Wednesday 13 December 2017

Review: Biography: One Click: Jeff Bezos And The Rise O by Richard L Brant

Penguin, £15

Putting the
customer first:
Jeff Bezos
Putting the customer first: Jeff Bezos

The passing of Steve Jobs left a cavernous void at the top table of tech entrepreneurs. Richard L Brandt makes the case that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the equal, if not the better, of the late Apple boss.

The geekish Bezos could never match Jobs's consummate showmanship yet he has tenaciously but quietly built Amazon into a hydra-headed monster whose tentacles reach into every corner of the internet.

As Jobs, Bill Gates and virtually everyone else struggled to get their heads round the internet's potential in the mid-1990s, Bezos saw an opportunity, not just to make his fortune, but to change the world.

With a string of successful businesses behind him, the 31-year-old set up Amazon in 1995 just as millions of people moved online.

Bezos picked book retailing, not because of any particular passion for literature, but because it looked the business in which he could rake in the most money.

But, as Brandt explains, Bezos was not your typical greedy dotcom boss, eager to cash in at the earliest opportunity. Bezos's bravura extended to his mission statement: "To be Earth's most customer-centric company." He intended to put the customer first even if it cost Amazon revenue in the short term.

True to his word, Bezos spent the next six years ploughing billions into the company as part of his plan to "get big fast", racking up huge losses financed by Wall Street investors besotted by the darling of the internet.

Amazon survived the dot-bomb of 2001 -- just -- and a chastened Bezos refocused the company for profitability. But his courage soon returned and Amazon began expanding again to the point where it is now one of the world's biggest retailers.

Unfortunately for Brandt, Bezos refused to co-operate with the book, so One Click offers a sketchy portrait of the man behind the brand. We learn of his early entrepreneurial skill -- setting up a summer school before he went to university at Princeton.

We discover how his nerdy shyness led him to draw up a "flow chart" on how to find the perfect woman, explaining he was seeking someone resourceful enough to "get me out of a Third World prison" should the need arise. Unsurprisingly, he soon abandoned that approach.

In fairness, Brandt -- a former writer for Business Week -- interviewed many of Bezos's colleagues, who describe him a driven man, difficult to work for but possessed of relentless energy and invention.

Much of the book is consumed with tracing Amazon's achievements -- such as the One Click patent of the title that enables customers to buy something with a single press of a button -- and Bezos's non-stop quest to conquer new frontiers, including ebooks, cloud computing and even space.

At times, it reads a little dryly -- like an extended business profile in a newspaper -- and there's a better biography of Bezos himself to be written. But if you've ever pressed that 'Buy' button on Amazon -- and who hasn't? -- you may enjoy this glimpse behind the curtain.

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