This week was the 20th anniversary of Amazon's IPO. If you had $1000 invested then, it would now be worth $638,000. That's an astounding amount of money considering their humble roots as a bookseller. And they continue to expand.
Jeff Bezo's 1997 original letter to shareholders is an informative read, and he reprints it every year as a reminder to people that they have maintained the same, consistent vision over time:
"...Value created over the long term..." are the specific words that caught my attention in the letter. Creating this value requires a relentless focus on your customer, meeting their demands, exceeding their expectations, and evolving to satisfy what they want next. Often before they can even perceive it.
Perhaps more important, though, is having the courage to explore uncharted territory, to push your leaders, managers, and workers beyond what they think they know, into what may be. Some pursuits may have failed, such as the Fire Phone, Destinations, or Amazon Local, and LivingSocial. But the point is that they keep looking.
Playing the long game enables one to take chances, see what works and what doesn't, and to create a culture of actively looking to build the future rather than constantly working to maintain and streamline what got you to this point in the first place. It seems that Amazon has opted to live in a state of constant change. This may not work for everyone because it's honestly hard to get comfortable, but it can have the effect of keeping people thinking about what may be coming or what they can do to improve there current offerings. The consistent effort to push boundaries creates pressure which will hopefully lead to generating novel thoughts and solutions.
Can Amazon be everything to everyone?
It certainly seems like it is headed in that direction given the array of services and products it is capable of providing. A 2012 article that appeared in Forbes noted the moment when Amazon became something other than a bookseller: "Adults may mentally link Amazon with Barnes and Noble, but to teenage customers, Amazon is now synonymous with store." It turns out that that milestone was the first of many to come.
How would you define it now? A technology or media company? A transportation provider or space explorers? The chances are good that it will continue to expand until it becomes part of the background of our lives. It's just there when you need it.
Is it too big?
Here are a few perspectives on that idea:
Amazon Must Be Stopped (New Republic)
Is Amazon Creating a Cultural Monopoly (The New Yorker)
Is Amazon a Monopoly? (The Week)
Amazon is not a monopoly or a monopsony (Book Riot)
The extent of the services Amazon is able to provide and how large it gets appears to be limitless. It's hard to say when it will stop. However, like most things in life it may experience a period of contraction that is commensurate to it's period of expansion. If Amazon continues to expand and the factors that have led to this growth don't change over time, then it could conceivably decline as resources become depleted or their customers move on to something new.
The challenge with comprehending Amazon's future?
They keep evolving.