R&D should pervade every department

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“And while many of our systems are based on the latest in computer science research, this often hasn’t been sufficient: our architects and engineers have had to advance research in directions that no academic had yet taken. Many of the problems we face have no textbook solutions, and so we — happily — invent new approaches.”

Takeaway

Software is eating the world, and that means that technology should infuse everything that you do as a company, no matter your core competency.

With the speed at which technology advances and improves, investing in becoming a tech company will let you move much faster than your competition.

Challenge

Shareholders, executive teams, and boards aren’t always aware of the most up-to-date advances in infrastructure technology, machine learning, and software architectures. It’s not necessarily easy to explain why you’re doing your own cutting edge research on these kinds of topics rather than focusing on your company’s main line of business.

Solution

You can’t expect to progress technologically if you’re siloing your company’s technology work in some kind of R&D department, Bezos writes.

At Amazon, technology pervades everything — every process, every decision, and every businesses.

Because of this approach, it can point to any product or line of business in the company and show how its dominance is rooted in technology, from the site’s search engine to Kindle.


Even Amazon Web Services — today one of Amazon’s main pillars and its largest driver of profit — was born from a piece of internal technology.

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Technology isn’t just something that Amazon invests in so it can keep up with their competition. It’s how it tries to make core products better.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

3 change pitfalls and how to avoid them

Leadership Tip of the week

Leading an organizational transformation is hard, learnt many lessons as Customer Director through the Coop rescue.

If you’ve got a major change on the horizon (or if you’re currently leading one that’s stuck in a ditch), you need to be aware of three common pitfalls — and how to avoid them.

  1. Don’t underestimate the scope of the work. Executing a transformation at scale typically requires more time and coordination than leaders expect. To counter this, make sure you have realistic expectations. Take an incremental approach to the overall goal by launching a series of small-scale projects and initiatives led by distinct teams. And be sure that all of these related initiatives — and the people who lead them — are aligned, communicate effectively, and avoid taking on overlapping or conflicting work.
  2. Don’t overestimate your colleagues’ capacity to execute your vision while continuing to carry out their existing day-to-day responsibilities. Listen for feedback about their ability to deliver. Be ready to adapt accordingly.
  3. Don’t hide why this transformation is important . Be transparent and express why you believe the organization should move in this new direction. You want to be a leader who inspires trust throughout the transition.

This tip is adapted from “How Leaders Get in the Way of Organizational Change,” by Ron Carucci

Focus on inputs – the outputs will take care of themselves

12 bezos focus on inputs

“Senior leaders that are new to Amazon are often surprised by how little time we spend discussing actual financial results or debating projected financial outputs. To be clear, we take these financial outputs seriously, but we believe that focusing our energy on the controllable inputs to our business is the most effective way to maximize financial outputs over time. . . . Our goal-setting sessions are lengthy, spirited, and detail-oriented. We have a high bar for the experience our customers deserve and a sense of urgency to improve that experience.”

Takeaway

When you’re setting goals for a business or a product, focus on controllable inputs, not on financial outputs.

Over the long term, investing your effort in the parts of the customer experience that you can control is what generates success for your company financially.

Challenge

The majority of large, public companies benchmark success by quarterly and annual financial results. They know their boards will assess them using these numbers, so they focus their teams on hitting financial goals. The problem is that incentivizing a team to hit certain numbers doesn’t always incentivize them to do the right things for their customers.

Solution

Instead of setting goals and judging your company’s efforts using financial outputs, work on perfecting your inputs, and trust that the outputs will handle themselves.

In this letter, Bezos mentions several key inputs he and his team assessed throughout 2009, including:

  1. The # of reviews added to Amazon products
  2. The # of new product categories available
  3. The # of different items available for immediate shipment on Amazon PrimE

1. The more reviews added to Amazon products, the better a new customer’s understanding of whether that product is worth buying or not, and the more trust they can place in the platform.

2. The more product categories and products available the more likely customers are to use amazon as go-to retailer.


3. The more items available for immediate shipment on Prime, the more choice a customer has, and the less likely they are to go somewhere else to find an item the next time.

If you can choose inputs that correlate with a great experience for your customers, then working on those will likely bring financial outputs up over the long-term.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

Ask the right questions

Leadership tip of the week #139 adapted from HBR

most leaders are too focused on having all the answers — and not focused enough on asking the right questions.

It’s time to recalibrate.

Despite what you might think, expressing vulnerability and asking for help, clarification, or input can be a sign of strength and confidence, not weakness.

The right questions are signals of trust — and they can inspire people to trust you in return.

For example, rather than telling your team about a new opportunity you’ve identified, ask them, “Do you see a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we’ve delivered in the past?” A big, simple question like this can inspire a burst of collaboration and creativity across the organization.

And if you consistently demonstrate a question-first mindset, you’ll help establish an overall culture of curiosity and learning that will keep your team innovating and responding to challenges effectively.

So try it out this week: Ask your team a big-picture, open-ended question, and see if it doesn’t lead to some new and exciting ideas

This tip is adapted from “Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions,” by John Hagel III

Work backwards from customers needs vs skills forwards approach

Takeaway

“’Working backwards’ from customer needs can be contrasted with a ‘skills-forward’ approach where existing skills and competencies are used to drive business opportunities. The skills-forward approach says, ‘We are really good at X. What else can we do with X?’ That’s a useful and rewarding business approach. However, if used exclusively, the company employing it will never be driven to develop fresh skills.”

Some companies figure out what to build next by thinking about what they’re already good at doing today — a good approach in some cases, Bezos says, but not always.

If you want to delight and amaze your customers and develop fresh lines of business, you need to think backwards from what your customers need.

Challenge

As a company, it’s more straightforward to rely on a skills-forward approach. Over time, you develop expertise in certain fields. Deciding what to do next based on the expertise you’ve already developed is often a good way to leverage your competence in one area into new successes.

The problem is that this method will never bring you new skills or capabilities. You’ll never learn how to do new things, and that will ultimately hurt your ability to innovate.

Solution

To take your business to the next level, start by thinking about what your customers want or need, and work backwards to figure out what you can build.

When the Kindle project started, the vision was simple — the capability for any book ever printed to be accessed in less than 60 seconds. That was it: the product was no more determined than that.

Although Amazon had never built a hardware device before, the team focused on fulfilling that vision. They hired people with the right skills to engineer that vision, rather than trying to create a product better suited to Amazon’s existing skills.

The Kindle software and hardware emerged organically out of the Amazon team’s attempt to answer that product vision, and the result became another powerful arm of Amazon’s business.

Thinking backwards from customer needs rather than seeking the path of least resistance at each juncture allows Amazon to be both successful and creative. That’s what has allowed them to reinvent the company time and time again.

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

what super productive people do differently

Leadership tip of week #138 from HBR

It can feel like 24 hours isn’t enough time in the day, and all the productivity hacks in the world won’t change that. Here are four proven strategies to help you make the most of your limited time.

  1. Batch your emails and meetings. It’s hard to get into flow when you know you’re going to be interrupted every hour. By knocking out all your emails or meetings at once, you’ll clear out some undisturbed time to work on deep-focus tasks.
  2. Do your best to learn some keyboard shortcuts that can reduce how much you rely on your computer’s mouse and trackpad. This may seem like a small thing, but over time, it makes a huge difference.
  3. Nudge your way to better behaviour: Leverage your environment to change your self-destructive habits. If you’re losing time because you’re distracted by your phone throughout the day, leave it in another room. If emails are derailing your workflow, pause notifications.
  4. Read your work out loud. No matter what your job is, chances are you write at least one email per day. Listening to the words you put down on paper will speed up and clarify your writing process.

This tip is adapted from “What Super Productive People Do Differently,” by Amantha Imber

Missionaries build better products- the kindle story

Bezos letter to shareholders 2007

“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.”

Takeaway

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.

Challenge

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.

Solution

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.

amazon kindle 2

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders  

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

regain a sense of control

leadership tip of the week #137 adapted from HBR

Between the health risks of the coronavirus, the economic stress of the recession, social distancing, and mandatory work-from-home arrangements, so much of our lives feel out of our control right now.

Research shows that anything you can do to restore your sense of autonomy — even in small ways — will help you be more resilient. Here are a few tips. Firstly if you’re working remotely, set up a comfortable and personal workspace.

You might define a clear boundary between “work” and “home” by telling yourself: When I’m in this room or wearing these headphones I’m “at work.”

Also, identify and embrace the perks of working at home. For example, if you no longer have a long commute, you can choose how you’ll spend that time — whether it’s getting an extra hour of sleep, being with your family or friends, or even delving into a new hobby. (Just try to resist the temptation to spend that time working.)

You can also reclaim control over your body and mind by prioritizing self-care. Investing time and attention in your own well-being is crucial during stressful times.

While the pandemic’s closures and restrictions may dictate many aspects of your life right now, how you customize your environment, spend your time and treat yourself is up to you.

This tip is adapted from “Restore Your Sense of Control — Despite the Pandemic,” by Eric M. Anicich et al.

Should it really be on your list?

leadership tip of the week #125 adapted from HBR

Not every project or task you take on requires your immediate attention.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself a few questions to help you prioritize your to-do list.

  1. why is this task necessary? If there’s no clear answer, it’s probably not urgent.
  2. what would happen a month from now if you don’t get this done? It’s tempting to barrel through your list for the sake of crossing things off, but before you spend time on a task, visualize its future impact on you, your stakeholders, and your business. If you don’t see a long-term impact, consider passing.
  3. are you the right person to do this task? If not, consider whether you can delegate to someone else.
  4. did you agree to take on this task for the right reasons? You may have told yourself, “People will think I’m rude if I say no,” or “My direct reports are too busy to do this.”If you said yes for the wrong reasons, chances are you’re the wrong person for the Job

Don’t do every task: we’ve learnt in the recent health crisis that if you focus on the important things, that’s what matters

This tip is adapted from If You’re Overworked, Learn Which Tasks to Hand Off,” by Sabina Nawaz

Don’t Let Video Calls Drain Your Energy

ZoomCatFinalShadow

Let’s face it, continuous video calls are exhausting.

But there are a few things you can do to conserve your time and energy.

1. avoid multitasking. It may be tempting to try to get other work done while you’re listening in, but switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40% of your productivity.

2. cut down on distractions. Close your browser tabs, put your phone away, and stay present. You can take short breaks during longer calls by minimizing the video, or just looking away from your computer now and then.

3. Do you really need a video meeting? take a step back and ask yourself whether you even need a video meeting. Check your calendar to see if there are any conversations that you could have over Slack or email instead. don’t feel obligated to make every conversation a video call. Especially when you’re talking to people outside your organization, a phone call is probably just fine.

Taking these steps may feel hard at first, but they will help prevent you from feeling drained at the end of another workday.

This tip is adapted from “How to Combat Zoom Fatigue,” by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Bezos Letters to shareholders 2006 9/24

“In some large companies, it might be difficult to grow new businesses from tiny seeds because of the patience and nurturing required. In my view, Amazon’s culture is unusually supportive of small businesses with big potential, and I believe that’s a source of competitive advantage.”

Takeaway

New business lines start out as seedlings. Often, they won’t meaningfully contribute to revenue for many years. But if you have the patience to nurture those seedlings, you can end up with powerful new revenue lines.

Challenge

Making long-term investments in small internal businesses can be difficult in a fast-paced corporate environment.

Large corporations are good at executing on predetermined strategies, but they struggle to slow down and give new business lines time to develop.

Public markets judge performance on a quarterly basis, and salaries, promotions, and layoffs also based on these figures. It is difficult to go against the grain and accept projects that might not see returns for some time (or at all).

Solution

While you need concrete insights and metrics to bet on a new idea, you also need patience and nurturing to make it thrive.

At Amazon, Bezos emphasizes that even if a new business enjoys runaway success, it will only begin to contribute meaningfully to company economics in three to seven years. Accepting that kind of time-frame as normal is the first step to building new innovative businesses inside your company.

Fulfillment by Amazon AWS and Amazon Advertising services , for example — now major winners for Amazon — began as seed investments.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

Make a promise.. keep a promise

leadership tip of the week #136 adapted from HBR

If a brand is a promise, then the expectations people have of the brand are created by the promises we make. Meeting expectations is about the alignment of words and deeds.

Disappointment occurs when we don’t do what we say we’re going to do.

When we promise more than we can deliver or pretend to be something we’re not.

Ironically, we are the ones who are most disappointed when we don’t meet the standards we set. We have the power to change this, by prioritising building trust over making an impression and only setting the expectations we’re willing to live up to.

Easy to say. Harder to do.

That’s why it’s worth the effort.

Make a promise…. keep a promise

look to CX improvements to tip business decisions

“Math-based decisions command wide agreement, whereas judgment-based decisions are rightly debated and often controversial, at least until put into practice and demonstrated. Any institution unwilling to endure controversy must limit itself to decisions of the first type. In our view, doing so would not only limit controversy — it would also significantly limit innovation and long-term value creation.”

Takeaway

Some decisions can be made with data, but many of the important business decisions can only be made with judgment.

Many opportunities with fantastic upside won’t make sense in the short-term — to identify these, you have to think about what makes the most sense for your customers.

Challenge

When opening a new fulfillment center or deciding how much of a product to hold in inventory, you can always look a existing data to figure out the option that will most improve the customer experience.

But huge, business-making improvements — like Amazon’s decision to create Amazon Prime — often don’t have clean math behind them. According to the models Amazon had at the time, Prime actually seemed like a terrible idea. Often, your best decisions will.

Solution

When trying to weigh personal instincts versus quantitative models, use the customer experience to tip the scales.

Decisions that make sense on paper but don’t improve the customer experience may have limited upside. Decisions that undeniably benefit your customers can have significant upside, and sometimes the potential upside is so big that it’s worth risking the numbers not working out.

When Amazon first considered a free shipping service like Prime, quantitative models pointed to raising prices on shipping, not to making shipping free. If it raised prices, the models said, the company probably wouldn’t lose that many customers and it would make a lot more money.

If Amazon had focused just on that data when deciding whether or not to introduce Prime, it would not have rolled out the service. But the team’s judgment was simple: if they kept lowering prices, it would lead to a greater volume of purchases, and ultimately that would mean greater customer loyalty over the long term. That bet paid off.

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

stay cool in a conflict

stay cool in a conflict leadership tip of week #135

Only Express Emotions During a Conflict If They’ll Help You Resolve It

When a disagreement with a colleague gets heated, it’s normal to feel all sorts of emotions: disappointment, anger, or frustration, for example.

But should you express what you’re feeling?

It depends. If you’re experiencing what psychologists call a hot emotion — one that comes with an urgent sense of entitlement or even revenge (“I have to tell him exactly how I feel!”), it’s better to find a way to calm down first.

If the emotion is cold, meaning you can control it and use it to help the situation (“I want to tell him how I feel so that he’ll understand my perspective”), then it’s probably OK to express it.

But don’t just name the emotion; explain what’s causing it. Telling someone you’re angry is less helpful than sharing that you’re disappointed they didn’t follow through on their commitment to you.

Adapted from “Should You Share Your Feelings During a Work Conflict?,” by Susan David

Focus on free cash flow to enable more innovation

Our ultimate financial measure, and the one we most want to drive over the long-term, is free cash flow per share.
Why not focus first and foremost, as many do, on earnings, earnings per share or earnings growth? The simple answer is that earnings don’t directly translate into cash flows, and shares are worth only the present value of their future cash flows, not the present value of their future earnings.”

Takeaway

Prioritizing free cash flow will allow you to experiment and innovate quickly, as capital won’t be tied up in investments that could be irrelevant by the time they’re paid off. In today’s fast-moving business environment, this is essential to keep from falling behind.

Challenge

Many public companies prioritize metrics like earnings per share or earnings growth when benchmarking their performance. Media coverage, analyst reports, and public opinion all play a role in developing this focus, but it can be ultimately counterproductive for a large enterprise to concentrate on increasing its earnings, even when its primary obligation is to its shareholders.

As Bezos reminds us, “Earnings don’t directly translate into cash flows, and shares are worth only the present value of their future cash flows.”

Solution

The solution to building a financially durable and growth-ready company is to focus less on earnings, and more on free cash flow.

If you build a business with earnings growth but no free cash flow, it’s often a poor investment over the long term.

Structuring your business to prioritize free cash flow will look different from industry to industry, but Amazon does it in a few key ways:

  1. The company turns over inventory quickly
  2. It collects payments from customers before payments to suppliers are due
  3. It minimizes its investment in its own inventory

Amazon maintains a cash generative operating cycle and can keep its investments in fixed assets low, at only 4% of all sales in 2004. Looking forward from 2004 to 2018 you can see how free cash flow has accelerated with sales and ahead of profit, allowing amazon to invest in innovation.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders  

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

design your organisation with long term goals

long term thinking

“Long-term thinking is both a requirement and an outcome of true ownership. Owners are different from tenants. I know of a couple who rented out their house, and the family who moved in nailed their Christmas tree to the hardwood floors instead of using a tree stand. Expedient, I suppose, and admittedly these were particularly bad tenants, but no owner would be so short-sighted. Similarly, many investors are effectively short-term tenants, turning their portfolios so quickly they are really just renting the stocks that they temporarily ‘own.’”

Takeaway

If you want to build a successful company for the long term, build a company of owners.

With the mentality of a service provider, you will seek short-term gains and sacrifice future growth.

With the mentality of an owner, you will always act in the best interests of your customers and your team. In the end, the work you do acting as an owner will coincide with the interests of your shareholders.

Challenge

It can be difficult to take a long-term view when Wall Street and other stakeholders tend to look for fast results. Doing the best thing for the long-term needs of your company doesn’t always coincide with the most expedient or profitable thing in the short term.

That’s because “many investors are effectively short-term tenants,” Bezos writes. Many investors are not looking for long-term success — they want dividends tomorrow.

But it’s not just a problem for investors: the short-term focus also tends to infect the people who run companies.

Thinking long term and building a successful growth company means getting out of that short-term investor mindset and thinking like an owner.

Solution

Taking a long-term view often requires deep consideration of your business model, and it doesn’t always make everyone happy.

When Amazon first started allowing customers to review their products, they got angry feedback from some vendors who asked why they allowed negative reviews on a site where profit came from sales.

For Bezos and the rest of Amazon, customer reviews were built with a long term goal in mind: that customers would trust Amazon to provide them with quality products and transparent information.  Though negative reviews cost sales in the short term,” he writes, “helping customers make better purchase decisions ultimately pays off for the company.”

The same goes for Amazon’s pricing: “Our pricing strategy does not attempt to maximize margin percentages,” he writes, “but instead seeks to drive maximum value for customers and thereby create a much larger bottom line.”

Every decision that gets made at Amazon gets made through “the context of the customer experience.” They design it with long-term owners in mind. And in the end, they trust — and ask that their shareholders trust — that it will ultimately pay off.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders 2002

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

create more than you consume

Bezos last letter to shareholders with a simple message: To all of you: be kind, be original, create more than you consume, and never, never, never let the universe smooth you into your surroundings. It remains Day 1.

Bezos last letter to shareholders 2020

Takeaway

If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more value than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. With all your stakeholders. Customers, colleagues, shareholders, your community, the environment. Any business that doesn’t create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn’t long for this world. It’s on the way out.

To create value you have to be different… and it’s hard to stay different as everyone wants you to conform.

Challenge

All living things have a tendancy to merge to the same as their surroundings and spend their whole life being warmer or cooler than their surroundings. Companies are the same: the world is continually pulling at you to be more normal and less distinctive. How much work does it take to maintain your distinctiveness? To keep alive the thing or things that make you special?

Solution

We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable. You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously.

The world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but amazon can and must be better than that and remain distinctive adding value to all it’s stakeholders.

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.

“To all of you: be kind, be original, create more than you consume, and never, never, never let the universe smooth you into your surroundings. It remains Day 1.”

link to all letters to shareholders 1997-2020

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

2020: Create more value than you consume

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders 2020

Build your business on your fixed costs

Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders 2001 6/22 

Takeaway

Companies driven by technology have an incredible advantage because much of their value hinges on fixed costs.

If you want to provide the best possible customer experience and the lowest possible prices in your industry, it’s only possible if you can make much of your customer experience expenses fixed.

Challenge

Traditionally, you have a trade-off between customer experience and price. Sell your products at a higher price and you reap enough money to hire and train more people to provide a better experience. Sell at a lower price and the customer experience will take a hit.

Achieving both low prices and a great customer experience would seem to be a contradiction.

Solution

To achieve both low prices and a great customer experience, harness the power of fixed costs.

Amazon turned their customer experience — their recommendations engine, personalization, etc. — into a fixed cost. It is based on technology that it built and now only pay to maintain, which means it doesn’t get (much) more expensive over time.

That allows the cost of running Amazon to actually shrink over time as a percentage of the revenue that Amazon makes.

Remaining disciplined while keeping its operating cash flow steady was one of the tactics that brought Amazon through the dot-com bust in 2000. Not only was the company continuing to generate sales, but it didn’t spend much on its platform. Being relatively low-cost to begin with, the platform was able to continue functioning on a low budget. While competitors folded, Amazon survived, took a leading market position, and was able to invent and grow.

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.

“One of our most exciting peculiarities is poorly understood. People see that we’re determined to offer both world-leading customer experience and the lowest possible prices, but to some this dual goal seems paradoxical if not downright quixotic. Traditional stores face a time-tested tradeoff between offering high-touch customer experience on the one hand and the lowest possible prices on the other. How can Amazon.com be trying to do both?”

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

Bezos measures amazon by free cash flow

Measure your company by your free cash flow

2001 : “Why focus on cash flows? Because a share of stock is a share of a company’s future cash flows, and, as a result, cash flows, more than any other single variable, seem to do the best job of explaining a company’s stock price over the long term.”

Takeaway

Because “a share of stock represents a share of that company’s future cash flows,” free cash flow is the best possible metric for understanding financial success as a business.

Free cash flow should be prioritized because it is pegged to your company’s value both today and in the future.

Challenge

It can be hard to prioritize free cash flow when public sentiment (especially stock prices) usually moves in line with revenues and profits. Few CEOs are able to hold their ground against the pressure of quarterly earnings results.

Communication is a critical (and often undervalued) way to highlight progress. While press releases and MD&A sections in SEC filings add some color to numeric results, they don’t usually allow much space for subtleties outside of their templates.

Solution

In Bezos’s original 1997 letter (discussed below), he made it clear to his new investors exactly how Amazon thought about free cash flow vs. GAAP accounting.

With each subsequent letter, he has enclosed a copy of that original letter to remind shareholders of Amazon’s outlook on this question.

For Bezos, focusing on free cash flow provides a clear method of valuing Amazon for internal planning purposes, as well as for investors.

The metric represents how much value each individual share of stock in a company has today and stands to have in the future.

“Ultimately, your determination of cash flow per share will be a strong indicator of the price you might be willing to pay for a share of ownership in any company,” he writes.

Over the years, Bezos’s constant advocacy for the idea of focusing on free cash flows has turned the idea into a more common and accepted view.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders 2001

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

Build platforms on infrastructure that’s continually improving

The current online shopping experience is the worst it will ever be. It’s good enough today to attract 17 million customers, but it will get so much better. Increased bandwidth will result in faster page views and richer content. Further improvements will lead to ‘always-on access’ (which I expect will be a strong boost to online shopping at home, as opposed to the office) and we’ll see significant growth in non-PC devices and wireless access. Moreover, it’s great to be participating in what is a multi-trillion dollar global market, in which we are so very, very tiny. We are doubly-blessed. We have a market-size unconstrained opportunity in an area where the underlying foundational technology we employ improves every day. That is not normal.”

Jeff Bezos Letter to shareholders 1999 3/22

Takeaway

  • The biggest opportunities in tech are platform-driven.
  • When you build on an infrastructure that’s beginning to quickly develop and modernize, you reap the benefits of not just your own growth but also the growth of the infrastructure you’re building on.

Challenge

  • Building on established platforms is the easiest and most expedient route, but one with the least upside.
  • Established platforms offer the most integration, often have low barriers to entry, and have plenty of accumulated wisdom around them.
  • At the same time, their growth potential is often limited due to the high pace of technological innovation across industries.

Solution

  • With the rise of internet connectivity in the late 1990s, an increasing divide began to appear between industries. E-commerce, gaming, online financial services were industries where a strong footing established early could set the stage for huge growth.
  • While Bezos was helped by growth in the e-commerce field specifically, and in access to high-bandwidth connections more generally, he didn’t find himself there unexpectedly. Before Amazon, Bezos was vice president at the hedge fund D. E. Shaw & Co, where he saw the rise of the internet firsthand.
  • Bezos knew he wanted to build a technology company, and he consciously looked to hire the most talented infrastructure engineers he could find to build new solutions where none existed.
  • Building on a high-growth platform like Amazon did require a much higher degree of upfront investment in engineering and research, but on the long timeframe of technological improvement, it gives you a much higher chance of building a huge, long-term business.

Bezos masterclass in management through shareholder letters 1999 #3/22

Link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

prioritise cash flow

“The year 2001 will be an important one in our development. Like 2000, this year will be a year of focus and execution. As a first step, we’ve set the goal of achieving a pro forma operating profit in the fourth quarter. While we have a tremendous amount of work to do and there can be no guarantees, we have a plan to get there, it’s our top priority, and every person in this company is committed to helping with that goal. I look forward to reporting to you our progress in the coming year.”

Takeaway

Focusing on free cash flow or otherwise giving your business some form of cash moat (whether through outside equity, debt stakes, or tight operations) will help ride out difficult times when customers aren’t buying and/or financing has dried up.

If you’re able to maintain composure while others fall, you have the opportunity to come out ahead and capture a much bigger market share.

Challenge

The dot-com bubble took down a slew of internet companies, including Pets.com and fashion site Boo.com. Amazon, too, nearly went bankrupt. The same happened in financial crisis of 2008/9 and in COVID pandemic 2020.

While the majority of tech upstarts folded during the crash, Amazon stayed afloat. Since March 2000, the company has grown about 20x in market value.

Solution

One reason that Amazon was able to ride out the downturn was the tight cash conversion cycle.

While some companies left inventory in stock for long periods of time, Amazon was always focused on minimizing this to a few days at most, and collecting payments from customers before paying suppliers. This avoided lag times and ensured that Amazon continued to have cash coming in while others were bleeding dry.

Prioritizing free cash flow and being extremely disciplined with their operating cash flows gave Amazon a sound foundation they could use to ride out tough times and ultimately come out ahead.

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders  

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.

link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

Stay terrified of your customers

2. be afraid of your customers
keep customers by aligning with customers’ shifting needs. rather than be distracted by competitors.

If you don’t do everything in your power to align with customers’ shifting needs, and instead allow yourself to be distracted by competitors, you’ll quickly lose them.

“I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers. Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation. And we consider them to be loyal to us — right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.” Jeff Bezos 1998

Takeaway

In business, the most important thing isn’t what your competition is doing. If you’re expending effort trying to follow your rivals’ every move, you’re losing the big picture.

Keeping pace with your customers is what will keep you informed, relevant, and competitive.

Challenge

Companies are usually wary of their competition.

Understanding where they stack up against rivals, particularly if they’re public and continually judged on relative value multiples like price to earnings (PE), is a key pillar of their business strategy. If they can come in top of class, it’s easier to attract investment.

But the issue with thinking like your rivals is that you start to make similar moves. In fast food, for example, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A all start to blend together. The only ways to differentiate is to narrow down to price and brand. As competition heats up in these crowded areas, it’s increasingly difficult to gain an advantage.

Solution

Flip the focus inward and hone in on your customers. Obsess over their preferences, their shopping behaviors, the quality of their reviews. This will allow you to optimize product features and overall product mixes. You’ll be able to double down on what works and eliminate what doesn’t. If you have a self-service platform like Kindle, find out everything users are creating and where they’re hitting roadblocks.

This granular focus on your true partners will allow you to invent in ways you (and your peers) didn’t anticipate. You’ll begin to develop away from your rivals and stand apart from the pack. This is a core tenet of Bezos’ philosophy.

If you don’t do everything in your power to align with customers’ shifting needs, and instead allow yourself to be distracted by competitors, you’ll quickly lose them.

Bezos shareholder letters

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 that gives you a snap shot / key takes outs of each letter.

Link to all letters to shareholders

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

links to all letters

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

we should disagree more

Leadership Tip of the week #134 adapted from HBR

The marmite campaign came out of conflict between the creative team at BMP: one loved it, one hated it and they spend a week disagreeing until they realised it was the idea.

Conflict is a normal, healthy part of working with other people.

And yet many of us avoid it at all costs — often because it feels personal.

To get more comfortable with disagreements, and to reap the benefits of productive conflict, let go of the idea that it’s all about you.

If you model that you’re comfortable with productive conflict, you’ll show your team that it’s OK to disagree, encouraging people to raise their ideas.

To move a work conflict away from the personal, think about the bigger picture and the business’s needs. Disagreements often arise over objectives and processes, for example.

When you and a colleague have different views about something, ask yourself two questions

1. Why is this difference of opinion an important debate to have?

2. How will it help the organization or the project you’re working on?

The more you can keep a conflict focused on the business, the better chance you have of resolving it in a way that benefits everyone.

Adapted from “Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work,” by Amy Gallo

amazon strength lies in scale

“We first measure ourselves in terms of the metrics most indicative of our market leadership: customer and revenue growth, the degree to which our customers continue to purchase from us on a repeat basis, and the strength of our brand. We have invested and will continue to invest aggressively to expand and leverage our customer base, brand, and infrastructure as we move to establish an enduring franchise. Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh trade offs differently than some companies.”

Jeff Bezos letter to shareholders 1997 1/22

Takeaway

  • Don’t let short-term success, including going public, distract from the long-term focus. Amazon’s focus is market leadership, customer growth, retention, and brand — even if these come at the expense of near-term profits or the risk of negative “Wall Street reactions.”
  • Key to this growth has been Bezos’ clear, consistent message. Each year, it helps attract investors who share the company’s vision and maintains their financial support even when Amazon is at odds with the norm.

Challenge

  • Building an e-commerce company in the early days of the internet meant building on the precipice of huge growth, in terms of infrastructure and huge changes in consumer behavior. Taking advantage of these opportunities meant investing all available cash into growing and delivering value to customers.
  • Bezos explained Amazon would never focus on profits or shareholder returns directly, but would focus 100% of its energy on building value for its customers.
  • When his first letter to shareholders was composed in 1997, Amazon was already a successful company by some metrics — 838% year-over-year growth had recently brought the online bookstore’s revenues to $148M. But much of Wall Street was skeptical of the still-unprofitable company that had just gone public, didn’t pay dividends, and didn’t seem to care about becoming profitable.
  • In that first letter, Bezos didn’t try to convince investors that Amazon was profitable — instead, he explained why profitability was the wrong metric by which to judge a company like Amazon.

Solution

  • Amazon’s real strength is scale. As a company grows, if it’s smart about its costs, these can be minimized while sales increase. Margin expansion follows, and a team suddenly has a chance to grow at a faster and faster rate. More customers also mean more data, which leads to even greater decision-making power.
  • Shareholders who understand this can reap exponential gains.
  • Bezos ended his 1997 letter by reminding Amazon’s shareholders that it was their responsibility to decide whether this was a thesis worth investing in. In the opinions of many analysts of the time, it was not. Many were proved wrong. He still talks about every day being Day 1 and those who invested with a similar goal of inventing each and every day have been rewarded.

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.

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

links to all letters

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

are you taking self-care seriously ?

are you taking self-care seriously: now is the time to say It’s so busy at work, I can’t afford NOT to take care of myself

Leadership Tip of the week #133

You probably already know that sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, physical exercise, human connection, and time to relax are important — but do you actually carve out time for them?

When you consider caring for yourself as unrelated to work, you’re likely to let your business priorities come first. But your resilience is a high-priority business issue, especially when you’re leading a team through the stress of our fast-paced world.

Research shows that our decision-making dramatically suffers when we neglect to properly rest and refuel, so make self-care a daily priority. You don’t need to dedicate hours a day though. You can boost your short-term resiliency by taking a short walk or reaching out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while just to check in. Investing in yourself isn’t indulgent — it’s mission critical.

It’s time to tell yourself, “It’s so busy at work right now, I can’t afford NOT to take care of myself!

This tip is adapted from “Reframe How You Think About Self-Care,” by Liane Davey