Jeff Bezos is not a robot — I saw it with my own two eyes
Jeff Bezos is well on his way to being the richest man alive. The founder of Amazon now reigns over an aerospace company called Blue Origin and he purchased The Washington Post. His empire is mighty.
When Bezos tested a giant mechanical robot suit earlier this month jokes emerged about his super villain aspiration. I, myself, considered whether or not Bezos himself could be a robot, similar to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
But after listening to Bezos in conversation with Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman at the annual Internet Freedom Awards in Washington D.C. Tuesday night, I’m confident to report back that Bezos has a soul.
I was a little skeptical at first since there were some microphone problems in the beginning that prompted Bezos to break into a villainous laugh. But the mood then became cheery and fun.
Beckerman kicked it off an anecdotal tale about his first Amazon purchase in 2004. It was a book titled How To Write A Screenplay You Can Sell, or something of that nature — he couldn’t quite remember.
“I’d buy that from you,” Bezos quipped about Beckerman’s screenplay attempt — perhaps a nod to Amazon’s foray into original digital content. Ah, the man’s got jokes.
The beginning of the chat focused on the ethos and company culture at Amazon. You may remember the scathing report from the New York Times on the woes of employees within a “bruising workplace” at Amazon. This wasn’t a discussion about what it’s like for people to work at Amazon — but rather for how much of a good time Bezos has as CEO.
“Amazon is a collection of principles,” Bezos said. “It’s fun. I dance into work.”
Bezos views Amazon as customer-centric, rather than competitor-centric. Indeed, that’s how they got their start and that’s how they’ll continue to thrive, Bezos said. Not every disruptive company can say that. Just look at Uber, for example.
“I have friends who lead very competitor-obsessed companies and they can win … I like the customer obsession,” Bezos said. “One of the things that’s really fashionable right now is talking about how disruptive your business is.”
Bezos said he focuses on the customers, the so-called Amazon way. “The thing I worry about the most is that we would lose our way,” he said.
That sounds very human, Bezos. Nice work. Another moment that left me impressed but a little unconvinced about his humanity was his timeline mapping. While I’m unclear what I’m doing tonight, Bezos is thinking about the next decade.
“I ask everyone not to think in two- to three-year timeframes. Think in five to seven,” Bezos said. “I’m working on a quarter that’s happening in 2020. It’s not natural for humans. It’s a discipline you have to build.”
Bezos isn’t always humble, which actually makes him seem even more real. One of the main sources of his personal income, Amazon’s revenue, is Amazon Web Services. Some say it became an overnight success.
But Bezos said there’s more to it than that. “I’ve noticed all overnight successes take about 10 years,” he said.
And while Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are quick to blame the media about misreporting or mischaracterizing reports, Bezos said the media has treated Amazon fairly (even with that NYT report). They could be covering Amazon more, however, focusing on its third-party seller model.
Outside of chatting about direct business goals was where Bezos shined the most. Case in point: I learned that night of his childhood and present-day obsession: space.
“Anyone who goes to space camp is my kind of person,” Bezos said in response to Beckerman’s admission of going to space camp.
“First of all, I love space.”
Indeed, Bezos operates a space company. It’s where he spends most of his riches.
“I feel like I won the lottery with Amazon, and now I’m investing that lottery money into Blue Origin,” he said. “Our vision of Blue Origin is that we have millions of people living in space.”
See, Bezos oozes humility. Space, it appears, is a rich man’s hobby, and he knows it. “The entry into space is so high. You’re not going to see two kids in their dorm room building for space,” he said.
His perfect future would be seeing humans working in space. It’s something he hopes can be achieved by the time he reaches 80. He’s 53.
“I would have such a good feeling if I could be an 80-year-old guy thinking there’s entrepreneurs in space,” he said. “I would love there to be trillions of humans in space … We have to do it.”