Book Author: Brad Stone
My thoughts and what I learned:
- When I picked up this book, I expected a lot of business jargon and wasn’t quite sure I will get through the 350 pages. Brad narrated the stories in simple easy to read English. It was quite fascinating to read about the brainchild behind Amazon, the company to be one of the firsts to see the boundless promise of the internet and change the way we shop and read, while also vacuuming out several traditional brick and mortar businesses.
- A lot of the online comforts we take for granted, we owe to Amazon and the future thinking of Jeff Bezos: Affiliate Marketing, Amazon Prime, AWS, 1 Click order, Kindle, Personalized recommendations based on algorithms.
- I really had chills reading about how the company operated and what happens in the board meetings with Bezos, his rigorous standards, the way he micromanages and reacts harshly to efforts with very little praise. How they raised the bar in the industries, catering to the customers and ruthlessly competing with rivals, destroying big brands like Circuit City, Borders, Barnes And Nobles, and Best Buy.
- Jeff initially thought of Relentless.com as the company name. (In fact, even now that domain gets redirected to Amazon’s home page!) Bezos looked through the dictionary starting at A and going through every word until he lit up when he came to Amazon. To him, Amazon meant the Earth’s largest bookstore.
- The two key takeaways from Amazon about running a business are being customer focussed (or rather customer obsessed) and having long-term thinking.
- Amazon started many projects -Pets.com, Gear.com, Wineshoppers.com Greenlight.com. All of these went down in flames during the dot.com bubble in 2000. They had a ton of failures with only a few big wins. But they never take defeat personally and consider mistakes as the first step in a series of important experiments.
- Netscape went public the same year as Amazon with a stock price of $28 per share!
- How Bezos was never deterred by short-term setbacks and always focussed on the long game. Instead of fighting to compete with Apple and iTunes, Bezos used the lessons from Apple and iTunes and applied them to something he was passionate about – books.
- Instead of freaking out on what Apple has done to the lagging Amazon music business, Bezos decided to focus its efforts on getting ahead in the digital space for books and thrive as a bookseller in the digital age.
- My favorite chapter was about Fiona, the code name for the e-reader they build called Kindle. Although I was never a fan of eBooks and always loved physical books, I loved reading about the thought and attention that went into creating the Kindle. About the designers studying the actual physics of reading-the physical aspects of the pastime, how readers turn the pages and hold books in their hand. and all the subconscious qualities that made it feel like you are reading a book. Bezos’s top objective was that the kindle had to get out of the way and disappear so they can enter the author’s world.
Quotes from the book:
- We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make a decision.
- Have a backbone. Disagree and Commit. Leaders do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is made they commit wholly.
Some fun stories:
- Rufus-a Welsh Corgi who belonged to one of the first employees and was the first canine staffer. The company had to write Rufus in the lease when they moved office in the summer of 1996. It became the (then) startup’s first mascot. His paw tap on the keyboard was required to launch any new features and even now there is a building named after him.
- Christopher Smith-the 23-year-old warehouse temp who was hired in the holiday season and worked for 8 months straight biking to office and back and whose car was towed after being covered with several parking tickets. The car was later auctioned.
- A temp employee who clocked in and out at the right time of his shift but not logged in any actual work and made a makeshift bed and created a cozy den in the fulfillment center, furnishing it with items from the Amazon shelves.
- When I read about the famous laugh of Jeff Bezo – a mystery that has never been solved, I had to google up to find out what the hell he was talking about and found a video of his. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ_DyimkS54
- I was quite surprised to read about Ted Jorgensen (Bezos’s biological dad) and how he never knew that his son is the world’s richest man until the author of the book paid him a visit to his bike store in Phoenix.
- Amazon has dog biscuits in a bowl at the reception desk for employees who bring their dogs to the office which I thought was a strange perk in the company that made people pay for their parking.
About Amazon Prime:
How the company went from offering fast track shipping of the order to creating the speedy shipping club later named the Prime, deciding on the price for the club to $79 per year because it needed to be large enough to matter to consumers but small enough that they are willing to try.
It really was about changing people’s minds so they stopped shopping elsewhere.
Creating Prime was an act of faith with no concrete idea on how the program could affect the orders, going with his gut and experience. When friction was removed, customers spent more, motivating them to place bigger orders and shop in new categories.
Although Prime was not an instant success, it has now turned customers into Amazon addicts and sowed the seeds for instant gratification.
About the company working:
- Bar raisers: the folks who have the final say when hiring. These are usually designated employees who have a track record of intuitive hiring and have the power to veto a candidate even the hiring manager can’t override.
- Two-Pizza Teams: Autonomous teams that are small enough that in case they are working late, two pizzas are enough.
- Competitive Intelligence group: They measure the competitor’s products and their services and investigate any rival that is doing a better job than Amazon.
- Amazon’s meeting write-up – A six-page narrative instead of a presentation.
- Handling tens of 1000s of temp employees each holiday season and keeping 10-15 % of them permanently.
- Using point system to track how workers performed at jobs. Arriving late cost an employee 1/2 point, failing to show up 3 points, and calling in sick cost a point. Employees were not given many second chances.
- Not installing ac in the fulfillment centers in Phoenix where summers are brutal, viewing it as an unnecessary expense. Instead adding 5 extra mins to the morning and afternoon breaks and giving out free Gatorade. Paying a private ambulance company to have the paramedics right outside the FCS during the heatwave ready to deal with employees as they dropped. https://www.mcall.com/news/watchdog/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917-story.html
Some cool features started at Amazon:
- “Look Inside The Book” feature – an effort to match the experience of a physical bookstore by giving the customer a peek and letting them read the first few pages of the book.
- Search Inside the Book feature, shipping the books to a contractor in the Philippines to be scanned. Writing software to convert the images into text that the search algorithm at Amazon can search and index.
- Reinventing the Yellow pages with a project called the Block view that matched the street photos of stores and restaurants with their search listings in their new A search named A9 in an effort to compete with Google search. This was 2 years before Google announced Street View in their G Maps. Eventually it turned out to be a failure and was shut down.
- Creating APIs so third parties can harvest data about its prices, products, and sales, and let other websites publish from the Amazon catalog and use the Amazon shopping cart and payment system. Have their first dev conference and invite outsiders who were trying to hack the Amazon systems. This later developed into the popular AWS providing the infrastructure for doing business online for big companies like Netflix, Pinterest and IG, and even small businesses.