Power Players

Jeff Bezos: This is who 'always wins' in business

Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Jeff Bezos started Amazon as an online bookstore in his garage in 1994. Today, Amazon has a more than $900 billion market cap and Bezos is the richest person in the world with a $116 billion fortune.

Along the way, Bezos has learned a thing or two about what it takes to be someone who succeeds in business. Here is some of his top advice.

Be a missionary

While there is a debate among billionaires on whether or not you should follow your passion — "Shark Tank" star Mark Cuban says such advice is one of the "great lies of life, " for instance — Bezos believes its vital to being a successful entrepreneur. In fact, it's the people who care who win, he says.

"You have got to have some passion for the arena that you are going to develop and work in, because otherwise you'll be competing against those who do have passion for that, and they're going to build better products and services," Bezos said at Amazon's re:Mars conference in Las Vegas on June 6.

He added that it's essential for an entrepreneur to "be a missionary," you "can't be mercenary," meaning that you have to mission-motivated, not money-motivated.

"Missionaries build better products and services — they always win," said Bezos. "Mercenaries are just trying to make money, and paradoxically the missionaries always end up making more money."

Embrace risk and failure

To be successful in business, you also must be willing to take risks, and therefore to fail.

"If you come up with a business idea and there's no risk there...it's probably already being done...[and] being done well.... So you have to have something that might not work and you have to accept that your business in many ways is an experiment and it might fail," Bezos said. "And that's ok."

Bezos is known for making bold moves: For example, skeptics doubted customers would pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime when it launched in 2005; as of April 2018 the service had 100 million subscribers worldwide.

He's also had some fails, like Amazon Restaurants, which will shut down June 24, or the recent demise of Amazon's pop-up kiosks.

And Bezos continues to encourage risk-taking at Amazon. In fact, the size of the risks and the failures need to grow with the company, he said.

"We need big failures if we're going to move the needle" — "billion-dollar scale failures," Bezos said at re:Mars. "And if we're not, we're not swinging hard enough."

Change your mind

Bezos has learned from interacting with the world's most influential minds that the people who usually get things right are those who listen the most and who change their minds often.

"What I have found that people who are right change their mind even without getting new data. They have the same data set that they had at the beginning, but they wake up and they reanalyze things all the time and they come to a new conclusion and then they change their mind."

In fact, people who win typically have worked hard to recognize what beliefs or biases they hold and "actively try to look for evidence that disconfirms" them, Bezos said.

Billionaire Ray Dalio is an example. He built Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, to function as an "idea meritocracy."

"The greatest tragedy of mankind — or one of them — is that people needlessly hold wrong opinions in their minds," Dalio has said.

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This story has been revised to reflect Amazon has a more than $900 billion market cap. 

Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
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