9 Quotes from Jeff Bezos that Will Boost Your Business
The world’s richest man (bye, bye Bill Gates) reveals the secrets to Amazon’s $400 billion valuation.
I recently finished reading The Everything Store by Brad Stone. In the book, the author dutifully traces the rise of Amazon by spotlighting Founder Jeff Bezos’ childhood, early career and leadership at the company. While Bezos only accepted a handful of interviews with Stone, the CEO’s philosophical quotes (called “Jeffisms”) are peppered throughout the story. Bezos is a cutthroat businessman, and often has faced criticism for underpaying workers and creating a hostile business culture. Still, he’s led Amazon to be an extremely profitable and useful company, and along the way offered some great soundbites. Here are the nine best ones:
1. “If we think long term we can accomplish things that we wouldn’t otherwise accomplish. Time horizons matter. They matter a lot.”
Bezos believes strongly in long-term thinking. He’s even building a clock that’s supposed to tick for 10,000 years in a remote mountain in Texas.
Amazon’s growth has been founded on lifelong thinking. The founder’s initial vision for Amazon was for “the everything store.” An online platform that sold all consumer goods. However, he realized that enacting that dream would take decades. So, he started simply with books, and eventually added other products. Now Amazon is one of the top five companies in the world.
Think about your business and career. Are you building something to last or are you looking for an exit or a quick buck? If the answer is the long-term thinking, then you’re well-positioned.
2. “Mine was cheaper.”
In the early 1970s, a researcher named Julie Ray became fascinated by the curriculum at Bezos’ elementary school. The principal allowed Ray to tour the school, and choose Bezos to accompany her. Jeff, then a sixth grader, showed her a project he was working on. He’d modeled it after something he’d seen in a toy store. The store’s toy cost $21. “Mine was cheaper,” however, he told the researcher. At a young age Bezos was obsessed with pricing products lower than the competition. This practice would become part of the dogma of Amazon.
Ray published a book of her findings, and concluded Bezos was, “a student of general intellectual excellence… There is no limit to what he can do.”
3. “There are two kinds of retailers: those folks who work to figure how to charge more, and companies that work to figure how to charge less, and we are going to be the second.”
Bezos carried over his elementary school interest in selling items at low prices into Amazon’s core philosophy. He made this part of the company’s ethos primarily after meeting with executives from Walmart and Sam’s Club, and reading Made in America the autobiography of Walmart founder Sam Walton.
Having the lowest prices on every imaginable product has made Amazon the go-to store for customers. At the same time, it has infuriated small business owners. Because they must pay rent for their store fronts, and are not as technologically sophisticated as Amazon, they cannot match their prices.
Therefore as time goes on Amazon continues to gain market share, as it trumps more and more traditional retailers.
4. “Your job is to kill your own business… I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.”
Why would the world’s largest bookstore lead a charge to sabotage it’s own business?
The answer: innovation.
Bezos gave this marching order to Steve Kessel, the executive who developed Amazon’s paper book distribution.
It was now Kessel’s job to develop an e-book industry. This effort would lead to the digitization of millions of titles, and even the creation of the Kindle, the first e-reader to make inroads in the literary market.
Bezos’ willingness to attempt murder on the business that made him a billionaire came from the book the Innovator’s Dilemma. It was written by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, and is on the recommended reading lists of great entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Christensen holds that great companies fail because they don’t embrace promising emerging technology and new markets that could potentially harm their traditional business.
On the other hand, great companies succeed, Christensen writes, when they, “set up autonomous organizations charged with building new and independent businesses around disruptive technology.”
Bezos did that, and the results established Amazon as the undisputed market leader in e-reading.
5. “Even well meaning gatekeepers slow innovation… When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried… Many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.”
Upon digitizing millions of titles, Bezos decided to take the next step towards changing the publishing industry: democratization.
Through technology, the founder realized that any author could self publish, bringing a more level playing field to the industry, and more money into the coffers of Amazon. The former gatekeepers of the major publishing houses would have less of a stranglehold on what was considered a book worth promoting and what wasn’t. It would now be up to authors to write and promote their work, if they couldn’t find the help of a publisher.
Now, authors such as Mark Dawson are making $450,000 per year selling their books on Amazon. Meanwhile Amazon gets richer as it takes a healthy cut of authors’s sales.
To the chagrin of publishers, Bezos elimination of gatekeepers transformed the industry. Now the best ideas have a chance to rise to the top
6. “In order to be a two-hundred-billion-dollar company, we’ve got to learn how to sell clothes and food.”
In 2007, Bezos idolized the scope and scale of Walmart.
He knew the big box retailer was selling significantly more than Amazon by merchandising products with low price elasticity of demand.
So he brought on leaders who could establish the company as a key player in those fields.
One of the leaders would found AmazonFresh, which today is the company’s growing grocery-delivery service. They’ve recently unveiled home delivered meals, competing with companies like Blue Apron.
The other leader would help Amazon charge into the apparel market, challenging companies like Zappos.
Bezos recognized he needed to sell necessary day-to-day products. He also recognized he knew little about these industries. So, he hired leaders with valuable experience in these markets, in order to become a $400 billion company (twice his goal).
7. “Come back in a week when you figure out what you’re doing… But great work, everyone.”
Bezos is known for being incredibly harsh with his employees. He would not hesitate to call ideas he didn’t believe in stupid, and completely devastate his staff with reprimands.
This created a hostile culture at Amazon, which had a hard time retaining talented human capital. Many of the firm’s top executives quit after just several months. They found Bezos’ cutthroat nature to be too much.
Some, though, recognized that at the heart of it, Jeff was just honest. He was so focused on achieving his vision for the company, and he was so hard working and intelligent that he simply knew what would work and what wouldn’t. Harsh reality was the only way to articulate himself.
To better manage his staff, however, Bezos hired a leadership coach. The executives at that meeting recognized he was trying to get better. That’s why even after tearing into them, Bezos paused and complimented them for “great work.”
It’s clear Jeff knew he had (and still has) a long way to go as a leader. He made concrete steps to improve his leadership style. The result was more teamwork, and more innovation.
8. “People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.”
This quote is emblazoned in the plaque that greets visitors at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle.
Bezos bet early on the Internet. From 1993 to 1994, he watched closely as web activity grew by 230,000% in that year alone.
He noted, “Things just don’t grow that fast. It’s highly unusual, and that started me thinking, ‘What king of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?’”
Once he formulated the business plan for Amazon, he quit his job as a Wall Street financial analyst, and started capitalizing on the power of the net.
9. “The truth about what makes us different, [is] this: We are genuinely customer-center, we are genuinely long-term oriented, and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things.”
Bezos recognizes that most companies focus on competitors, short-term dividends, and following trends. Amazon does the opposite and thrives.
What Steve Jobs was to the first decade of the 2000s, Jeff Bezos is to this decade.
Amazon will continue to soar because of the CEOs intense focus on his company’s mission. Bezos may even overtake Bill Gates as the world’s wealthiest man.
By focusing on the customer and charging the lowest possible price, Bezos has paradoxically made himself and his company amongst the most valuable entities in the world.