Power Players

At age 30, Jeff Bezos thought this would be his one big regret in life

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos
Michael Tullberg | Getty Images

In 1994, Jeff Bezos worked at hedge fund D. E. Shaw, tasked with researching potential business opportunities involving the then brand-new internet landscape. That's when Bezos found a staggering statistic that sparked an idea to start his own business.

"I found this fact on a website that the web was growing at 2,300 percent per year," Bezos told CNBC in a 2001 interview. "The idea that sort of entranced me was this idea of building a bookstore online."

Of course, Amazon grew from an online bookseller to an e-commerce behemoth with a market cap of more than $920 billion. 

But at age 30, when Bezos was deciding what to do about his idea — stick with his stable New York City job or give it up to start his own business — he tried to imagine what he would regret more, leaving Wall Street, or staying.

"I pictured myself 80 years old, thinking back on my life in a quiet moment of reflection," he during a fireside chat in India on Wednesday. "Would I regret leaving this company in the middle of the year? And walking away from my annual bonus?

"All of those things that in the moment can be very confusing. I thought, 'You know, when I'm 80, I'm not going to think about that. I'm not even going to remember it.'"

Bezos said he was "trying to figure out how to make this decision, because in the moment, personal life decisions, those choices, can be very challenging," he said Wednesday.

"I wanted not to have regrets. I knew for a fact, I have this idea, and if I don't try, I'm going to regret having never tried," he said. "And I know also, if I try and fail, I'll never regret having tried and failed.

"As soon as I thought about it that way, I knew I had to try."

At the time it was a risky move, as the internet was not well known, despite its rapid rate of growth.

"Anything growing that fast, even if its baseline usage was tiny, it's going to be big. I looked at that, and I was like 'I should come up with a business idea on the internet and let the internet grow around this,'" he said during a September 2018 episode of "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations."

He added, "I picked books because books is super unusual in one respect, which is that there are more book items in the book category than there are items in any other category."

Bezos took the leap of faith, quit his job and moved to the suburbs of Seattle, where he started working on Amazon in his garage.

His decision paid off – Amazon grew quickly, going public in 1997 with $16 million in revenue and 180,000 customers spanning more than 100 countries, according to its SEC filing.

Although he had a hunch regarding the growth of the internet, Bezos never expected Amazon to grow to the extent it has today.

"What's actually happened over the last 25 years is way beyond my expectations. I was delivering the packages myself, we were selling books. I was hoping to build a company, but not the company you see today," he said Wednesday.

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