In the mid-1990s, when other entrepreneurs were trying to figure out how to use the Internet to make a buck, Jeff Bezos already had a pretty good vision of what was to come. And here's what he saw: a really big shopping mall.
Bezos spent a good chunk of his career making money with hedge funds on Wall Street. The lure of the Internet, though, drove him from the East Coast to Seattle, Wash., where he set up a business selling books online, right out of his garage. This was the humble starting point for Amazon.com.
Bezos wasn't a wild-eyed investor convinced that the Internet was nothing but a money-making machine. He'd studied both computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton. And he had a serious mind grounded in attention to the smallest details in business processes.
With Amazon.com, Bezos was sure he could turn a profit, even after enduring a couple of unsteady years. He tempted customers by the millions with steeply discounted products -- everything from soap to power tools -- and threw in free shipping, too. In just a few years millions of people who swore they'd never shop online were abandoning real-world shopping malls, en masse.
Amazon.com began selling stock publicly in 1997. Bezos, of course, scored big. He's now worth around $7 billion.
Bezos has so much cash that he decided to start another seemingly pie-in-the-sky company, called Blue Origin. The company seeks to privatize some aspects of space flight. Like Bezos' other big ideas, this one is catching on. In fact, NASA recently anted up millions of dollars to Blue Origin, just to see how high Bezos' newest business plan can fly.