How Jeff Bezos convinced Frank Quattrone to add another $2 to Amazon's IPO price, recalls John Doerr

Key Points
  • Venture capitalist John Doerr recalls how Jeff Bezos spent hours convincing Frank Quattrone to increase the price of the e-tailer's 1997 IPO.
  • The negotiations helped Amazon bank another $6 million, a big amount for a company with about $7 million in the bank at the time.
  • "It speaks volumes about Jeff's mental toughness. And just his grit," Doerr says.
Jeff Bezos
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Heading into Amazon's IPO twenty years ago, Jeff Bezos had some convincing to do. The company had already increased its price range by two dollars, from $14 to $16 a share.

Bezos wanted to go even higher so the company could raise more cash to invest in customer service and marketing.

John Doerr, the longtime venture capitalist, was the second-biggest shareholder behind Bezos, thanks to an $8 million investment from his firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 1995.

Doerr, who was an Amazon board member until 2010, recalls how Bezos had to push his lead underwriter Frank Quattrone to keep upping the price.

"My most memorable part of the roadshow was the pricing call lasting almost two hours," Doerr said, in an interview with over the weekend. "I remember Jeff asking Quattrone -- `Frank, what would happen if instead of $16 it was $17?'"

Amazon management, its board and the bankers were together on the critical call.

At $16, the deal was already risky. Investors would be placing a $382 million valuation on a two-year-old company that had generated less than $16 million of revenue the prior year and was losing money in a brand new market.

Bezos said to Quattrone, "Can you guarantee for me that it will fail at $17?" Doerr told us.

Here's what's changed in retail 20 years after Amazon's IPO
Here's what's changed in retail 20 years after Amazon's IPO

Quattrone told Bezos that another $1 a share (and $24 million in market cap) would create even more risk of the offering not working. New companies want to satisfy investors and get them to buy more in the future. A higher price would make that harder to accomplish.

But Quattrone couldn't say that the deal would fail, Doerr said.

So Bezos asked the same question about $18. The difference between selling at $16 and $18 was $6 million that Amazon could add to its coffers. That was a huge number for a company with just a little over $7 million in cash and equivalents on hand at the end of the prior quarter.

Quattrone replied with even greater skepticism. Bezos triumphed anyway.

On May 15, 1997, Amazon debuted at $18, and by the end of the day the stock was up another 31 percent at $23.50.

The stock slumped over the next couple weeks, but by the end of the year it was worth more than triple the IPO price.

"This was years before was a phenomenon on Wall Street," Doerr said. "It speaks volumes about Jeff's mental toughness. And just his grit."