Happy Birthday Amazon!

This week, there's been a lot of press about the 10th anniversary of Amazon.com. The excitement is even greater in Seattle, the home of the on-line retailer. The story of Jeff Bezos is every entrepreneur's dream. He replaced the mythical Hewlett-Packard garage in Palo Alto with the story of the business plan being written in the passenger seat of his SUV as his wife drove the car cross-country, leaving behind a life of luxury on Wall Street for an opportunity of riding the wave of this thing called the internet. I had the good fortune to meet Jeff Bezos when he visited Wharton right around the time of being named Time's "Man of the Year". Rarely will you meet someone so endearing, enthusuastic, and passionate about what he does. He had the optimism of a wide-eyed child who was in a candy store and coupled it with the world's most memorable laugh (when I first heard it, I thought he was kidding--turns out, that's really how he laughs and it's great!). He was so rabid about the customer that he was obsessed with finding ways of making them happier. It's no surprise that the site has survived when so many others haven't.

I remember my first exposure to Amazon.com. It was in 1996 and was more about the stock than the site. I thought the site was interesting, but I didn't see what was so special. After all, I liked browsing around physical stores and the immediate gratification of picking something up at a store, taking it home, and then ripping it up right away was something that Amazon couldn't provide. But then it was Shirley Manson (the lead singer of Garbage) that finally shed the light for me. No, I never met Shirley Manson (now, THAT would be a cool story). I leave this one to Rolling Stone. There was an interview with her where she was asked for some of her favorite things and her #1 rave was Amazon.com. Her reasoning was that it was open 24 hours a day. It could be 2am in Singapore and if she wanted to go shopping, she could. Today, with the ubiquity of the internet, that seems somewhat pedestrian (I'm proud to say I ordered the DVD's of REM and the 70s sitcom "What's Happenin'" while waiting for a meeting in Hyderabad--I love being able to say that). But in the mid-90s, that was an eye-opener.

Sure, Shirley got to me believe in Amazon.com, but what has kept me there? Simple: they are always two steps ahead on everything. Everyone talks about Google as being the dream target. "Oooh, look at Google's simplicity. Microsoft should be more like Google." Hey, I LOVE simplicity when it is warranted, but sometimes complexity can be a good thing if it is used correctly. Search needs simplicity. Shopping can benefit from a little complexity. Amazon.com is a breath of fresh air everytime I visit. If I didn't know John Grisham has a new book out, they'll let me know. I didn't ask them to tell me--they just figured it out based on my purchases and wish lists. In fact, the wish list is a great thing--my wife has become a much better Christmas shopper thanks to it and as long as I keep it big enough, I am still surprised by what I get. It remembers what I've browsed, it knows my favorite sections (which it conveniently puts on the left nav bar), and helps me track every order I've ever made. Thanks to editorial reviews and recommendations from fellow buyers, I can make intelligent buying decisions based on objective advice (try getting that at Circuit City). It's helped me buy gifts for my close friend's two adorable daughters for the last five years, even though I have little context for what a toddler would want. Heck, I'll admit that even when I buy from the big box stores, I have at least checked the item out at Amazon.com first. When we talk about GotDotNet, there's no contest: I would rather we be more like Amazon than Google. Don't get me wrong, Google is something we should aspire to be and good luck to MSN Search on their hot pursuit. But don't confuse the revolution of the user experience as being led by one simple JPG and a text box. The real progress is being made on Amazon and it's only going to get better.

Happy birthday Amazon. I can't wait to see what the next 10 years will bring...

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