Is Jeff Bezos the New Steve Jobs?
GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Is Jeff Bezos the New Steve Jobs by Richard L. Brandt author of “One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com."
It's hard to imagine anyone could possibly fill the enormous vacuum left with the tragic death of Steve Jobs. But people are searching hopefully for such a person.
An article in The Wall Street Journalconcludes: “Mr. Jobs's nearest analog might be one of Apple's emerging rivals, Amazon Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos.” The tech blog Gizmodoagrees in an article titled “Jeff Bezos is the New Steve Jobs,” while The Atlantic Wireadds its own story, “Techies All Agree: Jeff Bezos = Steve Jobs.”
It's a tough comparison.
Jobs was, from the start, supremely passionate about creating amazing new computer products. At the beginning of his career, Bezos knew only that he wanted to be an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur. He found his path in 1994 when he began researching the Internet, and discovered that its phenomenal growth was like nothing he had seen before, “except for perhaps in a petri dish,” as he later said in a speech to Silicon Valley's Commonwealth Club.
Bezos settled on the idea of starting a book retailer simply because it's a huge business that lends itself well to online sales. There are comprehensive electronic lists of virtually every book available, and distributors who can deliver them. Besides, everybody knows what a book is. You don't have to worry about product quality. They all work as promised.
His success was an extraordinary feat, accomplished with an unwavering focus on how to best serve his customers, from the design of the site to discount pricing and even a willingness to let people write bad reviews of books (so much for sales of those books.) He then leveraged that success to sell other products, navigated through the dot-com crash, and thrived where almost all others failed.
But he also considered a lot of dead ends. In 1999 he told a magazine that he might even try selling insurance on Amazon .
In the current millennium, he's grown wiser, dreaming up more impressive ideas.
Sometime around 2002, he realized that he could create a new business by leasing some of Amazon's impressive computing power and services to other companies through the Internet, which they can use to run their own businesses. That turned Amazon into a powerhouse in cloud computing.
Today, whenever you use Netflix to stream a movie to your PC or television, that film is actually sent to you from Amazon's computers.
Bezos also demonstrates a Jobs-like demanding, micro-managing style of command. To pave Amazon's path into cloud computing, he issued a ruthless edict: Every department head had to redesign all software interfaces in a way to allow outsiders access to them in a secure way, or they would be fired. This mandate was described in a memo that recently leaked onto the Internet from a Google engineer who used to work at Amazon. The memo notes that Bezos “makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.” So did Jobs.
In 2007 Bezos created the Kindle, the first successful e-book reader (and still the most popular). Now he's about to start selling the Kindle Fire, which most reviewers have dubbed the first real competitor to the iPad. It includes a clever browser called Silk, which taps Amazon's own cloud computers in order to download big files very quickly before transferring the data to the Kindle Fire.
But he still hasn't shown the ability to be the pioneer in electronics that Jobs was. Jobs created Ferraris, top-performing and expensive products that set a gold standard. Bezos is more utilitarian. His devices, like everything Amazon, are designed for the masses: cheap, high-volume products created more for their ability to act as receptacles for other Amazon products, such as its e-books and the streaming videos that Bezos now offers as an alternative to Netflix.
Bezos, like everyone else, has tended to follow Jobs's lead. Given Bezos's knowledge of computer networks, one might have expected him to realize much earlier than he did that books could be sold and shipped electronically. But the Kindle was released six years after Steve Jobs pioneered a similar download service for music, with iTunes and the iPod . Kindle Fire was a direct response to the iPad.
What Bezos has to do now is show that he can come up with original ideas that add incredible value to the world of electronics—devices that show others the way. Only then can he be considered the successor to the genius Steve Jobs. He's certainly going to try.
Richard L. Brandt is the author of “One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com,”to be released October 27, and “The Google Guys: Inside the Brilliant Minds of Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin,” now in paperback.