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Amazon’s epic 20-year run as a public company, explained in five charts

Soaring revenue and cash flow, plus intentionally tiny profits.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos at the 2016 Code Conference
Asa Mathat

On May 15, 1997, a money-losing online bookstore went public on the Nasdaq in an IPO that valued it at a modest $438 million.

Twenty years later, that little startup — called — is worth nearly $460 billion, with a B.

To get there, the Seattle-based giant has pumped nearly all of the cash it generates into huge new investment areas, like Amazon Prime, Amazon Web Services and, most recently, the Alexa voice computing platform. With a focus on growth over net income, Jeff Bezos’s company has penetrated industry after industry at a pace perhaps unmatched in modern history.

On the 20th anniversary of the company’s IPO, here are five charts that display the rise and dominance of over the past two decades.

For Amazon investors, this is perhaps the only chart needed. Amazon’s stock price as of Friday was $961 a share, over 600 times greater than what it was on its IPO day — after accounting for stock splits.

Over the last two years or so, Amazon has hit an inflection point, where the growing dominance of Prime and the breakout success of AWS have sent its market value soaring.

It took Amazon 18 years as a public company to catch Walmart in market cap, but only two more years to double it.

Amazon versus Walmart market cap

One of the most important metrics for public market tech investors is revenue growth. And Amazon is still growing strong. All the while, it has made sure not to let too much money drop to its bottom line — giving it the stigma of being a perennial money loser — so it can eat up market share from competitors that are more focused on profits than on growth.

But isn’t a business’s goal to turn a profit? Not at Amazon, at least in the traditional sense. Jeff Bezos knows that operating cash flow gives the company the money it needs to invest in all the things that keep it ahead of its competitors, and recover from flops like the Fire Phone. Up and to the right.

And its efforts have paid off. Amazon has become nearly synonymous with e-commerce, and the numbers increasingly show it.

It’s the top internet retailer in the United States, now owning 33 percent of the market, according to market research company Euromonitor International. Analysts estimate that share could increase to 50 percent by 2021.

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