Amazon founder, and world's richest man, Jeff Bezos has been churning out wisdom for 20 years now.

And someone this successful, why wouldn't you pay attention?

Much of this wisdom can be founder in his annual shareholder letters, which reveal everything from how to hire people to data-driven decision making, reports Business Insider.

Here are Bezos' most insightful pieces of advice over the last 20 years.


1997: We're focused on the long term

"Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh trade-offs differently than some companies... We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership... rather than short-term... Wall Street reactions."

1998: Here's how you hire right

"During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision:
• Will you admire this person?
• Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering?
• Along what dimensions might this person be a superstar?"

1999: E-shopping is as bad as it'll ever be

"The current online shopping experience is the worst it will ever be ... but it will get so much better."

Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. Photo / AP
Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. Photo / AP

2000: We're learning from our mistakes

"In retrospect, we significantly underestimated how much time would be available to enter these categories and underestimated how difficult it would be for single-category e-commerce companies to achieve the scale necessary to succeed."

2001: Here's why we've started cutting prices

"Focus on cost improvement makes it possible for us to afford to lower prices, which drives growth. Growth spreads fixed costs across more sales, reducing cost per unit, which makes possible more price reductions. Customers like this, and it's good for shareholders. Please expect us to repeat this loop."

2002: We can have our cake and eat it, too (low prices and customer service)

"One of our most exciting peculiarities is poorly understood. People see that we're determined to offer both world-leading customer experience and the lowest possible prices, but to some this dual goal seems paradoxical if not downright quixotic."

2003: Let's revisit what long-term thinking looks like

"Owners are different from tenants. I know of a couple who rented out their house, and the family who moved in nailed their Christmas tree to the hardwood floors instead of using a tree stand... No owner would be so short-sighted. Similarly, many investors are effectively short-term tenants, turning their portfolios so quickly they are really just renting the stocks that they temporarily 'own'."

2004: Free cash flow is more important than earnings

"A company can actually impair shareholder value in certain circumstances by growing earnings."


2005: Data is good, but long-term judgement is better

"We can estimate what a price reduction will do this week and this quarter. But we cannot numerically estimate the effect that consistently lowering prices will have on our business over five years or ten years or more. Our judgment is that ... [this] creates a virtuous cycle that leads over the long term to a much larger dollar amount of free cash flow."

2006: How to decide to go after a new opportunity

"We must convince ourselves that the new opportunity can generate the returns on capital our investors expected when they invested in Amazon...that the new business can grow to a scale where it can be significant in the context of our overall company... [and] that the opportunity is currently underserved and that we have the capabilities needed to bring strong customer-facing differentiation to the marketplace."

2007: Can we really replace a 500-year old invention (the book)?

"We identified what we believe is the book's most important feature. It disappears. When you read a book, you don't notice the paper and the ink and the glue and the stitching. All of that dissolves, and what remains is the author's world."

2008: Should we focus on our unique skills or our customers? Customers — always customers!

"However, if used exclusively, the company employing it will never be driven to develop fresh skills. Eventually the existing skills will become outmoded. Working backwards from customer needs often demands that we acquire new competencies and exercise new muscles."

In July, Bezos became the world's richest person in modern history when his net worth broke US$150 million. Photo / AP
In July, Bezos became the world's richest person in modern history when his net worth broke US$150 million. Photo / AP

2009: How to set goals

"Senior leaders that are new to Amazon are often surprised by how little time we spend discussing actual financial results or debating projected financial outputs. ... Focusing our energy on the controllable inputs to our business is the most effective way to maximise financial outputs over time."

2010: We're using AI, and it's making a difference

"Many of the problems we face have no textbook solutions, and so we — happily — invent new approaches."

2011: Eliminating gate-keepers helps the world... and us

"Even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there's no expert gatekeeper ready to say 'that will never work!' And guess what — many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity."

2012: Be customer-focused, not competition-focused

"One advantage — perhaps a somewhat subtle one — of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we're at our best, we don't wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to."

2013: How we invent at Amazon

"Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It's not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right. When this process works, it means our failures are relatively small in size (most experiments can start small), and when we hit on something that is really working for customers, we double-down on it with hopes to turn it into an even bigger success."

2014: Amazon is now married to these three businesses

"A dreamy business offering has at least four characteristics. Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it's durable in time — with the potential to endure for decades. When you find one of these, don't just swipe right, get married."

2015: Two-way doors vs one-way doors

"Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible — one-way doors — and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly... If you walk through and don't like what you see on the other side, you can't get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren't like that — they are changeable, reversible — they're two-way doors. If you've made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don't have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups."

2016: How to make high-velocity, high-quality decisions

"To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organisations."

2017: Got standards?

"To achieve high standards... you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be."