Amazon today is the second most valuable company on earth, and employs well over 5.5 lakh people. But just two decades ago, it was a newly-formed startup. Its founder, Jeff Bezos, had just left his job in Wall Street, and driven across the country to move to Seattle. And it was then he decided to start hiring for the new company, which at that time, was still called Cadabra.
In a message posted to Usenet, which was an early online public bulletin board and discussion network, Bezos had posted his job requirement. “Well-capitalized Seattle start-up seeks Unix developers,” his post began, which was published on 22nd August 1994. The message said that Bezos was looking for “extremely talented C/C++/Unix developers to pioneer commerce on the internet.” “You must have experience designing and building large and complex (yet maintainable) systems,” said the job ad. And it was peppered with Bezos’ now-famous desire for efficiency. “You should be able to do so in one-third the time that most competent people think possible,” the ad simply said.
The rest of the ad laid out the educational qualifications that Bezos required. “You should have a BS, MS, or PhD in Computer Science or the equivalent. Top-notch communication skills are essential.Familiarity with web servers and HTML would be helpful but is not necessary.” Bezos then told prospective employees what was in it for them. “Expect talented, motivated, intense, and interesting co-workers. Your compensation will include meaningful equity ownership.”
Few people who’d have read the ad in August 1994 would’ve realized just how meaningful the equity ownership would really be. After being founded in 1994, Amazon went public in 1997. It stock has gone from strength to strength over the next couple of decades — $5000 invested into Amazon during its IPO would be worth over $3 million today. Anyone who’d joined Amazon right after answering Bezos’s job ad would’ve almost certainly become more wealthy than their wildest dreams.
And the job ad also throws some useful light on why Amazon became the behemoth it is today. For its first few years, Amazon only sold books. But Bezos clearly had his plan mapped out much in advance — his job ad, right when Amazon was founded, talked about pioneering commerce on the internet, and Amazon has gone ahead and done just that. Bezos also listed out the qualities that he expected of his employees — he made no bones about the fact that he wanted new employees to be thrice as productive as other “competent” people, and warned that Amazon’s work culture was intense. In a world where startups seem to pivot and change direction every few years, it’s remarkable how closely Amazon had its mission and culture mapped out, even 24 years ago.