What is Amazon?

What exactly is Amazon?

This is the question that has consumed me for the last ten years. I have sold to and bought from Amazon in about as many ways as one person can; I built an auto parts brand that sold thousands of SKUs to Amazon as a vendor (both stocking and drop ship) and as a marketplace seller (both “seller-fulfilled” and Fulfillment By Amazon, or FBA), before selling the company to a private equity fund in 2018. And I am now the founder and CEO of a startup called Stedi (a modern EDI platform, if you’re familiar with EDI) that runs on Amazon Web Services; we automate transactions like purchase orders and invoices between brands and retailers.

Retail is my universe, and Amazon is my obsession. I’ve written this short book to summarize the mental model that this obsession has led me to.

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You Are Not ‘Behind’

Have you ever felt like you were behind? I used to feel that way. I would read articles about a 26-year-old entrepreneur with a billion-dollar company or a 16-year-old kid who invented a new kind of fusion reactor and a slow creep of panic would start to rise in my chest. I would read about my favorite author who published their first book at 27 and I was already 25 and I had not even written one page and I started counting backwards to figure out of it was even possible to finish a book by then and I can’t believe I didn’t start it last year when I said I was going to and why the hell it so easy to watch six seasons of Game of Thrones in two weeks but I can’t even get myself to write one fucking page of a book or how about the gym for that matter, I haven’t been to the gym in six months and if I had stuck to it back in college I would have a six pack by now like the guy on the front cover of Men’s Fitness.

Stop it.  Continue reading

Down to Earth: SpaceX and the Return of Limitless Ambition

I have been thinking about the SpaceX launch since I watched it last night – and, of course, the subsequent landing – feeling inspired and excited in a way that I cannot ever recall feeling before.

The last launch I watched was back in June, when the Falcon 9 was due to deliver a much-needed payload with resupplies to the International Space Station. I was shocked when the rocket exploded shortly after launch. It was a heartbreaking sight – seldom do we witness a failure so spectacular, so public.

And as the video feed started, this time live from SpaceX headquarters, the energy was palpable. Much was at stake: the ostensible goal of carrying eleven ORBCOMM satellites into low-Earth orbit – a nontrivial task, to be sure. But the larger objective, for those of us who have been following the SpaceX journey, was something far grander.

SpaceX was attempting to make history by being the first to land a large portion of the rocket back on Earth after delivering a payload to space. Continue reading

What I’ve Learned About Love

I think we all are looking for one true love, a partner in crime, someone to share our secret world. Love is complicated, though, and it is hard to know what to look for in another person.

When I was younger, I came up with a list of ‘non-negotiables’ – ten attributes that I wanted to find in a person like ‘moral,’ ‘communicative,’ and ‘lifelong learner.’ At the end of a relationship, I would reflect on my list and change it based on what worked and what didn’t.

I found myself frustrated that my list of qualities didn’t seem to be a good predictor for whether or not she and I would actually be compatible. A relationship with someone who checked all the boxes would sometimes turn out to be a disaster. I think this may have been the point my friend was trying to make when he told me that a relationship is not an Excel spreadsheet. Continue reading

How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025

I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about autonomous cars, and I wanted to summarize my current thoughts and predictions. Most people – experts included – seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point. Continue reading

Projects, Process, and the Deep Cleanse

I heard a story once about a mechanic. Calloused and worn, his tired hands were stained deep with grease and grime that told the story of his hard work. Though the water would run black when he rinsed his hands, the gritty industrial cleaner in his shop bathroom removed just the surface dirt and made little difference to their appearance.

He took vacation once per year and it was always the same. His parents had left him and his sister a small cottage by the sea – it was a single room, the kitchen not more than a lone burner and the bedroom a small cot next to the door. Each day would start and end with a long soak in the ocean. Sometimes he would swim against the waves with all his might, turning back only when the shore grew small in the distance and his strength began to wane; sometimes he would lay still as the sea ebbed and flowed, the buoyant salt water carrying him far down the shoreline for a slow walk home.

When the two weeks were finished, he would get in his car for the drive back to his daily life. He felt calm, refreshed, reborn. He would grip the steering wheel and, with some surprise, notice a pair of hands that did not seem his own – there was no trace of the grease or grime, the creases of his hands were clean and the beds of his nails shone white. Only the thick callouses remained, and he was grateful for that; they were hard earned, his protection against the sharp, rusty pitfalls of his work.

I always liked this story; it has stuck with me over the 14 years since I heard it, partly because I, too, feel regenerated by the ocean. Standing on the beach and looking out over the waves, any worry melts away as I breathe deeply and let the thick ocean air fill my lungs. I stare at the magnificent vastness, I think of the power of nature, I see the ships and think of the greatness of man. The ocean doesn’t quiet my mind; it drowns out the noise and floods me with possibility.

But the story has other meaning for me as well. I think of the mechanic – a man who, to some extent, lives in anticipation of his two week reprieve. How his work builds up on his hands, how he cannot seem to wash himself of its mark save this deep cleanse, how quickly the dark stains must accumulate upon his return. Continue reading

Are you stressed?

Take a bath. If you don’t have a bath, take a shower. My brother says to never make a big decision before you take a shower. You may not be on the verge of making a decision, but water has a magical way of clearing your head.

When you’re toweled off, take a look at what you are doing when you are away from your stressor.

Stress drains you emotionally. It drains your soul, in a way. Are you doing things that are filling you back up? Or are you doing things that deplete you further? Continue reading

When I Grow Up

Komisar QuoteI have been thinking a lot about a conversation I had with a friend recently – moreover, though, how I can’t help but feel that I have had this same conversation with dozens of people, and that I often wonder how many times a day this same conversation takes place.

It takes many forms, but, at its core, the message is always the same.

‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.’

And though this dilemma carries with it a connotation of youth, I find that many of the people trapped within it are, ironically, not young at all – they are simply facing the reality a bit farther down the road.

The truth is, though, you should feel relieved – at any age – to have this thought consuming you – and, if it doesn’t, perhaps you should try to conjure up some fear of it. Crises of this sort mean that you want more out of life – that your personal composition today is not sufficient, that you hunger for change that gives birth to self-betterment.

But we distract ourselves from this realization too often. It bubbles to the surface, and we panic – that is, until a well-meaning confidant assuages the fear by assuring us that it is natural, normal, and healthy.

In fact, that advice is sound, but it is missing a key followup. Continue reading

How to Name Your Startup

“It is a pretty recognizable brand name. Originally it was ‘Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web’ but we settled on ‘Yahoo.’” -Jerry Yang, Yahoo founder

It is no secret at this point that I love being an entrepreneur, and it’s a profession that I would recommend to virtually anyone. At the first mention of job-related trouble, the de facto advice I’ll dispense is to quit your job: burn the bridge behind you and don’t look back. I’ve given away more copies of The 4-Hour Workweek than I can count.

I am often asked, “what is the hardest part of starting a business?”

Like most things in life, the process of starting a business seems impossibly complex until you actually begin to undertake it – what appears from afar to be a mysterious black art becomes fairly simple and straightforward upon closer examination.

With my companies, I have negotiated distribution deals with Amazon.com, manufactured life-or-death components for 200 mph race cars in China, and managed 1,650+ different SKUs – without any full-time employees or a background in engineering, and all while living in South America for a six month stretch…without a cell phone.

Having said that, I can tell you – without hesitation – that the hardest part of starting a business is naming it. And, thanks to a booming startup market and the shrinking availability of .com domains, it is getting harder every day.

But fear not, my friends – while the proliferation of tech startups has certainly dwindled the supply of available .coms, it has also given birth to a series of fantastic tools and resources for solving this frustrating problem.

Below, we’ll go over some rules of naming, and subsequently I’ll divulge my heretofore secret arsenal that will turn you into a dark wizard in the mysterious and elusive art of startup naming.

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The Lost Generation, Explained (finding purpose in an uncertain future)

"We'll start you out here, then give you more responsibilities as you gain experience."

I’ve heard that, in the minutes before a natural disaster, farm animals often exhibit a general and uneasy restlessness – long before any detectable indicator appears on the horizon, they mill about and complain noisily, not exactly able to identify the impetus for their discontent – but fearing the impending storm nonetheless. Continue reading