The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

“Each order during those early months brought a thrill to Amazon’s employees. When someone made a purchase, a bell would ring on Amazon’s computers, and everyone in the office would gather around to see if anyone knew the customer. (It was only a few weeks before it started ringing so often that they had to turn it off.)”

The Everything Store, page 24

Amazon.com, just like every successful start-up, started on a shoestring budget with a small, family-like small business staff.  Every success was celebrated, no matter how small or large.  It is this mentality, one of prolonged and regular encouragement from the management team, that has kept Amazon’s goals, achievements and expectations attainable.

Upper management, including Jeff Bezos himself, has never let go of the the importance of creating a personal relationship with his entire staff – often still sitting in during the new-hire process.  A large portion of the company’s success is attributed to the fact that regardless of its growth, it has always remained personalized and individually catered to its employees and customers, which Brad Stone chronicles in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.  A practice I have always found fundamental to the success of my own business (as the creator of several custom start-ups) is to allow each customer/client to feel that I work solely for them and that the are my most important client – much like the mantra of Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

Golden Egg

Never Lose Sight of Who You Are and What You Stand For

“Rudeness is not cool. Defeating tiny guys is not cool. Close-following is not cool. Young is cool. Risk taking is cool. Winning is cool. Polite is cool. Defeating bigger, unsympathetic guys is cool. Inventing is cool. Explorers are cool. Conquerors are not cool. Obsessing over competitors is not cool. Empowering others is cool. Capturing all the value only for the company is not cool. Leadership is cool. Conviction is cool. Straightforwardness is cool. Pandering to the crowd is not cool. Hypocrisy is not cool. Authenticity is cool. Thinking big is cool. The unexpected is cool. Missionaries are cool. Mercenaries are not cool.”

The Everything Store, page 175

At the point Amazon had reached over $100 billion in sales, Bezos was forced to sit down, take a look his business’s reputation and what sort of perception he had created.  In an effort to sort out his thoughts, he often takes to creating handwritten memos, lists and spreadsheets to organize his thoughts and goals.

On this particular occasion, he took a hard look at the strengths and weakness of Amazon along with many of the attributes of large, renowned companies and formulated the above list, which turned out to be a blueprint for how he envisioned Amazon to remain not only competitive, but set itself apart from other (competitive) retailers.  His aim? Not different from the early start-up days, was ensure Amazon’s pdds of standing out from the masses.  Each simple statement was meant to be an attainable goal which each employee could incorporate into practice and feel a sense of success, both on an individual and corporate level.

GEM #1

Never Allow Cynics to Change Your Mind

“Though they could not have known it, investors were looking at the opportunity of a lifetime. This highly driven, articulate young man talked with conviction about the Internet’s potential to deliver a more convenient shopping experience than crowded big-box stores where the staff routinely ignored customers. He predicted the company’s eventual ability to personalize a version of the website for each shopper based on his or her previous purchases. And he prophesied what must have seemed like a radical future: that everyone would one day use the Internet at high speeds, not over screeching dialup modems, and that the infinite shelf space of the Web would enable the fulfillment of the merchandiser’s dream of the everything store—a store with infinite selection.”

The Everything Store, page 27

Early on, Jeff Bezos knew he had a cutting edge, state-of-the-art business and well architected business on his hands.  Convincing investors without a seemingly desperate tone was the key to getting the venture capital he needed to transition his ideas in reality.  When meeting with investors, he was able to strike a balance between his own grandiose dreams and the possible reality of future online business so eloquently that he obtained the funding he needed and remained true to fulfilling the expectations he had promised his angel investors.  Bezos has never taken for granted the initial days of proving himself to investors and the public and continues to carry through every new venture, just as he did in the days on Amazon’s infancy.

GEM #2

Reinventing Your Business Model Without Completely Renegotiating It

“Size bred chaos. All companies hit this critical moment, when their internal structures, like a teenager’s old shoes, suddenly don’t fit anymore. But Amazon went through a severe form of this rite of passage. The larger and more ambitious it got, the more complicated it became structurally and the harder it was to keep everyone coordinated and moving quickly. Bezos wanted to execute several strategies simultaneously, but the company’s various interdependent divisions were wasting too much time coordinating with one other.”

The Everything Store, page 91

One of the promises many start-ups and dot.com businesses make is the assurance that they will be the company who never lays off its employees and never loses sight of each employee’s individualism.  Suddenly, having grown larger than Bezos or the rest of management could have ever imagined, he was forced to take a hard look at the unimaginable growth and success of Amazon.  Bezos was forced with the decision that many successful entrepreneurs have to make: is it more important to stand by it’s initial formula to recognize each employee as an individual or to have the company recognize each consumer as an individual?  Upon taking a hard look, Bezos found the perfect way to strike a balance between both. While making decisions on new initiatives,  he continued to incorporate his staff into the decision-making process.  He holds company-wide meetings to present the suggestions of Amazon’s clientele to it’s staff and ultimately makes decisions based on what will please consumers without undermining the desire of employees.  Every voice that speaks out, is heard.

While it is often difficult to take the personal account of one man or one company’s successes and translate it into a global message, I believe The Everything Store does a wonderful job of encouraging small business owners and entrepreneurs that the key to success is to set goals, stick to your ideals, refuse to compromise on quality and to keep persevering.  When taking an analytical look at experiences and global success of Amazon, it is without a doubt possible to apply the universal truths of Amazon’s successes to nearly all businesses, great or small, online or not.  The most important reminder? Success should not be counted by dollars and cents – but by continuing to exist and grow without sacrificing the ideals and value of your products/services.

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Michelle Elana Shafran

ABOUT Michelle Elana Shafran

Michelle is a self-described book junkie, technology enthusiast and knowledge sponge. In addition to the co-founding of a newly minted consulting firm, catered to helping small businesses succeed, she is the owner of a non-profit specialty catering company...
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