On a plane flight the other day I was catching up on an issue of Wired Magazine that had sat in my backpack for several weeks (as an aside, Wired continues to be my go-to airplane reading -- it is so well written, well designed, well researched, always entertaining -- I definitely qualify as a Wired fan boy). In December's issue there was a great article on Bitcoin. What an amazing story of markets run amuck (reminded me a bit of our current gold and oil markets). There were a dozen Steve Jobs tributes, as interesting for what they said about Mr. Jobs as what they said about those lionizing him (George Lucas, Penn Jillette, David Kelley…). But the article that really sucked me in was an interview with Jeff Bezos.
The cover of the December issue of Wired is adorned with the better part of Jeff Bezos' head (I think that 2/3rds of Jeff's head looks even more like Andre Agassi than his full head). The cover reads "Jeff Bezos started with books. Now his company dominates the web in more ways than you think." The cover may not be giving us the credit we deserve. I can think of lots of ways in which Amazon dominates the Web. Every book, DVD, CD, Lego set, remote control car, electric razor, electric toothbrush, obscure french soap, Kinder chocolate bar, etc. etc. that I buy online comes from Amazon. Every time I pay for a great project on Kickstarter (most recently this important documentary on William Kamkwamba), I do so using Amazon payment services. And practically every startup that pitches me is running some part of its infrastructure on Amazon Web Services. The world we live in would be a very different -- and much worse -- place without Amazon.
Given the incredible impact that Jeff Bezos has had on the digital landscape, it isn't surprising that his interview is filled with smart observations and valuable insights into company building. In particular, I was thrilled to read Bezos' articulation of the value of maintaining a longterm outlook. I have often warned would-be entrepreneurs that company building is a marathon, not a sprint. It seems to me that there has been a fair amount of near-term optimization going on in recent years at the expense of long-term thinking. Bezos takes the opposite tack. In his words, "If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you are 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." He's right. Very few companies take a long-term approach. At August Capital, our goal is to fund those entrepreneurs -- entrepreneurs who think big, or maybe more appropriately, who think long.
Great companies are built over decades, not years. And great CEO's think in decade long time horizons. If you look at the evolution of Facebook and Facebook Connect, it isn't happenstance that Facebook's tentacles are now so far-reaching. Those close to Mark Zuckerberg tell me that his vision of Facebook as the social graph to everything dates back to the early days of the company. Mark's goal has always been to build an important company, not just to make a bunch of money. And building important companies takes time. Mark could have learned that philosophy from Bill Gates (who's vision for Windows emerged and blossomed over decades) or Steve Jobs (who's understanding of the interrelatedness of software and hardware drove a product strategy that over two decades captured the worlds imagination) or Scott Cook (who's maniacal focus on the needs of small business owners -- who are always fighting for resources, visibility and time -- has changed how practically every mom and pop in America does business). But he would be just as well served to study at the side of Jeff Bezos. Jeff describes Amazon as "stubborn on vision and flexible on details." In the vein of "good things come to those who wait," Jeff tells Wired, "you don't know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you are patient." That patience, combined with persistence, is a testimony to Jeff and is a big part of Amazon's recipe for success.
New entrepreneurs would be well served to learn by Jeff Bezos' example. Smart. Thoughtful. Patient. Jeff has demonstrated over two decades that he has the vision and leadership to create one of the most important companies in the world. And he has the stubborn genius and unworldly stamina to be a powerful force for decades to come. I missed the opportunity to fund Jeff when he came around Sand Hill Road (I handn't yet snuck my way into the venture business). But I sure hope I don't miss the next Jeff Bezos. It is the rare entrepreneur who has the capacity to build a great business day in and day out, while planning a decade ahead.