The Amazon Complex and continuous optimization

The Über economy. Groceries being brought to my door within 2 hours. Cars providing me with door-to-door service. Ordering a movie without leaving my couch. I actually had a a TaskRabbit come and hang paintings at my apartment for $50 one afternoon because I didn’t have a ladder. The world I grew up in has changed. I love technology, of course, so this change has been welcome. Innovation is happening at an insane pace, though, and many days I wonder what I can do to keep up?

It IS hard to resist.

The internet really began to change and become a more on-demand culture when Amazon began to perfect the art of selling things online. As a consumer, you might receive your purchase to your door nearly as fast as you would going to the store. Why even bother? And they continued to get better with thousands upon thousands of tests that helped them make the purchasing experience better. With an end goal of making money, of course, but they created a customer experience that was completely unmatched — completely technology-driven — and unleashed the power of online commerce.

Amazon’s culture of continuous optimization and the use of technology to make life easier and easier for the consumer is a marquee part of the world we live in today. Combine that with the supercomputers we carry in our hand every day and it’s truly scary what our world will grow into. I’ll simply think about buying a product and it will show up at my door within the hour.

B2B software has evolved in exactly the same way — from the days of cumbersome CRM and ERP systems to how the cloud has evolved to produce beautiful products that people love to use. Marc Benioff, famous for pioneering Software-as-a-Service and founding Salesforce presented a very simple question —

“Why isn’t all enterprise software like Amazon.com?”

And it’s an obvious problem now when you think about it. It’s apparent that the cloud, that mobile apps, and web services would be the norm and not the exception. But it took someone eager to disrupt the space thinking there was a better, faster way to go to market. Think of how difficult releasing software was back in the install days. Every machine had to be updated and debugged, so many more use cases considered. Patches, updates, OS issues, etc. SaaS changed everything. And now other companies are starting to realize that the more they build their own technology in the cloud to solve their own problems, the more they’ll succeed in all areas. My old boss Scott McCorkle (now CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud) would always say that “all companies are now technology companies.”

Every company is now a technology company.
Scott McCorkle, Salesforce Marketing Cloud (source: glassdoor.com)

That’s a profound statement that requires some dissection and thought.

Think about the accessibility of any service, any company, anything. Regional is national, local is global. All because the websites, apps, and connected products of any size business empower us to buy from anywhere — to sell to anyone — creating a massive amount of noise in the web-o-sphere. It’s amazing, but buyers are hearing the same thing from everyone. Everyone is using SEO and SEM, everyone is advertising on Facebook, everyone is retargeting me with ads that follow me everywhere I go.

Well, one of the only last remaining differentiators in business is speed. When I was at Salesforce, I bought into this idea that any business can beat out the competition by moving faster, making decisions quickly and falling forward. I still believe it to be true.

The reason every company is a technology company is because technology is a tangible, measurable catalyst in helping businesses move faster.

How fast can you release new features? How fast can you take advantage of a hot button issue in the press? How fast can you roll-out new infrastructure within your company that will save you weeks or months of man hours?

The answer is in our technology, right? The cloud. Platforms. Tech stacks. All that. Sure. Salesforce has always been legendary at focusing on outcomes. But the biggest step in this journey of a thousand miles of development and planning is the first step: The decision to move faster.

The Amazon Complex (a fake thing I just made up) begs the question: “What are we doing to help ourselves compete in 5 years?” Step out of your day-to-day for a second and think about the inefficient crappy things you have to do every day in your role and try to take some action. Technology will often times play some role in this, good or bad.

You can’t question Amazon’s commitment to innovation, speed, and continuous optimization as part of the core modus operandi, can you?

I’m not trying to build a whole lexicon around “The Amazon Complex”, but Amazon has inspired me to think about what in my business I could improve daily. It’s an obsessive desire to make life easier through the use of technology. From buying, from selling — in customer experience and internal processes. One of my favorite examples is when Jeff Bezos made the mandate in 2002 to his entire development staff to make all services “externalizable”. Meaning — any team could use any technology being created by other teams, but he put a mandate in place to make those accessible to the public as well. If you’re not an engineer, the impact of that may not make a ton of sense… but it was a lot of work for what seemed to be not a lot of clear business value to Amazon.

I’m sure this decision took years to put in place but it’s paid unparalleled dividends in the growth of Amazon Web Services and changed the face of Amazon’s power and strength on the web. The immediate benefit at the time? They could innovate across their products within Amazon at blistering speed.

The continuous optimization put in place at Amazon has made the lives of their employees, customers, and partners infinitely easier (and make their products much ea$ier to buy). It’s also put them light years ahead of the competition. And now they’re not looking back. They’re actually looking for what part of their business to evolve next.

So how can you work faster? How can you improve one process today with the simple decision to try and change it? In the constantly changing world, making speed part of your own daily routine could change the way you look at the world around you.

I’m currently COO at PactSafe, a startup focused on making business more agile in contract execution. Follow my antics on Twitter.