King’s Academy, November 10, 2016 - This week, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos shared with students how he built one of the most successful e-commerce companies on the planet, talked to them about his passion for pioneering affordable space travel, and explained why he is so optimistic about the future.
Bezos established Amazon.com in 1995 after quitting a lucrative job in finance and setting up office in his garage in order to target the as yet untapped potential of the internet market.
“To start an internet company, you need very little capital,” he said, addressing a full house in the Abdul Majeed Shoman Auditorium. “Two kids in a dorm room can do something great. Take it from me, anything can happen. It’s one step at a time. I started off delivering packages to the post office myself, and I dreamed of a time when we could afford a forklift.”
Bezos told students that the key was to find something that they love to do. “Figure out your passion, it will give you direction. It needs to be something that energizes you, not something that steals your energy. Once you identify that, you can build something amazing.”
Twenty-one years and a globally successful company later, Bezos says his job is still fun. “I dance into the office.”
In order to have a successful business, one should find where customer dissatisfaction lies and then provide a solution, Bezos said. This was the premise on which he founded Amazon.com, which in its first month of business received orders from customers in 50 US states and 45 countries. Today, Amazon has over 270 million active customer accounts worldwide, and ships to more than 75 countries.
Bezos believes that focusing on customers is at the heart of Amazon’s success.
“I’m always looking for signs that we take our customers for granted,” said Bezos, who spends two days every two years working at the customer service desk, and requires all Amazon employees to do the same. “We try to keep a culture of inventiveness and long-term thinking, but it’s the focus on the customer which is the most important.”
The company continues to outpace its competitors and lead the e-commerce industry. Bezos explained that by being customer-obsessed rather than competitor-obsessed, his staff - who number 117,000 worldwide - remain motivated to keep doing better. “The great thing about customers is that they are always dissatisfied, so you can always improve! If you are better than your competitors, you might not be motivated to run as far. But customers always want something better, so if you are trying to keep them happy, you’ll go further.”
Bezos told students that if there was one take away from their discussion that day, he hoped it was knowing that it is alright to experiment and to fail.
“The core of the company now is its culture of customer obsession, willingness to invent, and eagerness to fail. We invented a lot of things that we thought were amazing, but the customers didn’t care. But you can’t do big, bold, experimental things without a gamble. It’s important to be able to fail with no stigma attached,” he said.
Asked about the skills that he looks for in his employees, Bezos listed resourcefulness, ingenuity, creating solutions and inventing ways to get around problems as essential. He is careful to look for people who are thoughtful about not taking the easy way out.
“I need people who think long term, because they realize that things worth doing take time. They do it right because it’s important to them to do it right.”
Headmaster John Austin asked Bezos if he thought advances in technology and increasing workplace automation, such as self-driving cars, would result in a jobless future for the current generation.
“Automation has opened up the possibility of new careers that previous generations never dreamed of,” Bezos answered. “We need continued progress and activity; we need to keep building. Increasing productivity creates wealth in society. But rapid change can cause problems, so we need to train society to be able to cope with change.”
Amazon’s success has also made it possible for Bezos to pursue his life-long interest in space. In 2006 he began investing in Blue Origin, an aerospace company that develops technologies to offer space travel to paying customers.
“To get to space is expensive, and the cost holds back creativity. Blue Origin wants to take on the heavy lifting of the infrastructure costs, to make space travel affordable,” he said. “I want my legacy to be that Blue Origin lowered the cost of access to space, so that the next generation can be creative in space.”
Bezos was also asked if Amazon was responsible for disrupting traditional methods of buying, selling and reading books. He admitted it was, but explained that a good entrepreneurial company needs to disrupt the old way of doing things. Bezos noted that customers will inevitably choose new and better ways of doing things. In that way, disruption actually leads to improvements within the industry.
“I think we can see that same kind of entrepreneurial dynamism in space now,” he added. “I’m an optimist. If you go back over the centuries, there has never been a better time to be alive. We are living in a world that continues to get better. We should be optimistic about the future.”