My path to Amazon was circuitous. After college I worked in sales for a few years before getting my MBA. I then took a sales job at Procter & Gamble before becoming one of P&G's account analysts for Kmart. Wanting to work in technology, I left P&G for a job at a software startup called Evare. In May 1999, at the suggestion of a college friend, I interviewed for a position at Amazon. The company was still housed in a single building on Second Avenue in Seattle. Space was so cramped that one of my interviews was conducted in a break room where, on the other side of a cubicle divider, people were getting coffee and chatting. I was offered a job as product manager in video (VHS and DVD), and remained at the company in various roles for the next 15 years.
For the first five years of my tenure, I worked in Amazon's largest business at that time, the U.S. physical media group—books, music, video—where I rose through the ranks to director. In January 2004, just a few months after Jeff invited Colin to become his technical advisor, my manager and good friend Steve Kessel dropped a similarly unexpected bombshell on me. He was going to be promoted to senior vice president and, at Jeff's request, take over the company's digital business. He told me that I was to be promoted to vice president and that he wanted me to join him.
Steve informed me that Jeff had decided the time was right for Amazon to start enabling our customers to buy and read/watch/listen to books/videos/music digitally. The company was at a crossroads. Though the books, CD, and VHS/DVD business was Amazon's most popular, changes in internet and device technology, as well as the emergence of Napster and Apple iPod/iTunes, made it clear that this would not last. We expected that the physical media business would decline over time due to the shift to digital. We felt we had to act right away.
Jeff often used an analogy in those days when describing our efforts to innovate and build new businesses. "We need to plant many seeds," he would say, "because we don't know which one of those seeds will grow into a mighty oak." It was an apt analogy. The oak is one of the sturdiest and longest-living trees in the forest. Each tree produces thousands of acorns for every one tree that eventually rises to the sky.
In retrospect, this was a renaissance era at Amazon. The seeds Amazon planted beginning in 2004 would grow into the Kindle e-book reader, the Fire tablet, Fire TV, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, Amazon Studios, our voice-activated Echo speaker, and the underlying Alexa voice assistant technology. They would become some of Amazon's strongest and fastest-growing new businesses and value drivers. By 2018, these business units had created devices and services used daily by tens of millions of consumers around the world, generating tens of billions in annual revenue for Amazon.
I was fortunate enough throughout the decade to sit in either the driver's seat or a passenger seat (with a great view) for these new product initiatives. My role would evolve over the years, and I would become the owner and leader of Amazon's worldwide digital music and video business and engineering organizations. My team and I led the launch, development, and growth of the services that are known today as Amazon Music, Prime Video, and Amazon Studios. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to observe, participate in, and learn from the development and invention not only of these new products but also of a set of new Amazon processes, the combination of which would propel the company's second stage of growth, which has made it one of the most valuable companies on earth.
WORKING BACKWARDS ON AN AMAZON BOOK
We became friends through my wife, Lynn, and Colin's wife, Sarah, who became close friends when they both landed on the Amazon Toys category team in 2000 after earning their MBAs. Our friendship grew through our mutual love of golf and regular trips to play Bandon Dunes. We decided to write this book in 2018, when we observed two trends. The first was that Amazon's popularity had exploded, having become omnipresent in the media. People clearly craved to learn more about Amazon. The second was that Amazon was consistently misunderstood, which we experienced during our years on the inside. Wall Street analysts couldn't comprehend why Amazon didn't make a profit, as the company reinvested its cash in new products to drive future growth. And the press was often baffled by and critical of each new Amazon product, including Kindle, Prime, and Amazon Web Services.