June 28, 2011
SEATTLE - In a rich and wide-ranging conversation with the digital editor-in-chief of France's leading business daily Les Echos, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, 47, reflects on the lightening fast evolution of the Internet, and his company's ability to compete in everything from e-commerce to media to cloud computing. And his plans for the future: trying to figure out what big things are going to change -- and what won't.
People in the U.S. now spend more time on mobile apps than on the Web. How far do you think we are in the digital revolution? Somewhere in the middle?
I doubt it. We're just at the beginning. Day One. Don't you think?
I don't know. You're the expert.
I think so. With new technologies, it's very tempting to think that you're further along than you are. But usually, you're more primitive than you think. My guess is we're still pretty primitive. We as a society, as a civilization. I doubt we have figured out the new technologies very well yet.
And as Amazon, where are you ?
We're the same. We're part of that civilization (laughs). We're doing our part in trying to push things forward, but I have the feeling it's Day One.
What has been the most stunning change since you founded Amazon in 1995?
The most amazing change… Looking at over 15 years, the most stunning is the pace at which the Internet has developed. In 1995, I had to raise a million dollars from 22 angel investors who invested around $50,000 each to fund Amazon, and the question all those investors had was "what's the Internet ?" That was just 16 years ago… It's been such an extraordinary change, we've never seen a change that rapid. Go back and look at other major technological changes, jet travel, the automobile, radio, television, the telephone: you can look at their growth rate, and nothing has ever swept in as quickly and as globally as the Internet. If you want something that qualifies as stunning, that's probably a first in the history of civilization.
And what will be the next stunning change in the digital world ?
That is difficult question. I spend most of my time trying to find what the Internet is not going to change… Because we can build business plans on things that are stable, but it's harder to build a business plan on something that is going to change rapidly. But if I stay focused on your question and say what's going change over the next 10 years, it's probably mobile technology, wireless technology. These smart phones and tablets that we have today are going to become increasingly sophisticated.
Does it worry you?
No. It delights me ! (laughs) It's great for retail business. Historically, our business has been built on top of people buying from their desktop computer and their laptop computer, which you can only use in a couple of postures. And the tablets and the smartphones open up a completely new posture. The tablet for example means you can lay back on your sofa and shop on Amazon. I love that and I encourage you to do it ! (laughs)
Today, Amazon is retailing, and merchant, and cloud, and Kindle, and food, and Amazon studios… Are you a specialist of anything ?
At the broadest level, I think there are three things that define Amazon, and they are cultural attributes more than business areas. One is customer obsession, as opposed to competitor obsession. A lot of companies have been successful on focusing on their competitors, but that's not our way. Second, is willingness to think long-term and third is willingness to invent, which includes the willingness to be misunderstood, otherwise you can't invent.
Inside that framework, we're willing to learn new skills. So there is a tension between willingness to learn these new skills and deciding that you're an expert in something that you're gonna stay focused on.
Amazon Web services or Kindle are both good examples. They require us to learn new skills when some companies would say that you should stay focused on what you're good at. What that really says is "don't learn new skills' or only learn incremental new skills. Don't ever try to learn something new!
When we did Kindle, I'm going back seven years now, we had to learn how to design hardware, how to manage a supply chain for hardware. A bunch of new skills. Now we're going to hire sophisticated people, but still, we need to learn new skills institutionally as well, and so we're bringing that skills set into practice. I think it's essential for companies to be incremental learners, but also to be willing every once in a while to pick up a whole new skill set that you weren't previously focused on.
You mentioned being misunderstood. Have you been misunderstood ?
Yes it's normal.
Have you ever had doubts?
Everything important we've ever done had some level of misunderstanding. And there are at least two kinds of critics. There are people who sincerely misunderstand and they want everything to work out well but they're worried about it. And there's a second kind of critic who has a self-interest to misunderstand…If you're gonna do something new, something that has never been done before, people are going to misunderstand for one of those two reasons. And what you need to do when you hear that kind of criticism is first to open your mind and say "Are they right? Are we doing something wrong? Are we make a mistake for some reason?". And if it the case, change your course. But if you look at it and you still have the conviction that your new way is worth pursuing, then you have to ignore those critics, otherwise you can't do anything new.
Have you ever changed a major decision ?
We have. We've given up on projects that have failed. Many times. We have to stay stubborn on the vision but we can change on the details. Our third-party seller business is like that: we launched Amazon Auctions, and many people criticized it, and they turned out to be right… (laughs) ; and then we launched The Shop, and many people criticized it, they were right, it didn't work ; and then we launched Market Place, which has become Merchant Sellers, and that was a big success. That's an example of staying very stubborn on the vision when underneath, all the executional details got changed twice.
In terms of Amazon categories, what are the next ones you're dreaming of?
In most of the categories, the most we're doing is adding depth. We're in most of the major categories already and we'll continue to roll things out. Our focused areas are on electronics, apparels, some consumable items. And in media, we really focus on digital, and that's true for books but also for video, music, audio books, video games... So we sort of have our media business undergoing a digital transformation that we're working very hard on. In our physical products business, there are still so much opportunities to continue to add selection inside existing categories.
Food, cloud and Kindle… How would you rate those three areas ?
(Laugh). Wow. I don't know if I could do that! But it reminds me of that famous quote : if I have a little money, I'll buy books. If there's any left over, I'll buy food (laugh). But I don't think I could rate those things for you. I apologize…
Do you want to become the king of Cloud ?
Amazon Web services is operating in this new arena that is so big that there are going to be multiple winners. And I believe our team had done such a good job that they are likely to be the leader in that arena, and certainly I hope that they will be one of the major leaders.
How will you achieve that?
The big success drivers in our business are innovation, operation excellence, and cost structure. So we're constantly driving new services that developers can use, that's the innovation piece. Operational excellence is making sure that the services are highly available, minimizing any downtime. We want our system to be operationally and statistically indistinguishable from perfect. And then becoming efficient so that we can continue to drive the cost structure down and offer these Web services at very good prices. That's our approach.
Amazon has now 38000 employees. Has it changed your approach of management and the corporate culture?
The key points for corporate culture are customer obsession, willingness to invent and long term orientation. Those three things have not changed. I do worry, because other companies changed their culture when they got big. If we look out at the future, I don't what that to happen, and I like the culture that we have. I like the internal dynamics at Amazon: people are energetic around debate and controversy, and they're candid with one another. In some other large companies, I've observed that people sometimes sort of optimized for social cohesion instead of truth seeking. And I want us to avoid that change. It's a sort of mantra that I repeat over and over, because it takes energy to seek the truth. It's easier to just get along… (laugh).
What were the last threes things you bought on Amazon ?
I bought soccer cleats, a science fiction novel on my Kindle called "Robopocalypse", and a video episode of "The new adventures of Old Christine". That was just last night.
Read the original article in French
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Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
October 20, 2021
Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.
• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.
• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.
• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.
• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.
• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction
Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.
🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.
😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.
🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.
— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.
🇮🇷🎓 IN OTHER NEWS
Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement
Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.
Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.
The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.
Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.
Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."
Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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