Introducing: 60 Minutes All Access Learn More +
Unlimited, ad-free viewing of 60 Minutes archives, Overtime and extras

Nerd Of The Amazon

Another Visit With Jeff Bezos

By his own admission, Jeff Bezos is a nerd. "My watch updates itself from the atomic clock 36 times a day, if that gives you any indication," he said with a laugh. Bezos is also a very, very successful nerd. Five years ago, he started, a company that sells books via the Web. The company started in a garage. It now has five huge warehouses all over the world.

Earlier this year, 60 Minutes II Correspondent Bob Simon spent time with Bezos. Recently, Bezos was named Time's magazine Man of the Year, and Simon returned to Seattle to find out how the online magnate had changed, and what he though of the future.

Since 1998, Amazon has more than doubled its work force and has taken in more than a billion dollars in sales. Bezos is a billionaire many times over and his company is worth in excess of $20 billion, more than many industrial behemoths.

Until recently, Bezos, 35, lived very modestly. But lately he has been using his powerful purchasing power a bit more. He recently traded in his Honda for a new Volvo station wagon.

Amazon has changed, too. It still sells books, music and movies. But today its stock includes $10,000 television sets, stereos, stuffed animals and even old-fashioned hardware - saws, hammers and the like.

Said Bezos: "We're trying to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything, with a capital A, that they might want to buy online." Bezos has 18 million different items for sale including a Virgin Mary jigsaw puzzle, X-rated toys, and turduckens. Turducken, of course, is a chicken, stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey.

Find out what all the fuss is about. Go to
Bezos' path to success has been unusual. He grew up in Miami and Texas the son of an engineer. He was valedictorian of his high school class and went on to Princeton, where he studied electrical engineering and computer science.

After graduating, he went to work on Wall Street. But after a few years there, he began to think in terms of something he called the "regret minimization framework."

And what is that? Said Bezos: "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." The regret Bezos wanted to avoid was not having taken advantage of the enormous opportunity that the Internet presented in the mid-'90s. So he quit his job, and he and his wife moved to Seattle, where he started Amazon. The rest is history.

Bezos owns close to 40 percent of Amazon's stock. According to Forbes magazine, he is the second-richest American younger than 40. But the amazing thing is that Amazon itself is losing more and more money all the time.

In 1998, hd a net loss of more than $100 million. Some analysts said that the company could lose twice as much this year. Next year the loss could be even larger. This is part of the company's strategy, Bezos said: "We believe that this is a time to be investing for the future."

Bezos thinks about the future a great deal; he believes that new technology will transform the way we live. He said that computers, telephones and televisions will be combined in ways that would be unrecognizable" today.

"A lot of people will walk around with a little sort of cell phone equivalent but just that sort of sits on your ear," he said. "And you won't ever have to dial a phone. So if I want to talk to my wife, I'll just say 'Mackenzie,' and she'll say 'Yes'
- even if we're on opposite sides of the world. So if we want to be, we'll still be in constant touch with each other."

Household objects will talk to each other, too, Bezos said. "One of the things that might happen is that ordinary devices, ordinary objects, may have connections to a central computer, so that they can help you with things," Bezos noted.

"So, for example, you could have a plate that would measure your calorie intake tell you how many grams of fat you're eating and stuff like that. Every time you put something on the plate, it would say, 'Do you really want to eat that?'" he explained.

The technological revolution will also create a backlash, Bezos said: "One of the things that I think will happen over time is that you will see different groups of people choosing not to accept certain technologies, so sort of what you see with the Amish."

But those who embrace the new world will have lots of new toys. "There are people working on technologies like that where you can actually have physical objects that enter into sort of virtual reality," he said.

"You can imagine these tiny little floating robots that are sort of the size of dust motes, and they have little hands and they can link together, kind of like a fog in a room that can form a solid object like a chair. And then you could sit on this fog because they would have all held hands - these little grains," he added.

But Bezos, who started out selling books, isn't leaving that behind either. He said that electronic books are the wave of the future. "You'll be able to make a device that's indistinguishable from a paper book, except you'll be able to take this paper book, put it in a little cradle, push a button, and you open it up and you'll thumb through the pages; it'll be a different book," he said.

Read what our man on the scene had to say about his experience with Jeff Bezos earlier this year.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his amazing success, Bezos and Aazon find themselves besieged. Wal-Mart sued the company for hiring away some of its top executives. Barnes and Noble launched its own bookselling Web site and earlier this year released a nasty series of ads claiming that Amazon is inferior.

Bezos is not about to give up, though: "I tell people around here to wake up petrified and afraid every morning I know we can lose it all. It's not a fear. It's a fact," he said.

Facts and Links || Behind The Scenes

Broadcast story produced by Shawn Effran; Web story produced by David Kohn