Jeff Bezos at Wired Disruptive by Design conference

Jeff Bezos is very quotable. Listeing to Steve Levy interview him at the Wired Disruptive by Design event in New York, I was furiously taking notes. Here are the quotes I managed to capture:

“We’ve co-evolved with our tools for thousands of years,” he says, explaining how ease of Kindle buying changes behavior.

“Reading is an important enough activity that it deserves a purpose-built device….It’s a myth that multi-purpose devices are always better…. I like my phone… I like my swiss army knife too, but I’m also happy to have a set of steak knives.”

“I get grumpy now when I have to read a physical book….The physical book has had a great 500 year run, but it’s time to change.”

“If you’re an incumbent in any industry, and rapid change is underway, you’re uncomfortable, even if long term it’s going to be good.”

“I want to be able to provide every book ever published, in any language, in sixty seconds.” Steve Levy then asks him about the GBS settlement, but Jeff declines to comment. But adds nonetheless: “That settlement needs to be revisited, and is being revisited….It doesn’t seem right that you can get a prize for violating a large set of copyrights.”

Steve Levy: Going back to disruptive internet companies from 1990s – “could an established company have understood how to build a great internet company?” Bezos: “One of the statistics I saw in 1994 that encouraged me to start Amazon was that net usage was growing 2300% a year. But it was still tiny….One of the biggest problems with big companies doing clean sheet innovation is that even if you see it, you have to be a really long term thinker, because for a long time it will be a tiny slice of the company…. The key thing is to be willing to wait 5, 7, 10 years. And most companies aren’t willing to wait ten years.”

Steve asks him about how he survived the years in which everyone doubted his strategy. Jeff replied: “There were two things: the business metrics, and the stock price. After the bust, the stock price went down, but the business metrics continued to improve….We had some very harsh critics during that time, but we always noticed that our harshest critics were among our best customers. Having a team that is heads down focused on building product makes you more resilient against outside opinion.”

During the 1999 stock bubble, Jeff says he kept telling employees “Don’t feel 30% smarter because the stock is up 30% this month, because you’ll have to feel 30% dumber when it goes down.”

“One of the differences between founder/entrepreneurs and financial managers is that founder/entrepreneurs are stubborn about the vision of the business, and keep working the details. The trick to being an entrepreneur is to know when to be stubborn and when to be flexible. The trick for me is to be stubborn about the big things.”

He also talks about basing business strategy on things that aren’t going to change: “I know that ten years from now, customers are still going to want low prices. I know they are going to want fast delivery. I know they are going to want the biggest product selection.”

“There are a few prerequisites to inventing…. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to think lng term. You have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. If you can’t do those three things, you need to limit yourself to sustaining innovation…. You typically don’t get misunderstood for sustaining innovation.”

“At the end of the day, you don’t end your strategy because other people don’t understand it. Not if you have conviction.”

“These new businesses are very energizing. We don’t ‘stick to the knitting’…I wouldn’t even know how to respond if someone said ‘Jeff, this isn’t the knitting.’ But we do make business decisions in a very deliberate way: we work backwards from customer needs, and we work forwards from our business skills.”

“You’ve got to be willing to learn new skills if your customers need you to have those skills.”

“18 months ago we launched Kindle with 90,000 titles. It’s 300,000 now, and it’s accelerating.”

“We’ve made many errors. People over-focus on errors of commission. Companies over-emphasize how expensive failure’s going to be. Failure’s not that expensive….The big cost that most companies incur are much harder to notice, and those are errors of Omission.”