Jeff Bezos explains why Amazon doesn’t really care about its competitors

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Hanson Hosein and Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos talks a lot about Amazon focusing on customers, to the point that it has become a cliché. But in a new interview debuting tonight in the Seattle region on the Four Peaks TV show, the Amazon CEO explains why that approach beats focusing on competitors, which is a common trap for many tech companies.

Hanson Hosein, the journalist and University of Washington educator who hosts the show, raises the issue during the interview by asking Bezos how Amazon stays nimble even as a tech giant.

“If you have a customer-centric culture, that cures a lot of ills,” responds Bezos. “Let’s say you’re the leader in a particular arena, if you’re competitor-focused and you’re already the leader, then where does your energy come from? Whereas, if you’re customer focused, and you’re already the leader, customers are never satisfied.”

He continues, “If you’re customer-focused, you’re always waking up wondering, how can we make that customer say, wow? We want to impress our customers — we want them to say, wow. That kind of divine discontent comes from observing customers and noticing that things can always be better.”

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Jeff Bezos

At another point in the interview, Bezos describes the “Amazon cocktail” of customer-centricity, long-term thinking, and a focus on invention.

“I don’t think that you can invent on behalf of customers unless you’re willing to think long-term, because a lot of invention doesn’t work. If you’re going to invent, it means you’re going to experiment, and if you’re going to experiment, you’re going to fail, and if you’re going to fail, you have to think long term.”

The interview, embedded below, makes its broadcast debut at 7 p.m. tonight on UWTV. (It was conducted prior to Bezos’ surprise agreement to acquire the Washington Post.)

Hosein, director of the UW Communication Leadership program, conducted a series of interviews in conjunction with the opening of the Bezos Center for Innovation at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry.

Other interviews in the series include Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Intellectual Ventures’ Nathan Myhrvold, and biotech pioneer Leroy Hood, among many others. All of the interviews have been released in advance, Netflix-style, on the Four Peaks site.

Hosein explains how the series came to be in this post.

Here’s the full Bezos interview, touching on everything from the origins of Amazon (and why Bezos chose Seattle over Portland), to the company’s legacy.

  • Guest

    “Let’s say you’re the leader in a particular arena, if you’re competitor-focused and you’re already the leader, then where does your energy come from? Whereas, if you’re customer focused, and you’re already the leader, customers are never satisfied.”

    Great point. Microsoft is the former, and that goes a long way to explaining how and why they lost their dominance.

    • Matt Nicholson

      It doesn’t explain how they grew so big in the first place, though. When Gates wrote BASIC for the Altair back in 1975, I would suggest he was customer focused. Going with IBM and MS-DOS was arguably customer focused too as he understood how important IBM was to business customers in a way that other companies (i.e. Digital Research) failed to see. Windows was possibly competitor focused, as he was anxious about Visi On, but it was also customer focused in that it offered better value for money than its competitors.

  • Jeanne Tomlin

    Fantastic interview and explains why the Amazon-haters have it wrong.

  • me

    Jeff, you are awesome.

  • Lukas Herval

    jeff is married to an interesting woman. I read about her here: http://wagcenter.com/corporate-wags/mackenzie-bezos-amazon-jeff-bezos-wife/

  • Carolyn Howard-Johnson

    I’m an author and I’ve never considered competitors as competitors. They’re possible marketing
    partners. Certainly people to share with. Maybe even real friends. (-: That was
    true even when I owned retail stores (before Amazon!)–for nearly three decades. Occasionally a fellow
    retailer didn’t get my philosophy, but most could see the benefits of working
    together.

  • Larry

    I think there is a singular differentiator. That being that the most successful leaders “believe” in customer centric culture and operations. It’s not a “program” or what they do to beat the competition. It is/was natural for Bezos and Jobs. That said, one can evolve their beliefs, change and become truly customer-centric. It’s a long haul, it can oft seem an uphill climb, with the right mindset and change-agents, it can be done and it can be incredibly powerful! (Larry)