Just finished a fascinating new book, Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. It's a really important book for anyone interested in not only how Bezos built Amazon, but for everyone who is at least somewhat interested in how the Internet has truly transformed business at large. What Bezos and his team were able to create in a relatively short period of time is astonishing. The scale, growth and impact has rarely been seen in business. And, it’s really a wakeup call for any traditional business, especially those in retail and bricks and mortar to see how fast their world can be disrupted by the likes of an Amazon, Zappos and Diapers.com (both acquired by Amazon).
First, I was astonished about how Bezos and Amazon were absolutely committed to cannibalizing their own business models. It is incredible to read Stone's description of how and why they went about building the e-reader product, knowing full well it could destroy their existing business model, which I will discuss more at the end.
Here are a couple of other takeaways that surprised me and also really made me think about how I am building my own tech company:
1) How many mistakes Amazon made, and continues to make. Literally on every page of the book Stone describes another failed Amazon initiative. The takeaway is how they continue to take risks and through the experiences, they arrive at a better product and understanding of their site and their customers. They truly embrace risk.
2) How unrelenting their focus on the customer is. Over and over again, Bezos is quoted that more than anything (employees, partners, profits, etc), they are obsessed about their customer experience. It's one of the reasons that led them to come up with Amazon Prime product as well as their OneClick. Bezos references on many occasions that he spends more time focused on his customers than his competition. This great lesson eventually led to their acquisitions of Zappos and Diapers.com
3) How annoying his laugh was to many people. I thought that was hysterical so I Googled it and laughed almost as hard as Bezos :)
4) How Bezos is always focused on long term. Time and time again, he was thinking ahead of the curve. While they started in books, and moved into more product categories, Amazon made huge bets in infrastructure, which led to other companies outsourcing their distribution and fulfillment to Amazon. Amazon, also was one of the true pioneers in building the cloud style of computing. And of course, Amazon did not invent the e-reader, but they were the one that won in the end. Bezos always talks about seeing around the curve and committed to five-to seven-year planning.In that same vein, one thing that shocked me is how committed he was to actually cannibalizing his own business. A fascinating read is when Stone describes how Amazon went about building the e-reader product knowing full well it could destroy their existing business model. The takeaway was that "unless you destroy your own business, someone else will". I put that one on my wall in my office!
5) How Bezos was also obsessive about building a team comprised of the smartest people he could find. It created a culture at Amazon that while described as brutal by Stone, it was consistent in that everyone Bezos hired either shared his work ethic, his passion for customers and their drive. If not, they didn’t survive and got burnt out. Again, it's not a culture for everyone, but it was for Amazon and it clearly worked. Bezos, also, was very focused on setting huge goals for the company and its sales efforts and kept everyone accountable.
It's an easy, fast read (otherwise I couldn’t have read it) and I highly recommend it to anyone building a business today.
Here are some good Bezos videos as well. Pretty insightful.