Amazon." Opting for a more expansive and globally resonant name, Bezos was inspired by the world's largest river, reflecting his vision of building the largest bookstore in the world.

Fact #5: Bezos owns The Washington Post

Bezos acquired the newspaper company in 2013 for a substantial sum of US$250 million. Notably, at the time of the acquisition, Bezos' net worth exceeded an estimated US$25 billion. The impact of his ownership was immediately evident, with The Post Company shares experiencing a notable 5.5% increase in after-hours trading following the purchase.

With Bezos' strategic vision and leadership, The Washington Post, once grappling with financial challenges, achieved profitability under his ownership in the years 2016, 2017, and 2018.

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Fact #6: Bezos also owns a privately funded aerospace venture Blue Origin 

Founded in the year 2000, Blue Origin operates as an aerospace manufacturer and offers suborbital space flight services. Headquartered in Kent, Washington—Bezos' home state—Blue Origin is driven by a mission to leverage the boundless resources and energy of space to safeguard Earth for future generations, as stated in the company's mission statement.

Bezos initiated this space exploration endeavour on September 8, 2000, making it a pioneer in the field—established two years before Elon Musk's SpaceX and four years before Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. In Bezos' own words, this venture stands out as his most significant and impactful work.

Fact #7: Bezos luckily survived a 2003 helicopter crash

Bezos found himself in a helicopter crash in 2003, an incident that unfolded while aboard an Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopter with his lawyer Elizabeth Korrell, guide Ty Holland, and pilot Charles Bella. The helicopter, veering off course due to strong winds, crash-landed upside-down in a creek, partially filling with water. Surprisingly, Bezos, Bella, and Holland emerged from the wreckage with only minor injuries. Unfortunately, Korrell sustained a broken vertebra from the accident.

Reflecting on the incident, Bezos shared a piece of advice in 2004, cautioning against the use of helicopters whenever possible–“They’re not as reliable as fixed-wing aircraft,” as per a 2004 Fast Company report.

Fact #8: Bezos had a cameo role in the film Star Trek Beyond

Bezos made a cameo appearance in the 2016 film Star Trek Beyond, where he portrayed an alien Starfleet official in the cinematic journey of the Starship Enterprise. Director Justin Lin entrusted Bezos with the role of overseeing a rescued spacefarer (starring Lydia Wilson) preparing for an auto-translated interview with Captain Kirk and another Starfleet officer.

In the scene, Bezos' character offers advice to the alien, urging them to "speak normally" before gracefully walking off camera. Despite the heavy makeup required for his alien persona, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was nearly unrecognisable.

Surprisingly, Bezos' cameo was entirely his idea. The patient and all-knowing computer on the Starship Enterprise served as inspiration for Amazon's AI assistant, Alexa. At the Kent headquarters of Bezos' Blue Origin space venture, a movie-prop Enterprise holds a prominent place.

The cameo not only added a touch of humour but also showcased Bezos' genuine enthusiasm for the iconic sci-fi franchise. “For years, I have been begging Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, to let me be in a ‘Star Trek’ movie. I was very persistent, and you can imagine the poor director who got the call, you know, ‘You have to let Bezos be in your “Star Trek” movie,’” joked Bezos.'

Fact #9: Guess what, Bezos too struggled with Math!

Recalling one of Princeton days, Bezos shared in an interview with the Economic Club of Washington how he grappled with a math assignment for three hours. It was Yasantha Rajakarunanayake, a friend described as "the smartest guy in Princeton" and someone Bezos regarded as "the most humble and wonderful guy," who came to his rescue.

During the interview, Bezos vividly described the scene where Yasantha guided him through the mathematical labyrinth. "He brings us into his room, he sits us down, he writes out three pages of detailed algebra, everything crosses out, and the answer is cosine," Bezos recounted. Curiously, Bezos asked Yasantha if he had solved it in his head, to which Yasantha replied, "No, that would be impossible. Three years ago, I solved a very similar problem. And I was able to map this problem onto that problem, and then it was immediately obvious the answer was cosine."

Reflecting on this experience, Bezos admitted with a smile, “And that was an important moment for me: that was the very moment when I realised I was never going to be a great theoretical physicist.”

In a delightful twist, in 2018, Yasantha stumbled upon the interview on Twitter and responded with a quote tweet, exclaiming, "Wow! Jeff is talking about me. Amazingly he remembers interacting with me 34 years ago. What a memory! Also, no Amazon if it weren't for this, since he decided not to pursue physics!"

Here’s wishing the wise man, a very happy 60th birthday! May your humour and innovation reach the galaxies of the universe.

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