Being Bezos (or not)- 4 things you can learn from Amazon CEO

I’ve just finished reading the “Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Everything-Store-Bezos-Amazon-ebook/dp/B00BWQW73E).

This happened to coincide with Amazon reporting strong Q1 of 2015 with sale topping $22.7 billion.

"Jeff Bezos' iconic laugh" by Steve Jurvetson - Flickr: Bezos’ Iconic Laugh. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Jeff Bezos’ iconic laugh” by Steve Jurvetson – Flickr: Bezos’ Iconic Laugh. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Over more than 400 pages the author, Brad Stone, tells the story of the online behemoth, of the growth of internet technology over the past two decades, but more than everything else, this book focused on the personality and mindset of Amazon founder and CEO- Jeff Bezos.

I’m not going to tell you that by reading this book you will become like Bezos. In fact, there’s very little chance that you will one day become as rich or influential as Bezos. But you will also never be him personally, and that might be a good thing because according to this biography he is not the most pleasant man around. But what you should do is learn from the man, not try to copy him. So here are several things I picked by reading this book.

  1. Long term thinking- if you take nothing else from Bezos, you simply must embrace this principle ( I wrote a seperate post about this topic: https://owntrepreneurship.com/2015/03/30/the-benefits-of-long-term-thinking-and-decision-making/)
    Bezos thinks not in days or months but in years and decades. This mindset has helped him to raise above petty arguments and create a clear vision for his career and later, his company. A famous story mentioned in the book describes how Bezos was ready to leave the wall street firm he was working with to start Amazon.com. His CEO at the time tried to persuade him to stay onboard for another quarter- there were bonuses involved so financially it made sense. Bezos asked to think this over the weekend and reverted that it was time for him to leave. When the CEO asked what so urgent he was said that when he will be 80 years old and looking back on this decision, a few thousands dollars more or less (salary and bonus) would not made such a difference. But had he chose to stay and therefore missed the opportunity of a lifetime (internet retail was just beginning then, and everyone was rushing to grab a piece of the market) he would have regretted this his whole life. When you’re not even 30 years old and thinking what you might feel at 80- now this is long term thinking..
  2. Determination– Jeff was a determined kid, teenager, student, employee and now CEO. His determination made things which were conceived to be impossible (like an online store where you could buy everything) a reality. It will also make commercial drones possible and perhaps even commercial space flights. When he sets out to do something, he doesn’t stop until it’s either done or failed miserably.
  3.  Not afraid to fail- Bezos is certainly not afraid to fail, and usually takes bold risks which often result in millions of dollars lost. He seems to be fine with it, as long as it improved the overall scheme of things (product, customer experience etc.).
  4. Simple, clear vision-At Amazon it is clear that the company’s goal is to provide the best possible customer experience. If this requires lowering prices, crunching the competitors and hurting the stock price- so be it. Everyone in the company knows that and Jeff constantly re-iterates his vision in any communication (internal and external). This in turn creates the culture he desires which feeds the growth of the company.

You’re not going to be Bezos, so don’t try to. But you can try to see how these personality traits can be incorporated in your life and career. After all, these have made him what he is today, so they are proven to work (at least for him..)

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Owntrepreneurship- finding your inspiration

No doubt about it, starting your journey to be an Owntrepreneur is daunting. There are so many reasons against it, the most powerful is the power of habit (breaking this “habit trap” is a subject of another post).

So I will provide one very powerful tip to help in this critical and difficult step. The trick it simple- find someone else who’s “done it” before, and try walking in their shoes- or, at least, be inspired by them.

Find your inspiration
Find your inspiration

But finding someone who inspires you is more difficult than most people think. The obvious choice is to find extremely successful people, some of them actual entrepreneurs, and choose these as role models. For example, few would argue Steve Jobs’s phenomenal skills and entrepreneurial spirit (I do recommend at least seeing the speech he delivered to the graduates of Stanford University www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA- truly inspiring), as well as business and personal success. But how many would really want to BE Jobs? By all accounts the man was not a pleasant man, and reigned on his subordinates like a modern, Silicon Valley tyrant. Or Jeff Bezos, another dot.com maverick, who’s fiercely competitive and said on numerous occasions that to work on his company: “You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three”.

I have tremendous respect for these two innovators, but I do not wish to be like them. Not one bit. So I’ve started looking for inspiration elsewhere, with the people I know and admire. I’ve thought about my teachers at school and professors at the university (some of which who’s pioneered new areas in research), about my commanding officers in the navy and current and former bosses. But the longer I thought about this the more the answer became obvious- the Owntrepreneur I should be following is none other than my later mother. My Mother, Dorit Gutman (who passed away nearly 7 years ago) was a true Owntrepreneur. After teaching Biology in high school for many years she decided she wanted more and was part of a very small group of parents who started a brand new school with radical approach- the Democratic school of Hadera. She’s done so to allow my sister and I to enjoy better schooling than what the orthodox schools offered. Shortly after she started being involved in this initiative she left her teaching job and started working full time on her new venture, and later was elected by the group (by then an NGO) to serve as the co-principle (and later sole principle), a position she held for more than a decade during which the school has grown from couple of dozens of student to several hundreds, winning local an international awards and starting a nation-wide trend of alternative schools. But eventually she grew tired of it, resigned from managing the school and focus on her new interest- coaching. In a short time span she cultivated quite a following and was delivering workshops, private consulting sessions and training other to become coachers and counsels.

While I love my mother deeply and admire her achievements, it only recently dawned upon me that amongst other things, she had true Owntrepreneurial spirit. She was highly respected within the boundaries of her profession, and when these no longer suited her she broke them and started something completely new, only to do the same several years later.

And the since I was close to her for most of this time (although too young to comprehend everything), I can use here tremendous experience and utilize this a source of inspiration for my own Owntrepreneurial journey.

Sadly, she died of cancer I’m not able to consult with her and receive her direct advice- a fact which saddens me deeply. But nonetheless I have a great example in front of me- someone I know, who’s embarked on a journey they had no idea will be successful, and manage to succeed through all the difficulties, while raising a family and being a genuine, loving and caring person.

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is. So Jeff, Bill or Steve, please forgive me. While you are all great examples of Owntrepreneurship, I choose my mom over you any day.