Amazon and the Long term strategy

Was reading the post “Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think” on Wired Magazine today.  One comment by Jeff Bezos really stands out for me:

Levy: You’ve also given $42 million to the Long Now Foundation for the development of a giant clock designed to last for 10,000 years. Does that project relate at all to what you’re doing at Amazon?

Bezos: It does fit into my view. Our first shareholder letter, in 1997, was entitled, “It’s all about the long term.” If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

In these days of booming and lean startups in the internet tech industry, there are only handful of companies that think about long term, 2 to 5 years in to the future. Clearly, Amazon is one of them.

 

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10+ years of continuous VPN connectivity !!

Yup, I have been working very hard last few years. Don’t believe?  Check the following screenshot of my VPN tool on my Mac. It is been running in “Connected” status for 3958 days. That is about 10+ years… of continuous connectivity despite Karnataka Electricity Board’s desperate attempts to switch off power for several hours in a day.

Yes, I work for the company that makes this VPN program, but not hacked it 🙂

Nasscom Product Conclave 2011 – Day1 summary

Thanks to Dorai Thodla, I got an invitation (and motivation) to attend Nasscom Product Conclave. I was keen on attending this primarily for two reasons. One, I have never been to a talk by Dr Werner Vogels. Second, I have attended several focused (mobile, Hadoop, startups etc) conferences, but had not been to Nasscom. Being a Nasscom event, I thought that the event will be shadowed by big names, but was surprised to see the agenda and was delighted to see huge number of startups and speakers from startups.

By the time I got to the venue, it was late (thank you bangalore for the traffic jams).  The impact of billion people+ was felt  the moment I entered the venue.  By the time I navigated my way around people standing with millimeter gap apart, Vinod Khosla almost finished his keynote and Vivek Wadhwa was to speak next.

Vivek Wadhwa(Entrepreneur)

Vivek Wadhwa started off his talk with bunch of statistics on the success/failure of entrepreneurs across different age groups and concluded that people with bald hairs and above age group of 39+ can also venture into entrepreneurs, referring to an earlier statement made by Vinod Khosla that 45 is too old to be an entrepreneur :-).

He was very very upbeat about Akash tablet – not v1.0 but v 3.0 that he would expect would be out in another year. He talked about various trends, areas to focus on (cloud, healthcare, education, big data, voice recognition, robotics, AI etc). He advised Indian entrepreneurs to focus on serious Indian problems and have a TAM of over billion people instead of building a stupid twitter/linkedin clone or a social media application.

Overall, it was an interesting talk and was entertaining too.

Brad Smit (CEO, Intuit)

Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit started off the keynote with the slide “The only constant that we can count on is the Change”.  It was a very down to earth, no buzz words and highly focused talk. He talked about how a 30 year old company like Intuit survived, while watching other big companies like SGI and Sun Microsystems, who were sharing the same premises, went through some changes that no one expected.

He shared a very nice story on the importance of leaders setting a goal and then moving out of the way:

The story starts with his daughter’s desire to play football. He then with great difficult talks to other interested kids, their parents and finally forms a team. They get all the football gear, identify the court and get started on a fine sunny day. He narrates how the first 10 to 15 minutes of that day was a chaos with all the kids kicking the ball in different directions, fighting over things and all other kid stuff, while the parents are standing/sitting far away and watching in despair.  And after about 15 minutes, the coach walks in with two goal posts and nails them into the ground. Brad says, what happened after that was nothing short of magic. All of a sudden, all the kids started kicking the ball in the direction of the goal post.

His message was simple to the leaders: Define the goal and get out of the way!!

He talked at length about the innovation and how his company went about it, especially the “follow me home” concept where the engineers actually follow the customer (who bought quicken product), watch him install and use.

As an entrepreneur, if there is one message you want to take home from his talk, I would say that would be “Keep customers happy and continue to do that” and everything else would converge around that.

There were whole bunch of tidbits and nice quotes in his talk. Here are few I remember:

To leaders:

  • Define a vision that inspires action
  • Be a translator of dreams – with references to JFK
  •  The job of the leader is not to come up with right answers, but ask right questions…

Other quotes:

  • How God made heaven in 7 days ?  He didn’t have to worry about all the legacy, installed base…
  • To walk a mile with your customer, you must first remove your shoes …
  • The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle – a quote from Peter Drucker
  • If you have teams bigger than two pizzas can feed, you have a problem – quote from Jeff Bezos
  • Don’t be Intellectually certain, be Intellectually curious.
  • Vision is the picture of how things will look when you get there…
  • “At 15, I thought my dad was the dumbest person on earth. At 18, I was wondering how fast he learnt in 3 years…”

Pallav Nadhani (Founder, Fusion Charts),  Paras Chopra(WingiFy), Amit Somani (MakeMyTrip), Mukund Mohan(Founder, BuzzGain ), Amit Ranjan (COO, SlideShare)

While the title of the talk is catchy, there were hardly any references or stress on $100 (or the spirit) part of it. It is great to see and nice to hear Young Indian entrepreneurs talk about their experiences and what worked for them and what didn’t. But the way sometimes these talks are given, one tends to believe that as absolute truth.  If what worked for one works for everyone else, then this whole startup learning would be reduced to a mere text book. One must realize that these are their stories and that those ideas worked for them in a given scenario. Take them as guidance, insight, experience but not as instructions.

I kind of felt that the they talked about too many things and spent too much time involving audience. It is neither a workshop nor a talk – sounds like good concept, but there was too little time to do this correctly.

There one quote/insight I liked from an entrepreneur in the audience. I am sure many of us would relate to this:-)

Have multiple options/packages in your product offering. It has the potential to make the customer thinking change from “Should I Buy or Not” to “Which One Should I Buy”

Vishal Sehgal(Founder, Lava), Ashish Aggarwal(Violet 3D), Dinesh Prasad(Qualcomm), Mohan Kumar(Norwest)

I should have read the abstract in more detail 🙂 This turned out to be a talk focussed on the hardware design for mobile brands. While I tried to listen to the speakers, there was so much of distraction in the hall -people talking loud on cellphones, door opening and closing with loud chatter from outside creeping in constantly. It just a 45 minutes talk – if people can’t give their attention for that small duration, why do they come ? This is something so common I see in Conferences in India. Why can’t we just stop entry/exit after the talk starts? We Indians talk so much about so many problems, but we cannot be self-disciplined.

btw, if you have not heard of violet 3D, check out their website. They have a sexy looking, revolutionary wireless sound system.

Shailesh Patil(Kesari Tours), Gulshan Haresh Bakhtiani(Wellness Forever Medicare), Kumar Vembu(Go Frugal)

It was a good discussion but not sure if it achieved the goals of the panel. The only take away message for IT product vendors was that make sure you profile the customers who are going to use the products as some may have never seen or used the computers.

One interesting observation is that we have seen many stories of entrepreneurs in the software industry where a programmer/developer at the core is forced to learn everything about product management, marketing, sales and financing etc.  But Shailesh Patil’s story was totally different. He narrated his story of how got interested in computers after seeing its use in one of the popular singapore electronics shop in 1985. His Travel & Tours office cost him 60K but the computer cost him 75K. His strong belief that computers would help him serve his customers saw the transition from “knowing literally nothing about computers” to “Learning programming and building all the necessary software by himself”. That’s not a transition one would expect to see in 1985. Kudos to him, his confidence and drive.

This turned out to be “Is this Trend a myth or real” like discussion, rather than insights and understanding of the area. I went to this talk primarily because of Dr Werner Vogel (CTO, Amazon) and Dr Vijay Chandru (Simputer fame)

In the midst of the discussion, there was a topic about how most developers today are looking to become managers rather than staying long in the technical field. It was interesting to see Dr Werner making a comment that the previous CTO of Amazon (before him) went back to the company as a Developer. Looking at the pace of technologies, He also mentioned that he would like to get back to development as he feels that it is hard to be a CTO these days without hands-on knowledge.

That is a sound advise to developers/techies  becoming managers by default, but not by choice.

I donot fully understand the formal mechanics of this but Dorai talked to me about this on several occasions. I happened to witness for about half hour at least.

Idea is that various budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to peers and other selected observers. Then the reviewers ask questions, critique, advise/suggest/improve and rate.  It seemed like a very good idea to me. There is a potential for someone to discard an idea outright, but hey, what is the fun/use if everyone likes your Idea.

I liked the energy and enthusiasm in the room.

As I was walking out, it occurred to me that automating this whole process itself is a business idea. And then connect it or integrate ideas like KickStart. It could be very powerful and several other startup solutions could be integrated in – like many life cycle aspects of an entrepreneur’s journey as he sets out with his idea and starts to make a business out of it.  For example, there was this another idea(I forgot the company name) one of the participant was pitching in. For a given space, this company goes and harvests the data from crunchbase and provides variety of analytics such as competitors, addressable market size estimations, investors in that area etc.   This is a good candidate to be integrated into this idea.  And I am sure there will be many such solutions that could be integrated into this idea so that it becomes one-stop place for all a startup needs.   How about that?  Any takers ??

Mahesh Murthy (SeedFund)

If there is one talk that shouldn’t be missed on day 1, that is this. Find out the slides or the video and watch it.

Good talk by Dr Werner. He talked at length about the following 5 aspects of Big Data and stressed the opportunities for innovation in each of these areas.

  • Collect
  • Store
  • Organize
  • Analyze
  • Share

Anyway you look at it, it is a massive growth area for Amazon.

If you have an idea around Big Data but you cannot afford Data scientists, you should check out kaggle.com – that is crowd sourcing of data scientists for you !!

Dr. Werner also recommended the following book as a mandatory read for everyone interested in Big Data.

The Fourth Paradigm – Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery  Available as free PDF from Microsoft.  Also available as on kindle here.

Dorai Thodla got an award from NASSCOM for mentoring various startups, budding entrepreneurs and umpteen number of college students. I worked with Dorai in iMorph and in previous companies too. He is an amazing guy to work with. He is a firehose of ideas. I wish I could convert even a handful of them into reallity.

Congratulations Dorai.

On the whole, it was useful time spent on day 1. I was excited to see so many young (& old too) entrepreneurs embarking on their journey. We probably are not far away from creating the Silicon Valley like environment for startup eco-system  and hopefully for the development for world class products.

(The biggest disappointment I faced was when I was coming out. Because the parking at the hotel was full, some of us were shown the basement parking of an unfinished building. To my horror, when I was about to take it out my car (other cars too), it was completed covered with fine dust. Added to that it was pitch dark.  Thanks to the innovation of mobile handsets as torches, managed to scrape through. I am sure the organizers could have done better job).

Random Acts of Kindness – Story of Full Glass of Milk

I read this story (reproduced here verbatim) today in TOI in speaking tree edition. It is such a beautiful story, it just touched my heart. Several times, we think that how small little nice things that we do willn’t have any visible impact and instead aim to do bigger things only. The takeaway from this story, for me, is the gentle reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way. Even though you mayn’t always see, everything always starts small – be it changing oneself or changing the world.

“One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door.

Instead of a meal, he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked hungry and so she brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked, “How much do I owe you?”

“You don’t owe me anything,” she replied. “Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness.” He said, “Then I thank you from my heart.” As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strengthened also. He had been ready to give up and quit.

Years later, that young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease.

Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, he went down the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor’s gown, he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day, he gave special attention to the case.

After a long struggle, the battle was won. Dr. Kelly requested from the business office to pass the final billing to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge, and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill. She read these words:

“PAID IN FULL WITH ONE GLASS OF MILK….

(Signed)
Dr. Howard Kelly.”