Jeff Bezos spoke this afternoon at the Amazon Web Services re: Invent conference in Las Vegas, interviewed on stage by Amazon technology chief Werner Vogels. It was a wide-ranging talk, covering not just AWS but also Bezos’ entrepreneurial advice, the principles of Amazon’s business, and even two of Bezos’ side projects: the 10,000 year clock and the Blue Origin space project.
We tuned in via webcast and gathered these highlights from his talk.
The challenge of pursuing new ideas: “The big ideas in business are often very obvious. … It’s very hard to maintain a firm grasp of the obvious at all times.”
On running a low-margin business: “I sometimes have waking dreams that I might one day operate a high-margin business. … High margins will also cover a lot of sins. So if you have high margins, it’s impossible to be efficient with high margins, because you don’t need to be, and necessity is the mother of invention. It takes a certain point of view to figure out how to operate in a low-margin business, but we wouldn’t know any other way.”
On the use of AWS by Amazon’s online video rival Netflix: “We may compete on Prime Instant Video, but we bust our butts every day for Netflix on the AWS side.”
On the 10,000 Year Clock: ”The symbol is important for a couple of reasons. If we think long term — and here when I say ‘we’ I mean, we humans — if we think long term, we can accomplish things that we wouldn’t otherwise accomplish. … Time horizons matter, they matter a lot. The other thing I would point out is that we humans are getting awfully sophisticated in technological ways and have a lot of potential to be very dangerous to ourselves. It seems to me that we are, as a species, to have to start thinking longer term. So this is a symbol. I think symbols can be very powerful.”
On his space venture: “Prime delivery to Mars is still a ways out. But we’ll get there.”
On the right approach for startups: “Missionaries build better products. I would take a missionary over a mercenary any day. Mercenaries want to flip the company and get rich. Missionaries want to build a great product or service. One of those great paradoxes is that it’s usually the missionaries who end up making more money anyway.”
His best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: ”Never chase the hot thing, whatever it is. That’s like trying to catch the wave, and you’ll never catch it. You need to position yourself and wait for the wave. And the way you do that is you pick something you’re passionate about. … Start with the customer and work backwards. Those two things, passion and customer-centricity, will take you an awful long way.”