Entrepreneurs

What young Jeff Bezos wanted to be when he grew up—it had nothing to do with e-commerce

The success of e-commerce juggernaut Amazon pushed founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to become the world's richest person on Thursday, dethroning Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

But Bezos, who also is the founder of space travel company Blue Origin, didn't dream of becoming an e-commerce billionaire.

When he was young, Bezos' focus went to his love of outer space. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1964, Bezos remembers watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon in 1969.

"I fell in love with the idea of space and space exploration and space travel when I was 5 years old," Bezos tells Charlie Rose. "I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. You don't choose your passions, your passions choose you. I — so I am infected with this idea. I couldn't ever stop thinking about space. I have been thinking about it ever since then."

Jeff Bezos, founder and Ceo of Amazon
Paul Souders | Getty Images
Jeff Bezos, founder and Ceo of Amazon

Bezos also remembers going through a phase in first grade when he was 6, where he wanted to be an archaeologist — because he had learned how to spell the word, according to a 2001 Guardian article.

Later, Bezos was his high school's valedictorian, and then he went to Princeton, where he thought he would become a theoretical physicist. That didn't stick either, though.

"I was doing well, but it was so much work for me, it was hard and there were half a dozen people in my class who were so gifted, and their brains were just wired in a different way, and the things that I worked so hard to do came so effortlessly to them," says Bezos in the Guardian.

"I fell in love with the idea of space and space exploration and space travel when I was 5 years old." -Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Blue Origin

The experience was humbling for Bezos, who had previously far excelled easily.

"I would say it was a combination of shocking and awe inspiring. It was sort of, 'Wow, this is incredible that some people can process these incredibly abstract concepts so gracefully'... So anyway, I realized that I was going to be a mediocre theoretical physicist... Mediocre theoretical physicists make no progress. They spend all their time understanding other people's progress."

When he decided to let go of his theoretical physicist dreams, Bezos switched his major to computer science, according to a 1999 feature from Wired. After college, Bezos worked for several years in finance, including at hedge fund D. E. Shaw, where he had the idea to sell books over the Internet, according to the Wired feature.

The rest is history: Books became books and movies and music. And soon the e-commerce platform added more wares to its roster. Today, with a market cap of about $500 billion, Amazon sells almost everything imaginable including groceries, toilet paper and furniture.

And though Bezos has become a billionaire 90 times over thanks to e-commerce, he's still a space-junkie at heart.

"Basically what I am doing right now is taking my Amazon winnings and investing them," Bezos says to Rose. "Every time you see me sell stock on Amazon, it's send more money to the Blue Origin team."

See also:

How Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went from the son of a teen mom to the world's richest person

How Jeff Bezos, now the richest person in the world, spends his billions

12 books that shaped the way Jeff Bezos, now the world's richest man, thinks about success

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