The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone


I finished listening to Journalist Brad Stone‘s audiobook The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon today. This was a good book full of aha moments for me. A few months back I read another of Brad’s book The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World, which was not bad but nothing compared to this book. In this book, Brad reveals many things about Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Considering how big of a topic Jeff and Amazon are, despite it was published in 2013, he has covered pretty well within the 576 pages. We learned to shop online, learned to read books, and learned to quickly build distributed software systems from Amazon. I got a pretty good idea of how visionary, intelligent & smart, ruthless & brutal a leader Jeff Bezos is. However, I think a lot more has happened in Amazon in the last 7 years that a second book needs to be written on that.

Some of the things I could immediately recall after reading the book are – 

  • Importance of internet and e-commerce
  • Jeffism, Jeffbots, and J-Team in Amazon
  • Regret-minimization framework
  • Jeff’s passion for space – building rockets in Seattle with Blue Origin
  • Work-life harmony, not work-life balance
  • Fewer perks in general, for example, no parking for employees
  • Starbucks trying to get ownership of early Amazon
  • Jeff’s investment in Google while in Series A at 1998
  • Competition with eBay via Amazon Marketplace
  • Competition with Walmart, Target in retail business going online
  • Outsmarting Barnes & Nobles, Borders for books
  • Outsmarting Circuit City for electronics
  • Learning from Apple’s win in music with iPod and applying it for Kindle in electronic book reading and publishing
  • Jeff’s interactions with Tim O’Reilly and the birth of Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Aggressive acquisitions of a few competitors like Zippo, Quidsi
  • May failed experiments – selling diamonds, pets.com 
  • Amazon’s leadership principles
  • Jeff’s grandfather’s remark to Jeff when he was very young – “Jeff, one day you will understand. It’s harder to be kind than clever.
  • Amazon Prime
  • Amazon Fulfillment Service, A9, Lab126
  • Sales tax fights with different states

Here are some of the key takeaways from this book.

  • Long term vision – never be short-sighted
  • Failing is essential – A few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work
  • Reading and learning – learn and grow by reading a lot of books
  • Knowing where you stand – know your situation and what you can do to improve, where you want to be
  • Start small. Take action. Evolve.
  • Missionary not mercenary – satisfy your customers’ needs; focus on customers, not competitors

I am particularly fascinated to know how difficult it is to work with him. Here is an excerpt – 
Steve Jobs was known for the clarity of his insights about what customers wanted, but he was also known for his volatility with coworkers. Apple’s founder reportedly fired employees in the elevator and screamed at underperforming executives. Perhaps there is something endemic in the fast-paced technology business that causes this behavior because such intensity is not exactly rare among its CEOs. Bill Gates used to throw epic tantrum. Steve Ballmer, his successor at Microsoft, had a propensity to throw chairs. Andy Grove, the longtime CEO of Intel, was known to be so harsh and intimidating that a sub-ordinate once finked during a performance review. Jeff Bezos fits comfortably in this mold.
Below are some of the quotes from the book that testifies how seamlessly he belongs to that group.

  • “Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
  • “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
  • “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
  • “If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself.”
  • “Does it surprise you that you don’t know the answer to that question?”
  • “Are you trying to take credit from something that you had nothing to do with?”
  • “I trust you to run world-class operations, and this is another example of how you are letting me down.”
  • “If that’s our plan, I don’t like the plan.”
  • [After reviewing the annual plan from the supply chain team] “I guess supply chain isn’t doing anything interesting next year.”
  • [After reading a start-of-meeting memo] “This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document.”
  • [After an engineer’s presentation] “Why are you wasting my life?”
  • [After someone presented a proposal] “We need to apply some human intelligence to this problem.”

There are few things that I would like to know more hopefully from another book on Jeff and Amazon that are either not covered or only has been touched at a cursory level in this book are – 

  • Type 1 vs Type 2 Decisions
  • Silent Meeting Manifesto
  • 2 Pizza Team and Agile Delivery Methodology
  • Jeff Bezos’s original 1997 letter to public shareholders
  • Audible, Goodreads, imdb, Alexa

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