On Being a “Day 1” Company

Something that has been passed around the internet profusely is Jeff Bezos’ 2016 Shareholder Letter which is a masterclass on what leadership looks like from someone who has survived some of the worst technology-centric economic trials in our recent history and who has lead a company to growing marketshare, profit, and brand awareness.

It’s crazy to think that Bezos has been doing this for 20+ years and to read his 1997 Shareholder Letter (also attached to the 2016) is uncanny in its sheer prescience and then, of course, the fact that he and his team have executed marvelously.

It really is something that all leaders, regardless of age and experience, need to review and to consume and meditate on. I can only think of a handful of other folks in my own lifetime that have made such an indelible mark on my own professional life.

I need folks like Jeff Bezos in my life as examples of what a remarkable founder and leader looks like and I believe more of us need to observe, research, understand, and learn from his example.

For even more fun, historical context on how long Bezos has been schooling me, I was buying books via Bezos’ website in High School when that first letter came out and I still am a customer, 20 years later, except that I’m married, with kids, and have packages sent weekly (if not daily) via their automatic subscription service, that range from basic toiletries to larger technology buys and even food and fresh produce!

You really can’t give this man enough kudos to see what he’s done and to contemplate his obsession and commitment to a singular project and business. The crazy thing is that I believe he’s just getting started.

The man, the myth, the legend…?

Which is a perfect segue into a few thoughts that I’ve had recently about our own project and company here at Pinpoint. Since we are, quite literally, in the “Day 1” zone for our company, both in terms of product and business, it’s fascinating to read Bezos’ own reflections and thoughts amidst our own real-time experiences.

For instance, he outlines the “starter pack” for Day 1 dominance as being:

  1. Customer obsession
  2. A skeptical view of proxies
  3. Eager adoption of external trends
  4. High-velocity decision making

Again, it’s worth reading his own words about these things in more detail but I wanted to note publicly here (and to keep ourselves accountable) that these principles also hold true of our own perspective of how we’d like to build a product and a business that we’re insanely proud of.

When I first met Jeff and Nolan who were beginning to frame what ultimately would become our first, core offering, I can distinctly remember a few moments where both expressed obvious displeasure and dissatisfaction with how the visibility into engineering teams and software delivery was poor, at best, and at worst it was completely non-existent.

This resonated with me deeply because after having worked in engineering for a while as well (not quite as long as they have, but enough!) I know how poorly reporting and transparency is, up and down the decision-making tree.

Essentially, all three of us were obsessed with solving a real problem for real customers, starting with ourselves. And, to make matters even more challenging (yet poignant), solving for engineers and technology teams is incredibly difficult. As Bezos’ shares:

Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.

Software developers obsess over their tooling and it’s near-impossible to make them happy. Add the ever-evolving climate of systems, technology, and applications that they encounter, our obsession over the finer details will become our greatest and most-valuable weapon and this will be a clear advantage because we cannot get more aligned with customers than we already are.

Good food + hungry customers…

I think this also dovetails quite nicely with the next two principles that Bezos outlines about being skeptical of proxies and embracing external trends.

There’s already a high level of skepticism within the technology space and developer space for proxies and anything that doesn’t connect with a real, felt need. Being engineers ourselves will naturally protect us from becoming too distant from our customers and keep us focused on what’s actually creating value and what is superficially tasty but not ultimately nutritious and useful.

As Jeff says nicely:

Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.

We live within our own product as a natural result of wanting to improve it. Call it “dogfooding,” perhaps, but it’s almost more than that. We are, quite literally, solving our own organizational needs while serving our customers in the closest possible fashion.

A question that we ask ourselves in whether or not we can we deliver and deploy highly-functional and scalable code and product quickly to our customers who are also wanting to do the exact same thing. We, as Bezos describes, live with the design.

And, of course, the external trends is what brought all of us to the table to begin with. It was our core belief that delivering high quality software is possible with more agile-based approaches, techniques, and software platforming and tools.

The external trends like machine learning and artificial intelligence buoys this hypothesis simply because it’s becoming less of potential conjecture and more of a hard reality: Businesses demand faster delivery times with higher quality but the internal systems haven’t kept up.

It’s just high-time that a modern company paces with what is currently available at scale.

Just because it (currently) works doesn’t mean it’s the best.

Finally, as a Day 1 company ourselves, high-velocity decision making is one of our most obvious competitive advantages and something that Amazon and Jeff Bezos will struggle with maintaining more than an early-stage company.

Although we live in this reality it actually sounds like Jeff and his team at Amazon still do this relatively well and he lists out a four ideas that his team execute against:

  1. First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong?
  2. Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.
  3. Thirdly, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time.
  4. Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately.

All of these hit home and are easier to do now than they’ll ever be because adding staff to the team and adding an ever-growing list of customers to the list will challenge our ability to maintain these principles in practice.

And as I reflect about where we are as a company I’m grateful for this moment of clarity and introspection and the opportunity to appreciate how far we’ve come and how well we’ve done so far.

You see, part of our process so far has been iterating quickly and never closing the door on any potential option, especially in the very early stages of product development. We’ve shared a few of those iterations on the blog as well and we’re not embarrassed by our early ideas or attempts at discovering something that resonates.

We’re making decisions quickly (much less than 70%!) and there has been healthy dialogue and differences of opinion around the room but we agree and then commit and then execute. I know that this will continue to be the norm as we move things forward.

I’m grateful for Jeff Bezos, his enduring perspective, and his example of what it takes to build a company of substantial value and worth. But, I’m even more grateful, for our own Jeff who’s courageously lead the team so far through some challenging decisions and Nolan who’s been a model example of what it means to be a high-functioning team and partner.

We are a “Day 1” company and, like Bezos, we’d like to keep it that way.