IKEA almost decided to become Amazon, before Amazon
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In the 1990s, Jonas Birgersson was one of the world’s leading Internet pioneers. He mainly focused on Sweden, but also gained international recognition. He is, at least according to the Secret Service, the only person to have visited the White House in shorts.
He was such an Internet evangelist that people started calling him “Broadband Jesus.”
When he talks to Warp News about the early days of the Internet, he laments the missed opportunities.
“I keep coming back to one thing,” he says.
IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad was a mentor to Jonas Birgersson and an investor in his company, Framfab. At the time, Framfab was the largest Internet consulting company in Europe with 3,000 employees and a market capitalization of over $4 billion.
“Ingvar Kamprad was a great person and we had good contact. It was fun having one of my idols as a mini-mentor and as an investor in Framfab. We often wrote letters to each other. He was good at writing letters, so I had to do it too. But we sent them a fax, that increased the pace a bit,” he says and laughs.
Ingvar Kamprad decided to do what Jonas Birgersson wanted and put the URLs ikea.com and ikea.se on the front page of the IKEA catalog. Then the largest printed catalog in the world.
“We had this great partnership with IKEA. We put them online.”
The coup of putting the URL on the front page of the catalog instantly made IKEA the largest e-commerce company in Europe.
“He decided it was okay to put the ‘urlet’, as he called it, in the IKEA catalog. IKEA then became the largest e-commerce website in Europe, which we built for them,” says Jonas Birgersson.
But Birgersson and the Framfab team didn’t think IKEA should settle for that. They also wanted them to allow other companies to sell items on IKEA’s e-commerce website and to use the department stores as third-party fulfillment centers.
“IKEA had all the great advantages. It was the largest e-commerce website in Europe and it could dominate by being able to communicate with so many people through its catalogue.”
“This is the same time that Jeff Bezos started Amazon,” says Jonas Birgersson.
Amazon started out by selling books online, but from the beginning, the idea was to sell every imaginable category of product.
Amazon also allowed other companies to sell through its website and distribute their products through its network of fulfillment centers.
The same idea that Jonas Birgersson proposed to IKEA.
But IKEA never did.
One cannot know what would have happened if they had, but at least Amazon would have been in a hell of a fight. And if IKEA had been successful, we may never have heard of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Instead, he became the richest person in the world, and Amazon today employs more than 1.5 million people.
The lesson is to dare to keep moving forward.
Sweden pioneered fiber internet and broadband. He laid the foundation for the Swedish technological miracle with Skype, Spotify, Minecraft, Truecaller and several other unicorns. But it could have been bigger and bigger.
Read about Jonas Birgersson’s new idea: