A Must Read: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

I just finished reading a fantastic book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon written by Brad Stone called The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.
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A really great deep dive on how the company has grown over the past 20 years (!) and how it embodies the qualities and vision of its founder.

Here’s a solid bit:

“I understand what you’re saying, but you are completely wrong,” he (Jeff Bezons) said. “Communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.” That confrontation was
Bezos’s counterintuitive point was that coordination among employees wasted time, and that the people closest to problems were usually in the best position to solve them.”

And curious about my own Amazon usage, I went and looked at my Amazon account, and found what I think is one of my first orders back in late 1999 (no orders previous to that are shown) – and it’s a Sega Dreamcast game, NFL 2K :)

What was also very meta for me was to be reading this book on my Kindle app on my phablet Android Galaxy note 2 – which has proven to be an excellent reading device. And the reason I found out about the book was from highlights posted by Naveen on Twitter:

After seeing the highlight, it lead me to instantly buy the book from the Kindle app on Android. I can’t imagine a better customer experience than that.

When the very best becomes the minimally acceptable

In the physical world, when you shop at a bodega you don’t instantly compare it to an experience at a high-end Dean & DeLuca. When you purchase headphones at the airport, you don’t compare it to the selection and speed of buying something at B&H.

But when we consume digital services or buy stuff online, something radically different happens — at least to me. I get very disappointed when any service doesn’t deliver what the very best service out there is doing. It’s to the point where I change my behavior or try to convince others to adopt the very best. It’s unfair, and doesn’t mirror the offline world, but it’s happening and I suspect it’s driving lots of consumer behaviors these days.

For example, when I purchase any physical product online, I expect shipping to take 2 days max, maybe even just one day. Which is what Amazon/Zappos has trained me to expect. Any service that doesn’t do that, will cause me to double check if I can’t just buy the same thing on Amazon.

I’m a huge fan and user of Uber Conference which allows you to do conference calls with a visual browser interface, provides stats, easy calendar hooks, and calling-in from Chrome. Now when I have to use some other conf calling service with a 10 digit ID and no way to see who is talking – I feel underserved. I try to get the sender of the conf info to switch.

So what’s the conclusion ? Bigger marketshare for the leading services ? Probably. Build something that is at least as good as what the very best is offering ? Yes, but tough to pull off on all fronts.

I think one definite answer to all of this is to do deeper integrations with the very best and build on top of these platforms. If you sell physical stuff, work with Amazon Fulfillment or something similar. Doing voice services, start with integrating Twillio. Building a publishing app, build on top of WordPress.

Otherwise I think you’ll find that your customers are going to turn away when a certain core feature isn’t the best.

Amazon’s AWS Outage This Morning

The amazon AWS services have been extremely popular with lots of startups and has received very positive reviews. AWS is a way to leverage the Amazon infrastructure to provide lots of scalability for image hosting, CPU tasks, DB and more.

So what happens when an outage hits Amazon as we saw today ?

Impact wise, what struck me this morning, were the vast number of broken images across the web ( from sites that rely heavily on Amazon S3 ) and twitters of people agonizing about their businesses effectively being shut down.

A post on the Amazon forums is a good example:

I have to add a major ME TOO here. My business is effectively closed right now because Amazon did something wrong. I’ll have to reconsider using the service now.

For us on WordPress.com, we use S3, but only for a small portion of the image serving, and thanks to our architecture, were able to automatically deal with the outage this morning with no impact to our users. Our systems wrangler Barry has a post about it:

Currently we serve about 1500 image requests per second across WordPress.com. About 80-100 per second are served through S3; the rest being served from our local caches. When the outage occurred, our systems detected the errors and automatically sent the requests normally bound for S3 to local image servers that we use for backup and failover purposes.

Read Barry’s full post

Waiting for Mac OS X Leopard: Why no digital download option ?

OS X Leopard imageThe newest version of Mac OS X “Leopard” is out in the wild, but my Amazon.com order has an estimated delivery date for next week.

Not a big deal, but made me think: In today’s world of broadband and on-demand user behavior, why doesn’t apple offer a digital download option ? On top of it, it’s environmentally more responsible to do away with all the extra packaging, fuel costs for shipping, etc.

As far as expertise and DRM issues, Apple has the experience with it’s iTunes store and .Mac service to offer this kind of option and make it secure.

In the gaming space I’ve seen Valve‘s digital efforts evolve over the last few years into a really impressive offering. They have a service called Steam (gigaom review) which essentially allows you to purchase games and download them instantly. They also use the service to foster online gaming, do auto patching, premier game trailers, and fight against cheats. It was initally conceived because they had trouble with 3rd party distribution, and ironically today Steam is used as a distribtuion platform for other game publishers.

The other company that could also facilitate this would be Amazon themselves. They distribute music digitally with their new amazon mp3 store – so why not do the same for software ?