I love listening to the radio — and last month I heard a wonderful interview about the man who founded Amazon. Brad Stone has just written a new book about the company (after interviewing more than half a dozen senior Amazon executives). And it was really fun to hear him talking about what he’d learned with Kai Ryssdal, the enthusiastic host of Marketplace on public radio.
Amazon “is a force — maybe the force — in the retail economy today,” begins the segment. But soon the interviewer has honed in on a fascinating personal detail about Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. “There’s a thread that runs through this book — you mention it early, and you mention it often. It’s part of Bezos’s personality, I guess you would say. And since this is radio, we’re just going to hit you with a little bit of it here, and then I want to talk about it.”
And then he played the sound of Jeff Bezo laughing…!
” ‘Jeff Bezos’s laugh,’ you write, ‘precedes him down the hallway. You hear it in meetings, it will come after a volcanic outburst of temper. I mean, it’s this defining thing for him.’ ”
It’s a great way to start they’re discussion, and the author points out that Jeff’s laugh is unusual in another way. Brad Stone has personally spoken to Jeff Bezos, and “He’s not always laughing with you. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but one of his colleagues literally said, ‘He’s punishing you.’ It’s that his standards are so high, and his intellect is so fierce, that sometimes it’s you’re not catching up with him. And that is what he finds funny!”
I wonder what he talked about with Jeff Bezos (since reportedly the book is based more on his interviews with other Amazon executives). And the radio interviewer moves to a second observation — that for people who work at the company, it’s not always pleasant. “He doesn’t want it to be a country club for his employees,” the author counters, saying that the extra pressure is “by design… [Bezos] wants everyone giving the proverbial 110% percent.”
And there’s a good side to that too, the author points out in the interview. Besides Amazon’s slightly elevated turnover rate, “It also might be why this is a company that has achieved so much over the last two decades.”
But the most interesting part of the interview was about Amazon Web Services, the massive online platform which lets companies offer services and storage from “the cloud” — all hosted on Amazon’s own servers. “You say — and I agree with you — that [Jeff Bezos] has changed the world, and he’s done that just with Amazon.com, the retail shopping site, and he’s changed our behavior. But there are a couple of things that sort of have come from that that arguably have changed the world even more… This idea of us all living in ‘the cloud’ — which now we take for granted — started with Bezos and Amazon, in some degree.”
The author notes that NetFlix uses Amazon Web Services, but then brings up an even more impressing customer — the CIA! “Amazon just won a contract against IBM. The CIA will soon be running its operations on Amazon’s servers. A bookseller! And now they’re running the government!”
“Wow… Think about that for a minute,” the interviewer responds….
Next, their conversation turns to Amazon Prime — and both the author and the interviewer admit that they’re already subscribers. “It makes it really easy to buy stuff off of Amazon,” the interviewer says.
“It turns you into an Amazon addict,” the author responds (to which the interviewer agrees). “I think it’s a little CostCo, in a way, buried inside Amazon. CostCo magically has this business model where you have to pay to shop there — a good business, if you can get it. And now the same is true of Amazon. You’re paying $79 a year for the luxury of spending even more money on all these add-on services!”
The interviewer actually mutters, “Now you’re making me feel stupid, man.”
And the author just replies, “Well, I pay it too…”
The book is called The Everything Store:
Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon