There may just be some billion-dollar coaching here.
How often do you get to interview the richest person in the world? Today, we spent 15-minutes with Not-Jeff Bezos on the topic of raising capital. There aren’t too many people that can offer more insight than a guy worth 175 billion dollars.
His vision changed the way the world shops and in the process employs 1,000,000 people. As one of the world’s largest employer, he created an entire economy.
We may not all be a Jeff Bezos, but we can steal his methods from his successes and take our own vision to another whole level!
Robert Steven Kramarz (Rob): Well, this is your Vision Master podcast, once again from Intelliversity, and this is Robert Steven Kramarz as executive director to interview today the current and hopefully possibly remaining wealthiest person on earth, not Jeff Bezos. How are you doing Jeff?
Not-Jeff Bezos: Hey Rob, great to be here. Everybody says that, but I don’t really mean it. I’m busy, so it’s not that great, but we’re going to do this. This is fun.
Rob: How much time do we have? About 15 minutes?
Not-Jeff Bezos: We got 15 minutes.
Rob: So in this time, make sure we turn back to the issue of advice that you would give other innovators about how to raise capital, because you have some key experience in that area. But I want to begin with this question, because it’s really the one that’s on my mind first, which is; you’re worth now, according to the stock market today, or yesterday, $175 billion, and that doesn’t include what your ex-wife got, so the question is why do you continue to work when you could buy more yachts than there probably are in Seattle?
Not-Jeff Bezos: Well, you know this Robert if you’re obviously in the financial business, but I don’t have $175 billion in liquid cash, I have $175 billion in Amazon stock and if I try to take too much of that money at any one given time, I’m all of a sudden going to be worth a lot less, still a lot of money, but I’m still going to be worth a lot less. So I think you have to understand what having that kind of capital accumulation and certainly access to additional capital is. It’s freedom, it’s just freedom. I think some people might call it F-you money. I can build almost anything I want and I don’t really have to worry too much about failing, so I’m free to build and do what I like to call the work. Every morning, I get up…
Rob: Let’s be clear, by freedom, you mean freedom to do the work, not freedom to goof off, not freedom to travel, not freedom to do [crosstalk]
Not-Jeff Bezos: No, I live for the work. I love the work. And so now I’m free to do the work. If I want to start a rocket company, I can start a rocket company, so I’m not constrained by somebody going, “Oh, you can’t do that, or you can’t do that, or you shouldn’t do that, or there’s no money for that”. All that’s gone. So I can do what I love, which is my work.
Rob: Which is building things.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Building things.
Rob: Because actually, as you expand Amazon, you’re building new divisions and new ideas and new product ideas, service ideas, so for you it’s an incredible adventure of building things and I so enjoy watching your success. So many other billionaires have declared their willingness to give away some or all of their “money”, even though it’s paper money now, to philanthropic projects. What about you?
Not-Jeff Bezos: First off, any charitable work or philanthropic work that I do on my own, I consider that private and I don’t really like to discuss it, but I come at it from a very different perspective. I mean, we have 930 or whatever number of thousands of employees, that’s a lot of families that we impact globally. We have third party vendors that are part of the Amazon infrastructure, millions of customers rely on us every day and businesses rely on us. We’re a key part of the economic engine of the United States and therefore the world.
I think a lot of good comes from that, but I’d BS you if I told you that I’m doing this for the employees or I’m doing this for our clients. I mean, I love our customers, but I do it because I want to build things, I want to make new projects, I want to continue to have fun and be involved in growing things. And the spinoff of that I think is very positive economically, but it’s not what gets me up in the morning, it is the work.
Rob: I’m really pleased you’re not willing to BS anybody about that, the benefit to society is a side effect of you doing the work that you love doing, I appreciate that. And fortunately, I believe you have benefited society enormously. So let’s go back in time, turn the clock back in time, because we’re about to get to your advice about raising capital. How did you raise the capital for Amazon?
Not-Jeff Bezos: Well, it was a very special time, that’s one of the things for us to remember, I mean the mid ’90s, there was certainly a revolution in internet businesses so there was a tremendous opportunity, but retrospectively we had an extremely narrow focus. When we started with Amazon, all we wanted was to build an online bookstore, that was the vision. So I think you need to understand your vision, it needs to be very clear, and I think you need to be unmovable in your vision. Be very stubborn. Don’t let people talk you out of your vision. And Robert, I took a look at Born to Star and I think you would classify me as a Vision Master, and that’s part of the job of a Vision Master is to hold that vision close, don’t let anybody screw with your vision.
But the second part of that is to be very flexible about your details. So it’s that flexibility that let us say, “Well, I work with books, we should maybe take a look at music, or maybe we should take a look at the video, back in the day I think we were doing VHS tapes, hello. So it’s that stubbornness on the vision, flexible on the details, and then you have to surround yourself with people who can make it happen. And in your words, an Execution Master, or Execution Masters in different divisions, however, you set it up.
And the last one is something I don’t hear people talking about very often, which is very early on I was connected with Coach Bill Campbell. He’s written about as the trillion-dollar coach and he coached myself and Steve Jobs and a lot of other people, and I don’t think you should ever underestimate the value of a business coach. You’d never have a football team without a business coach for god sakes, so why do you think you should run a business without a coach? So, that’s a passion of mine.
Rob: Well, awesome. So because of possibly the timing and your coaching, you’re surrounding yourself by Execution Masters, and a very tight vision with flexibility around how, you rapidly raise capital. Go through the actual history of the capital you raised in the 1996/7 period.
Not-Jeff Bezos: We did it the old fashioned way, we borrowed money from our parents, and then we approached friends and investors. And that ability to do that, we raised close to a million dollars and that led us to attract somebody along the lines of Kleiner Perkins. So Kleiner Perkins came in with 8 million and that was all the money we needed. We were able to go right to an IPO because of that. So obviously back to the great timing, the IPO was an early option, but we never had to raise funds.
Rob: To get it straight, you did friends and family, a year later, roughly, angels or individual investors, what we now call a seed round of a million dollars. And then you went to an $8 million VC round, institutional, what we now call a Series A, and then you went public a year later. This is the dream sequence, exactly the dream sequence.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Correct.
Rob: And your early investors didn’t get deluded, they made a fortune.
Not-Jeff Bezos: They did.
Rob: Wish I was there. I could have been there, I just didn’t have the foresight at that time. All right, so that rapid progress, right to an IPO through two quick rounds, wasn’t the key to that your coaching, the coaching you got from Bill Campbell?
Not-Jeff Bezos: I really believe so. I mean, if you look at the stable of people that Bill Campbell was able to influence, it’s storied and significant and a lot, I mean there are too many names that you know on that list, right from Steve Jobs over to, oh my god, everybody in Silicon Valley. Read the book by the way, it’s a great book. It’s a biography of Bill, the Trillion Dollar Coach. [crosstalk] who he also coached along with Sergey and Larry Page, it’s quite a bit of people, so that was very foundational for us.
Rob: And he introduced you to John Doerr and Kleiner Perkins, so he made that key introduction for you.
Not-Jeff Bezos: He made that key introduction and obviously that changed the whole direction of the company, as John has done for many others as well. By the way, I love people that have repeated success.
Rob: You love people who what?
Not-Jeff Bezos: Have repeated success. Very few people, tend to have the kind of success that allows them to live well, but you want to look for people that have repeat success over and over and over and over. And certainly, John is one of those, Bill Campbell was one of those, so I was able to have those people guiding me in the very early days. And so Kleiner Perkins wasn’t just a VC, they were helping us with business development very early on.
Rob: So it really comes back to who you… Your success was largely determined by the kind of people you surrounded yourself by.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Correct, and having the right vision.
Rob: People with much larger success than you had at the time and repeated success.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Correct, and you know that paved the way for me.
Rob: And that led you straight to success and kept your vision on track.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Yeah. We’ll always need people who aren’t necessarily smarter than us but can make stuff happen in a way that we can’t make it happen. And then I think with the audience as Vision Masters, you’ve got to understand that you can’t do it alone, as a matter of fact, you won’t do it alone. So the team is critical.
Rob: And the old myth that you surround yourself with people who are brighter than you, is not the point, it’s surrounding people who are better than you at executing a vision.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Better than you in other areas. I think I’ve said many, many times, stress is the feeling when you don’t have control of a situation. So if you, as a Vision Master, aren’t good at the day-to-day grind, you better find somebody who is, otherwise you’re going to have a stress-filled life.
Rob: And I think that’s true for myself and many other Vision Masters, we don’t do well at just day-to-day stress, we’ve got to have those Execution Masters around us.
Not-Jeff Bezos: Absolutely.
Rob: And when that happens, all hell breaks loose, which is what we saw in your career. Thank you, not Jeff Bezos. I hope I pronounced your last name correctly because I used to say Bezos, but yeah.
Not-Jeff Bezos: You did.
Rob: And here we are on the Vision Master podcast from Intelliversity and to get more detail on how we help, as Bill Campbell does, make an appointment on our website and that will connect directly to my online calendar, my calendar, and we can have a talk. So until then…
Not-Jeff Bezos: That’s smart advice.
Rob: And don’t forget to download Born to Star while you’re at it, and that’s the way it will be. Thanks not Jeff.
Not-Jeff Bezos: You’re welcome.