The Pequod Review:
Brad Stone's The Everything Store is an excellent overview of the founding and growth of Amazon. It covers Jeff Bezos’s early life, the company’s initial start selling books (here was their first home page), the Dot-com liquidity issues (without a well-timed $672 million European bond issuance in 2000 the company very well may have gone under, never to be heard from again), the decision to launch Amazon Prime, partnerships with Toys R Us and Starbucks (which almost took a significant ownership stake in the company), the launch of Kindle, and the growth of Amazon Web Services (although at the time of Stone’s book in 2013 it was not fully known just how profitable this division was). The book is well-sourced but also even-handed, and does not hide the fact that the company frequently used its power and resources to weaken companies like Diapers.com and Zappos so that it could acquire them later for cheaper prices.
Other useful insights emerge from Stone’s book:
-- Why incumbents are often slow to change. Here is Stone on Barnes & Noble: “[B&N’s owners] were reluctant to lose money on a relatively small part of their business and didn’t want to put their most resourceful employees behind an effort (web sales) that would siphon sales away from the more profitable stores. On top of that, their company’s distribution operation was well entrenched and geared toward servicing physical stores by sending out large shipments of books to a set number of locations. The shift from that to mailing small orders to individual customers was long, painful, and full of customer-service errors. For Amazon, that was just daily business.” When Bezos launched the Kindle, there were no sacred cows and in fact he specifically tasked the group with finding a way to kill Amazon’s own physical book business.
-- The importance of prioritizing the customer experience. Bezos would even go so far as to leave an empty chair at meetings to signify the imaginary customer.
-- Communication can be a sign of dysfunction. Bezos: “It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.”
-- The importance of a long-term perspective. Bezos: “I knew when I was eighty that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of think just ins’t something you worry about when you’re eighty years old. At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event. When I thought about it that way … it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”