Brad Stone’s The Everything Store was a good book about Amazon’s journey. Like most long and successful journeys, the details are messy, but Brad is evenhanded and thorough at reporting and analyzing the facts.
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Below are some of my favorite highlights, copied verbatim from the book, which I also bought from Amazon, and read on my Kindle app lol.
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They agreed on five core values and wrote them down on a whiteboard in a conference room: customer obsession, frugality, bias for action, ownership, and high bar for talent. Later Amazon would add a sixth value, innovation.
As Amazon’s growth accelerated, Bezos drove employees even harder, calling meetings over the weekends, starting an executive book club that gathered on Saturday mornings, and often repeating his quote about working smart, hard, and long.
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“There are two kinds of retailers: there are those folks who work to figure how to charge more, and there are companies that work to figure how to charge less, and we are going to be the second, full-stop,” he said in that month’s quarterly conference call with analysts, coining a new Jeffism to be repeated over and over ad nauseam for years.
Kim Rachmeler shared a favorite quote she heard from a colleague around that time. “If you’re not good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out. And if you’re good, he will jump on your back and ride you into the ground.”
He gave Blue Origin a coat of arms and a Latin motto, Gradatim Ferociter, which translates to “Step by Step, Ferociously.” The phrase accurately captures Amazon’s guiding philosophy as well. Steady progress toward seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored.
He simply refused to accept Amazon’s fate as an unexciting and marginally profitable online retailer. “There’s only one way out of this predicament,” he said repeatedly to employees during this time, “and that is to invent our way out.”
Bezos believed that high margins justified rivals’ investments in research and development and attracted more competition, while low margins attracted customers and were more defensible.
Bezos was clearly nervous about Netflix’s gathering momentum. With its recognizable red envelopes and late-fee-slaying DVD-by-mail program, it was forging a bond with customers and a strong brand in movies, a key media category. Bezos’s lieutenants met with CEO Reed Hastings several times during Netflix’s formative years but they always reported back that Hastings was “painfully uninterested” in selling
“Jeff does a couple of things better than anyone I’ve ever worked for,” Dalzell says. “He embraces the truth. A lot of people talk about the truth, but they don’t engage their decision-making around the best truth at the time. “The second thing is that he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that he is bound only by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open to discussion.”
“When given the choice of obsessing over competitors or obsessing over customers, we always obsess over customers,” he said
Target had outsourced its online operations to Amazon in 2001 but the relationship was far from perfect, with joint projects frequently falling behind schedule. “We had no resources to build infrastructure for Target,” says Faisal Masud, who worked on the Target business at Amazon. “It was all about Amazon first and Target next.”
He told business-development vice president Peter Krawiec not to spend over a certain amount to buy Quidsi but to make sure that Amazon did not, under any circumstances, lose the deal to Walmart.
“For different reasons, in different ways and to different degrees, companies like Apple, Nike, Disney, Google, Whole Foods, Costco and even UPS strike me as examples of large companies that are well-liked by their customers.” On the other end of spectrum, he added, companies like Walmart, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and ExxonMobil tended to be feared.
Regret, that formidable adversary Jeff Bezos worked so hard to outrun, hangs heavily over the life of his biological father.
The entire company is scaffolding built around his brain—an amplification machine meant to disseminate his ingenuity and drive across the greatest possible radius. “It’s scaffolding to magnify the thinking embodied by Jeff, to the greatest extent possible,” says Jeff Wilke when I bounce that theory off him. “Jeff was learning as he went along. He learned things from each of us who had expertise and incorporated the best pieces into his mental model. Now everyone is expected to think as much as they can like Jeff.”
It is easy to draw a straight line from the vision he had back then to the Amazon of today. There were a few little wobbles and detours in places, but really I don’t know any other company that has created such a juggernaut that is so consistent with the original ideas of the founder. It is almost like he fired an arrow and then followed that arc.
“The Internet is disrupting every media industry, Charlie,” he said. “You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy.”
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