The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spoke about topics, both personal and professional, with an infectious wit.
"I do the dishes at home to make sure that my wife continues to love me and the day I clean the table, it is true love back.” That was Jeff Bezos, founder & chief executive of Amazon, speaking on his life, leadership, business and more, on Wednesday.
Bezos, who runs a $75-billion e-commerce empire from Seattle, is on a week-long India visit and is expected to meet ministers and top bureaucrats before he returns to the US later this week.
In fact, Bezos had said in an interview to Business Standard on Sunday that he was keeping the “world in balance” while replying to a question on the timing of his visit when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in America. Now it emerges that Bezos might meet Modi, whose US trip concluded on Wednesday, in New Delhi.
The meeting, if it happens, will be significant because Modi has spoken of e-commerce as a big driver for retail.
Even as Bezos does not want to talk about his India engagements, especially with the government, he spoke freely on his explosive laugh and other personal aspects of his life, in a conversation with Kiran Karnik, former president of information technology industry body Nasscom.
“I laughed like that since I was a child,” adding his siblings were embarrassed to go out with him.
And then, he laughed his usual laugh, to the applause of the audience. At the event organised by industry body Ficci, he also spoke about his fondness for Indian food, which was “so good”.
So, while he was returning with that “extra kick in the step” to Seattle, he would surely need bigger clothes, he said.
From the interviews that he has had with newspapers, it is now clear that he is not fond of the word “competition”.
But Bezos did use the word, admitting to Karnik that Amazon India had a competitive advantage for getting access to the almost 20 years of knowledge of the American parent.
“The only reason I do not want to talk about competition is that companies spend too much time obsessing over competition rather than customers.”
As Amazon has shown in the past, it has indeed responded to competition — it just rolled out week-long festival discounts against Flipkart’s day-long bonanza slated for October 6.
A few months ago, it had announced a $2-billion India investment, just a day after Flipkart’s $1-billion fundraising.
In a dark jacket but no tie, Bezos, 50, confessed it was a tough decision 20 years ago when he decided to leave his Wall Street job with good salary, accompanying bonus and a good boss, to turn an entrepreneur.
The internet was getting big and Bezos wanted to line up millions of book titles in that space, which he did soon enough, much more than the biggest brick-and-mortar store could achieve.
His boss, David Shaw, told him the idea was good but for someone who did not already have a good job.
Yet, Bezos took the plunge, as he did not want to regret later about not having done something he badly wanted to. “I want to minimise regrets,” he said.
With a market capitalisation of about $149 billion and investments across sectors, Bezos says the journey has not been without its failures.
"One such example of failure is the web search engine that was launched. Only seven people, including my mother, used it. We have tried and failed at many things, but that is part of our journey."
On leadership, Bezos narrated his experience from being a one-man company to four and then 10 and now over 100,000.
In the beginning, he drove packages from the post office himself, and now he is a custodian of values and principles, including customer obsession, inventions and thinking long term.
As for his interest in space, Amazon founded Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace company.
He told the audience on Wednesday it began with his love for Star Trek. "And, the rest is history." While on space, Bezos congratulated India for its Mars orbiter mission's success and frugality.
Although start-ups are usually associated with school drop-outs, Bezos, an engineering graduate from Princeton University, urged everybody to finish school. "I was actually a good student and very interested in my studies.
I am all for university education." Asked what would the preferred category be, if he were to start Amazon today, he first dodged the question.
When asked again, he said: "Perhaps books only." Some from the crowd murmured: "Why not Modi T-shirts?" Is it time yet for writing his memoir? "It is still far off. I would say it is still day one for me." Day one, after all, is an integral part of the Amazon vocabulary.