Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jeff Bezos on believing and persisting

In a previous post, we talked about two key starting points for change: belief and persistence. Forbes magazine recently came out with an insightful piece about how Amazon.com grew to become the giant that is is today.
Bezos: [...] Our first shareholder letter, in 1997, was entitled, “It’s all about the long term.” If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.
In some cases, things are inevitable. The hard part is that you don’t know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you’re patient enough. Ebooks had to happen. Infrastructure web services had to happen. So you can do these things with conviction if you are long-term-oriented and patient.
Reading this excerpt made things click in my mind. If you're old enough to remember -- Amazon was in the red in its first 3 to 5 years. Despite this, Bezos persisted. Shareholders kept believing and investing in the store. Amazon kept wowing its customers even though they would lose money doing this. (I know some friends who got 2 copies of books they bought because the first shipment didn't arrive on time, so Amazon Fedexed replacement copies to rectify and then the first set of books arrived a week later). 


Just imagine. You're a fledgling company, you're losing money because you're not reaching the right  sales volume, and you insist on delivering great customer service at a loss. Most would have given up. Bezos believed and persisted and slowly, Amazon thrived. I especially like the last part of the excerpt on ebooks ("they had to happen" -- what faith this exhibits!). Bezos was ahead of his time and waited and waited and waited. 


To compare: as an IT businessman, I also saw that ebooks were coming (way back in 2001). So I made this proposal for an ebook store and sent it to some local book publishers and distributors I knew. They gave a lot of excuses. They hemmed and hawed. My faith on my proposal was weak and I threw away my proposal. Ten years later, I am buying ebooks. If I only persisted, I would have become a pioneer here in the Philippines. Today, I've made peace with this and treat it as an important lesson for me and my students in change management class.


If Amazon did not have a long-term vision in mind, and Bezos wasn't persistent, and his stakeholders weren't convinced of Amazon's long-term vision, then we wouldn't be seeing much of Amazon these days. I am thankful that Amazon and Bezos were stubborn. 


Read the full article on Bezos and Amazon here. 


Read the previous blog post titled "Believe and persist in your advocacy"

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