As I mentioned here last week, I was truly taken by Jeff Bezos' thoughtfulness and wisdom in his recent Wired magazine interview. He touched on a number of interesting topics in the interview. I have decided to take up a few of them here at VentureBlog. Last week I talked about the power of taking a long term view of your business. This week's topic is related.
In the Wired interview, Bezos is asked about Eric Schmidt's observation that there are now only four tech companies that matter -- Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Schmidt calls them the Four Horsemen of Technology. Bezos could have jumped at the opportunity and taken his place atop the tech pecking order along side the other three. But Jeff has seen two decades worth of ups and downs and knows better than to take the bait. To his mind, there are lots of great tech companies working hard to innovate, but the only way to stay on top is to work harder and smarter than everyone else.
Jeff has a great quote about the importance of being humble in the face of success -- he says, "A company shouldn't get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn't last. You really want something that's much deeper-keeled." Boy is he right on this one. Being the sweetheart of the tech press doesn't make your company successful. Love in the tech world is stunningly fickle. The shine will wear off. But if you do have something "deeper-keeled" -- differentiated technology, excellent execution, customer loyalty -- you will be able to continue to motivate your employees, engage your customers, satisfy Wall Street, and flourish as a business.
Jeff has one additional thought when it comes to the shine wearing off on great companies. He clearly believes that there is value in succeeding in the face of adversity. He points out that "there are companies that haven't gone through tough times, so they're not really tested." Jeff doesn't use this as an opportunity to point fingers. That's not the sort of guy he is. But his point of view is clear -- that which doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Jeff experienced the Internet downturn at the end of the 1990's and lived to tell the tale. Many of the folks building Web businesses today weren't around then. They weren't around to experience the apocalypse. They weren't around to see the bottom fall out of virtually all Web businesses. They weren't around to see talent and money and hope abandon these sinking companies. But Jeff was. And he is smart enough to realize that the time will come again when the consumer Internet will face meaningful headwinds. Tested businesses and tested CEOs will survive and prosper. And clearly Jeff Bezos will be one of them.