Amazon’s ‘patron saint of entrepreneurs’ offers 13 points of wisdom (Wired UK)


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Like any port, Amsterdam has a long history of trade and commerce. Today, rather than the importation of spices from the colonies and export of religious zealots to the new world, the driving force of the city is technology companies. Europe’s biggest funding round of 2014 was Amsterdam-based payments company Adyen, which pulled in $250 million (£170 million) from investors including General Atlantic and Felicis Ventures.

But some things about the city haven’t changed: Amsterdam is outward-looking, tolerant and cosmopolitan, which is reflected in the dynamism and international make-up of its startup scene. Much of this is on show every April at what’s become the city’s pre-eminent tech conference, The Next Web Europe. This year, the event celebrated its tenth anniversary. Its founders, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten and Patrick de Laive remain welcoming and amenable in the midst of what has become a large event that attracts a variety of entrepreneurs, both budding (there’s a lively pitch room involving 75 teams) and established. This year speakers included Neelie Kroes, now a startup envoy for the Netherlands, Nicolas Brusson the cofounder of BlaBlaCar and Werner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon Web Services.

Vogels, whose talk was the highlight of the first morning, was introduced on stage as the “patron saint of entrepreneurs” — AWS is used by startups like Airbnb, Rovio and Spotify as well as enterprises such as AON, HTC and Philips. Governmental organisations like UCAS, the FDA and Nasa are customers too.

He focussed on how Amazon, which had net sales revenue of $89 billion in 2014, can continue to innovate, tracing the origins of the company culture to a memo that Jeff Bezos wrote to investors in 1997 in which the founder of the company made it clear that Amazon’s emphasis was on the long-term. Its wording sent a clear message to those looking for a quick buck — put your money elsewhere.

“We will continue to experiment and learn from our mistakes and successes,” said Vogels, who resembles a Dutch Mitchell brother, citing Bezos’s desire to make bold rather than timid investment decisions. The reason? With a vast array of digital platforms and services now available, it’s easy to be disintermediated, even if you’re as relentlessly customer-centric as Amazon.

Here, some Vogels wisdom for entrepreneurs:

1. Ask what is not going to change. Customers want a wide range of items, fast delivery and low prices. If you innovate in these spaces you’ll be successful.

2. You can’t wake up one morning and decide to be innovative. It needs to be a fundamental part of how your company operates — and focussing solely on customers gives innovation direction.

3. Be stubborn on the vision, but flexible on the details. Initially Amazon’s third party merchants were listed on a separate site; success was elusive until these vendors were integrated onto the main Amazon platform. In 2014, 40 per cent of units sold on Amazon were third party sellers.

4. Innovation requires commitment. (And measurement.)

5. Be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. If you’re doing things differently, not everyone will get it.

6. Making money doesn’t necessarily work as an aim. Be a missionary, not a mercenary.

7. Define yourself as an innovator, not a follower. Build the organisational structure and processes to make this work. The maths goes like this: culture + organisation + technology = success.

8. Your team should be no bigger than the number of people that can be fed by two pizzas. According to Vogels this means 10 to 12 people. He clearly hasn’t visited the WIRED UK office.

9. According to the American computer scientist Alan Kay, “perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” Vogels’ point: you need to evaluate decisions retrospectively in order to learn from what you’ve implemented.

10. Introduce an institutional ‘yes’ to new, bold ideas. Make it the job of the naysayers to convince other members of the team why something shouldn’t be done.

11. Some process stuff. Start meetings with a six-page document on the subject to be discussed that all those in attendance read in silence for 30 minutes. That way it’s possible to have an informed discussion.

12. Work from the customer backwards by producing a set of documents that make it completely clear what you’re going to achieve. First a press release that clearly describes what the product is going to do. Secondly the FAQ, which is simple and clear — you should also produce another version that answers the questions you’ll get if the product isn’t good enough. Lastly define the user interaction by writing a user manual that describes how customers will interact with the product.

13. You do all this before you write one line of code or make a single architectural drawing. This way you’ll reduce the cost of failure by knowing exactly what you’re going to build for customers. One final thing: according to Vogels, there are now 15,000 robots working in Amazon warehouses. Maybe he should be considered the patron saint of robots as well as entrepreneurs.

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28 April 2015 | 1:51 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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