My reading experience about Google and Facebook the company was clear cut. Google is a “do no evil” company. It has its fair share of trouble with data protection issue but its business philosophy, in my opinion, has always been about scientific prowess and awesome innovation. I didn’t like the founder of Facebook and thought the start-up legal battle between the founder and the Winklevoss twins was shrouded with dirty games being played out in the university campus. My feeling about Facebook company history has always been a meh throughout.
The feeling about Amazon is a complicated one. On one hand, I have always love Amazon for its lowest price, wonderful selection and choices of books, I also admire the founder Jeff Bezos greatly for his courage, risk taking and genius. On the other hand, after reading both books, I cringed a lot about the string of hard-handed tactics towards business partners and tales of corporate horror stories, that left many casualties in the trail.
One click is a concise biography of Amazon. Told in punchy, factual and anecdotal style. The book records the early days of dot.com boom, Jeff Bezos left his lucrative job in the financial services and decided to sell books online. I know more about Google and Facebook than I do about Amazon. In reality, Amazon is not running as hot a business as the other two but the recent growth and acquisitions of the bookseller has been aggressive. Amazon is no longer a “Bookseller”, it is venturing into movie streaming, content management, cloud computing and storage and sells everything from shoes, watches, clothes, electronic gadgets, gardening tools to baby nappies.
What amazes me is that Jeff Bezos have defied critics and Wall Streets analysts to come out of the ashes from the dot.com crash and become stronger than before. Amazon focuses on what customer wants (at the expense of everything else, even the company’s profit). One Click talks about the closure of Barnes and Noble and Amazon’s power to close down high street bookstores, the Kindle and the kind of manager Jeff Bezos is, all in broad brush.
One Click is a light read about the founding and the journey of Amazon greatness, but there isn’t enough meat for anyone to chew on.
I read about this recent Amazon book “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon “ on the news last November 2013, due to the fact that Jeff Bezos’ wife Mackenzie slammed the book for being misleading and gave Brad Stone one star. It ignited the curiosity so I decided to read the book.
The second book I read about Amazon proves to be a more delightful read than the first one. It is more interesting because Brad Stone has been following Amazon’s news for years and has access to Jeff himself including his employees (in fact 300 interviews have been conducted with present and past employees). I read it on my Kindle so I kept underlining many anecdotes that I found interesting about both Amazon and Jeff Bezos. These are a few of them:
- Jeff Bezos has a signature laugh: “It’s a startling, pulse-pounding bray that he leans into while craning his neck back, closing his eyes, and letting loose with a guttural roar that sounds like a cross between a mating elephant seal and a power tool,” says Stone.
- Jeff is a hard to work with: Hyper-intelligent, ultra-driven, and obsessed with detail, Bezos expects everyone around him to be the same. Amazon staff are said to live in fear of his outbursts Stone relays a record of his finest putdowns. These include, “Why are you wasting my life?”, “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?” and “Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
- Jeff’s ambition knows no boundary: Jeff Bezos want to establish a permanent human colony in space. He invested in company who conduct space research and established Blue Origin, a company that plans to make private space travel more widely available.
- His biological father is…. I better not spoil it for you but the most moving part of the book was when Jeff’s biological father can in touch with him and how Jeff has responded.
- The Remain of Day by Kazuo Ishiguro inspired Jeff’s “Regret minimisation framework” and prompted him to start his own company. Bezos’ management philosophy is partly emulated from Walmart and partly in disruptive innovation, “kill your own business before somebody kills it”. Time and again, I have to re-evaluate Jeff’s thinking and try to unlearn the strong and proven corporate beliefs. Take this one for instant when junior executives stood up to present a problem indigenous to all large organisations: the difficult of coordinating far flung divisions, and recommended a variety of different techniques to foster cross-group dialogue:
“I understand what you’re saying, but you are completely wrong” he said “communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people are not working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.”
Jeff encourages individual groups to come out with solution, there may be waste and duplication but this is done in the hope that one team with the solution will get it out quickly to the customers. Jeff rarely meet an individual colleagues one to one for updates or meetings.
The first part of The Everything Store, reads like a regurgitation of One Click and I felt as if Brad Stone has mainly copy paste some of the materials from One Click and included in his new book (it feels that way). But The Everything Store tells you more about the company culture of Amazon, the gruelling interview process, the philosophy of Jeffism (Jeff-ism, get it?), the Amazon leadership principles and also tells the history and background of the senior executives and how they were hired into Amazon. Instead of introducing Jeff’s early life history at the beginning of the book, author Brad Stone has included it close at the end, which I thought was a breath of fresh air (after heavy corporate stories and IT jargons); on how his maternal grandparents and mother has shaped him to be what he is today. How Brad Stone track down his biological father. The book then went on to talk about the Prime service, the more high profile company acquisitions such as Zappos, Quidsi and Lovefilm, the Kindle etc. with a built up suspense that could rival a mystery thriller. The flow of The Everything Store as a biography for both Amazon and Jeff Bezos is seamless.
Amazon’s global revenue is $61 Billion (2012). Hachette (The book publisher said) has had to view Amazon as both an empowering retail partner and a dangerous competitor. Amazon is a company you will either love or hate it. Jeff is a tough business man to do business with, but he also creates lots of goodwill for the customer and changes the way we shop. In the author’s last word, he said:
“Amazon may be the most beguiling company that ever existed, and it is just getting started. It is both missionary and mercenary, and throughout the history of business and other human affairs, that has always been a potent combination”.
I agree that the book finishes when it feels as if there should have been more. The ending feels abrupt, perhaps this is symbolic that Amazon is still, as its famous slogan for every employee says, “It is still Day One” for Amazon. I recommend The Everything Store for its thoroughness and readability.
Have you use Amazon before? If so, what is your last purchase? What do you feel about Amazon as a book seller?
Below are some quotes for my notes:
The Internet is like alcohol in some sense. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, I makes it easier to connect – Ether Dyson
“You can work long, you can work hard, you can work smart, but at Amazon you can’t choose two out of three”, says one staff’s car bumper sticker.
Amazon has the bureaucracy of a big company with the infrastructure and pace of a startup, with lots of duplicate efforts and poor communication that makes it difficult to get things done. The people who do well at Amazon are often those who thrive in an adversarial atmosphere with almost constant friction. Bezos abhors what he calls “social cohesion,” the natural impulse to seek consensus. He’d rather his minions battled it out in argument backed by numbers and passion and he has codified his approach in one of his 14 leadership principles : Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit.