In 2018, Amazon delivered over 5 billion packages to its Prime members alone. The behemoth online retailer boasts more than 250 million square feet of owned and leased warehouse space, according to last year's annual report. Ranking second only to Walmart in number of employees, Amazon employs approximately 647,000 people. How does a company of this size not only function but continue to grow at such a mind-blowing pace?
In this interview at the George W. Bush Presidential Center's Forum on Leadership, Jeff Bezos credits four principles within Amazon's core values. "We go back to them over and over again," he says. "And if you look through each thing that we do, you will see them run straight through everything."
"The first and by far the most important one is customer obsession as opposed to competitor obsession," he says. "I have seen over and over again companies talk about being customer focused, but really when I pay close attention to them I believe they are competitor focused, and it's a completely different mentality, by the way."
Bezos goes on to explain that being competitor focused can work, but not in the long run. "If you're competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering," he says.
Don't be a follower, be an innovator. As technology, culture, and science, among other things, change and evolve, what might your customer base need or want? If you wait to see what your competitors come up with, you will always be a follower, never an innovator.
Eagerness to invent.
According to Bezos (and most likely public opinion, as well), Amazon loves to pioneer. "Whenever we have tried to do something in the me-too fashion, we have failed at it," he says. "We need to have something that is differentiated and unique--something that customers are going to like."
One of my clients is an importer, focused on wholesale décor for the food and entertainment industries. There is an aspect of her industry that is changing, and my client has the foresight to understand the issues it will undoubtedly create for her company. However, she also sees it as an opportunity to create yet another company. I won't disclose the details, but this is how a true entrepreneur invents his or her future. See the problems but invent solutions and opportunities instead of more problems.
"We are willing to take some time and be patient with the business initiatives that run through everything we do," Bezos says. Compared to many of Amazon's competitors, which might have two- to three-year timeframes, Bezos estimates that his company will have more of a five- to seven-year timeframe before an idea is fully vetted and implemented.
Entrepreneurs are known for their tendency to jump from one idea to the next. I've seen many small-business owners jump in too deep, only to cause a financial disaster and delay to their company's growth. If you are challenged in the focus department, create an accountability system by hiring a coach or working with a group of peers.
Amazon's standards are high, and systems are well thought out, tested, and updated as necessary. Bezos says such systems will identify defects at the root and correct them before a major problem emerges. It's from such a high level of professionalism that Amazon's theory of "doing things right just for the rich sake of doing them right" has evolved.
Systems and processes are not always top of mind for the busy small-business owner. Yet systemization saves time, money, and in many cases, your reputation. I've heard countless entrepreneurs say they don't have the time to document. Your lack of time is likely caused by the fact that you and your employees constantly recreate the wheel and fly by the seat of your pants. Additionally, a lack of systems and processes slows the training process as you onboard new employees.
Why not schedule a few hours to contemplate how higher-level thinking and the development of systems and processes would benefit your company? The longer you delay, the more difficult change becomes.