Jeff Bezos’ letter to amazon shareholders for the year ended December 31, 2015.
To our shareowners:
This year, Amazon became the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion in annual sales. Also this year, Amazon Web Services is reaching $10 billion in annual sales … doing so at a pace even faster than Amazon achieved that milestone.
What’s going on here? Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different. One serves consumers and the other serves enterprises. One is famous for brown boxes and the other for APIs. Is it only a coincidence that two such dissimilar offerings grew so quickly under one roof? Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply. But beyond that, there is a connection between these two businesses. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed.
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.
One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there. Outsized returns often come from betting against conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is usually right. Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten. We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.
AWS, Marketplace and Prime are all examples of bold bets at Amazon that worked, and we’re fortunate to have those three big pillars. They have helped us grow into a large company, and there are certain things that only large companies can do. With a tip of the hat to our Seattle neighbors, no matter how good an entrepreneur you are, you’re not going to build an all-composite 787 in your garage startup – not one you’d want to fly in anyway. Used well, our scale enables us to build services for customers that we could otherwise never even contemplate. But also, if we’re not vigilant and thoughtful, size could slow us down and diminish our inventiveness.
As I meet with teams across Amazon, I am continually amazed at the passion, intelligence and creativity on display. Our teams accomplished a lot in the last year, and I’d like to share a few of the highlights of our efforts to nourish and globalize our three big offerings – Prime, Marketplace and AWS. And while I’ll focus on those three, I assure you that we also remain hard at work on finding a fourth.
We want Prime to be such a good value, you’d be irresponsible not to be a member.
We’ve grown Prime two-day delivery selection from 1 million items to over 30 million, added Sunday Delivery, and introduced Free Same-Day Delivery on hundreds of thousands of products for customers in more than 35 cities around the world. We’ve added music, photo storage, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and streaming films and TV.
Prime Now offers members one-hour delivery on an important subset of selection, and was launched only 111 days after it was dreamed up. In that time, a small team built a customer-facing app, secured a location for an urban warehouse, determined which 25,000 items to sell, got those items stocked, recruited and on-boarded new staff, tested, iterated, designed new software for internal use – both a warehouse management system and a driver-facing app – and launched in time for the holidays. Today, just 15 months after that first city launch, Prime Now is serving members in more than 30 cities around the world.
Prime Video offers exclusives from some of the world’s most passionate storytellers. We want brilliant creators like Jill Soloway, Jason Schwartzman and Spike Lee to take risks and push boundaries. Our original series have already earned more than 120 nominations and won nearly 60 awards, including Golden Globe and Emmy awards. Many of these are stories that might never have been told in the traditional linear programming model. In the pipeline and coming soon are new series and movies from creators like Jeremy Clarkson, David E. Kelley, Woody Allen and Kenneth Lonergan.
The Man in the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick novel, explores an alternate history where the U.S. lost World War II. It debuted on Prime Video on November 20th and in four weeks became our most-viewed show – receiving acclaim from critics like “…Amazon has the best new drama of the season in The Man in the High Castle” and “The Man in the High Castle accomplishes so much, where most new broadcast TV dramas these days don’t even try.”
These shows are great for customers, and they feed the Prime flywheel – Prime members who watch Prime Video are more likely to convert from a free trial to a paid membership, and more likely to renew their annual subscriptions.
Finally, our first ever Prime Day surpassed all our expectations