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Running or Starting a Business? Here are 22 Lessons from Jeff Bezos

Business owners are often asked what was it that made them start their own business. Depressions, Recessions and Pandemics can create opportunity but for me it was:

  1. The birth of my daughter.

  2. Desire to make money

  3. Innate passion to help people

When my daughter was born in 2004, I was a young kid; 25 years old and working in a large investment bank as Global Service Delivery Manager. Despite the lofty job title with a marquee employer, my income was not very high and I was working 11-15 hours per day, 5 days a week.

I also realised that despite having a successful career in the city and having worked for some of the largest companies in the world, I never quite fitted into the behaviour of corporate culture. The lack of freedom of expression, the red tape, the office politics and the colleagues whose lack of ambition and drive did not mirror my own. I wanted to take control of my destiny.

Whilst it’s important to understand your own motivations, in business it is also crucial that you know what to do, when to act and how to anticipate business challenges ahead of time so you can take mitigating action.

Today, on the eve of my official launch on Kaleida International, a B2B marketplace for the SME where we help Buyers meet Suppliers through publishing active Tenders, I want to share Jeff’s learnings with you.

This article is for the new entrepreneur, the person contemplating starting their own business and for the seasoned professional looking to grow their organisation's operation.

So who can we learn from?

Every year, Jeff Bezos writes an open letter to Amazon's shareholders. These 22 letters contain invaluable insight in the mind behind one of the world’s most valuable companies; and what he thinks about his customers, innovation and creating and developing new products.

But they also contain within them lessons that can act as a guiding light to keep you sharp, focused and informed.

"To our shareholders: 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. But this is Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute well, for"

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

When I consider my 3 motivations to starting my own business, I certainly wanted to increase my earnings for financial security and provide a comfortable life for my new family.

I also wanted to be able to spend more time at home so began the process of launching my very first business – iAdvert Ltd, where we would laminate company advertising onto the cars of normal people and pay them for using their vehicle as advertising real estate. The business folded within 18 months.

Stand on the shoulders of giants

What I had in abundance was: Desire, motivation, a positive attitude and a great idea. I was professional and had exposure to the corporate world and learned tonnes from my time working in the Banking and FinTech industry. But it was improving on my areas of weakness that would have far bigger impact on any future success. I can relate to lessons taken from Jeff's shareholder letters. They keep me focused.

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

You may be building a great product or service. You may have budget to spend and investors backing you. But If it's not Jeff, or Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page - find your own anchor. Find someone more successful than you and learn from their mistakes and success.

By standing on the shoulders of giants, you will achieve far more than you could ever dream possible than if you go at it alone. If you haven't a business partner already, perhaps find a mentor or someone you can turn to when things seem most bleak.

Covid-19 has changed the world in ways that are still yet to come to fruition. Whilst there is pain and suffering out there, and we hurt for those who have experienced loss, the companies that ruled the world yesterday are not necessarily the ones that will be successful tomorrow.

Good luck and see you at the top of the mountain.

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