Jeff Bezos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in Houston, Texas. After completing his education with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, he went on to work as an investment banker in Wall Street between 1986 to 1994 when he quit to launch Amazon.
Beginning as an online bookstore, he eventually added more products to the store slowly with time. In 2000, he ventured into aerospace by launching Blue Origin. In 2013 he purchased the Washington Post for $250 million in cash. As of the writing of this article, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in modern history with a net worth of $150 billion.
Jeff is definitely a well driven individual. He has built Amazon to become the biggest online retail company in the world. The company is ever expanding into new markets. Even as it serves hundreds of millions of customers per year, the surface is unscratched and the CEO is unrelenting in the push to get into newer markets where billions of people are not served by the company or any other eCommerce company yet.
He is living the American dream today. We figured it would be very important to delve into his beliefs and philosophies running the world’s biggest online shopping store. For startups who aspire to become companies of a lifetime, here is the Jeff Bezos definitive PR and marketing guide to become successful:
1) Value your customers
Jeff Bezos’ rule book has customers at the very top of the chain. They are the reason he advances Amazon from one level of greatness to another. He obsesses over the customers, wants to offer the best products at the best possible prices, fast delivery, and faster turnaround on complaints and returns.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
He advises startups to focus on ensuring the customers have the best possible service they can offer. In their millions, Amazon customers still get some of the very best customer services. What about a startup with only a couple of hundreds? It is the happiness of the customer that pushes the companies to the next level. Jeff insists that Amazon, in its early days, only survived because of the word of mouth from customers who had positive experiences shopping books with them.
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”
2) Treat employees like owners
Despite various allegations in the recent past of bad treatment at Amazon by some former employees of the company, Jeff Bezos has always retained that Amazon is what it is because it treats its employees like owners of the company.
“When I interview people, I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” he wrote in a letter to employees in 1997.
Consequently, Amazon’s extremely driven and demanding work culture has attracted among the best talents in the world around all sectors from marketing to engineering.
“We know our success will be largely affected by our ability to attract and retain a motivated employee base, each of whom must think like, and therefore actually be, an owner.”
3) Hire well
A company’s culture is best shaped by the earliest employees who work for it. The never ending Amazon speed and work ethic was shaped very much by Bezos in the early days as it was shaped by the first people he hired. According to the now richest man in the world, hiring the best talent is about looking for one trait: being right.
“Smart people can be wrong a lot of times” he said once. It is not about how smart you are that makes you work at Amazon. It is about the number of times you have made the right call in tough situations and it worked out well for the company you worked for. Jeff Bezos is always looking for a track record of the number of times you have made the right call.
Whether it was guided by data, or instinct, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you were right then, and a couple of times that followed.
“I want people who are right most of the time. It’s always better in business to be right than smart.”
4) Get an under-served market
When Amazon was starting out, the bookstores would stock only best sellers. It was hard for young publishers or new authors to make it in the market. And they were plenty of them. Jeff Bezos figured that if he could stock their books and sell them online as the internet continued to take shape, then they would all eventually submit their books to his online store for sell. It would provide a wider market than what a bookstore could. They could market their books from there too.
The book selling business was definitely very problematic especially for new books without glorious New York Times reviews. His advice to startups today is that there are still lots of problems in the world today that can be solved by a new way of thinking. Finding an under-served market and putting in your best effort to make your product solve the problem places you in a better position to succeed.
5) Tell a story
When speaking to graduates in a recent graduation ceremony at his alma mater, Princeton University, he ended the talk by telling the group to build themselves a great story.
In all the weight of this tip, you can look at Amazon as a great story. A great American dream that came to life. For Jeff, it is about your story when you are 80 years old. Do you look back and rejoice at your story, or do you wish you were younger to redo that story?
Storytelling is at the forefront of today’s biggest companies in every sector. We have discussed Coca-Cola’s amazing short story that led to its founding in Simon Sinek’s feature article a while back. Apple is another great story built and told in the eyes of Steve Jobs. The Microsoft story by Bill Gates has always been one of the most written and featured in books by authors around the world. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is a storytelling fanatic, always discussing the vision and mission that keeps Facebook on track.
Startups must realise that behind every great company is a beautiful story. In the 90s starting a company from a garage was a beautiful story. Today it is no longer appealing as much because so many founders have done it. There was uniqueness in that kind of beginning at the time. Now, startups have to find various story angles to tell their stories.
At Pressfarm we have worked with hundreds of startups now and one thing is clear; so many founders struggle with storytelling.
The message behind the founding of your startup, the milestones, the tough and sleepless nights, these are all story angles that could be used to achieve proper marketing and enhance your public relations.
As a PR firm, the founder’s story is among the first things we want to know before embarking on a journey with a startup. Because just the same way the Amazon story is compelling and has been written about, is how we want our startups featured in the press. Journalists love a good story and they will write about it all day long.
6) Be stubborn but be flexible
Jeff Bezos has always handled the mission of Amazon in a stubborn manner. In fact, he insists, this is what has kept the company on course behind so many reasons to quit.
“Be stubborn on vision but flexible on details.”
The vision by Amazon has never wavered. Not in the face of calamities, shareholders’ disapproval or low revenues and sales.
However, the ways to achieve that vision is in the details. And the Amazon boss insists that you must be flexible in the details. If the suggestion from someone in the board of directors, or the team, or a customer helps you to get to your vision, be willing to try it, but do not quit on the vision. All suggestions must be made around that vision in order to achieve it. According to him, how you get there is negotiable but the goal remains the goal.
“If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.”
7) Do not obsess over the competition
Do not bother about competitors, care only about the customers. If you focus too much on the competition, you forget the goal for which you launched your company. You lose your focus, and the customers start to wonder whether the competition is actually better at your job.
“When [competitors are] in the shower in the morning, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get ahead of one of their top competitors. Here in the shower, we’re thinking about how we are going to invent something on behalf of a customer.”
8) Know when to ignore the hierarchy chain
When looking for solutions to problems within companies, many are the times that bosses ignore the advice or suggestions from junior members of the team. Bezos advices every founder of a startup not to be that guy. You have to understand that even as your company grows and begins to have an organizational chart and hierarchy chains, ideas by the junior-most people can do so much good for the company.
“The great thing about fact-based decisions is that they overrule the hierarchy. The most junior person in the company can win an argument with the most senior person with regard to a fact-based decision. For intuitive decisions, on the other hand, you have to rely on experienced executives who’ve honed their instincts.”
When suggestions and solutions are provided on the basis of facts, it is easy to listen even to the least experienced team member; and essential so. However, if a decision relies on instincts, experienced team members are better because they have sharpened that skill over a long time to understand the implications of a decision they might make.
9) Focus on the long-term
In the startup world today, so many founders think they can come in, launch a company, make some quick cash to convince an investor, then get seed funding and eventually exit after selling for a billion bucks. Jeff Bezos thinks that is a crazy way to build a company. 10 years ago, Amazon was not as big as it is today. 18 years ago, it was trying to recover from the dotcom crash. It is the resilience and focus on the long-term game that has made it the gargantuan company it is today.
Founders of startups must strive to build companies that can last a lifetime. Companies that last a life-time have been tried and tested in the rough muddy terrain and gone through some of the toughest times. They have withstood those, and are proven.
Do not chase the quick short term dollar, especially if it jeopardizes the values of your company. It is understandable to want to make some quick cash to keep the company afloat in the early days. However, ensure that it is informed and based on the long-term goal of the company.
10) Don’t be afraid to fail
Jeff Bezos has overseen some of the biggest failures in Amazon. The Amazon Fire Phone cost the company millions of dollars before they eventually discontinued it in 2015. However, this is a more recent failure among many more in the near past.
In 2000 after the dotcom crash, the company dwindled in sales and the stock came tumbling down in a depreciation of about 80% its initial value. The shareholders were ready to quit. The employees were tensed and they didn’t know if the company would survive.
In that year, Amazon was barely the humongous company it is today. It would have been so easy for Jeff Bezos to call it quits and run the company down to its closure. However, even with everyone looking at it from the failure point of view, Jeff was undeterred. Relentlessly he kept pushing on.
He wrote a letter to the Amazon shareholders and employees that year, and his focus was on the future. A paragraph from it stated:
“Amazon.com today [has] the brand, the customer relationships, the technology, the fulfillment infrastructure, the financial strength, the people, and the determination to extend our leadership in this infant industry and to build an important and lasting company.”
In that letter and in the face of failure, he showed why he was unmoved. Even more, he proved that he can take short-lived failure with a chin up and focus on the long-term goal.
Startups should understand that failure will happen no matter how big or small. How you approach it is more important. Even when things are going off in the short-term, long-term goals should still help you get back up from the point of failure.
11) Run a lean company
The lean startup methodology might appear to have been coined only recently as the startup industry started to become more common. However, entrepreneurs from centuries past have been bootstrapping for ages. Amazon is no exception. In the initial years, Jeff Bezos literally run everything in the company. He was the salesman, the accountant, the marketer, the CEO, the head of strategy, and every other role you could care to mention.
The point for startups is that you have to run lean as long as possible, and instead of hiring more people to increase the wage bill when you don’t have to, use the finances to improve the product and drive more sales.
Avoid unnecessary expenses, and focus on the customer and the product. Improve as much as possible on the mechanisms and systems that deploy more sales instead of trying to hire every talent you can get. If you have more trial customers than paying customers, find ways to convert them. Instead of getting a bigger office space for you, use the funds to expand the business. Instead of hiring yet another door-to-door salesman,use Google advertising or Facebook ads to get the word about your company out because you will spend less and get useful data to improve your future advertising campaigns.
Even in its current status as one of the largest companies in the world, Amazon still minimizes on spending a lot in employee cash salaries and instead uses stock to compensate more so that they reinvest the money in the company to keep the wheel moving.
12) Maintain the startup mindset and culture
It can be challenging to maintain the startup culture in a company that is continuously growing. For a company the size of Amazon, it is even harder. However, for so many years after Google become a multibillion dollar company, it was still considered a startup. This applies to Facebook and Salesforce too. Amazon moved from startup zone to a big startup zone.
The secret in maintaining the startup mindset and culture according to Jeff Bezos is to always stay customer-focused. Never get complacent on that. This is because startups never have the big finances to keep them afloat if things go south. All they have are the customers who trust the company at that time.
13) Deploy simple logical solutions
Companies want to analyze the significance of a solution when they call its implementation. Sometimes these companies actually overthink the solutions. The chief cause of this overthinking is data. Companies can rely too much on data that they end up thinking slowly and implementing the right solution too late, or too early. Even worse, they may end up deploying the wrong solution at the wrong time. Data has never stopped being a defining factor of business and it plays a huge role even in modern public relations.
Jeff Bezos doesn’t always rely on data. He makes a decision based on how logical it is even when the data might be stacked up against that decision.
“You have to use your judgment. In cases like that, we say, Let’s be simpleminded. We know this is a feature that’s good for customers. Let’s do it.”
The Amazon founder and CEO was an investment banker in his early years. He understands that data carries weight. However, he also understands that data has its limitations and sometimes the figures are never black and white. When in doubt, just like he advices his employees, startups should make simple common sense decisions that help the customer.
14) The two-pizza team rule
At Amazon, big meetings are highly discouraged because, well, meetings can be extremely unproductive especially when the team is a whole 15 people. He coined the two-pizza rule in the company’s early stages, which they still follow to date.
“We try to create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. We call that the two-pizza team rule.”
The only way for a meeting to happen is if the number of people in that meeting can be adequately fed using two large pizzas. This ideally trimmed meetings to a maximum of seven to eight people. It made the meetings shorter, and more focused.
Startups should ensure to be rolled up into long meetings between large teams. Short and precise meetings between smaller teams improve focus, productivity, accountability, and follow-ups.
These strategies can apply to every startup today. Even as you launch your company or continue to run your new company, the focus and vision can all be sharpened by the advice from one of the most successful entrepreneur of our era. Startups have to remember that the goal, if worthy, must never shift. That part is important. Coupled with a good PR strategy, it could define your story.
However, even more important is the flexibility to change with the changing times and accepting ideas from other people. Technology is always changing. Innovation must continue, you must keep moving the target ahead; change the perspective until the goal is reached. Make use of various marketing strategies from advertising on Facebook and other social networks to carrying out SEO audits for your website and PPC campaigns to ensure you are not leaving any money on the table.