October 21, 2013

Book review: The Everything Store

One of today's really powerful entrepreneurs is the founder of Amazon: Jeff Bezos (pronounced bay-zose). He might not be as famous as Steve Jobs, but he has built a company as powerful as Apple. But Amazon (not Amazon.com since March of 2012) is not Jeff Bezos's only company. While Steve Jobs reinvented movies with Pixar, Jeff Bezos plans to reinvent rockets with his rocket company Blue Origin. Other projects he has include the 10,000 Year Clock:
We are building a 10,000 Year Clock. It's a special Clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking. It's of monumental scale inside a mountain in West Texas. ...a Clock that ticks once a year, where the century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium.
I'm Swedish and Amazon is not big in Sweden, there's no Amazon.se, so Amazon to me was an online store where you could buy books, movies, etc. But a while ago, I found an article called "Who's afraid of Jeff Bezos." The short article listed everything Amazon really is, including book publisher, developer of e-book readers, owner of several large websites like IMDB, a provider of computer infrastructure, and much more. Jeff Bezos's large vision behind Amazon has begun to be reflected in stock price ($AMZN):
  

To learn more about Jeff Bezos, his companies, and his projects, I decided to read the newly released book
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I had earlier studied one of his companies called Blue Origin when I wrote a biography on the entrepreneur Elon Musk, and I had also studied Amazon in a few books were the company was briefly mentioned, and in articles. 

Jeff Bezos early life can be compared with other well-known entrepreneurs. He grew up in a so called dysfunctional family - his mother met a new husband who adopted Jeff Bezos as his own son. His real father had problems and saw Jeff Bezos for the last time when the soon-to-be billionaire was three years old. The Stanford professor, Steve Blank, argued that a disproportionate number of entrepreneurs grew up in similar dysfunctional families. Steve Jobs was adopted, and the parents of Elon Musk (founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX, PayPal, SolarCity) divorced when he was nine years old. Starting a company is a chaotic process and growing up in a dysfunctional families prepares you for these endeavors - or as Elon Musk often says: 
Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death. 
"Staring into the abyss of death" means that the entrepreneur is constantly facing the extermination of the company because 90 percent of all new companies fail. "Eating glass" means that the entrepreneur has to work with the problems benefiting the company most – not the most fun problems. The Everything Store reveals how Jeff Bezos ate glass and stared into the abyss of death when he founded Amazon. It revealed how the analysts argued how Amazon would die after the crash of the dot.com bubble, how Amazon had to kill the bad ides they had spent millions on, how to deal with top employees who began working for Google, and the logistical nightmare behind how to deliver everything to anywhere.

Jeff Bezos is smart and has a high working morale. He forced his employees to work as hard as he did. If they failed, he had the same temperament as Steve Jobs. Those who failed could hear something like; "I'm sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?" or "Are you lazy or just incompetent?" The employees were encouraged to use cars to get to work - not travelling by bus - because Jeff Bezos thought they would work late in the evenings if they didn't need to schedule their travel home. Some employees couldn't handle it, but those who could were rewarded by a career and wealth from the increase of the stock price.

If you were as uninformed as I was about Jeff Bezos and his companies, you will learn everything you need by reading The Everything Store. Because Jeff Bezos didn't participated in the book himself - he thought it would be difficult to tell the true story of Amazon because history in hindsight is often different from what really happened. So the book might not be as detailed as the book on Steve Jobs regarding facts about Jeff Bezos himself - and it might be as exciting. The problem with the story of Jeff Bezos is the lack of really dramatic events. The story of Steve Jobs included when he was fired from Apple, how he saved Apple from death, and when he got cancer. The story of Elon Musk included exploding rockets and how he almost died from malaria. The life story of Jeff Bezos is less dramatic, so the book may sometimes be a little dull. But it was worth the read and is as well-written as the book on Steve Jobs.

(Adlibris, Adlibris, Adlibris, Bokus, Bokus)