When Jeff Bezos first created Amazon, few could expect that within just a couple of decades, he would be a household name — and the second richest man in the world.
Today, anybody with even a passing interest in finance, technology or current events knows his name and face.
But how did Jeff Bezos rise to fame? How much is he really worth — and how has he accumulated all that wealth?
Let’s take a look at Jeff Bezos’ incredible life story, from his precocious childhood to his present-day fortune.
Jeff Bezos’ Rise to Riches
A Child of Science
Jeff Bezos’ mother, Jackie Gise, was just 17 and still in high school when he was born in 1964. After graduating, she attended night school, bringing Jeff along with her and instilling in him a lifelong sense of ambition.
When Jeff was four, Jackie married Mike Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who worked as an engineer for Exxon. As his biological father was not in his life, Jeff was given Mike’s last name, and the Bezos family was officially formed.
Whether he was dismantling his crib with a screwdriver as a toddler, watching Star Trek reruns as a child, or helping his grandfather repair windmills as a teen, Jeff was always fixated on engineering and technology. In 1982, he graduated as valedictorian from the Student Science Training Program for high schoolers at the University of Florida.
In his graduation speech, he said that he dreamed of the day humans would colonize space — a dream that would persist throughout his life.
The Call to Entrepreneurship
Jeff attended Princeton University as an electrical engineering and computer science major. When he graduated in 1986, he received job offers from Intel and Bell Labs, but ultimately decided to work at Fitel, which built networks for international trade.
After quickly rising the ranks at Fitel, he landed a job at D. E. Shaw & Co., a hedge fund that operated using mathematical computer models — a strategy that was right up Jeff’s alley.
But working for others wasn’t satisfying him to the degree he desired. In 1994, he read that the internet was growing 2300% every year, and he got his billion-dollar idea: start an online bookstore.
Jeff and his wife MacKenzie set off on a road trip from New York to Seattle, during which they hashed out a business plan for this new company. In Seattle, they rented a garage, borrowed $300,000 from Jeff’s parents, and launched Amazon.com, which they hoped would become the world’s largest online bookstore.
Jeff Bezos: the Electricity Metaphor (Video)
The Amazon Explosion
Almost immediately upon launch in 1995, Amazon became more popular than anyone had expected. Jeff had rigged a bell to ring every time an Amazon order was placed, but had to disable it after just a couple of weeks: it was ringing nonstop.
Within a month, Amazon had sold books in all 50 states and 45 different countries. To keep up with the expansion, Jeff sought $1 million in seed funding from angel investors, enticing them by predicting $74 million in sales by 2000.
22 investors each contributed $50,000, and each received a 1% stake in the company in exchange. Today, given Amazon’s market cap of over $1 trillion, those stakes would each be worth $10 billion, a 200,000% increase!
Amazon continued to grow — and to need more funding. In June 1996, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins contributed $8 million in Series A funding, giving Amazon the boost it needed to go public in 1997.
That IPO raised $54 million, and Jeff Bezos officially became a millionaire. Amazon sales continued to skyrocket, dwarfing his initial prediction: in 1997 alone, Amazon reported $147.8 million in revenue.
And in 1998, the company’s offerings expanded to include music, video, gadgets and many other products, becoming a true online department store. That same year, Jeff’s net worth reached $1.6 billion, landing him his first spot on the elite Forbes 400 list.
Diversifying His Investments
Not wanting to put all his eggs in Amazon’s basket, Jeff began to diversify his investments — and, ever the entrepreneur, start some new ventures as well.
In 1998, he became an early investor in Google, contributing $250,000 to the fledgling company, which translated into 3.3 million shares when Google went public. Though Jeff hasn’t disclosed what became of that original investment, if he held onto it, it would be worth over $7 billion today.
The desire to send humanity to space never left Jeff’s mind, and in 2000, he founded Blue Origin, a startup dedicated to human spaceflight.
In 2005, he founded Bezos Expeditions, his own personal investment firm. Through it, Jeff made winning bets on companies ranging from Twitter to Uber to Airbnb, as well as invested in philanthropic pursuits.
Over the years, Amazon expanded beyond mere e-commerce, launching Amazon Web Services in 2002 and the Amazon Kindle in 2007. Both products were hugely successful, and by 2013, Jeff’s dream of owning the world’s largest online bookstore had been far surpassed: Amazon had become the largest web retailer in the world, period.
Amazon’s stock price soared nearly sevenfold between 2016 and 2018, rising from $15 a share to over $100. Jeff’s net worth soared with it, reaching a staggering $112 billion and making him the richest man in the world, surpassing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
And in 2020, he became the first person in history to amass a net worth of over $200 billion.
But in 2021, Jeff made a shocking announcement: he had decided to step down as CEO of Amazon, though he would remain on its board and continue to hold stock in the company.
Bezos by the Numbers: Jeff Bezos’ Assets and Accumulations
Today, Jeff still owns around 10% of Amazon: approximately 70,000 shares worth around $176 billion — nearly 90% of his total net worth.
He also owns over $500 million of real estate, including a 165,000 acre Texas ranch, seven New York City apartments valued at over $119 million, and two mansions in Beverly Hills. His custom Y721 superyacht is also valued at over $500 million on its own.
Though $38 billion of his fortune went to his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott when they divorced in 2019, Jeff’s net worth ballooned again in 2020 when the pandemic caused Amazon shares to surge in value. That same year, Bezos Expeditions’ holdings were valued at $107.8 billion.
And every year, Jeff personally invests $1 billion of his fortune into Blue Origin, always pushing forward towards realizing his childhood ambition.
Bezos’ Billions Today
All told, Jeff Bezos’ net worth sits at $142 billion today. He is the third-richest person in the world, behind Elon Musk and Bernard Arnault.
When all of his assets are taken into account, his net worth increases by a whopping $142,667 per minute, around the clock.
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So when he took his first flight into space in 2021, fulfilling a dream he’d had his whole life, he returned 11 minutes later worth $1.5 million more than when he left. If wealth is measured not just in numbers but also in satisfaction, it’s safe to say that on that day, Jeff Bezos was truly the wealthiest man in history.