business news in context, analysis with attitude

Now available on iTunes…

To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

Last week, when announced that it was acquiring online shoe retailer Zappos, it also released an eight-minute video that featured founder and CEO Jeff Bezos offering a list of everything he knows about doing business after 15 years running Amazon. I’m not sure how many of you knew about it or had a chance to watch it, so let me break down the basics for you…with some addenda of my own.

It is, he says, a short list…and he had it all on one simple handwritten flip chart. (So much for the rest of us who spend hours building dynamic animations on PowerPoint or Keynote. Leonardo da Vinci once said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” so by that measure, Bezos is incredibly sophisticated…which we sort of knew anyway from how he’s created a pioneering and highly successful business.)

Number one: Obsess over customers. “When given the choice between obsessing over competitors or obsessing over customers, we always obsess over customers,” he says. “We like to start with customers and work backwards…if you truly obsess over customers, it will cover a lot of errors.”

Now, my complete infatuation with Amazon has been well-documented here on MorningNewsBeat, and I know not all of you agree with me; in fact, one MorningNewsBeat user responded to the news that Amazon was buying Zappos with a note saying that this meant that she’d never shop Zappos again. But let’s face it – even though it is hardly a perfect system, Amazon does have a great reputation not just for customer service, but for delighting customers more often than not. A lot more often than not.

Number two: Invent. “Anytime we have a problem, we never accept either/or thinking,” Bezos says. “We try to figure out a solution tat gets both things and that often requires invention…and you can invent your way out of any box if you believe if you can … it is not a customer’s job to invent for themselves … they won’t tell you everything, so you need to invent on their behalf.”

I think the Kindle is a great example of inventing something that the customer wasn't shouting for…but that Amazon intuitively knew might find a marketplace. Sometimes, we can’t just read reports and surveys and figure put what people are asking for; we have to innovate on their behalf, even if it involves the risk of failure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The alternative is stagnation.

Number three. Think long-term. Any company that wants to focus on customers and put customers first, any company that wants to invent on behalf of customers, has to be willing to think long-term. Bezos says that such thinking often won’t pay dividends for the company and its shareholders for five or seven years, though it may pay dividends for customers almost immediately; he also says that thinking long-term “requires…and allows...a willingness to be misunderstood.”

This is probably why Amazon frustrates the stock market, which thrives on short-term plays. And a great example of this, I expect, is Amazon’s grocery business – it may not be an enormous factor in its business right now, but this is a strategic move that may well pay big dividends long-term.

And, number four. “It’s always Day One,” Bezos says. “There’s always more invention in the future, always more customer innovation, new ways to obsess over customers.”

I agree with this whole-heartedly. The best approach is the one that has the hunger of a start-up. You think smarter, you think faster, and you take more risks.

What all these things add up to is the fact that Amazon – just like companies such as Apple and Costco and Trader Joe’s – specializes in being a disruptive influence in the marketplace. It takes assumptions about products and services and shoppers and turns them on their heads. And then does it again. And again.

Sure, it’s a short list, and a simple one. But there’s a lot of wisdom there, and we all would be advised to learn his lessons well.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
KC's View: