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What I Learned From Reading Every Amazon Shareholders Letter

Amazon Shareholder Letters

Before I discuss the printouts above, some context:

Twenty years ago Amazon.com went public.

And I guess it’s then fitting that, yesterday, after the Amazon’s third-quarter earnings report (which beat analysts’ estimates for earnings and revenue), their share price jumped more than 8%.

Jeff Bezos owns around 81 million shares.

That 8% share bump increased Jeff’s net worth (on paper) by $6.44 billion IN A SINGLE DAY 🙂

(Oh how the other half live.)

According to data from Bloomberg, with the extra $6.44 billion, Jeff passes Bill Gates to be the richest person in the world as of right now ($90.6 billion).

This isn’t, however, why I’m sharing this story with you today.

Because, let’s face it, who really cares if Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet is the richest in the world. They prob’ly don’t care either.

Here’s the part I suggest you do pay attention to tho…

Which is Jeff’s unwavering focus on the long game; being CUSTOMER OBSESSED.

A week ago I read an article on Medium titled, What I Learned From Reading Every Amazon Shareholders Letter

(Link at the end of email.)

And earlier this year I read the 2016 Letter to Shareholders.

It’s brilliant, and highlights so many insights into why Amazon are crushing it on so many fronts. Hint: It’s not by accident.

Jeff talks about a philosophy he refers to as “Day 1”, which can be boiled down to:

  • customer obsession,
  • a skeptical view of proxies,
  • the eager adoption of external trends,
  • and high-velocity decision making.
True Customer Obsession

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more.

But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.


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 invent on 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.

Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight.

A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.

I love it!

We’ve always been a customer-driven little company. But after I read his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, I know we can do so much more.

Caring about the people we serve; really mattering to them, is a defensible moat that competitors can’t compete with.

Most marketers are short term thinkers. Focused on the conversions and sales NOW, above all else.

It’s money first; the primary driver.

But it shouldn’t be like this.

Money and revenue and profits should be a byproduct of being customer-obsessed (think Jay Abraham’s Strategy of Preeminence).

Money is the job-well-done; the RESULT of caring and mattering.

Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla that demonstrates the result of this customer-obsessed thinking and behaving.

Skeptics of Jeff Bezos have spent the better part of the past two decades second-guessing and vilifying him.

But you know what?

Here we are, 20 years later, and Jeff Bezos has an authentic, legitimate claim on having changed the way we live.

He has changed the way we shop.

He has changed the way companies use computers, by moving much of their information and systems to cloud services. That alone is a $10 billion a year business.

He has even changed the way we interact with computers by voice: “Alexa!”

Even Warren Buffett was skeptical of Amazon way back when:

“I was too dumb to realize what was going to happen,” he said at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting this month.

“I’ve admired Jeff, and I’ve admired him for a long, long time. But I did not think he was going to succeed on the scale that he has. We missed it entirely.”

Goes to show, eh?


Here’s the 2016 Letter to Shareholders. It’s a brilliant (and short) read:


And here’s the Medium article by Li Jiang, an Angel investor, who read every shareholders letter (all 20 of ’em):


I’ve started to work my way up from 1997. I’ve reached 2006 now.

Here’s all of Amazon’s shareholders letters:



There’s gold and insights all over these pages.

And f#ck yeah, all of this is 100% relevant to us running our tiny little info businesses.

Have an amazing Halloween weekend!

Andre “scary pumpkin” Chaperon


Here’s a few of my favorite bits so far from Jeff’s letters:

  • In 2006, Jeff talks primarily about the importance of making bets that are tiny in the beginning to avoid “Innovator’s Dilemma” — not being able to make small bets because a company is so focused on optimizing its larger businesses.
  • Since Amazon has seen many $10 million seeds turn into billion dollar businesses, they are constantly nurturing small ideas and treat them with the same importance as the big ideas.

  • While Amazon has crushed many of its “competitors”, they do so by relentless focusing on customers and invention.
  • Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Stretch yourself in ways where you have the potential of achieving an asymmetric outcome.
  • (Love that one btw!)

  • Constantly find ways to learn and improve yourself, even when you don’t “have to”. Because by the time you do, like transitioning to a new career, it might be too late.
  • If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.
  • And finally, especially to our TLB Tribe members:

  • Rule #1: execute every day. Rule #2: don’t forget Rule #1.

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