6 Things We Learned From Jeff Bezos' Annual Letter

Twenty years ago Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos penned his first letter to shareholders as a public company. In those days, the Seattle startup was mostly selling books online and building out its infrastructure. Bezos called it "Day 1." It was Day 1 for the Internet and Day 1 for Amazon. Bezos emphasized that the company was focused on the long term and relentlessly focused on its customers. It would not let the pressures of being a public company deter it from its mission. Revenue in 1997 was $147 million, an 838% increase from 1996. In 2017, Amazon's revenue topped $177 billion. The company is one of the most valuable in the world in terms of market cap, and Bezos is the richest person on the planet. His 2018 letter to shareholders, however, displays many of the same ambitious, yet humble mission statements and focus on customer satisfaction as the one from two decades ago. The company, though, is in a completely different universe in terms of its reach, markets, customer base, infrastructure, impact and operations.

While not a comprehensive list, here are six things we learned from Bezos' annual letter to shareholders:

  • Amazon Prime has more than 100 million members globally. They pay $99 per year. Do the math.
  • In 2017, for the first time in company history, more than half of the units sold on Amazon Marketplace were from third-party sellers. Over 300,000 small businesses in the U.S. started selling on the platform.
  • Amazon Prime Video acquired the television rights to "The Lord of the Rings" for a multi-season production and the rights to "Cortes," a TV mini-series from Executive Producer Steven Speilberg, starring Javier Bardem. 
  • Amazon.in is the fastest growing marketplace in India and the most visited site on both desktop and mobile, according to comScore and SimilarWeb. The mobile shopping app was also the most downloaded in India, ever.
  • Amazon employs 560,000 people around the world. It hired 130,000 people in 2017, not including employees added through acquisitions.
  • Jeff Bezos can't do a handstand. 

While the last note is a tad silly, Bezos refers to a story in his annual letter about a friend who was desperate to learn how to do one and became frustrated when she could not master it within a few weeks. She hired a coach to help her, but the coach said it takes at least six months to learn how to do a free-standing handstand but most people get frustrated and quit, assuming they should have been able to master it in a few weeks. As Bezos writes, "...Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be..."

Many people doubted Bezos and his ambitious goals when he took his Seattle startup public over twenty years ago. He, of the honking loud laugh, is laughing now, even though it is still "Day 1."

Caleb Silver - Editor in Chief

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