EMPEROR OF E-TAIL
When he told his (then) wife, MacKenzie, that he wanted to ditch his Wall Street job to move to Seattle and start a business on the internet, she asked the same question he got from anyone he told about his plan: “What’s the internet?” In a letter announcing he was stepping down as Amazon’s CEO, Bezos remarked, “Blessedly, I haven’t had to explain that in a long while.”
Given what we know now, the trajectory of Jeff Bezos seems almost inevitable. The founder and CEO of Amazon has been relentless in his pursuit of building the most dominant, customer-focused enterprise in modern history. It’s fitting, considering he first thought to name his company Relentless.com.
Looking backward, however, it can be easy to forget that relentless did not mean inevitable, at least not in the early years. But as Amazon’s execution began to match
Bezos’s vision, an extraordinary company emerged—one that changed our lives. Bezos leaves his CEO role as one of the most important business leaders of his generation, having taken his company from zero to nearly $1.7 trillion, the market value of Amazon today. Along the way, the man behind “The Everything Store” gave us some of the most important lessons on entrepreneurship, innovation, and customer experience. Here are 11 principles every entrepreneur can learn from Jeff Bezos.
1 USE THE REGRET MINIMIZATION FRAMEWORK
When Bezos first entertained the idea of moving across the country to start an online bookstore, he used a mental exercise he calls a “regret minimization framework.” The idea was to think about turning 80 and looking back on his life. “I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have,” Bezos has explained. “I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal.”
2 FIND THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITY
Bezos decided to build an internet business first, not a book business. He had been working in New York City for D.E. Shaw, the investment firm, when he heard that internet use was growing at an annual rate of 2,300 percent. His math, in fact, was grossly incorrect. The internet was growing by a factor of 2,300, meaning it was actually growing at a rate of 230,000 percent. That math worked too.
Bezos was not especially fond of books, but books seemed like the best bet to take advantage of the internet’s explosive growth. In 1994, the year Amazon launched, the catalog of available books in print was effectively infinite, with more than three million titles—a long-tail business well suited to e-tailing. Shipping books was also relatively easy and not terribly expensive. As a place to start, the idea just made sense.
3 BE CUSTOMER-OBSESSED
Many companies preach the gospel of customer focus. Bezos lived it. “The secret sauce of Amazon— there are several principles at Amazon —but the number one thing that has made us successful, by far, is obsessive, compulsive focus on the customer,” Bezos told David Rubenstein in a 2018 interview at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
He wasn’t talking about feel-good service. It was more about creating a company people couldn’t live without. “From the beginning, our focus has been on offering our customers compelling value,” he wrote in Amazon’s 1997 letter to shareholders.
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