Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Amazon’s latest push to gain customers for all-consuming service

By Rupert Neate  /  The Observer

Almost as many people tried to attend a corporate press conference in Seattle on Wednesday last week as there were soccer fans crammed into Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians stadium to watch England lose to Uruguay the next day; 60,038 people, showing no little dedication, applied to watch Amazon boss Jeff Bezos reveal the company’s new smartphone.

“I would love nothing more than to go to this unveiling,” said middle-aged Jason in a video application that won him a ticket. “To be able to go this event and be able to experience it first hand and see what Jeff has to unleash to the world would be absolutely fantastic. Please consider me.”

Jeffrey Preston Bezos likes to think most of his 244 million customers love him and his company, despite accusations that it is destroying independent bookshops, publishers, music labels and high streets across the world by selling goods so cheaply and allegedly ill-treating its staff in the process. There is also the question of whether Amazon is paying its fair share of taxes.

In Britain last year, the company paid £4.2 million (US$7.1 million) in tax despite selling goods worth £4.3 billion.

Although it has expanded from zero customers to almost a quarter of a billion in two decades, today is still “day one,” according to Bezos, who wrote his business plan on a road trip from New York to Seattle 21 years ago.

In his annual letter to shareholders, Bezos attaches a copy of the three-page mailshot he first sent them after the company’s stock market flotation in May 1997.

“ passed many milestones in 1997,” the leaflet begins. “But this is Day 1 for the Internet.”

Although the company is valued at US$147 billion — almost four times the value of supermarket Tesco — Bezos repeats his “Day 1” mantra in almost every interview and circular to shareholders.

He owns a fifth of the shares, giving him an estimated fortune of more than £14 billion and putting him among the top 20 richest people in the world.

In a recent shareholder letter, he said the Day 1 “alarm clock hasn’t even gone off yet” and that the world is “still asleep” to what the rest of Day 1 will bring.

This Day 1 obsession extends to the company’s Seattle headquarters near Pike Place market (the birthplace of the city’s other corporate giant, Starbucks).

The two main buildings — staffed by “Amazonians” or “missionaries” — are called “Day 1 South” and, across Terry Avenue, “Day 1 North.”

Amazon’s “campus” boasts a canteen called “the garage,” a reference to the birthplace of the company, the garage of Bezos’ rented Seattle home.

Garages are a big thing on the West Coast technology scene, with Google, Apple and IBM also starting life in them.

Another building is named “Rufus,” after the first dog that hung out in the office.

Bezos is a dog lover and was joined on that 1993 road trip from New York, where he worked for hedge fund DE Shaw, to the west coast by MacKenzie, his wife of 21 years, and their dog, Kamala (named after an obscure Star Trek character, about which he is also obsessed).

There are no big Amazon logos on campus, but a plaque near the door on Day 1 North quotes Bezos: “There’s so much stuff that has yet to be invented. There’s so much new that’s going to happen. People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.”

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