SUCCESS STORIES / NOV. 14, 2015
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How Jeff Bezos Turned Amazon Into a Billion Dollar Company

Are you an entrepreneur or small business owner with big aspirations? Do you dream of turning your small business into a multinational giant that serves customers from around the globe? If so, then you’d do well to follow the example of successful business leaders who’ve gone before you—leaders like Jeff Bezos, founder of a little website you might have heard of called Amazon.

See Also: Five Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Jeff started Amazon as a small online bookstore way back in 1995—the primordial days of ecommerce. Now, some 20 years on, it’s the world’s largest online retailer of books, DVDs, electronics and just about anything else you can think of. But this incredible growth didn’t happen by chance—from day one, Bezos set out to build the biggest online store in the world.

And thanks to his incredible business philosophy and intelligent decision-making, that’s exactly what he did. Here’s how:

1. He Focuses on the Customer

Bezos has a famously customer-centric approach to business. He doesn’t just believe in listening to them; he wants to understand how they feel, what their needs are, and how his business can serve them better. He’s firmly in the "what’s best for the customer is best for the business" camp, as exemplified by this quote from the man himself:

"If we can arrange things in such a way that our interests are aligned with our customers, then in the long term that will work out really well for customers and it will work out really well for Amazon."

Bezos also believes that everyone—no matter what their position within the organisation—should be able to work in a call-centre. So as part of his company’s employee development program, Bezos requires managers at Amazon (including himself) to attend annual sessions of call-centre training. This is a clever and useful tactic that prevents mid- and high-level employees from straying out of touch with customers.

Thanks to these types of policies, the Amazon philosophy of listening to, and most importantly, understanding the customer is reinforced throughout the company on a regular basis. In doing so, Bezos manages to successfully transfer his own customer-centric philosophy to employees across all departments, and worldwide.

2. He's a Pioneer

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One of the cornerstones of Amazon’s business success has been Bezos’ willingness to explore new territories and ways of serving his customers. If you try to picture how primitive the online landscape was way back in 1995 at the birth of the Internet, you realise that starting an online bookstore was an idea way ahead of its time.

Bezos is one of those guys who likes to be at the head of the pack when it comes to incorporating and developing new technologies for his business. Although he’s the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, he would always contest that Amazon is a business based on innovation rather than market domination:

"Some people wake up in the morning, they get their energy, the thing they think about in the shower is ’Who are the three companies we’re going to kill this year?’ That’s the conqueror mentality and it’s a competitor focused mentality instead of a customer-focused mentality"

His pioneering philosophy is deeply embedded in Amazon’s culture because he’s made a point of surrounding himself with like-minded people from day one. In Bezos’ world, innovation is a point of view that must be shared by everyone in the company if world-changing success is your ultimate goal.

3. He Never Stops Experimenting

If you round up a bunch of Fortune 500 CEOs and ask them what the secret to success in business is, "experimentation" is a term that’s likely to come up again and again. We already know that Jeff Bezos prides himself on being a pioneer and explorer, so it follows that he needs to have a willingness to experiment—that’s how innovations are born and companies like Amazon stay competitive in the market.

Think about it—Audi have their concept cars, McDonald’s try out a new burger seemingly every other week, and tech companies like Google (specifically, Google Labs) are a hot house for exploration and new product development. It’s one of the key reasons why they’re so successful.

Amazon is no different, and experimentation has kept them right on the edge of the online retail curve. Having started out flogging books, they’ve now dipped their toes into just about every consumer market you could care to imagine. They’ve developed and successfully tested new models for online shopping, subscription services, logistics and distribution, and brought us strange and interesting new technologies like the Kindle e-reader and delivery-by-drone.

Although he’s lost literally billions of dollars on failed experiments, a few hits here and there are all Bezos needs to stay ahead:

"Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work."

4. He's Stubborn, But Flexible

Entrepreneurs tend to be quite stubborn, strong headed individuals. They’re natural leaders who prefer to take charge of their lives and do things their own way—it’s why they chose to start their own businesses in the first place. It takes time to build a company from the ground up, and without this quality, they would likely never be able to see it through.

But stubbornness needs to be balanced with a certain amount of flexibility, or you end up closed off to the ideas and opinions of people who can potentially help you to succeed. Bezos understands this well, and it’s one of the reasons he’s been so successful with Amazon:

"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."

This is great advice for any entrepreneur, but figuring out when to allow some slack and when to stick to your guns can be tricky. So how does Bezos get the balance just right? Well, he’s stubborn on the vision but flexible on the details. He focuses on achieving his primary business goals and objectives, but he leaves the specific tactics to his team.

5. He Hires the Best People

Like any savvy businessman, Bezos knows that your company is only as good as the people it employs. From day one, he’s set the recruitment bar at Amazon pretty high and has previously admitted that he would rather interview 50 candidates and choose none at all than to hire the wrong person for his business.

A company’s culture contributes in a major way to its success, and that culture must fit with the vision and personality of the founder. In the early days of a startup, the culture is fluid and has the potential to develop in any direction, so it’s important to be picky about the people you take on:

"Cultures aren’t so much planned as they evolve from that early set of people."

Employees will either dislike the company and leave or feel comfortable and stay, so the culture stabilises and becomes reinforced over time. But the impact of each new hire in your startup’s early days will have a serious impact on its trajectory, which is why Bezos is so meticulous about recruitment.

See Also: Leading Companies That Have Great Workplace Culture

Why else do you think people like Jeff Bezos are so successful? Can we mere mortals achieve the same? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below:

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