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Protesters maneuver the Bezos Bot outside Amazon’s annual meeting. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

There were billboard trucks circling the block, a giant Bezos Bot looming over the crowd and, new to the show this year, drag queens dancing on the sidewalk.

And that was just the scene outside Amazon’s annual meeting Wednesday morning in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Inside the event, shareholders quizzed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on a wide range of topics and special interests, including quite a few that were only tangentially related to the tech giant’s business.

But for the traditionalists in the audience, a.k.a. analysts and investors who were there to assess the value and potential of Amazon’s stock, there were some actual moments of insight into the status of a company that, whatever your opinion of them, has become one of the most influential and closely watched enterprises in the world. And the very last question of the meeting provided one of the most interesting glimpses of the company’s potential future.

Jeff Bezos at Museum of Flight
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

A shareholder cited past comments by Warren Buffett about the difficulty many companies have growing at a similar rate after reaching hundreds of billions in revenue, and asked Bezos which parts of the company could move the needle for Amazon in the future.

“It’s such a good question, and it’s absolutely right,” Bezos said. “We can afford to do things that fail, but we can’t afford to do things that if they succeed, they’re small. We need to do things that if they succeed can be large — and we have a number of such things underway.”

He pointed specifically to three of them — the company’s investments in e-commerce and technology India, its award-winning Amazon Studios original content and its Amazon Alexa voice assistant — as three of possibilities. However, he cautioned, it’s too early to say whether any of those will become the fourth pillar of the company’s business.

Bezos introduced the concept of the company’s three existing pillars in his 2014 annual letter to shareholders. They are: Amazon’s third-party marketplace, which represented more than half of units sold on Amazon for the first time in 2017; the Amazon Web Services cloud computing division, which posted $17.5 billion in revenue last year and kept the overall company in the black with $4.3 billion in revenue; and Amazon Prime, which Bezos disclosed in this year’s annual letter has surpassed 100 million members.

“That’s a high standard, in the language that we use, to declare something a pillar of our business,” Bezos said, “but I’m hopeful that we’ll find a fourth pillar — and some of the things I just mentioned might or might not but I’m hopeful [one] would eventually merit that kind of designation.”

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