This weekend, I spent some time reviewing my notes on The Everything Store, written about the rise of Amazon – a story that’s inseparable from the rise of Jeff Bezos. Similar to Apple and Steve Jobs (through 2011, at least), the company and the founder are both one and the same. After having read Warfighting recently, one defining characteristic of Bezos that clearly resonates is his boldness. Bezos is nearly always willing to take risk to strike a decisive blow or innovate. This willingness is apparent in the very beginnings of Amazon; he left a high paying job at a quantitative hedge fund because he saw a massive paradigm shift – the rise of the internet – and decided he couldn’t be left behind. Not only does he decide he wants to participate in the rise of the internet, but he creates a vision of “The Everything Store”, with limitless selection and personalized service – a very small vision, indeed.
Examples of his boldness abound in the history of the company, on both the success and failure sides of the ledger. The Kindle (e-reader + tablet), AWS, Amazon Marketplaces, user generated reviews, personalized purchase recommendations, along with the core retailing business were all major successes. The Fire Phone, Amazon zShops, Amazon Auctions, the multiple massive distribution centers that were closed during the bubble, raising $2B+ of debt for poor acquisitions, and venture investing in a number of category specific e-commerce flameouts register as failures. All told, Bezos probably failed more than he succeeded. But his successes were orders of magnitudes larger and more impactful. AWS, which now pulls in $6B and growing in revenue, is proof enough.
Bezos is constitutionally unafraid to take big swings – the kind of swings that change the outcome of a battle, or drastically lower the costs of starting a technology business, and thereby enable a wave of innovative companies. The kind of swings that are exciting, both as an investor and a human being.