Amazon Early Days Photo

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Amazon early days

Amazon Early Days Photo

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5 Lessons You Can Still Learn From the Early Days of Amazon

The country's biggest e-tailer is a giant beast of a corporation with both good and bad traits. But long before any of that, Jeff Bezos maneuvered and strategized his way to success, and even pushed right through the dot-com crash. There's a lot to be learned from his story.

Amazon early days photo

Amazon Early Days Photo

Amazon wasn't always the globe-straddling behemoth you see today. In fact, in the early years, Barnes & Noble scoffed at the e-tailer and poked fun at the idea of an online bookstore even coming remotely close to the success of a brick and mortar. We all know how that played out. However, Amazon had plenty of bumps and stumbles in its infancy just like any other startup (yes, even Amazon was once a startup). For business owners and entrepreneurs alike, it's important to learn lessons the easy way sometimes, which means looking at someone else's difficulties, digesting them, and not having to suffer through them yourself. Here are some lessons Amazon can teach you. Who knows? You might just be the next Amazonian-sized business yourself.

When Jeff Bezos first founded Amazon in 1994, the original name (and URL) was cadabra.com--as in 'abracadabra.' However, in less than a year he changed it to Amazon, partly because the original name sounded too much like 'cadaver' and partly because a business starting with an 'A' would top the list of anything that's alphabetized.

Amazon early years photo

Amazon was founded as part of Bezos' 'regret minimization framework,' which is a jargon-heavy way of saying he didn't' want to have any regrets for waiting to jump on the Internet business bandwagon. He'd already had some regrets by clinging to his role as VP of a Wall Street company, so when he read that web commerce was slated to grow at 2,300 percent in 1994, he made a list of 20 items he thought were ready for online marketing. The list was then narrowed down to five (clearly, the inventory has grown since then).

3. Appease investors, but not at the company's expense.

To say Amazon's original business plan was unorthodox is an understatement--it explicitly said there would be no profit for at least four years. Dubbed 'slow growth,' it made stockholders wary and they complained often. However, they weren't complaining as, even with the dot com bubble and ensuing crash, Amazon survived and grew. This doesn't mean Bezos saw the burst coming when nobody else did, but it does mean he was realistic about growth in general and the dangers with too much growth, too fast. The first time Amazon was profitable was in 2001.

The first major lawsuit Amazon faced was from Barnes & Noble, who claimed Amazon was bragging about being the 'world's largest bookstore' when it was in fact a book broker. That lawsuit ended in a settlement in 1997. However, in 1998 Amazon was sued by Walmart with allegations that Amazon 'stole' Walmart trade secrets when the online e-tailer hired former Walmart executives. This also resulted in a settlement, but Amazon also upped the internal regulations for hiring and reassigned the Walmart executives.

No mega corporation would be where it's at without plenty of controversy, and Amazon has some to spare. However, perhaps the most hotly debated controversies are related to alleged poor working conditions, especially in warehouses. Media reports have revealed that in a Pennsylvania warehouse, workers trudge around in 100 degree heat, which has resulted in fainting and dehydration. Managers say the doors have to remain closed to minimize theft, which results in heat box-like conditions. In this instance, not all publicity is good publicity.

A business of any size is a living entity and a work in progress. However, if you're savvy enough to learn from the mistakes of the greats like Amazon, your rise to the top might be a little smoother and not as fraught with controversy.