Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: ‘I’ve made billions of dollars of failures’

December 2, 2014, 6:31 PM UTC
Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos during the Fire Phone launch in Seattle in June 2014.
Photograph by David Ryder — Getty Images

Amazon’s Fire phone, dubbed a “shopping machine,” is a flop. The device, which the company introduced in June, led to a $170 million write-down last quarter and a lowered sticker price of just 99 cents. Tom Szkutak, the company’s chief technology officer, told Fortune in October that the phone was “priced wrong.”

That’s okay, according to chief executive Jeff Bezos. In comments made today at the Business Insider Ignition conference in New York, Bezos said it is “really early” for the phone, and the company (AMZN) will continue to improve upon its first mobile offering. It’s too early to analyze what precisely went wrong, he said, and if Amazon isn’t making mistakes, it’s not innovating, he argued. He added: “My job is to encourage people to be bold.”

“I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at,” he said. “Literally billions. … Companies that don’t embrace failure and continue to experiment eventually get in the desperate position where the only thing they can do is make a Hail Mary bet at the end of their corporate existence.“

Some of Bezos’ billion-dollar mistakes include a site for auctions, which didn’t work. That effort evolved into something called zShops, which also failed. The idea eventually evolved into Amazon Marketplace, which now represents 40% of Amazon’s unit sales, Bezos said.

He pointed to Amazon’s other more successful hardware offerings, including the Fire TV, Kindle, and the company’s novel tabletop butler—er, speaker—the Echo. “The Kindle Voyage [has been] completely killer. Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, we’ve having trouble building enough,” he said. “We didn’t build enough Amazon Echo, either.”

Bezos said he doesn’t believe in launching “me-too” products, even though Amazon’s Fire TV unit and Fire TV stick follow competing products from Roku, Apple (TV, and Google (Chromecast) to market. Its Prime TV streaming service (Netflix, Hulu) and its music service (Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music) follow similar trajectories.

Still, Bezos insists Amazon breaking new ground in hardware. “We want to put our own twist on it,” he said. And as for that pesky phone? The chief executive said just two words: “Stay tuned.”