By Martin Zwilling
Everyone wants to grow and innovate like Amazon these days. From meager beginnings selling books online back in 1994, Amazon is currently the largest e-commerce retailer and cloud computing platform in the world, and now dominates even the giant Walmart. In my role as a business advisor, I’ve long wondered how to pass their secrets along to other new ventures.
Recently, I saw some help in that regard in a new book, “Think Like Amazon,” by John Rossman, a former top executive at Amazon. He launched and scaled their Marketplace business, and now heads his own firm to help clients innovate and grow in this digital era. He offers over 50 guiding principles, distilled from his tenure at Amazon, to become a digital leader in today’s marketplace.
For those of you who don’t have time to read the whole book, here is a sampling of a few key points that should get you thinking in the right direction, and maybe just keep you a step or two ahead of your big competitors:
Add a platform that provides self-service growth. A platform is a business model and capability that can be accessed and customized by external users. With each outside participant, the platform grows stronger and smarter, and works better for internal users as well. The platform must capitalize on user-generated content and other people’s work.
Create and practice an obsession over customers. Make sure everyone knows it’s their job to maintain empathy and exceed customer expectations. Dive deep into every issue experienced by customers, and don’t delegate figuring out the root causes. Institute deep metrics measuring all aspects of the customer experience. Accept no excuses.
Don’t look for the short journey or a straight line. Jeff Bezos recommends avoiding the constant knee-jerk reactions to the quarter-to-quarter growth mentality that’s popular today. Compensate with shares rather than bonuses to make it happen. Strategize and evaluate your plans over a long period of time to make “bets” that other businesses miss.
Experiment, fail, rinse, and repeat. Digital success depends on moving quickly and measuring the impact of changes through tests. Senior leaders need to be personally involved in defining the tests and reviewing results and implications. Think big, but proceed with only small bets. Distinguish between test failures and poor execution.
Master the magic of small autonomous teams. Amazon is famous for their Two-Pizza.Teams (no bigger than two pizzas will feed), allowing an entrepreneurial mindset more autonomy, agility, and accountability. The business owner must be the leader of the team, written specs are required, and the team must be populated only with A+ people.
Raise the bar to avoid the biggest hiring mistakes. At Amazon, every position hire is assigned a “bar raiser” who is independent from the hiring team, and especially recognized for making good hires. This person assures that haste and manager bias are avoided, the interviews are systematic, and candidates fit well beyond immediate roles.
Stay hungry even when you are successful. Jeff Bezos always instills a sense of urgency by demanding business plans from business leaders on how they would disrupt their own lines of business. He tolerates no “country club culture” or “playing it safe” mindsets. He reacts quickly to slowing growth expectations and efforts to reduce risk.
Use artificial intelligence to reinvent customer experiences. Amazon targets the new machine learning technology to leverage his focus on customers. He deploys it in narrow specific processes to expedite decisions for customers (Internet of Things), and new ways to get to “yes” and eliminate the bureaucracy that forms as companies mature.
The author offers many more principles and actions that have allowed Amazon to become the digital leader they are, and can be emulated in your company as well. Customer and competitive demands are rising across all sectors and experiences. You too can set the bar higher, through constant iteration, innovation, and a relentless customer-first focus. Do what Amazon is doing.
The writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, professor, and investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post.