There is no mistaking the fact that Jeff Bezos is a smart guy. He saw things years before the rest of us did. Many of us sat by and laughed as his company lost money, year after year, while he invested in the future. That is one of his many premises: “The past is over, and today is almost over, so live in the future.” He insists that his executive team do this at all times. One of the reasons for his success, which I love, is that he is not afraid of failure. He welcomes failure, as long as it is educational.
I’m currently reading a book by Walter Isaacson about Jeff Bezos (by the way, you should read Mr. Isaacson’s biographies because they are great). However, the interesting thing about his book is that it is not a biography but rather a collection of speeches, writings, and teachings from Bezos. It is a fascinating book called Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos. And, of course, you can find it on Amazon—you guessed it!
The thing I noticed right away is that Bezos is down to earth and full of common sense. He’s very smart, but he is the best kind of smart—the curious kind. He is also the kind of guy who is so smart enough that he knows to seek other people who are smarter than him and hire them. Here are eight key takeaways from the book.
1. Are You a Mercenary or a Missionary?
Mercenaries are in it for the money. They are the ones who put a number of companies together so they can go public or, better yet, sell them. They have no particular love for the business they are in; they are just in it for the money. On the other hand, missionaries love their business; they love what they are doing, and this makes them very good at it. In the end, missionaries always make more money than mercenaries.
2. Thinking Three Years Out
“All my people work in the future….none of the people who work for me should be focused on this quarter…right now, I am working on a quarter that is going to reveal itself in 2023. You need to be thinking two or three years in advance.”
3. Making Good Decisions
“Why should I be focused on making a hundred decisions today? If I make three good decisions a day, that’s enough, and they should be as high quality as I can make them. Warren Buffet says he’s good if he makes three decisions a year, and I really believe that.”
4. Starting Amazon
“I was working as a hedge fund manager in New York City, making good money when I saw that the internet was growing at 2,300% per year. That’s all I needed to hear. I concluded that I should come up with a business idea based on the internet, grow around it, and keep working to improve it.”
5. Why Books?
“I made a list of products I might sell online, and I picked books. Books are super unusual in one respect; there are more items in the book category than in any other category, there are three million books in print, and the biggest bookstores had only 150,000 titles. So, the founding idea of Amazon was to build a universal selection of books in print.”
6. Recruiting Talent
“The best way to hire great people and keep them from leaving? By giving them, first of all, a great mission-something that has real purpose and meaning. People want meaning in their lives.”
“When we started Amazon, the goal was to be the most customer-centric company in the world…we wanted to make it as easy as possible for just about anybody to buy just about anything from anywhere in the world. And that is what we strive to do every single day. Everyone knows my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I keep that address and read my emails at that address (though I don’t see every one anymore because I get too many), but I see a lot of them, and I use my curiosity to pick out certain emails. I look for the ones where a customer had a problem, and then I’ll look into the root cause. Why did that happen? I’ll get the right people involved, and then we’ll do some root fixes.”
8. Why the Name “Amazon?”
Jeff originally wanted to call the company “Cadabra,” but when he said the word to his attorney, the attorney misheard him and repeated “cadaver?” That’s when Jeff decided that was not a very good name. He chose Amazon because it is the name of the longest river in the world.
These are just a few of Bezos’ gems of advice that this book is filled with. I urge you to pick it up and read it before the end of the year. It will give you a whole new outlook for next year and beyond, and heaven knows we need it.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.