Since the beginning, Jeff Bezos has been reminding his team that at Amazon, it is always Day 1. Every year, he reinforces the company's commitment to this philosophy by republishing the 1997 letter to shareholders in which he mapped out the Day 1 approach.
Here's how he described his vision for Amazon:
This is Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute well, for Amazon.com. Today, online commerce saves customers money and precious time. Tomorrow, through personalization, online commerce will accelerate the very process of discovery. Amazon.com uses the Internet to create real value for its customers and, by doing so, hopes to create an enduring franchise, even in established markets. ... Though we are optimistic, we must remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency.
That sense of urgency is what keeps Amazon acting like an aggressive startup two decades later, even though the company earns more than $100 billion annually.
Often, when companies reach a degree of success, they take their foot off the gas pedal. They get to a certain revenue number, reach a tipping point with the number of employees on staff, and then they try to figure out how to act more like a mature company.
In doing so, they end up abandoning the traits that enabled them to achieve their level of success in the first place. No bueno.
Being a big company doesn't mean you have to stop acting like an aggressive startup. And it doesn't mean you have to lose that sense of urgency that existed in the early days of your business that fueled your growth.
Amazon proves this is possible.
Bezos was recently asked what Day 2 looks like. He was frank with his response In his 2016 letter to shareholders:
Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.
Bezos expounded on what the Day 2 decline actually looks like for companies that find themselves in it:
To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.
The good news is, Bezos provides clear advice on how to keep your company acting like a startup with a sense of urgency. He breaks it down into four key areas.
1. Obsess over customers
Business is about creating value for your customers. To do that consistently over time, you have to be relentless about solving your customers' problems like none other. You have to create an experience for them that makes them feel like no other option will do.
According to Bezos, this is the most important aspect of being a Day 1 company. He notes, "Even when they don't know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight your customers will drive you to invent on their behalf."
2. Resist proxies
Processes are important because they help you operate efficiently and effectively. They help you deliver the same level of quality to your customers over and over again. But if you're not careful, your processes will run you.
Bezos explained the danger from this approach in his 2016 letter:
This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you're doing the process right. ... A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won't find any of it in a survey.
3. Embrace external trends
Independent of what is happening within your company and the vision you have for it, there are outside forces that are changing the way business is done. It is up to you to see the trends and embrace them, rather than waiting until you are forced to get on board.
Bezos described in his letter why this is imperative: "If you fight them, you're probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind."
4. Make high-velocity decisions
When you were just starting out, there was a ton of information you didn't have. So you had to work to make the best decision with the data that you had at your disposal.
You have to get comfortable doing the same even when you have the resources to get more information that provides you with a higher level of certainty.
Bezos has a strong point of view on this, citing in the letter that "most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases, you're probably being slow."
It's time to get back to Day 1. No matter your size. No matter how long you've been in business.