I got quite a surprise when I was reading The Everything Store by Brad Stone. The book is about Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos, (pronounced Bay-zos). I was only one chapter into the book when I learned that my former downstairs neighbor, in my Manhattan coop, was working with Bezos at D.E. Shaw, a financial company, when he got the idea to start Amazon. The year was 1994.
Charles Ardai, and his wife Naomi Novik, lived in the apartment right below us for years before they moved to a swanky place on Central Park West. I knew that they would eventually move because he was the guy who started Juno, the first free email company, in the early days of the Internet. Juno eventually went public.
Charles always fascinated me because his true love was writing mystery stories that were filled with graphic sex scenes. I used to stare at him and wonder where those thoughts came from. Did he actually experience those escapades or were they a figment of his imagination?
I decided to call Charles to find out what Bezos was like before Amazon and what Charles was involved in these days. Charles being Charles, one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, said he would be happy to talk to me. We had two lengthy conversations, one about Bezos, the other about his publishing company, Hard Case Crime, a line of pulp-style paperback crime novels.
Question: What was Bezos like when you first met him?
Ardai: Jeff is one of those people you might know who is extraordinary from the minute you meet them. He was exceptionally smart and exceptionally driven. He is capable of performing complex analyses in his head faster than most.
Question: How did Bezos get the idea of creating Amazon?
Ardai: David Shaw, the founder of D.E. Shaw, was very interested in exploring opportunities on the Internet. These were the days when we were all curious about digital possibilities. David asked Jeff to check out retail and e-commerce and I was assigned business solutions. Two weeks after we were given the assignments, Jeff decided that there was a huge market for buying books on the Internet. Of course, Jeff never could have imaged the enormity of Amazon today but he was one of the first to realize the potential of e-commerce. He was anxious to break out on his own and left D.E. Shaw on good terms.
Question: Do you think that Bezos will ever be revered like Steve Jobs?
Ardai: Amazon has made a major impact on all of us. Amazon is the most profoundly transforming invention in the world of commerce since the Sears Roebuck catalog in the previous century. Jeff’s vision made it all happen.
Look for my interview with Charles about Hard Case Crime in a few days.