06 June 2012

Book Review

One Click by Richard Brandt

One Click is more profound than it realizes, perhaps even in spite of itself.  It attempts to paint a portrait of Jeff Bezos, and instead provides a template for business success.

The template of success is pretty simple:  be highly intelligent, be extremely good at doing at least one thing, be extremely tenacious, and be lucky.  The first and last items on this list are generally beyond one’s control, but the old maxim is that success comes to those who prepare for it.  And Jeff Bezos prepared for it.

Like other tech giants, such as Gates and Jobs, Bezos spent a lot of time in his earlier years learning how to code, to the point where he was good at it.  So good, in fact, that he was basically able to write his own ticket to whatever coding job he wanted.  However, Bezos essentially rejected this and decided to start up his own business, Amazon.com.

Interestingly, it was his business sense, not his coding skills that made Amazon a success.  He was driven to create a site that was extremely customer-oriented, and so he eschewed unnecessarily flashy designs and data-heavy content.  He also took a rather rationalistic approach to his business, choosing to enter books not because he had a passion for them but because he figured that he would have a first-mover advantage with them in the online sphere.

He was right, of course, but it also helped that he was very aggressive with pricing and negotiating with suppliers and distributors.  Also helpful was the patent on the one-click method of ordering.

One thing that’s amazing about Bezos is how he basically invented a good portion of ecommerce practices.  He pioneered online ordering, and the security that accompanied it.  His Associates Program was an early way of capitalizing on word-of-mouth.  Really, his work in the ecommerce sphere merits a book of its own.

Anyhow, one thing that really stands out about Bezos is his lack of interest in books. It’s not that he hates them, but that he doesn’t have a zeal for them.  In fact, it seems that he’s a bookseller primarily because he wants to fund other things, like space exploration.  More to the point, he’s a living example that one does not have to be passionate about something to excel at it.  Bezos is an excellent e-retailer because he’s a hard-headed businessman with good business sense.

One thing that sits around in the background of the book is how Bezos benefitted from government interference in the market while simultaneously having his business’s existence threatened by that very same government intervention.  On net, government intervention seems to be net-neutral to the market, except for its maintenance cost, of course.

There are other themes that discerning readers will pick up on when reading this book.  Brandt does a good job of letting Bezos’ life speak for itself, so the book doesn’t feel weighed down with moral posturing or obvious themes.  In this way, the book makes for a rather compelling read, and provides many lessons worthy of contemplation, and does so without being heavy-handed.
In all, One Click is an interesting, if somewhat light read about a man that played a huge role in making the internet, and ecommerce in particular, what it is today.  It’s fairly short, and rather breezy.  Better yet, it doesn’t let its themes, inadvertent as they seem to be, get in the way of a truly fascinating story.

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