Amazon is one of the most interesting companies I’ve read about. Not especially Jeff Bezos, but Amazon. Obviously, you can’t really separate the two, but I’ve been always interested in how Amazon, a company that started on the internet by selling books, then became a retailer, then became again a technology company, single handedly starting the “cloud” revolution.
The latest book I’ve read about the company (I just finished it about 20 minutes ago) is The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I’ve heard about it some time ago, but only recently had the time to read it. More, I’ve become even more interested when I’ve heard about the review that MacKenzie Bezos (the wife of Jeff) wrote on Amazon (you can read it here), awarding one star to the book for the fact that it underlines the sensationalist aspects of Amazon’s evolution, while also having big factual errors.
The thing is, though, I found the book really interesting. Obviously, I do not know about the factual errors (especially strictly related to the founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos) and I don’t care about it, anyway, but it’s a good read if you want to follow and understand the evolution of Amazon starting almost 20 years ago. From what I know about the company and what I’ve read in the last 10 years about it, I think that those aspects are pretty accurate.
Amazon is, in my opinion, one of the companies that wasn’t afraid to test things, to go outside their default area of expertise, and try (and succeed) in reinventing itself. I mean, 10 years ago, the biggest issue they faced was the chaos in the deposits, now it’s the fact the their phone, the Fire phone, was a flop. How do you go from getting packages to customers in overnight delivery to starting the startup/cloud revolution?
You need to read the book to find out more, but I will add some quotes I found interesting.
“It is far better to cannibalise yourself than have someone else do it,”. I totally agree with this.
I didn’t know that Kodak actually had the digital cameras technology available since the ’70s and didn’t want to use it so that they do not lose on the profits from normal cameras. The quote above also was related to this: “The reference was to the century-old photography giant whose engineers had invented digital cameras in the 1970s but whose profit margins were so healthy that its executives couldn’t bear to risk it all on an unproven venture in a less profitable frontier.“
Another interesting quote about focus: “If you are running both businesses you will never go after the digital opportunity with tenacity,” he said. It regards the move of the person responsible with the books at Amazon (one of the most influential positions in the company) to Kindle only books. The reason Bezos didn’t want to let that guy handle both businesses was the aforementioned quote.
People always feel the need to understand the context a CEO/manager takes decisions. But what do you do if the context is not that easy to understand? This is what Bezos told the designers of Kindle when he told them to include space for the cellular/wifi module in the first device so that anybody could download the books instantly, free of charge. The designers fought back saying that this wasn’t possible, that it would cost too much. The answer? “I’ll figure this out and it is not going to be a business model you understand. You are the designers, I want you to design this and I’ll think about the business model.”
One of the companies I enjoyed reading about and visiting while in Las Vegas was Zappos. The thing is I always thought of the company being a fast mover, achieving success and growing fast. Well. apparently it wasn’t like this and this is the reason they sold to Amazon. Here is what Mike Moritz, investor and board member at Zappos, had to say about it: “We just didn’t move quickly enough,” Moritz says. “You could sense it was going to be much harder to achieve, and we were squandering the opportunity. The hiring was too slow, the engineering department was not good enough, and the software was inferior to Amazon’s. It was very frustrating, and the Las Vegas location, plus an unwillingness to pay competitively, made it even harder to recruit talented people. We were starting to compete with the very best in the business and they had a lot of arrows in their quiver to make life painful. The last thing we wanted to do was to sell. It was mortifying.”. It’s interesting for me because we always thought MavenHut is moving really fast. Well, we might need to move a lot faster, or else Amazon might buy us :)
And, finally, I didn’t know, but Bezos may not get ferried to work in a black sedan, but Amazon still spends $1.6 million per year on personal security for him and his family, according to the company’s financial reports. It’s not that simple being a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company.
I’ve highlighted a lot more content, but I think you need to read the book to make sense of it :)
Finally, go buy it (or borrow it from a friend). By the way, all these links are affiliate links, just so you know.
Oh and, finally, if you are interested, you can see the interview Bezos gave to the Business Insider recently (or read the main ideas):
Ideas are a dime a dozen. We all have them, all the time. So I decided to share some of my business ideas (some that I had a while ago, some that I think would work now). Who knows, maybe someone can do something interesting about them. It’s gonna be a series of articles, so just one idea today, ok? Don’t get greedy!
First idea came to me about 15 years ago, while managing a night club (duh!): Heaven/Hell.
It was supposed to be a two levels location:
Below (in Hell) a night club that would only work after 9pm (or later). A lot of black & red, with waiters serving you in Devil suits (lots of latex involved, probably, as some designer said at some point). Of course, both men and women, to cater to all tastes :D
Above (in Heaven) should be a lounge with a lot of light colors (variations of white) and, obviously, waiters serving you would be dressed in… Angels, with the circle above the head and everything: wings, white clothes, feathers. This part of the business would be open during the day and serve lounge type of drinks (even light food, maybe?)
Obviously, I didn’t start it but, if you ever do, let me know about it so I can visit.
Later Update: I’ve found out (from the comments [in Romanian]) that there is a similar idea club in the game Hitman Blood Money (see it here, on YouTube). Since I had the idea before the game appeared, all I can think is that one of the level creators came to the club I managed then and heard me :D Or, the truth, everybody has ideas. It’s only natural that, at some point, someone has a similar idea with you. Thanks for the heads up!
Disclaimer: I am not interested in any financial returns, ownership or something similar regarding this idea :)) Ideas are not really relevant, execution is. So if you like something I thought of, run with it and do something cool. If you want to tell me about it, I’d love to know, but it’s not necessary. I also assume that my idea will just spark ideas in someone’s mind, so I would also like to know about these, if possible :)
Image: Woman must choose between the devil or angel from ShutterStock
The Remains of the Day is a well known movie based on a book. I have to say I didn’t see the movie, but I read the book during the winter holidays, after finding out it was the book Jeff Bezos from Amazon considered one of the best (and mistakenly considered the reason he started Amazon as a bookstore).
The thing is… I don’t have too much to say about it. The subject is quite simple: a 50-60 years old butler remembers his life while driving across UK to meet a co-worker from 20 years earlier. He reminisces the history (he was the butler of a British Lord that was involved in negotiations with Ribbentrop during the years before the start of the Second World War) and looks over the decisions he took in his personal life that lead to that particular moment.
I enjoyed parts of the book, but I didn’t really enjoy the entire book. I probably don’t have the feeling of something big missing in my life – I’m not 60, you know – to be able to make a connection with the character, I really don’t know. Also, the rhythm of the book is quite slow and deliberately paced.
Another thing I found weird initially is the way the book is written. The language used is very protocolar, which is the exact way I would think a butler like Stevens would use, but it was really difficult to read for the initial 20 pages or so.
Finally, would I recommend the book? I enjoyed the 4-5 hours it took me reading it, but it took me a conscious effort, from time to time, to continue reading it and not choose something else in my Kindle library. I actually enjoyed the understanding of the management skills necessary for a butler (it felt like a COO combined with the HR person), but I don’t think it makes the book more enjoyable if you don’t really like the style.
Indeed, I can say I am in agreement with those who say that the ability to draw up a good staff plan is the cornerstone of any decent butler’s skills. – as I was saying :)
Indeed, the more one considers it, the more obvious it seems: association with a truly distinguished household is a prerequisite of ‘greatness’. – I was thinking of ways to grow as a startup (partnerships with better known companies and similar things)
An interesting thing: the book is written by a Japanese born person (Kazuo Ishiguro), which was really confusing initially. After that I found out that he moved early in life to UK, so it made more sense.
Bill Liao, the partner that we work with at SOSventures, just published an interesting blog post about the relationship between an investor and the companies they invest/want to invest in. It’s called Road to Investment.
The interesting thing is that part of this article is the opinion of MavenHut’s lawyer, David Ryan, the guy that helped us raising investment and advices us around a lot of issues (along with our Romanian lawyers, obviously). David actually evaluates SOSventurs’ documents from the point of view of “the other side’s” lawyer. And it’s good.
As an established Series A investor it was clear that the deal we were doing with SOSv was the same consistent approach they had adopted with others.
Our advice is to have the tricky conversations at the heads of terms/LOI stage and beyond that it should be streamlined otherwise it’s not a great start.
Once the start-up is properly advised and understands that certain things are a fact of life with Series A investors (Liquidation Preference, Vetoes, Anti-Dilution, Limited Warranties and Reverse Vesting of Founder Equity) then the process will run smoothly.
There is no real need to waste money negotiating for the sake of doing so and at FOD we avoid getting into this trap. Get good commercial legal advice and get the investment in so that you can start to shift the needle and this is exactly what has happened with Mavenhut.”
Read the article here, it really is worth reading it.
Photo: that’s me and Bill Liao (photo taken from ComputerBlog.ro)
“I suppose I can justify the variety of my readings and entertainment this way. Every week I read The Economist and New Scientist cover to cover, which I complement with Forbes, Time, Fortune, Business Week, but also Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. I love movies of all genres, be they artsy foreign movies or the latest blockbuster, books of all genres from Ron Chernow biographies to the latest Dan Brown thriller and love playing video games.”
I need to have these in one place, online, and I thought they might be good for you, also.