Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Full text is:

> At both Viaweb and YC, every minute I spent thinking about competitors was, in retrospect, a minute wasted.

Follow-up tweet:

> It may be useful for some companies to think about competitors. That's why I didn't phrase it as a general rule. In particular it may be useful for more established companies to. If a startup has to, though, they're probably doomed.

Also a quote from Jeff Bezos:

> “If you want to get to the truth about what makes us different, it’s this: We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented, and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years, they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close followers rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of those three elements.”

As a side note, I added […] in the title to show this isn't the complete text but it got scrubbed then removed.

>> It may be useful for some companies to think about competitors. That's why I didn't phrase it as a general rule. In particular it may be useful for more established companies to. If a startup has to, though, they're probably doomed.

Back around the mid- or early '90s there was a management theory trend of working to identify institutional best practices and of formally benchmarking https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benchmarking institutions against peers (often competitors). I don't recall much detail about it at all, because I was only a teenager at the time and I only heard about it from the summaries you'd see in magazines like the Economist. But what I do seem to recall is that (like many another management-theory trend) it went through a phase of red-hot excitement to widespread skepticism and moderate disillusionment, and partly for the obvious reasons: benchmarking competitors usually can't on its own deliver much insight into how to outperform the current leader in any given area, and doesn't usually offer much of an insight into future opportunities or challenges. So (it seems) even for established companies there are limits to how competitor-focussed it's usually advisable to be.

(AFAICT—and again, I'm just someone who read about this stuff in magazines as a child—this kind of management-theory/theory-of-the-firm study and experimentation really was much more prominent in the public eye twenty-five or more years ago, and has faded from popular awareness since; maybe because the work itself is less common, and less influential on institutions, nowadays too. I think that's a pity, because it seems relevant to some supposedly-new things you see generating excitement nowadays, especially in the vicinity of the tech industry. For example the whole Valve structureless-or-notionally-structureless-organisation effort is probably pretty well prefigured in the work of a generation of management consultants who looked at and tried out all kinds of institutional structures or absences of structure beside the traditional corporate model, generally in pursuit of much the same ends—more innovation, more amenability to change, better decision-making—and with similar mixed-to-disappointing results.

That's all for now kids. Next week, the X-Files. ;) )

Do you think Jeff’s statement holds true today? I’m under the impression Amazon is less customer centric but maybe I am biased.

It's taken pretty seriously internally. All new hires at most offices receive day-1 "Customer Obsession" training. I know this because I got certified as a trainer for that class just this week.

There are some cases where I think we've failed at it, speaking for myself and not the company of course, but the concept is still the driving force behind a lot of what goes on. "Start with the customer". Amazon Go is a pretty big recent example where the company is really proud internally of the customer obsession that went into it.

Bias note: I've been an Amazon dude a long time now.

Something I read recently on some other HN comment was that if you work in AWS you are customer-obsessed for AWS customers, when you work in 3rd party seller tools you're customer-obsessed for 3rd party sellers, when you work in ads you're customer-obsessed with the advertisers as your customers etc.

It makes a lot of sense for any company to operate this way (most I've seen already do) and explains how they can be genuinely customer-obsessed while still seeming like at times they don't have the average consumer's best interest at heart.

From three recent years working there, absolutely. They bend over backwards for their customers, always. The problem, and where most of the bad reputation comes from, is from people who aren't their customers -- warehouse employees, if you're trying to get things shipped to retail customers, or the actual employees, if you're trying to do anything. And, probably, their over-obsession with customers is why they've been so slow and incompetent about dealing with sellers cheating their system -- because the default was letting them get away with everything.

How does 'giving your customers fake goods' not hurt customer service? It seems like a customer first approach should be tougher on this.

It does, and I think the problem is more that Amazon's internal processes and tribal knowledge are a bit clueless when it comes to fraud. Their perspective, historically, has been to allow as many products as possible on the site, because one of the way they get and retain customers is by 'having everything'. Their metrics don't incentivize large purges. I think it's a bit of an arms race between fraudulent sellers and the retail org's processes and engineering, and unfortunately the latter iterates much slower so they can't keep up.

Also, the warehouse processes at least are heavily designed around catching mistakes like mislabeling, but less so intentional fraud like fakes (or - they were a few years ago, imo). And they tend to treat fraud like a big data problem ('what can we do to lower this statistic') instead of case-by-case: 'we need to get rid of every fraudulent seller'. Which, like, if you try really hard to move a needle from, say, 80% to 95%, that ultimately means you are vocally okay with 5%, which is stupid.

FBA sellers are the customers of that section. The buyers on Amazon are not relevant.

> Customer Obsession

> Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Listed first on both https://www.amazondelivers.jobs/about/culture/ and https://aws.amazon.com/careers/culture/

I think they are less customer centric, based on my own experiences as a customer over the years. Their customer service is still pretty decent though. And I think Bezos's statement on their willingness to make long term investments still holds.

I should stipulate that I separate these issues in my head from things like dismal working conditions. There's nothing that precludes Amazon from being excellent in some areas of corporate management and horrible in other ways. I think their increase to a minimum $15/hour wage was a very small step in the right direction, but they have a ways to go. Basically I consider their warehouse operations as a case-in-point for why unions still have a use in modern times. The ability to have a bathroom break that doesn't involve threading your member into an bottle in an out of the way place on the warehouse floor would seem to be one of the first "asks" of such a union. I also see the need to have medical services on site 24/7 as less of a feature, and more of a bandaid over the bug that is constant worker injury. In speaks to a culture of hurt that perpetually keeps the "time since last injury" clock hovering in the half-hour range.

I can explain how stuff like co-mingling may be customer centric - it's a necessary trade-off to offer large selection, low price and fast shipping. Maybe.

But Ads ? They only harm customers.

So yes, they're less customer centric.

Amazon is big enough to have internal competition.

And The Customer doesn't have to mean the person who buys stuff from an Amazon listing.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact