whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books
Brian Dumane’s recently published book about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos isn’t exactly a hagiography. But while there is coverage of the company’s warehouse conditions, pay and focus on some of the negative impacts – on retail, on social conscience – that the multi-billionaire has had on society, this is generally a writer who comes to praise Caesar, not to bury him.
With that caveat, if you don’t happen to have the time to read this book in lockdown, here are 10 takeaways that you might find interesting:
1. Amazon was always a tech company that just happened to sell books.
2. Bezos believes in the narrative fallacy that humans are hard wired to turn complex situations into oversimplified stories. He makes his top execs read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan.
3. Not everything in the early days of Amazon was all about data. In 1997, their marketing department came up with a good old-fashioned concept called The Greatest Tale Ever Told, where customers could collaborate with established writers. John Updike agreed to write the first paragraph of a mystery called Murder Makes the Magazine and Amazon invited its customers to write a new paragraph every day for the next month and a half and their staff would pick a winner each day. They ended up with 380,000 submissions and a huge PR bounce. By the autumn of 1997, Amazon had grown to be one of the 25 most visited sites on the web.
4. ‘The whole point of moving things forward is that you run into problems, into failures, and you have to back up and do things again. You use resourcefulness and you try to invent yourself out of a box’ Jeff Bezos
5. Success is a long game. Most leaders think in terms of the next quarter or few years. Bezos thinks in centuries.
6. The book that seems to have influenced Bezos most is Jim Collins’s Good to Great. It seems it is all about the flywheel. For any great business with a basic underlying architecture of momentum, the key is the ability to renew and extend into multiple businesses and activities. New tech can become powerful flywheel accelerators taking the wheel to billions of turns.
7. All consumers, according to Bezos are ‘divinely discontent’.
8. Amazon doesn’t get everything right. Most companies can’t match them for speed and price. But they are not good at building a strong brand identity and making customers feel special. If they tried more customisation and creative experiences for huge numbers of people, the whole thing would collapse. There is customer obsession but there is also a more personalised service. When consumers see something unique they are willing to pay more and reward loyalty.
9. The way to avoid the Amazon race to the bottom on price is to sell products that require a lot of hand-holding. Amazon operates at such a scale that it makes no financial sense to hire lots of people offering personalised advice.
10. Amazon tend not to acquire large businesses in different sectors, but organically build businesses in new sectors, sometimes making small strategic acquisitions of talent or technology to get things moving. Then it has been allowed to lose money and keep prices low until it has enough customers to be a leader in the sector.
Amazon. The great frenemy, as publishers used to call them. Although, less so in lockdown, I’d assume. But, love them or hate them, it would be a foolish enterprise in 2020 to not understand and learn a little about the behemoth and the man who started it all.