Colin Bryar is the co-founder of Working Backwards LLC, a coaching company that educates executives at large and young companies about managerial practices developed at Amazon. He is the author of “WORKING BACKWARDS: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon”.
The latest news of Amazon’s change of board from Jeff Bezos to his successor has led me to look back on my twelve years at Amazon. In particular, I dealt with the two years that I worked side by side with Jeff as a technical consultant – or as chief of staff, as it is called in other companies. Here are a few of the most memorable insights I learned from Jeff. You have helped me in my career after I left Amazon. Some of them are known and written down, others were only mentioned in passing. But they were all useful to me.
1. “Getting a team to pull together is a lot of work and not an efficient process.”
Jeff didn’t have permanent one-on-one meetings with his employees. Instead, Amazon’s S team – its direct employees as well as some of the most senior executives in the company – met for four hours each week. Many of the issues discussed or decided in these weekly meetings did not all need to be present. However, Jeff wanted them to be there so they could better understand what else was going on in the company. In addition, they should learn to work together as a closed team in the event of an inevitable crisis.
While I encourage managers to have regular one-on-one meetings with their other executives, I often see dysfunctional leadership teams who are simply not used to working together. A consciously inefficient, weekly meeting of all managers would help to improve cooperation.
2. “Act as if you were living in a world in which the customer is informed about everything.”
Decide if you want to be a company that focuses on marketing their products as loud as it can or one that values creating products that customers will love. Then consumers can draw attention to your products for you.
If you choose the former, you will likely swim against the current. The internet is increasingly shifting power from businesses to consumers. You should assume that, with the help of the Internet, customers will be able to independently find out about anything, regardless of what you do.
3. “Be proud of your decisions and actions, not your talents.”
Your talents are given to you by nature. How you choose to use these skills is what matters.
4. “Successful entrepreneurs are risk-averse people. They use their valuable resources wisely and proceed systematically to reduce risks. “
You should know which resources are valuable to you. Be sure to use them wisely. Sometimes the best way to reduce risk is to repeat something that is already working.
5. “Invention eliminates compromises.”
The classic example of this is: If you want to achieve a high level of customer service, you have to accept high costs. Jeff has always urged us to achieve the highest level of customer service at the lowest possible cost. Amazon has shown time and time again that you can offer the best customer service with little expense. That requires innovation and excellent operational processes.
6. “Amazon operates in a narrow window in which it is difficult to store things on servers – except for us.”
Jeff mentioned this in the early 2000s. Amazon has spent the past few years building in-house systems that can store large amounts of data. With the help of this, these amounts of data can be quickly accessed by any product team in the company. For features like “Customers who bought this product also bought these products”, we needed personalized recommendations or real-time clickstream data.
Jeff constantly urged employees to constantly think about how we could take advantage of this short window of opportunity. Most of the ideas we tried either failed or never got the pulling power they needed. However, one of them was successful: the AWS S3 service, which heralded the dawn of cloud computing – the data cloud. Here I learned to pay attention to trends and to act quickly when you discover a trend that deserves attention. One big win can pay for many small failures.
7. “If measurement data is not checked regularly, you should assume that it is incorrect.”
With your key metrics, it’s important to understand how they are measured and how often they are checked. You will be surprised what you find.
8. “If you have a choice, choose to deal with honest customers.”
Most customers try to do the right thing – so act your own. Do not punish the majority for trying to combat wicked behavior by a small minority. A good example of this is customer returns. Most customers want to return something because they either find they don’t want the item or because you sent them a damaged or incorrect item. Amazon will refund the amount immediately (and may charge the customer a return shipping fee depending on the reason).
In the unlikely event that the return never arrives or that it is fraudulent, appropriate action will be taken. Do not punish the vast majority of people who try to do the right thing on the pretext of trying to reduce the cost of fraud. It can damage the trust of your best customers and lead to long-term costs for your business.
9. “Optimists tend to care for their own happiness.”
Some of the best entrepreneurs I’ve seen always have positive attitudes. Even when things don’t go the way they want, stay optimistic. They tend to be the more successful.
10. “Company culture starts with who you choose to work with. At a certain point, your company culture becomes self-reinforcing. “
I often advise companies in their early stages to define their corporate culture if they have not already defined it. As a result, they will have a deliberate hiring process that selects employees who reinforce that culture. When people in companies claim: “We are not what we used to be”, the cause can often be traced back to the lack of a conscious hiring process.
11. “It is easier to move from a high-frequency, low-value activity to a low-frequency, high-value activity than the other way around.”
If in doubt, build apps with high usage first and then apps with low usage – but with high value. AWS did this by first developing web services for storage and compute power. Only then were things like machine learning based predictive services developed. It would have been difficult to do it the other way around.
12. “Don’t feel smarter when the stock price goes up so you don’t have to feel more stupid when it goes down.”
As Benjamin Graham said, “In the short run the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it’s a Libra.” This reminder is very helpful in a volatile market. It ensures that you focus on the long-term and that you create sustainable added value.
13. “We have an unwavering belief that the long-term interests of shareholders are perfectly aligned with those of customers.”
If you’re ever scratching your head wondering why Amazon just did something, keep this quote in mind.
This article was translated from English and edited by Julia Knopf. You can read the original here.