Amazon launched the original Kindle a decade ago today — a move that not only got the company into e-readers but also marked its first step into what has become a sprawling consumer hardware business.
In a tweet Sunday morning, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted the milestone with a picture of the first Kindle next to the all-new second-generation Kindle Oasis.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) November 19, 2017
Executives quoted in the piece include Steve Kessel, who has since returned to oversee Amazon’s physical retail and delivery businesses.
Kessel said the team was determined to keep the Kindle a single-purpose device – something where you could lose yourself in a book, rather than a multipurpose piece of hardware that might create distractions.
They were also focused on making it easy for customers by ensuring they could access new books without connecting a cable to a computer for download. That dedication, which lead to a built-in cellular data connection and, eventually, the ability to sync your books across Kindle devices and app, was no small feat. “We said books needed to download in less than 60 seconds, but it definitely didn’t work that way at first,” said Kessel.
Patience was something the team was forced to learn.
“Originally I told Jeff (Bezos) it would take us about 18 months to build the Kindle and we could do it with a couple handfuls of folks. It took us three-and-a-half years and a lot more than a couple of handfuls of folks.”
Not everyone was on board with the project. Jeff Wilke, now the CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer Business, tells the story of himself opposing the original Kindle, as a way of illustrating the company’s “disagree and commit” leadership principle. This is from GeekWire’s recap of a speech by Wilke in 2015.
Wilke himself encountered one of these situations when Amazon was looking to introduce the Kindle, a project that he believed would prove too costly and took the company away from its roots in software into the more unpredictable world of hardware.
Wilke protested the original plan for the Kindle. He was asked to “disagree and commit” to the Kindle, jumping on board with the plan. “Though everything that I was worried about happened, Jeff (Bezos) pushed the company to power through early setbacks, and we consequently built a great digital business,” he said.
We recently tried to revive our Kindle 1.0, and you can see how that turned out here.