Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: Why success depends on not being efficient sometimes
Amazon is a business about efficiency: You can order almost anything you want and it will arrive on your doorstep extremely quickly.
Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says it’s built into the company’s DNA: “At Amazon, I know what the big ideas are: low prices, fast delivery and vast, huge selection,” he said in September.
But for employees at Amazon, there is actually a time to be inefficient too, Bezos said in his annual letter to shareholders, published Thursday.
Bezos calls it “wandering.”
“Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute,” Bezos writes. “In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient.”
But “the prize for customers is big enough that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there,” he writes.
Wandering is guided “by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity,” and it is “an essential counter-balance to efficiency,” Bezos says. “You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries — the ‘non-linear’ ones — are highly likely to require wandering.”
Bezos wants to give Amazon’s 647,500 full- and part-time employees (as of December) room to do more than execute.
“From very early on in Amazon’s life, we knew we wanted to create a culture of builders — people who are curious, explorers. They like to invent,” Bezos writes. “Even when they’re experts, they are ‘fresh’ with a beginner’s mind. They see the way we do things as just the way we do things now.”
In addition to time for wandering, that also means there needs to be room to fail.
“A builder’s mentality helps us approach big, hard-to-solve opportunities with a humble conviction that success can come through iteration: invent, launch, reinvent, relaunch, start over, rinse, repeat, again and again. They know the path to success is anything but straight,” Bezos writes.
Sometimes that even means having “multibillion-dollar failures,” he says.
The calculus behind having the confidence to wander and fail is knowing that when an idea works, it can work big.
For example, “no customer was asking for Echo. This was definitely us wandering,” says Bezos.
“Market research doesn’t help. If you had gone to a customer in 2013 and said, ‘Would you like a black, always-on cylinder in your kitchen about the size of a Pringles can that you can talk to and ask questions, that also turns on your lights and plays music?’ I guarantee you they’d have looked at you strangely and said, ‘No, thank you,’” Bezos writes.
Since being released, however, the Echo has been wildly successful. Customers have bought more than 100 million devices to run Alexa.
“The good news for shareowners is that a single big winning bet can more than cover the cost of many losers,” Bezos says.
Jack Ma’s Iron Triangle
I was cleaning out some files and came across notes from Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built.
THE IRON TRIANGLE
According to this book, Ali Baba’s rise has been the result of a combination of three strengths : E-commerce, logistics and finance. The author refers to these as the “Iron Triangle”
E-commerce, logistics, finance.
Ali Bababa’s e-commerce sites offer an unparalleled variety of goods to consumers. Its logistics offering ensures those goods are delivered quickly and reliably. Finance subsidiary ensures that Alibaba can get paid via a process is easy and worry free.
One can’t help but notice that there are many companies that have one or two parts of the iron triangle, but few that have all three. Of course there were several unique characteristics of China that Jack Ma has profitably exploited. It will be interesting to see if he succeeds in bringing this model abroad to other emerging markets, and to developed markets.
China’s retail market is highly fragmented and inefficient.
“Key factor in success of e-commerce in China is the burden of real estate on traditional retailers. Land is expensive in China because it is a crucial source of income for the government. Land sales account for one-quarter of the government’s fiscal revenues. At the local government level they account for more than one-third. A prominent e-commerce executive summed it up “ because of the way our economy is structured, the government has a lot of resources. The Government decides the price of land…. The government relies too heavily on the taxes and fees associated with selling land. That almost destroyed the retail business in China, and pushed a lot of demand online. They deprived offline retailers of the opportunity to benefit from rising consumer demand- which they effectively channeled to e-commerce players. “
As a consequence, there has been far less investment in marketing, customer service, human resources or logistics in China’s traditional retail sector in the West. The result? China’s retail market is highly fragmented and inefficient. In the United States, the top 3 grocery chains account for 37% of all sales, In China they account for just 7 percent.
Despite all the shopping malls, offline retail penetration is quite low. In China there is six square feet of retail space per person, less than ¼ the amount in the US. Nature abhors a vacuum, and online retail filled in the gap left by inefficiencies.
“China’s e commerce market differs in important ways from the US and other western economies, the legacy of decades of state planning and important role played by state-owned enterprises. Alibaba has sought out and exploited inefficiencies these have creates, first in e-commerce, now in media and finance. “
Yiwu wholesale market was the template for first e-commerce operations. E commerce had started out with non-standardized products for mom and pop businesses.Lack of national supply chains removed barriers to entry that exist in west, making it possible for individuals to make a money.
Now China has greater e-commerce penetration than the US. Its always fascinating to see the leapfrogging phenomenon in action.
China post laughed at Jack Ma’s attempt to enter logistics.
Zhejiang, where Ali Baba is headquartered is now home to most of China’s largst curior companies: Shentong(STO Express), Tuantong (YTO Express), Zhongtong ZTO Express, Yunda. This small cluster, referred to as the “Tonglu Gang” delivers 50% of all packages
Note that Wells Fargo had its own parcel delivery service in California gold rush.
Having its own financial services arm, Alipay diffuses trust throughout e-commerce empire. The rise of the smartphone was huge for Ali Baba’s financial services segment. Many financial innovations happened in nearby Wenzhou.
Ali Baba exploited inefficiencies in the financial services market, just like it did with online retail. State owned banks paid little heed to needs of individuals and small businesses. Alibaba has access to entire trading history of business customers, much better position to assess credit risk than traditional banks.
Jack Ma’s story is quite inspiring for entrepreneurs.
In 1978, only 728 foreign tourists visit Hangzhou. Jack Ma went to the one hotel where foreigners went and read an English book, starting at 5 am. Every . Single. Day. He’d give free tours of West Lake to foreign tourists in exchange for English practice . He did this day for 9 years.
Long before Ali Baba, Jack Ma had an online directory business called China Pages. When he launched China Pages hardly any one in China had the internet.
Instead Jack came up with an alternative approach. First, he spread the word through friends and contact about what the Internet could do for their business. He then asked those interested to send him marketing materials to introduce their companies and products.
Then he mailed them to Seattle, had a company put them online. Then he printed out screenshots of websites and mailed them to friends.
People treated him like a con man, because he would get people to pay him $2,400(in RMB at the the then exchange rate), to design and host a website, even though the clientele couldn’t see the internet. That was a lot of money in China back then. He must have been a great salesman if he could get customers to pay that much for something they couldn’t see
KEY LESSONS FROM JACK MA’S EARLY INTERNET BUSINESSES
“It is difficult for an elephant to trample an ant to death as long as you can dodge well. “
More tech entrepreneurs began to emerge as China invested in telecom infrastructure. But internet bubble came and went. How did Jack Ma navigate this?
“ for Jack, the bursting of the bubble represented a great opportunity for Alibaba “ I made a call to our Hangzhou team and said “Have you heard the exciting news about the Nasdaq? … I’d like to have had a champagne on hand. This is healthy for the market, healthy for companies like us
He felt confident that now the IPO gate had closed, venture capital would stop funding Alibaba’s competitors. “In the next three months, more than sixty percent of the internet companies in China will close their doors, he said, adding that Alibaba had spent only $5 million of the $25 million it had raised. “ We haven’t touched our second round funding. “ We have lots of gasoline in our tank.”
Once the bubble burst, Alibaba started using the cash it had built up. Jack started hiring foreign talent and travelling around to tradeshows.
TAO BAO’S IRON TRIANGLE CRUSHES E-BAY
Two key lessons from Ebay’s failure in China:
Localize, Localize, Localize
Its critical to have a faster product development cycle( this fits with John Boyd’s OODA Loop)
Ebay in China was led by foreigners and foreign educated with little knowledge of local amret. They tried to force feed American website standards.
Ebay’s arrogant disaster in China is a valuable business lesson. They continued to represent to investors that they were winning in China, but they lost disastrously. Alibaba had a faster product development cycle(ie OODA loop), and it adapted more quickly to local needs than eBay. eBay burned a lot of money. In the process, E Bay made everything look great on powerpoints and conference calls , but at odds with situation on ground.
Corporate headquarters demoralized local talent, (they ran a site called EachNet in China)
“This gap was reflected in the design of the two rivals’ websites. eBay moved quickly to align the EachNet site with its global site, revamping how products were categorized and altering the design and functionality of the website. This not not only confused customers, but also alienated a number of important merchants who saw their previously valuable China account names had been deleted. This invalidated their trading history and forced them to reapply for new names on an unfamiliar global platform. Worse still, the Chinese websites lacked a customer service telephone number. Ebay’s China site, modeled closely on eBay in the States looked foreign to local users, who found it “empty” when compared to local sites.
In website design, culture matters.
Taobao structured like local bazaar. Edge in e-commerce(see iron triangle above). Better understanding of country’s merchants. Let them do initial listings for free. Eachnet gave into short term shareholder pressure to charge for simply listing products online.
“Ebay just wouldn’t take Alibaba seriously, questioning the reliability of mounting data that showed Taobao was selling more goods than eBay in China. Taobao now had more listings, but eBay convinced itself that because these listings were free, they must be inferior. Jack vigorously rejected that thesis: “The survival and growth of Taobao are not because of the free service. 1Pao[the joint venture of Yahoo and Sina] is also free but it is nowhere close to Taobaol. Taobao is more eBay than eBay China [because] Taobao pays more attention to user experiences.”
Sensing it was over Alan Tien concluded, “Taobao’s product development cycle is much faster. Jack Ma’s right. We cannot fight on his terms.”
Jack Ma’s Iron Triangle had won.
مثلث آهنی علیبابا
جک ما سه ضلع (تجارت الکترونیکی)، (لجستیک) و (تامین مالی) را مثلث آهنی علی بابا میخواند.