When you hear stories about Amazon’s “invention machine” — which led to a company with not just one or two products but several successful diverse lines of business — we often hear about things like: Memos, six pages exactly and no powerpoints at all!; or, the idea of just “work backwards from the press release”; and other such “best practices”… But what’s often lost in hearing about these is the context and the details behind them — the what, the how (as well as their origin stories) — not to mention how they all fit together. Knowing this can give us insight into how all companies and leaders, not just Amazon and Bezos, can define their cultures and ways especially as they scale. After all, Amazon was once a small startup, too.
So in this a16z Podcast with Sonal Chokshi — the very first podcast for the new book Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon (out February 9) — authors Colin Bryar and Bill Carr share not only how Amazon did it, but how other companies can do it, too, drawing on their combined 27 years of firsthand observations and experiences from being in “the room” where it happens. Bill was vice president of digital media, founded and led Amazon Music, Amazon Video, Amazon Studios; and Colin started out in the software group, was a technical vice president, and then, notably, was one of Jeff Bezos’ earliest shadows — the shadow before him was in fact Andy Jassy, president and CEO of Amazon Web Services (soon to be CEO of Amazon).
The two share not only the early inside stories behind (ultimately) big business moves like AWS, Kindle, Prime — but more importantly, the leadership principles, decision making practices, AND operational processes that got them there. Because “working backwards” is much, much more than being obsessed with your customers, or having company values like “are right a lot”, “insist on the highest standards”, “think big”, “bias for action”, and more. The discussion also touches on hot-topic debates like to lean-MVP-or-not-to-be; the internal API economy; do you even need a chief product officer; and if you need less, not more, coordination as you grow. Can startups really be like Amazon? Yes: and it comes down to how leaders, organizations, and people at all levels decide, build, invent… using the power of narratives and more.
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Sonal Chokshi is Editor in Chief of Crypto at Andreessen Horowitz.
The a16z Podcast discusses the most important ideas within technology with the people building it. Each episode aims to put listeners ahead of the curve, covering topics like AI, energy, genomics, space, and more.