Jeff Bezos' first desk at Amazon was a door with four-by-fours for legs—here's why it still is today

Courtesy of Amazon

Amazon wasn't always a monster of a company. In fact, when Jeff Bezos started the company as an online bookseller in 1994, the fledgling business was running on money from Bezos' parents' life savings.

Bezos had to be frugal. So when Amazon's then-handful of employees needed desks, the entrepreneur found a cheap solution — he hacked them together himself with a door as the desktop and four-by-fours for legs.

These days, Amazon has a $650 billion market cap and CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world. He owns a mansion in the same neighborhood as Barack Obama and Ivanka Trump, flies in a private jet and launched Blue Origin to pursue space travel.

But the self-made billionaire keeps a token reminder about the importance of pinching pennies. Bezos' current desk at his Amazon office is still made out of a wooden door for the top and four pieces of wood for legs, according to a company spokesperson.

It's a more modern variation of the one he had back in the 90s, when Amazon's headquarters shared a block with a pawn shop and a heroin-needle exchange in Seattle. But for Bezos, the desk represents the frugal mindset he's held since the company's start, when he built that very first desk.

"We happened to be across the street from a Home Depot," Nico Lovejoy, the fifth employee of Amazon says, telling the story of how the desks came to be in an Amazon blog post. "[Bezos] looked at desks for sale and looked at doors for sale, and the doors were a lot cheaper, so he decided to buy a door and put some legs on it."

In 1999, Amazon was a public company, and Jeff Bezos was a billionaire, holding roughly $10 billion in Amazon stock, according to The New York Times. Still, the company was using desks made of doors.

That year, Bezos told CBS's Bob Simon in a profile for for "60 Minutes," the office space and door desks were to demonstrate an important value for the business.

"It's a symbol of spending money on things that matter to customers and not spending money on things that don't," Bezos explains to Simon.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos sitting on stack of warehouse shipping cartons in 2000.
Rex Rystedt | Getty Images

Today, an upgraded version of the door desks are still used by employees in both corporate roles and in fulfillment centers, an Amazon spokesperson says. And frugality remains one of Amazon's leadership principles.

"Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention," reads an Amazon leadership principle listed on its website.

Bezos even uses the desk as a symbol to recognize employees who come up with cost-saving ideas at Amazon's all-hands meetings, by presenting them with a miniature desk that he's signed, called the "Door Desk Award." Most recently, the award went to three employees who had an idea to use gift bags instead of gift wrap for presents, saving Amazon millions of dollars, according to the company.

To inspire others, anyone can even build their own door desk in six steps.

As for the original desks that Bezos himself made, "They were pretty wobbly," Lovejoy says. "You would never want to hire Jeff Bezos as a carpenter.

"He's much better at other things. I think he'd tell you the same thing."

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This story has been revised to correct the year the Amazon was founded.