We see evidence of success in India: Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in Bangalore on Sunday. PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR  

Jeff Bezos, is a bundle of energy with a loud laugh which he uses to good effect. The founder and CEO of the $74 billion, is completely sold on India. He thinks the Indian e-commerce market has grown by “leaps and bounds” in recent times and the potential is huge.

His positive attitude and approach were clearly evident in his comment that he doesn’t worry about competition but focuses on his customers alone. Or for that matter when he said, in answer to a question, that obstacles are growth opportunities. His last visit to India was in 2009 when he says he spent two weeks, one of which was to show his then 9-year old son around the country. “We had fun,” he laughs recollecting that trip. “There’s so much energy here, I find the country and people energising,” he says in this interview with The Hindu in Bangalore on Sunday. Excerpts:

How do you see the Indian e-commerce market now?

Growing by leaps and bounds, super fast. I think our timing was pretty fortunate. We launched about a year ago and judged by the results of the last year, we did it just right. The team that Amit [Agarwal, Vice-President and Country Head, Amazon India] put together has done a very good job.

Is your experience in India similar to your launch experience in other markets?

It’s better and faster. The reason why we’re making such a big investment in India is because of the evidence of success. If something is working well, we’d like to double down on it. If you had asked me a year ago if we were going to be successful in India, I would have said, “I hope so, I’m optimistic”. Today, I can tell you, it is already happening. Second, as excited as I am about this business in India, Amazon has a lot of really great businesses and I think they’re all important. I love all my children.(laughs).

Will we see your B2B marketplace, Amazon Supply, starting in India following your good experience with the B2C business?

I think you should stay tuned on that. What I would say is that over time I expect to take everything that works in any of our geographies and try to get them to work in all our geographies. If you’re talking of industrial supplies then I don’t see why they couldn’t over time be in India.

You once said in an interview that you believe in planting the seeds and then waiting for them to grow into trees…

Some of them grow into trees, some of them never even sprout. We plant a lot of seeds. If you want to be pioneers, if you want to do new things that nobody has ever done, you should be willing to fail. If you’re going to have some big successes — and we’ve had more than our fair share — you need to be oriented to experiment a lot. Experiments are not going to be expensive. Things won’t get expensive once they begin to work. India is getting a big investment now (from Amazon) but that’s because it’s working.

You’ve just announced a $2 billion infusion into your Indian operations and this closely follows your competitor in India, Flipkart, securing $1 billion in funding recently. Are we seeing the familiar strategy of committing large investments into developing the business without regard to short-term profitability?

Roughly speaking, yes. What we do is, when we see that things are working, if we have ideas of how to invest further, we would like to do that. We want to continue investing in things that are working very well. If things aren’t working, we’ll stop investing in them.

So does that mean that you will continue to invest more in the local operations?

Well, yes, $2 billion is a lot, it’s a very big investment. But these guys [points to Amit Agarwal] have already thought on how to use that — infrastructure, logistics, transportation, fulfillment centres, mobile, which is super important in India. India is super unusual in the number of small and medium businesses that are here. These guys [points to Amit Agarwal] have a number of ideas on how to make it easy for small and medium businesses. These are physical businesses, not online ones and we are developing tools to make it easier for these businesses to participate in the digital economy and meet millions of customers. So, all of those things require investment.

You’ve built up your business on the promise of same-day or next-day delivery in the U.S. Given the logistical constraints here, India must be a challenge for you?

When we started in more established geographies like the U.S., we weren’t delivering in two days. We were delivering in, like, 7-10 days. You start with what you can and then improve. The second thing is that whenever there are obstacles to give a customer experience, then our job as inventors is to invent a solution to each one of those obstacles. If you think about it that way, the obstacles are not problems, they are opportunities.

What are the chances of seeing your much-talked about drone deliveries in India some time in the future?

I know that there were a lot of rumours that my visit now was to launch drone deliveries but they are strange rumours! (laughs). I’m very excited in the long-term about drone deliveries. We’ve made a lot of progress on the technology side and we need to see progress on the regulation side. The technology is one thing but there also needs to be a set of rules and regulations in place to make sure that drone deliveries are safe. We’re waiting for approvals to start the service in the U.S. as of now.

What is it that’s going to differentiate you from someone like Flipkart in India?

We’ll just continue to focus on those things that we think are important to customers. I think that selection is important; making sure that the service we offer to small and medium businesses as we connect them with buyers remains defect-free; make it so low-cost that those people then can afford to offer customers at lower prices; making sure that our delivery is fast and reliable and doing all this over and over again. That approach has worked in many places.

You are head-to-head with Google in many categories such as digital advertising, cloud services, smart devices and so on. How do you see this battle playing out?

We have a long-standing practice at Amazon that instead of focusing on other companies we try and stay focused on our customers. I feel that is the right approach. All companies have their annual planning processes that start with questions like “who are our three biggest competitors”, “what strategy to adopt to defeat them” and so on but that is not how we operate. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about that.

It is difficult for me to answer a question like that because it is not how we operate the company or think about things. We go about our own business and try and understand what the needs of our customers are and invent ways to satisfy those needs better and better.

You don’t see this chance of running into this giant called Google somewhere along the way in your main businesses?

I would more generally say that everywhere in the world we do business and every arena in which we do business, we’ve always had great competition.

And I do not think that’s going to change. That’s the steady state and the way of the world and I think it’s the way it should be and I’m happy about it.

Do we see you launching devices such as Fire TV in India anytime soon?

I can’t give you any particular road map but our approach is that if we have a service offering in a particular geography we’ll try and offer it everywhere. That’s all I can say.

Your Fire phone did not exactly set the market on fire. Any thoughts?

Well, I think you should reserve your judgment on that. I think we have a real world-class hardware team. We’ve been in the hardware business for 10 years. Kindle has become a huge success — we’ve had seven generations of Kindle, four generations of Fire tablets, one generation of Fire TV and Fire phone. These things are super-early. Ask me in five years! (laughs).

What was your strategy in acquiring Twitch for a billion dollars? It again sets you up directly in competition with Google.

Twitch, first of all, is led by total missionaries, people who care about the customer experiences as much as we do at Amazon. When we go to acquire a company we always try to figure out if they are missionaries or mercenaries! (laughs). Second, they have invented a completely new kind of entertainment from scratch, which is remarkable. Just like people watch sports, they also like to watch and participate when really skilled gamers play. We have lots of initiatives in Amazon in the game space.

Gaming is a big use of the Fire tablet and Fire TV. We think there are a lot of opportunities there to do more. But first and foremost, we want Twitch to do what Twitch does. We’ve had great success with acquiring companies and then leaving them alone. (laughs)

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 10:29:58 AM |

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