Missionaries build better products- the kindle story
Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders 2007
Key message 10/22
Jeff Bezos has been writing a letter to shareholders since 1997 and looking at all if them gives an insight to the organisation and a masterclass in leadership. This is a series of short blogs that gives you a snap shot / key takes outs of each letter, along with links to them all.
“We started by setting ourselves the admittedly audacious goal of improving upon the physical book. We did not choose that goal lightly. Anything that has persisted in roughly the same form and resisted change for 500 years is unlikely to be improved easily. At the beginning of our design process, we identified what we believe is the book’s most important feature. It disappears. When you read a book, you don’t notice the paper and the ink and the glue and the stitching. All of that dissolves, and what remains is the author’s world.”
When you’re trying to build something totally new, hire missionaries.
Missionaries — people who are passionate and empathetic about products — are always going to be better equipped to disrupt existing incumbents.
Many everyday products and systems we take for granted are, in one way or another, “good enough.” Physical books, taxi cabs, hotels — they get the job done, even if they can be seen as outmoded, archaic institutions.
With these kinds of institutions, inertia sets in. Getting people to adopt a new habit or start using a new product when they’re accustomed to using something “good enough” is a very difficult task.
Missionaries are people who understand the appeal of the old ways. They understand why the “good enough” product is “good enough,” and because of that, no one else is better positioned to disrupt that business than them.
Bezos calls back to the original launch of Amazon, when people believed an online bookstore needed to have all the features of a physical book stores. Critics asked him how they would do “electric book signings.”
Barnes & Noble’s stock price.
The Amazon team didn’t know. They did know that they could provide far greater value than physical bookstores in at least one area, by offering millions of different titles and thousands of different customer-submitted reviews.
With the Kindle, the team of missionaries at Amazon knew that the sentimentality of the book was strong. After all, books have been around in the same form for hundreds of years. In trying to build a “better book,” they knew they had to emulate the best aspects of the book.
One of the best aspects of a physical book, they realized, was that books get “out of the way.” The Kindle’s e-ink screen and fast page switching emerged directly from the realization that they needed to make sure the interface got out of the way and let readers focus on their books. With missionaries building the product, Bezos said he believed the Kindle, would “‘start a fire’ and improve the world of reading.”
Amazon didn’t wipe Barnes & Noble’s off the map — as Amazon didn’t (and couldn’t) replace everything B&N does. Amazon could just do (and did) an exponentially better job at one of their more profitable core functionalities.
link to all letters to shareholders
- 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values
- 1998: Stay terrified of your customers
- 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own
- 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat
- 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow
- 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs
- 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership
- 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation
- 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers
- 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business
- 2007: Missionaries build better products
- 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next
- 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves
- 2010: R&D should pervade every department
- 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation
- 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust
- 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation
- 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside
- 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions
- 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes
- 2017: Build high standards into company culture
- 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency