Entrepreneurs

In 1999, Jeff Bezos' Amazon office was on the same street as a needle exchange and a porn shop

Jeff Bezos in 1999
Getty Images | David Robbins
Jeff Bezos in 1999

Jeff Bezos has cities across the United States all but pleading to be the location of Amazon's second headquarters. But a few decades back, Amazon's offices in Seattle were less than desirable, to say the least.

In 1999, five years after Amazon was founded, the company's headquarters was on the same street as a pawn shop, a heroin-needle exchange and a "porno parlor."

That's according to the profile CBS' Bob Simon did of Bezos in 1999 for "60 Minutes." Tech blog GeekWire recently resurfaced the 13-minute profile as Bezos' net worth shot past $100 billion in the wake of a pop in the Amazon stock price on Black Friday.

On the show, Simon navigates to Amazon headquarters, where he meets Bezos for the interview.

"And where are Amazon's headquarters? The public relations people told us to come to 1516 Second Avenue between Pike and Pine in Seattle," says Simon, as he walks down the block.

"But when we passed the pawn shop and the porno parlor, the wig store and the downmarket teriyaki joint, we didn't see anything vaguely cutting-edge. No corporate drives or office towers. Just a heroin-needle exchange and an old building called Columbia, but it had the number 1516 so we walked inside — and there it was."

When Simon got upstairs, he was surprised — yet again — by the banality of the office, including the badly stained carpet and Bezos' desk, made out of a door propped up on two-by-fours.

Even in 1999, Bezos was likely a billionaire several times over. (Simon asked Bezos later in the segment about being worth $9 billion to $10 billion dollars — a figure which Bezos neither confirmed nor denied.) So why the makeshift workspace?

"It's a symbol of spending money on things that matter to customers and not spending money on things that don't," says Bezos, who at the time was wearing a blue dress shirt and khakis and drove a Honda.

When Simon zinged the billionaire for driving a Honda, Bezos' response: "This is a perfectly good car."

Bezos, who initially went to work on Wall Street after graduating as valedictorian of his high school class and attending Princeton University, goes on to tell Simon he had a very logical philosophy for leaving his Wall Street gig to start Amazon — what he calls his "regret minimization framework."

"I want to have lived my life in such a way that when I'm 80 years old, I've minimized the number of regrets that I have," Bezos says. "I think actually a lot of people do that — even if they don't call it something as dorky as regret minimization framework, they behave that way."

That doesn't mean he didn't know there's real risk in his decision-making. "I tell people around here to wake up petrified and afraid every morning," says Bezos to Simon. "I know we can lose it all — it's not fear, it's a fact."

Tens of billions of dollars later, Bezos has a better fashion sense, but perhaps his attitude hasn't changed all that much.

See also:

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

Jeff Bezos is worth over $100 billion after Amazon's Black Friday rally

Steve Jobs: These are 2 essential ingredients for success