My first online purchase was from from Flipkart (dubbed as the Indian Amazon, back then) in 2010. It was a book. Since then so much has changed in my purchasing habits. Now, the first thing I do when I have to buy something is check on Amazon or Flipkart. It is convenient. Moreover when you think how much these companies have achieved in terms of making shopping an online experience, it fascinates me. That is why I picked up this book. Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer. They started at a time when people used to connect to Internet using dial-up modems. The entire ecosystem that needs to be around for even a single e-commerce transaction was in the most nascent stage (or was hardly there). Amazon started from scratch and they build an empire. This book presents the amazing story of Amazon’s inception, their early days, the people behind it and of course their maverick, at times maniacal, founder Jeff Bezos.
Amazon.com started out with books, the reason being it comes very close to being a commodity. A book from one store hardly differs from another. Starting of with a rudimentary website and the initial orders mostly coming from the families and acquaintances of early employees, it constantly moved forward incorporating feedback. Bezos was maniacal about customer success right from the beginning. Everything from Amazon starts from the customer and the employees work backwards from there. The book also tells us about some weird practices which emanates from this customer success mania like having an empty chair at the meetings which represents the customer. Another key area that I liked in the book, which is spread across multiple chapters, is the supply chain ecosystem that Amazon has built. world class warehouses, which Amazon calls, Fulfilment centers, is the benchmark for other E-commerce companies.
The book also touches upon the fact that in its growth Amazon has disrupted the book publishing industry, just as Apple has done for the music industry. The constant friction between Amazon and the publishers is an interesting tale to read and also makes for a good B-school case study. The launch of Kindle was yet another important milestone not only for Amazon, but also for the publishing industry. The thing with companies like Amazon, Google, Apple is that they build an entire industry/market as they cruise along. With Kindle, they forced the publishers to digitize the books. Legal battles, lawsuits, tussles between Amazon and sellers constantly mark its presence throughout the book which shows that in order to get the lowest prices and maximum benefit for the customer, Amazon can go to any lengths.
The writing is swift and fast-paced. I did not feel bored even for a second. At some places, I felt the narrative lost its structure. But overall, Brad Stone does a fantastic job. It is never easy to write books like these.
This book had its share of controversies as well like the one where Mackenzie Bezos, wife of Jeff Bezos wrote a scathing review of the book on Amazon giving it 1 star. I do agree on some of it because Brad Stone discounts the fact that it is not possible to build such a disruptive company without ruffling some feathers, which also includes your employees. Also, there was not much cooperation from Bezos. But it no way this book is an attack or criticism on Jeff Bezos. In fact, time and again the author highlights the genius of Bezos, how he translated his vision into action of building ‘The Everything Store’. There were instances when I felt Bezos’ brilliance is inhuman. He is exceptionally gifted in terms of learning from others, everyone around him. His vision is grand and from Amazon’s early days, he has been adamant on the fact that we are building for the future and not for short-term profits. Bezos has been ruthless as well. The acquisition of Zappos and Quidsi testifies the same.
I will suggest giving this book a try if you are someone who is interested to know the humble beginnings of successful companies.