Published on April 14, 2017 on LinkedIn
A cool thing about Jeff Bezos’ recent letter to Amazon shareholders is the universality of his advice. The advice is relatable to startups as it is to corporate behemoths. Here’s a link to the letter: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1018724/000119312517120198/d373368dex991.htm. A few snippets from the letter that are relevant to startups:
- “customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples. “
- “Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design. I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey. ” Startups must avoid falling into the trap of using aggregate market data and second hand research to justify their product. The right way is to talk to people, listen to their stories and synthesize information you gather from multiple people. That’s the only way to build intuition on what people really want, I’ve learned the hard way.
- “most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.” The Bezos spirit of speedy yet sound decision making is best embodied in Blue Origin’s coat of arms which has a tortoise emblem and the Latin phrase Gradatim Ferociter. The phrase translates to ‘by degrees, ferociously.’
- “use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes. ” Startups are relatively free of the burden of having to convince too many stakeholders to make decisions. But, while consensus paralysis slows down big teams it can be fatal to startups. Disagree and commit is a good philosophy even for startups.
Credit to Hareesh Nagarajan for urging me to read the letter.