一、1997年：一切关乎长期（It’s All About the Long Term）
Amazon.com passed many milestones in 1997: by year-end, we had served more than 1.5 million customers, yielding 838% revenue growth to $147.8 million, and extended our market leadership despite aggressive competitive entry.
We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term. This value will be a direct result of our ability to extend and solidify our current market leadership position. The stronger our market leadership, the more powerful our economic model. Market leadership can translate directly to higher revenue, higher profitability, greater capital velocity, and correspondingly stronger returns on invested capital.
Our decisions have consistently reflected this focus. We first measure ourselves in terms of the metrics most indicative of our market leadership: customer and revenue growth, the degree to which our customers continue to purchase from us on a repeat basis, and the strength of our brand. We have invested and will continue to invest aggressively to expand and leverage our customer base, brand, and infrastructure as we move to establish an enduring franchise.
We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers.
We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions.
We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.
When forced to choose between optimizing the appearance of our GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take the cash flows.
We will share our strategic thought processes with you when we make bold choices (to the extent competitive pressures allow), so that you may evaluate for yourselves whether we are making rational long-term leadership investments.
We will work hard to spend wisely and maintain our lean culture. We understand the importance of continually reinforcing a cost-conscious culture, particularly in a business incurring net losses.
We will balance our focus on growth with emphasis on long-term profitability and capital management. At this stage, we choose to prioritize growth because we believe that scale is central to achieving the potential of our business model.
We intend to build the world’s most customer-centric company. We hold as axiomatic that customers are perceptive and smart, and that brand image follows reality and not the other way around. Our customers tell us that they choose Amazon.com and tell their friends about us because of the selection, ease-of-use,low prices, and service that we deliver.
But there is no rest for the weary. I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers. Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation. And we consider them to be loyal to us – right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.
During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision:
Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you’ve admired in your life, they are probably people you’ve been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I’ve always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.
Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, “The standards are so high now — boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!”
Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It’s often something that’s not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion (1978, I believe). I suspect it doesn’t help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: “onomatopoeia!”
At a recent event at the Stanford University campus, a young woman came to the microphone and asked me a great question: “I have 100 shares of Amazon.com. What do I own?”
I was surprised I hadn’t heard it before, at least not so simply put. What do you own? You own a piece of the leading e-commerce platform.
The Amazon.com platform is comprised of brand, customers, technology, distribution capability, deep e-commerce expertise, and a great team with a passion for innovation and a passion for serving customers well. We begin the year 2000 with 17 million customers, a world-wide reputation for customer focus, the best e-commerce software systems, and purpose-built distribution and customer service infrastructure.
We believe we have reached a “tipping point,” where this platform allows us to launch new ecommerce businesses faster, with a higher quality of customer experience, a lower incremental cost, a higher chance of success, and a faster path to scale and profitability than any other company.
Our vision is to use this platform to build Earth’s most customer-centric company, a place where customers can come to find and discover anything and everything they might want to buy online. We won’t do so alone, but together with what will be thousands of partners of all sizes. We’ll listen to customers, invent on their behalf, and personalize the store for each of them, all while working hard to continue to earn their trust.
As is probably clear, this platform affords an unusually large scale opportunity, one that should prove very valuable for both customers and shareholders if we can make the most of it. Despite the many risks and complexities, we are deeply committed to doing so.
Ouch. It’s been a brutal year for many in the capital markets and certainly for Amazon.com shareholders. As of this writing, our shares are down more than 80% from when I wrote you last year. Nevertheless, by almost any measure, Amazon.com the company is in a stronger position now than at any time in its past.We served 20 million customers in 2000, up from 14 million in 1999.Sales grew to $2.76 billion in 2000 from $1.64 billion in 1999.
So, if the company is better positioned today than it was a year ago, why is the stock price so much lower than it was a year ago? As the famed investor Benjamin Graham said, ‘‘In the short term, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long term, it’s a weighing machine.’’ Clearly there was a lot of voting going on in the boom year of ’99—and much less weighing. We’re a company that wants to be weighed, and over time, we will be—over the long term, all companies are. In the meantime, we have our heads down working to build a heavier and heavier company.
In every annual letter (including this one), we attach a copy of our original 1997 letter to shareholders to help investors decide if Amazon.com is the right kind of investment for them, and to help us determine if we have remained true to our original goals and values. I think we have.
In that 1997 letter, we wrote, “When forced to choose between optimizing the appearance of our GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take the cash flows.”Why focus on cash flows? Because a share of stock is a share of a company’s future cash flows, and, as a result, cash flows more than any other single variable seem to do the best job of explaining a company’s stock price over the long term.
As I’ve discussed many times before, we are firm believers that the long-term interests of shareholders are tightly linked to the interests of our customers: if we do our jobs right, today’s customers will buy more tomorrow, we’ll add more customers in the process, and it will all add up to more cash flow and more long-term value for our shareholders. To that end, we are committed to extending our leadership in e-commerce in a way that benefits customers and therefore, inherently, investors–you can’t do one without the other.
One of our most exciting peculiarities is poorly understood. People see that we’re determined to offer both world-leading customer experience and the lowest possible prices, but to some this dual goal seems paradoxical if not downright quixotic.Traditional stores face a time-tested tradeoff between offering high-touch customer experience on the one hand and the lowest possible prices on the other. How can Amazon.com be trying to do both?
The answer is that we transform much of customer experience—such as unmatched selection, extensive product information, personalized recommendations, and other new software features—into largely a fixed expense. With customer experience costs largely fixed (more like a publishing model than a retailing model), our costs as a percentage of sales can shrink rapidly as we grow our business. Moreover, customer experience costs that remain variable—such as the variable portion of fulfillment costs—improve in our model as we reduce defects. Eliminating defects improves costs and leads to better customer experience.
Long-term thinking is both a requirement and an outcome of true ownership. Owners are different from tenants. I know of a couple who rented out their house, and the family who moved in nailed their Christmas tree to the hardwood floors instead of using a tree stand. Expedient, I suppose, and admittedly these were particularly bad tenants, but no owner would be so short-sighted. Similarly, many investors are effectively short-term tenants,turning their portfolios so quickly they are really just renting the stocks that they temporarily “own.”
We emphasized our long-term views in our 1997 letter to shareholders, our first as a public company,because that approach really does drive making many concrete, non-abstract decisions. I’d like to discuss a few of these non-abstract decisions in the context of customer experience. At Amazon.com, we use the term customer experience broadly. It includes every customer-facing aspect of our business—from our product prices to our selection, from our website’s user interface to how we package and ship items. The customer experience we create is by far the most important driver of our business.
As we design our customer experience, we do so with long-term owners in mind. We try to make all of our customer experience decisions—big and small—in that framework.
For instance, shortly after launching Amazon.com in 1995, we empowered customers to review products. While now a routine Amazon.com practice, at the time we received complaints from a few vendors, basically wondering if we understood our business: “You make money when you sell things—why would you allow negative reviews on your website?” Speaking as a focus group of one, I know I’ve sometimes changed my mind before making purchases on Amazon.com as a result of negative or lukewarm customer reviews. Though negative reviews cost us some sales in the short term, helping customers make better purchase decisions ultimately pays off for the company.
Another example is our Instant Order Update feature, which reminds you that you’ve already bought a particular item. Customers lead busy lives and cannot always remember if they’ve already purchased a particular item, say a DVD or CD they bought a year earlier. When we launched Instant Order Update, we were able to measure with statistical significance that the feature slightly reduced sales. Good for customers? Definitely. Good for shareowners? Yes, in the long run.
Since many of our costs, such as software engineering, are relatively fixed and many of our variable costs can also be better managed at larger scale, driving more volume through our cost structure reduces those costs as a percentage of sales. To give one small example, engineering a feature like Instant Order Update for use by 40 million customers costs nowhere near 40 times what it would cost to do the same for 1 million customers.
Our pricing strategy does not attempt to maximize margin percentages, but instead seeks to drive maximum value for customers and thereby create a much larger bottom line—in the long term. For example, we’re targeting gross margins on our jewelry sales to be substantially lower than industry norms because we believe over time—customers figure these things out—this approach will produce more value for shareholders.We have a strong team of hard-working, innovative folks building Amazon.com. They are focused on the customer and focused on the long term. On that time scale, the interests of shareowners and customers realigned.
Our ultimate financial measure, and the one we most want to drive over the long-term, is free cash flow per share.Why not focus first and foremost, as many do, on earnings, earnings per share or earnings growth? The simple answer is that earnings don’t directly translate into cash flows, and shares are worth only the present value of their future cash flows, not the present value of their future earnings. Future earnings are a component—but not the only important component—of future cash flow per share. Working capital and capital expenditures are also important, as is future share dilution.
Though some may find it counterintuitive, a company can actually impair shareholder value in certain circumstances by growing earnings. This happens when the capital investments required for growth exceed the present value of the cash flow derived from those investments.
Cash flow statements often don’t receive as much attention as they deserve. Discerning investors don’t stop with the income statement.
Our Most Important Financial Measure: Free Cash Flow Per Share
Amazon.com’s financial focus is on long-term growth in free cash flow per share.Amazon.com’s free cash flow is driven primarily by increasing operating profit dollars and efficiently managing both working capital and capital expenditures. We work to increase operating profit by focusing on improving all aspects of the customer experience to grow sales and by maintaining a lean cost structure.
This focus on free cash flow isn’t new for Amazon.com. We made it clear in our 1997 letter to shareholders—our first as a public company—that when “forced to choose between optimizing GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take the cash flows.” I’m attaching a copy of our complete 1997 letter and encourage current and prospective shareowners to take a look at it.
Many of the important decisions we make at Amazon.com can be made with data. There is a right answer or a wrong answer, a better answer or a worse answer, and math tells us which is which. These are our favorite kinds of decisions.
As you would expect, however, not all of our important decisions can be made in this enviable, math-based way. Sometimes we have little or no historical data to guide us and proactive experimentation is impossible, impractical, or tantamount to a decision to proceed. Though data, analysis, and math play a role, the prime ingredient in these decisions is judgment.
As our shareholders know, we have made a decision to continuously and significantly lower prices for customers year after year as our efficiency and scale make it possible. This is an example of a very important decision that cannot be made in a math-based way. In fact, when we lower prices, we go against the math that we can do, which always says that the smart move is to raise prices. We have significant data related to price elasticity. With fair accuracy, we can predict that a price reduction of a certain percentage will result in anincrease in units sold of a certain percentage. With rare exceptions, the volume increase in the short term is never enough to pay for the price decrease.
However, our quantitative understanding of elasticity is short-term. We can estimate what a price reduction will do this week and this quarter. But we cannot numerically estimate the effect that consistently lowering prices will have on our business over five years or ten years or more. Our judgment is that relentlessly returning efficiency improvements and scale economies to customers in the form of lower prices creates a virtuous cycle that leads over the long term to a much larger dollar amount of free cash flow, and thereby to a much more valuable Amazon.com. We’ve made similar judgments around Free Super Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime, both of which are expensive in the short term and—we believe—important and valuable in the long term.
As another example, in 2000 we invited third parties to compete directly against us on our “prime retail real estate”—our product detail pages. Launching a single detail page for both Amazon retail and third-party items seemed risky. Well-meaning people internally and externally worried it would can nibalize Amazon’s retail business, and—as is often the case with consumer-focused innovations—there was no way to prove in advance that it would work. Our buyers pointed out that inviting third parties onto Amazon.com would make inventory forecasting more difficult and that we could get “stuck” with excess inventory if we “lost the detail page” to one of our third-party sellers.
However, our judgment was simple. If a third party could offer a better price or better availability on a particular item, then we wanted our customer to get easy access to that offer. Over time, thirdparty sales have become a successful and significant part of our business. Third-party units have grown from 6% of total units sold in 2000 to 28% in 2005, even as retail revenues have grown three-fold.
Math-based decisions command wide agreement, whereas judgment-based decisions are rightly debated and often controversial, at least until put into practice and demonstrated. Any institution u nwilling to endure controversy must limit itself to decisions of the first type. In our view, doing so would not only limit controversy—it would also significantly limit innovation and long-term value creation.
At Amazon’s current scale, planting seeds that will grow into meaningful new businesses takes some discipline, a bit of patience, and a nurturing culture.
Fulfillment by Amazon is a set of web services API’s that turns our 12 million square foot fulfillment center network into a gigantic and sophisticated computer peripheral. Pay us 45 cents per month per cubic foot of fulfillment center space, and you can stow your products in our network. You make web services calls to alert us to expect inventory to arrive, to tell us to pick and pack one or more items, and to tell us where to ship those items.
Amazon Web Services is another example. With AWS, we’re building a new business focused on a newcustomer set … software developers. We currently offer ten different web services and have built a community of over 240,000 registered developers. We’re targeting broad needs universally faced by developers, such as storage and compute capacity—areas in which developers have asked for help, and in which we have deep expertise from scaling Amazon.com over the last twelve years. We’re well positioned to do it, it’s highly differentiated, and it can be a significant, financially attractive business over time.
In some large companies, it might be difficult to grow new businesses from tiny seeds because of the patience and nurturing required. In my view, Amazon’s culture is unusually supportive of small businesses with big potential, and I believe that’s a source of competitive advantage.
In our experience, if a new business enjoys runaway success, it can only begin to be meaningful to the overall company economics in something like three to seven years. We’ve seen those time frames with our international businesses, our earlier non-media businesses, and our third party seller businesses. Today, international is 45% of sales, non-media is 34% of sales, and our third party seller businesses account for 28% of our units sold.
I’ll highlight a few of the useful features we built into Kindle that go beyond what you could ever do with aphysical book. If you come across a word you don’t recognize, you can look it up easily. You can search your books. Your margin notes and underlinings are stored on the server-side in the “cloud,” where they can’t be lost.Kindle keeps your place in each of the books you’re reading, automatically. If your eyes are tired, you can change the font size. Most important is the seamless, simple ability to find a book and have it in 60 seconds.
From apublisher’s point of view, there are a lot of advantages to Kindle. Books never go out of print, and they never go ut of stock. Nor is there ever waste from over-printing. Most important, Kindle makes it more convenient for readers to buy more books. Anytime you make something simpler and lower friction, you get more of it.
In this turbulent global economy, our fundamental approach remains the same. Stay heads down, focused on the long term and obsessed over customers. Long-term thinking levers our existing abilities and lets us do new things we couldn’t otherwise contemplate. It supports the failure and iteration required for invention, and it frees us to pioneer in unexplored spaces.
Seek instant gratification – or the elusive promise of it – and chances are you’ll find a crowd there ahead of you. Long-term orientation interacts well with customer obsession. If we can identify a customer need and if we can further develop conviction that that need is meaningful and durable, our approach permits us to work patiently for multiple years to deliver a solution. “Working backwards” from customer needs can be contrasted with a “skills-forward” approach where existing skills and competencies are used to drive business opportunities. The skills-forward approach says, “We are really good at X. What else can we do with X?” That’s a useful and rewarding business approach. However, if used exclusively, the company employing it will never be driven to develop fresh skills. Eventually the existing skills will become outmoded. Working backwards from customer needs often demands that we acquire new competencies and exercise new muscles,never mind how uncomfortable and awkward-feeling those first steps might be.
In our retail business, we have strong conviction that customers value low prices, vast selection, and fast,convenient delivery and that these needs will remain stable over time. It is difficult for us to imagine that ten years from now, customers will want higher prices, less selection, or slower delivery. Our belief in the durability of these pillars is what gives us the confidence required to invest in strengthening them. We know that the energy we put in now will continue to pay dividends well into the future.
Our pricing objective is to earn customer trust, not to optimize short-term profit dollars. We take it as an article of faith that pricing in this manner is the best way to grow our aggregate profit dollars over the long term. We may make less per item, but by consistently earning trust we will sell many more items. Therefore, we offer low prices across our entire product range. For the same reason, we continue to invest in our free shipping programs,including Amazon Prime. Customers are well-informed and smart, and they evaluate the total cost, including delivery charges, when making their purchasing decisions. In the last 12 months, customers worldwide have saved more than $800 million by taking advantage of our free shipping offers.
The financial results for 2009 reflect the cumulative effect of 15 years of customer experience improvements: increasing selection, speeding delivery, reducing cost structure so we can afford to offer customers ever-lower prices, and many others. This work has been done by a large number of smart, relentless, customer-devoted people across all areas of the company. We are proud of our low prices, our reliable delivery, and our in-stock position on even obscure and hard-to-find items. We also know that we can still be much better, and we’re dedicated to improving further.
Random forests, naïve Bayesian estimators, RESTful services, gossip protocols, eventual consistency, datasharding, anti-entropy, Byzantine quorum, erasure coding, vector clocks … walk into certain Amazon meetings,and you may momentarily think you’ve stumbled into a computer science lecture.
All the effort we put into technology might not matter that much if we kept technology off to the side in some sort of R&D department, but we don’t take that approach. Technology infuses all of our teams, all of our processes, our decision-making, and our approach to innovation in each of our businesses. It is deeply integrated into everything we do.
Now, if the eyes of some shareowners dutifully reading this letter are by this point glazing over, I will awaken you by pointing out that, in my opinion, these techniques are not idly pursued – they lead directly to free cash flow.
Invention comes in many forms and at many scales. The most radical and transformative of inventions areoften those that empower others to unleash their creativity – to pursue their dreams. That’s a big part of what’s going on with Amazon Web Services, Fulfillment by Amazon, and Kindle Direct Publishing. With AWS, FBA,and KDP, we are creating powerful self-service platforms that allow thousands of people to boldly experiment and accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible or impractical. These innovative, large-scale platforms are not zero-sum – they create win-win situations and create significant value for developers, entrepreneurs, customers, authors, and readers.
In just the last quarter of 2011, Fulfillment by Amazon shipped tens of millions of items on behalf of sellers.When sellers use FBA, their items become eligible for Amazon Prime, for Super Saver Shipping, and forAmazon returns processing and customer service. FBA is self-service and comes with an easy-to-use inventory management console as part of Amazon Seller Central. For the more technically inclined, it also comes with a set of APIs so that you can use our global fulfillment center network like a giant computer peripheral.
Kindle Direct Publishing has quickly taken on astonishing scale – more than a thousand KDP authors now each sell more than a thousand copies a month, some have already reached hundreds of thousands of sales, andtwo have already joined the Kindle Million Club. KDP is a big win for authors. Authors who use KDP get to keep their copyrights, keep their derivative rights, get to publish on their schedule – a typical delay in traditional publishing can be a year or more from the time the book is finished – and … saving the best for last … KDP authors can get paid royalties of 70%. The largest traditional publishers pay royalties of only 17.5% on ebooks(they pay 25% of 70% of the selling price which works out to be 17.5% of the selling price). The KDP royalty structure is completely transformative for authors. A typical selling price for a KDP book is a reader-friendly $2.99 – authors get approximately $2 of that! With the legacy royalty of 17.5%, the selling price would have tobe $11.43 to yield the same $2 per unit royalty. I assure you that authors sell many, many more copies at $2.99 than they would at $11.43.
As regular readers of this letter will know, our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors. We don’t take a view on which of these approaches is more likely to maximize business success. There are pros and cons to both and many examples of highly successful competitor-focused companies. We do work to pay attention to competitors and be inspired by them, but it is a fact that the customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture.
One advantage – perhaps a somewhat One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to. These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition.
We now have more than 15 million items in Prime, up 15x since we launched in 2005. Prime Instant Video selection tripled in justover a year to more than 38,000 movies and TV episodes. The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has also morethan tripled to over 300,000 books, including an investment of millions of dollars to make the entire Harry Potterseries available as part of that selection. We didn’t “have to” make these improvements in Prime. We did so proactively. A related investment – a major, multi-year one – is Fulfillment by Amazon. FBA gives third-party sellers the option of warehousing their inventory alongside ours in our fulfillment center network. It has been a game changer for our seller customers because their items become eligible for Prime benefits, which drives their sales, while at the same time benefitting consumers with additional Prime selection.
Our heavy investments in Prime, AWS, Kindle, digital media, and customer experience in general strike some as too generous, shareholder indifferent, or even at odds with being a for-profit company. “Amazon, as far as I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers,” writes one outside observer. But I don’t think so. To me, trying to dole out improvements in a just in-time fashion would be too clever by half. It would be risky in a world as fast-moving as the one we all live in.More fundamentally, I think long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust,which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders alit.
我为我们的团队感到骄傲，他们过去数年间代表客户利益进行创新，全世界的亚马逊人从长计议不断打造超出客户期望、能让顾客为之惊呼的好产品。I’m so proud of what all the teams here at Amazon have accomplished on behalf of customers this past year.Amazonians around the world are polishing products and services to a degree that is beyond what’s expected orrequired, taking the long view, reinventing normal, and getting customers to say “Wow.我们使用非同寻常的工具：顾客至上，而不是盯住竞争对手，对创新发自内心的激情，渴望做得更好和愿意长线思维。良好的执行加上一点点运气，第三方销售平台（Marketplace）、金牌会员（Prime）和亚马逊云（AWS）在为客户提供服务的同时，并在很多年都有良好的经济回报。
We’ll approach the job with our usual tools: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, heartfelt passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and a willingness to think long-term. With good execution and a bit of continuing good luck, Marketplace, Prime, and AWS can be serving customers and earning financial returns for many years to come.
AWS is eight years old, and the team’s pace of innovation is actually accelerating. In 2010, we launched 61 significant services and features. We iterate continuously, and when a feature or enhancement is ready, we push it out and make it instantly available to all. This approach is fast, customer-centric, and efficient – it’s allowed us to reduce prices more than 40 times in the past 8 years – and the teams have no plans to slow down.
Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right. When this process works, it means our failures are relatively small in size(most experiments can start small), and when we hit on something that is really working for customers, we double-down on it with hopes to turn it into an even bigger success. However, it’s not always as clean as that.Inventing is messy, and over time, it’s certain that we’ll fail at some big bets too.
A dreamy business offering has at least four characteristics. Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time – with the potential to endure for decades. When you find one of these, don’t just swipe right, get married.
我非常高兴地向您报告，亚马逊在这方面可不是一夫一妻制，经过20年的冒险和团队工作，外加好运一路陪伴，我们高兴地将三个产品视为生命伴侣：Marketplace, Prime, 和 AWS。每一个产品初始时都看起来如此大胆，敏感的人们担忧它们行不通。但是在这点上，后来证明它们是多么独特，我们是多么幸运能够拥有它们。在商业中没有清闲的差事，我们需要滋养和巩固它们。
Well, I’m pleased to report that Amazon hasn’t been monogamous in this regard. After two decades of risk taking and teamwork, and with generous helpings of good fortune all along the way, we are now happily wed to what I believe are three such life partners: Marketplace, Prime, and AWS. Each of these offerings was a bold bet at first, and sensible people worried (often!) that they could not work. But at this point, it’s become pretty clear how special they are and how lucky we are to have them. It’s also clear that there are no sinecures in business. We know it’s our job to always nourish and fortify them.
A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so,you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events –by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore. If it’s a distinctive culture,it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one – just that it’s ours – and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful.
“Day 2是停滞不前，变得无关紧要，承受痛苦的衰退，直到死亡。这就是我们为什么要一直成为Day 1的公司。”卓越的公司一旦沦为Day 2公司可能需要数十年，尽管衰退是极其缓慢的，但最终在劫难逃。
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.
我感兴趣的问题是，我们如何避免成为Day 2？技巧是什么？即使成为一个很大的公司后，我们如何保持Day 1的活力？
I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do youkeep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?
Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.
True Customer Obsession. Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to inventon their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.
Resist Proxies. A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.
Embrace External Trends.The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.
快速决策。Day 2公司经常会做高质量的决策，但是决策很慢。为了保持Day 1公司的活力，你不得不快速做出高质量的决策。快速决策对刚起步的公司容易，但是对大型公司来说却很难。亚马逊的高管团队下决心保持快速决策能力。快速决策也非常有乐趣。我们不知道全部答案，但是我们有一些思路。
High-Velocity Decision Making Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations. The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision making environment is more fun too. We don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.
How do you stay ahead of ever-rising customer expectations? There’s no single way to do it – it’s a combinationof many things. But high standards (widely deployed and at all levels of detail) are certainly a big part of it.We’ve had some successes over the years in our quest to meet the high expectations of customers. We’ve also ad billions of dollars’ worth of failures along the way. With those experiences as backdrop, I’d like to share ith you the essentials of what we’ve learned (so far) about high standards inside an organization.
Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits. Naturally and most obviously, you’re going to build better products and services for customers – this would be reason enough! Perhaps a little less obvious: people are drawn to high standards – they help with recruiting and retention. More subtle: a culture of high standards is protective of all the “invisible” but crucial work that goes on in every company. I’m talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward – it’s part of what it means to be a professional.
AWS itself – as a whole – is an example. No one asked for AWS. No one. Turns out the world was in fact ready and hungry for an offering like AWS but didn’t know it. We had a hunch, followed our curiosity, took the necessary financial risks, and began building – reworking, experimenting, and iterating countless times as we proceeded.
As a company grows, everything needs to scale, including the size of your failed experiments. If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle. Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures.Of course, we won’t undertake such experiments cavalierly. We will work hard to make them good bets, but not all good bets will ultimately pay out. This kind of large-scale risk taking is part of the service we as a large company can provide to our customers and to society. The good news for shareowners is that a single big winning bet can more than cover the cost of many losers.
Amazonians are working around the clock to get necessary supplies delivered directly to the doorsteps of people who need them. The demand we are seeing for essential products has been and remains high. But unlike a predictable holiday surge, this spike occurred with little warning, creating major challenges for our suppliers and delivery network. We quickly prioritized the stocking and delivery of essential household staples, medical supplies, and other critical products.
We’ve come a long way since then, and we are working harder than ever to serve and delight customers.Last year, we hired 500,000 employees and now directly employ 1.3 million people around the world. We have more than 200 million Prime members worldwide. More than 1.9 million small and medium-sized businesses sell in our store, and they make up close to 60% of our retail sales. Customers have connected more than 100 million smart home devices to Alexa. Amazon Web Services serves millions of customers and ended 2020 with a $50 billion annualized run rate.
In 1997, we hadn’t invented Prime, Marketplace, Alexa, or AWS.They weren’t even ideas then, and none was preordained. We took great risk with each one and put sweat and ingenuity into each one.
If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. Any business that doesn’t create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn’t long for this world. It’s on the way out.
Remember that stock prices are not about the past. They are a prediction of future cash flows discounted back to the present. The stock market anticipates.
This is my last annual shareholder letter as the CEO of Amazon, and I have one last thing of utmost importance I feel compelled to teach. I hope all Amazonians take it to heart. The world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.