A 30 year old man began following his book business curiosity. He learned that the American Booksellers Association was having a convention in Los Angeles the coming weekend. He was a Vice President of a New York Investment Management Firm living in New York. He bought a plane ticket to LA and spent three days there talking to anyone who would talk to him about book publishing, distribution, book selling and book lovers. That weekend in 1994 changed his life and changed the world.
Intrigue led to obsession for Jeff Bezos. He became willing to forego making over $1M per year at a firm that provided clients systematic trading methods that leveraged computer-driven platforms. He would have to learn about many new communities.
Jeff’s interest began once he heard that this new thing called the internet that was growing at 2,300 percent a year. He wondered what business could benefit the most. He stated, “thing’s don’t grow that fast outside petri dishes. It just doesn’t happen.” In effect he said, anything growing at such a rate “is invisible today and ubiquitous tomorrow”.(1)
Jeff came back from Los Angeles convinced that no book store could hold the 3 million books in print except for an online bookstore. Jeff understood the internet and computer programming. He needed to learn how the book, mail order, retail and angel investment communities operate. He needed to establish connections and understand how people within the communities relate to others.
To make a dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation happen, it often takes understanding multiple communities. These communities influence people’s decisions and/or could potentially impact whether a big idea happens. Jeff went to book conventions, took a book selling course and even had his early meetings at the Starbucks inside a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.
The types of communities that can impact a dream or big idea are:
Industries – Jeff knew the internet industry and learned the book, retail and mail order industries.
Organizations – Jeff developed relationships with Ingram Book Group and Baker & Taylor after learning the two companies distributed most of the books to bookstores.
Location – Jeff learned about Seattle and decided to move there from New York. It had access to many software programmers with Microsoft, Adobe and Nintendo in town. It also was only a six hour drive to the Ingram Book Group warehouse in Roseburg, Oregon.
Social – These are communities grouped around or within families, friends, colleagues, classmates and activities. Jeff had three hundred friends that he was able to get to try the first version of Amazon software. He was able to get his parents to invest $300,000, which was most of their retirement money.
Competency – These are informal groups of people with similar skills, expertise or abilities. Jeff knew the computer programmer community. He learned to relate to those with book selling and angel investor abilities. He initially raised over one million dollars by securing 22 angel investors of $50K each.
Interests – These are people that can relate to each other by sharing a common interest. Jeff had to learn the book lover community.
Demographic – These are people with common characteristics like age, gender, medical condition, ethnicity, employment status, homeownership, etc.
Perspective – These are people that can relate by a common belief like religion, politics, activism or lifestyle).
Jeff Bezos is reportedly worth $25B. There are few people that understand and have mastered as many communities as Jeff Bezos. At Amazon, Jeff mastered the communities of books, retail, cloud computing (with Amazon Web Service), countries (operating in China, Japan, India, etc.), distribution, electronic devices (Kindle eReader), logistics, marketplace (sellers can use Amazon), music, social media (anyone can write product reviews), tablets (Kindle Fire), video streaming (Amazon Prime & they host Netflix streaming) . The rumor is that an Amazon online grocery store will be opening soon in the New York area.
In addition to Amazon, Jeff owns Blue Origin, a space company he founded that will send people into space. Jeff recently discovered and recovered the 40 year old Apollo 11 F-1 rocket engine that was 3 miles beneath the ocean surface. The community that Woodward and Burstein broke the Watergate story has a new leader. Jeff recently purchased the Washington Post.
Do you have a dream or big idea? What communities do you need to understand to better relate to its people? There may be a convention this weekend somewhere that offers the chance understand the communities like Jeff did. It could even help to make almost anything happen.
(1) Jeff Bezos: Business Executive and Founder of Amazon.com, Ferguson, Bernard Ryan, Jr.