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Amazon and our local community

Marty Hartman receives a key to Mary's Place's future home on Amazon's campus

Last spring, I shared about the work we are doing with Mary’s Place, providing housing to homeless families in a building that was previously a Travelodge. Amazon had purchased the land the building sat on and put the building to good use while plans were being made to develop the property.

As it turns out, those plans involve a permanent spot for Mary’s Place. Amazon is donating 47,000 square feet of space inside the building that will occupy the city block at 7th and Bell, in the Denny Triangle area of Seattle. Sure, it’s an unusual arrangement, to partner with an organization to provide shelter for 200 women, children and families right on our campus. There’s a lot of excitement here for this opportunity.

While construction is underway, Mary’s Place residents will be temporarily be moved to another vacant hotel across the street. The planned opening date for Amazon’s new building is in 2020. You can read more about our plans here.

There have been other plans made recently to integrate Amazon into the local community through partnerships. Back in February, we announced a partnership with Farestart, including plans to donate equipment and 25,000 square feet of space on our campus to help them launch an apprentice program.

What’s exciting to me about both of these announced opportunities is that the organizations and the people they support will be part of our campus environment, part of the same community. Having worked previously on a suburban corporate campus (beautiful soccer fields and all), I can tell you that there is a different energy when your campus is in an urban neighborhood; you are more a part of it.  Programs like these give you a connection to your community that you don’t get in other environments. It’s exciting to be a part of it.

Day One for plants in the Amazon Spheres

Last week, students toured our greenhouse and learned from our horticulture team

Anyone who commutes into or through downtown Seattle is familiar with a construction project that I hope will one day become an icon in Seattle’s architectural landscape: Amazon’s spheres. Over the last few years, our horticulture team has been busy curating and nurturing our diverse plant collection that will go inside. And yesterday marked a milestone for the team and for all of the Amazonians who will soon have access to the spheres; we planted our first plant, an Australian Tree Fern.

Eventually, over 40,000 plants will call the spheres home, where they will enjoy a climate-controlled environment that replicates natural cycles and creates an ideal environment for these plants to thrive. It’s also a place for employees to thrive. Research shows that creativity flourishes when humans experience a connection with nature. Our spheres bring that connection opportunity right into the core of our campus environment.

Here’s a short video explaining the thinking behind the spheres.

You can keep up with all things sphere-related by following our progress on Instagram @SeattleSpheres.

And links to local press coverage here:

Geekwire story on the spheres and Amazon’s first fern

Q13’s look inside spheres

KUOW on the plant life inside the spheres

Lots of photos of yesterday’s event from Seattle PI

Understanding Amazon’s flywheel

Anyone who has worked at Amazon for more than a couple weeks has heard the term “flywheel”. In fact, I suspect that many, if not most, people who interview here discuss the flywheel as part of their onsite interviews. So getting your head around Amazon’s concept of the “virtuous cycle” prior to interviews here is a good idea; I recommend researching it as part of your preparation process, not only to understand the idea of the flywheel but also to be able to articulate how your potential work at Amazon (and/or the work of the group you are interviewing with would contribute to spinning it.

The concept says a lot about how Amazon thinks about investment opportunities and why we are growing so quickly. Along with the Leadership Principles, I think it makes very clear how Amazon operates day-to-day. So I thought I would help explain the flywheel a little bit here to introduce the concept.

A flywheel is a system where each of the components is an accelerator. Invest in any one of the components and, as the flywheel spins, it benefits all components. And the flywheel spinning is how the system grows. Jim Collins popularized the flywheel concept in Good to Great. I’ll drop a link to his writing on flywheels at the bottom of this post.

Here’s Amazon’s flywheel:
Amazon Flywheel

I think seeing the image helps put Amazon’s customer obsession in context too. Because you can understand the different levers that ultimately lead to great experiences for customers and how all of us Amazonians are all part of it. If we do work that brings more traffic to, we’ll attract more sellers wanting to reach this larger number of potential customers. Attracting more sellers increases our selection, which improves the customer experience. This brings more traffic to You can see how focusing attention on any of these components – traffic, sellers, selection or customer experience – distributes more energy to all of them. The whole system grows.

Then, as a result of the spinning, we are able to lower our cost structure which allows us to lower prices, also enhancing the customer experience. So the flywheel spins even faster as it grows; the growth itself is an accelerator. This is how Amazon went from a garage to the company you know today in a relatively short period of time.

Here are some links to additional content that will help you learn more about flywheels in general and how the concept applies to Amazon’s business in particular.

Inc. Magazine does a good job of explaining the flywheel concept

Steve Rosenbaum on how Jeff Bezos leads from behind

Jim Collins’ articles on the flywheel

Reducing and Re-using your Amazon packaging

As you may know, tomorrow (April 22nd) is Earth Day. Living in Seattle, it’s easy to find ways to get outside and soak in nature (beaches, mountains, trails galore). But today I thought I would share a couple of Amazon’s innovations that are helping by reducing and re-using packaging. I’ve used both of these innovations in the last week (and do regularly). And I’ll continue to do so until more sustainable long-term options are available (like maybe packaging free delivery or bins a’ la Amazon Fresh).

Give Back Box

Amazon is partnering with Give Back Box to give you an opportunity to re-use your Amazon boxes and to make donating easier for you. Fill your Amazon box with items you would like to donate, print out a free shipping label and click a checkbox to arrange for pickup by UPS or the postal service.

I’m a bit of a neatnik and a KonMari advocate. So since the program was announced, I’ve been challenging myself to fill each Amazon box I receive (and to be clear, that’s several a week) with items for donation. All items need to be clean and suitable for re-use (think: things you would see on sale at a Goodwill store). But this program has actually gotten me to part with a large volume of “maybe I will use that one day” items. When I receive an Amazon delivery, I just leave my box by the door and toss in things I find around the house that I don’t need anymore. Let me tell you, it feels great.

You get the satisfaction of helping people, don’t have to store and deliver your donation items, and you have less cardboard to haul out to the curb on recycling day.

Frustration-Free Packaging

Every time I think of Frustration-Free Packaging, I mentally shout “no more clamshells!”. F-FP is  standard for some products and an option on many other product detail pages, allowing you to opt for packaging that is 100% recyclable and easy to open. Often, it means that items will be shipped in their original boxes (you can opt to have it shipped in an Amazon box if it’s a gift). Items come without unnecessary air pillows or outer boxes. No clamshells, no twist ties, no frustration. Chances are you have received an Amazon order that uses Frustration-Free Packaging without even knowing it.

Frustration-Free Packaging has been around since 2008; the program launched by providing more customer (and environment) friendly packing on the 19 worst offenders when it comes to wrap rage; the kinds of products where home consumers got to look for garden sheers because their scissors weren’t strong enough and then prove that you really can make yourself bleed with plastic retail packaging.

All of our new packaging solutions are lab-tested to ensure product still reach their final destination safely. Since launch, the program has eliminated over 100 million pounds (you read that right) of excess packaging. By the way, we also have a packaging feedback program so if you still find something that’s frustrating or your item doesn’t arrive as expected, you can let the packaging team know.

So maybe for Earth Day, you’ll be inspired to do a little donating via Give Back Box and you’ll know to select Frustration-Free Packaging as an option when you see it.

 If you're interested in more info on Amazon's sustainable packaging efforts, see this interview with Brent Nelson, Amazon's Senior Manager of Customer Packaging Experience. 

What does Day 2 look like?

SpiritYou hear people talk about “Day 1” a lot at Amazon.  The uninitiated observer (or eavesdropper) might think people are talking about their first day at work. They aren’t. “It’s always Day 1” is shorthand here for “keep innovating”.  It means a lot more than that too.

The idea behind Day 1 at Amazon is that you treat your work as if it’s always Day 1; your first day doing it.  Think back to some of the Day 1s in your life… first day of school, first date in an exciting new relationship, first day of that job where you are finally working on something that you are passionate about, not just something you do to pay the bills. On Day 1, you are energized and possibilities are endless. What would happen if you could stay in that headspace? With that level of engagement, excitement and creativity?

On Day 2, people start to identify limitations, focus shifts from creativity to implementation. You start to lose some of your Day 1 zeal.

At our most recent employee all-hands meeting, someone asked Jeff Bezos what Day 2 looks like during the Q&A session at the end. His response: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Fast-forward about a month and Jeff’s 2016 shareholders letter, released today, is all about Day 1 and what you can do to avoid that Day 2 state of mind. His list includes obsessing over customers, ensuring processes are aligned with missions and vision, adopting external trends with a sense of eagerness, and making decisions swiftly.

His shareholders letters are always a good read – kind of like a modern entrepreneurship primer – but this one in particular reveals a lot about our culture here and why it’s exciting to work someplace where there’s always a sense of opportunity and energy.

4/19/17 edit: the video of the Q&A session was published today. Added below.


Choosing (or taking) the right photo for your LinkedIn profile

Mark cubanHow Mark Cuban gets away with that profile photo but you can’t.

There is no doubt that LinkedIn has become an important component in the personal branding toolkit, especially for anyone exploring the possibility of a new job. And while we can all acknowledge that the written profile is vitally important – it’s how people find you after all – it’s the profile photo that I find causes the most angst for anyone looking to manage their brand, but who hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down with a photographer. In my career, I’ve worked with a number of extremely successful people who have zero profile photo game. They need advice and help to get a photo that is appropriately matched to the personal brand persona they want to communicate. For some, they need help just getting a profile photo that is appropriate.

The challenge for most people, I think, is that they want a photo that is professional, but also one that feels personal; one that shows some personality. This instinct is 100% on track, in my opinion. Anyone with a couple hundred bucks can have a sterile, polished headshot; blue shirt, hair sprayed in place, light colored solid background. Problem is, this kind of a headshot doesn’t necessarily scream “I am a unique talent!” It doesn’t help people understand what it would be like to know you and to work with you. It’s the personal branding equivalent of stock photography; a sometimes “necessary evil” you avoid if you can.

Another challenge is that not many people want to invest the time or effort into a photo they will use for one application. I get that.  But you’d spend a couple hours updating your resume, right? Or interviewing for a job? Do you take the time to look well-groomed when you are meeting someone new? Do I really need to continue on with these questions? LinkedIn is often the first impression someone has of you; possibly a second impression if it’s being used for social proof. Either way, it’s worth investing the effort in the photo.

The truth is, you don’t even need to hire a professional photographer to shoot your LinkedIn (or other social media) profile photo. You just need to be intentional and go do it, because that photo from Coachella isn’t going to work no matter how much you crop it. The cameras in today’s mobile phones are good enough to produce great profile photos. No special equipment necessary. Here are some tips for taking a good profile photo:

  • Wear something similar to what you would be wearing in professional interactions. You can go a wee bit more dressy (a button-up shirt if you are a developer for example), but if you don’t wear a suit to work, don’t wear one in your profile photo. Also, stay away from sunglasses, branded attire or anything else that is distracting.
  • Outdoor shots are… really hard to pull off. You’re dealing with sun (I swear, sometimes the sun happens in Seattle, like right now as I write this), wind, backgrounds that move, birds (they scare me). A naturally lit interior environment works great. I love atriums and overcast days for photo shoots.
  • What should you be doing in the photo? Mostly, just sitting there and smiling. Don’t be jumping, making finger guns at the camera, resting your chin on your hand or touching your hair. There are exceptions, of course. I mean if you are a professional stand-up comedian, maybe the finger guns are acceptable, I don’t know. The point is that if you’re going to do something in your photo, which I don’t necessarily encourage, it should relate to your area of expertise and your personal brand and not feel too staged and awkward.
  • The best way to get a shot where you look natural is have a conversation with the person taking the picture while you are shooting. Have them tell you some jokes or describe their most embarrassing moment or worst date. You won’t be able to use all your photos but I bet you end up with a few really good, natural looking ones. Because you won’t be over-thinking your pose. It will take your mind off of being awkward and give you the opportunity to produce a genuine smile.
  • Keep background neutral. People should be looking at you when they view your photo, not the foliage, signage or other festival-goers. Just you.

And having spent more than my fair share of time on LinkedIn, here are some don’ts:

  • Don’t use company images or logos as your profile photo. People want professional relationships with people. Many folks on LinkedIn, myself included, do not accept connection request from people lacking an actual photo. It’s very hard to remember if you’ve met someone if there is no photo of them to jog the memory.
  • Don’t use a photo in which you are hugging someone who was later cropped out of the photo. It doesn’t matter that you look well-rested and are in great shape in this photo. Just don’t. And no cocktails, pets, family members or props. And especially no fish. I’m not sure what it is with the fish and profile photos, but none of those. Again, there are exceptions, if you are actually a professional fisher-person, or a photographer holding a camera in your profile photo, then fine. Do a little bit of your professional thing.
  • Don’t go low res. Your photo should be as high res as possible. If you have to blow it up too much to use it, it won’t work. Similarly, if it’s too dark, it will look grainy.
  • No glamour shots, no body parts (like shoulders), no early 90s photos. Your photo needs to represent a great version of who you are today.
  • No cartoon characters. Unless you are a cartoon artist. Even then, maybe not the best idea.
  • No obvious selfies unless your goal is to work at Instagram and only Instagram. If you can pull off a great shot without the obvious arm extension and nobody is any the wiser, that’s great.
  • No copping out. You need a profile photo.

As I mentioned, there are some exceptions and most of these relate to the industry you are in. If you are in a creative role or have a very visible public persona, you can get away with a little more creativity. So if you are in marketing or design you might apply a little (just a little) of your artistry to your image (you can see what I did with mine here).  If you work in fashion, be fashionable. If you are well-known in your space, and the people who will likely be engaging you already have a perception of you, your personality and what you offer, you can get away with a Mark Cuban. Just remember that only Mark Cuban is Mark Cuban.

So, if you are feeling motivated to add or update your LinkedIn profile photo, I’d recommend doing some searches of other people in your industry on LinkedIn, for a little inspiration, and then setting up some time with a S.O., friend or co-worker to take some profile photos of each other. And do this every few years, if needed, to keep things current.

Joe Lawson: My Path to Becoming an Amazonian

Joe Lawson

Editor's note: I’m excited to introduce our first addition to the blogging team here at the Amazonian Blog. Joe Lawson is a Quality Assurance Engineer in our Marketplace organization; they are the folks who find, work with and build tools for third party-sellers on Joe will be sharing his experiences working here and I think you’ll enjoy learning about him and his perspective on what it’s like being an Amazonian. Take it away, Joe…

When faced with the prospect of working for one of the Big Tech companies, the initial reaction of most people is one of self-doubt and disbelief that they have the skills needed to even get an interview, much less make it through the entire process and become a full-time employee at Amazon or Facebook or Google.  It’s very easy for me to empathize with that mindset; after all, I used to think and feel the same way.  My path to becoming an Amazonian was one that I never anticipated going down and to be completely honest, I’m still kind of surprised that I made it in.  What I want to get across in this blog post is that you DON’T necessarily need to have a deep tech background, or a plethora of tech experience, or to already work at a big tech company, in order to have the chance to work here.  I hope that my story will inspire people to apply here at Amazon, even if they don’t believe they have what it takes, because confidence plays a big role (okay, and having the basic skills and a little experience certainly helps for sure) to believe that you’re good enough to pull it off.

I grew up in a country town in Georgia by the name of LaGrange.  It’s right on the border with Alabama and has been an important supplier of manufacturing and textiles for the state for most of its existence.  There are no high-paying jobs in LaGrange, and it offers little in the way of long-term stability and growth for one’s career.  Most people never manage to leave Troup County due to economic issues, earning it the nickname “Trap County”.  Growing up and living in LaGrange for the first 18 years of my life, I felt sure that I would be one of the people that ended up staying in that town for the rest of my life, though the thought of it left me immensely dissatisfied and desirous enough to vow that I’d break that cycle however I could.

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Ayesha Harper leads the organization developing your favorite AmazonBasics

Ayesha HarperIn a recent blog interview, I gave you a glimpse into product management here at Amazon. Most people think of Amazon as a place where you can buy just about anything. But we also make a lot of products. So today I am posting an interview with Ayesha Harper, Director and General Manager of Private Label in our Hardlines division. In this interview, we talk about the Product Manager role, her path at Amazon and career mobility. We also geeked out a little over cool customer experiences.

Hi Ayesha. You’re the leader of Private Label for Hardlines. I imagine that most of the people reading this don’t know what that is.

Private label products are those we develop and sell on our website; they are Amazon-owned brands, manufactured exclusively for Amazon. In Hardlines, our private label brands are AmazonBasics, which spans a number of different product categories, and Pinzon, a bath and bedding brand.

Hardlines at Amazon is a broad and diversified business. It includes Consumer Electronics and product categories within the home like Kitchen, Home Improvement, Tools, Sports, Toys and more. Another way to think about it is that it’s not physical media (Books and DVDs, for example), not Fashion products and not Grocery items. It’s the rest...

It must be really challenging and fun to create new products from scratch. But you didn’t start out in product development at Amazon.

I’ve had five different roles in my nine years here. Amazon very much values movement in your career. Because of the number of businesses here, you are able to see businesses in different phases of growth or with completely different cycles. For example, a group like Toys has a heavy holiday season where working in Amazon Business might not.

In my career path at Amazon within Retail, I’ve been able to experience different categories. I’ve worked in Fashion, Media and now Hardlines. Each of those businesses have different challenges and growth trajectories.

When I joined, I had no idea how diversified Amazon would become over time and all the opportunities that would be available. The company has done such amazing things. Nine years later, we are developing award-winning original content, we have a huge business with Amazon Web Services, and we’re making first-party devices such as Kindle and Echo. So Amazon just continues to get more and more diversified.

And that movement between teams or these broader organizations like AWS and Kindle is available at all levels. You don’t have to be a business leader to experience that kind of variety at Amazon.

Right. From year-to-year, there’s quite a bit of movement within an organization. What we are doing in Retail and across the company is building great businesses and general management leaders. Our feeling is that folks who are able to experience and lead different organizations will be better employees and business managers.

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Be Right. Rinse and Repeat.

BlackjackAmazon holds semi-annual all-hands meetings here in Seattle. As you would imagine, we fill the better part of an arena with our Seattle-based employees these days. Attending these meeting, or watching via video stream or recording, is a great way for employees to learn about the cool work going on across the company. There are so many interesting initiatives underway and employees who are free to develop more, that at some point, it’s likely you’ll know someone up on stage or who gets recognized for their work. Innovation abounds!

The selection of what projects or initiatives are presented and who does the presenting changes each time. We had an all-hands this week led by Stephenie Landry, the VP who leads Prime Now. We also had presenters on Voice Shopping, our work hiring military members, veterans and spouses, Prime Air, and our affinity groups. There are a few traditions at these meetings like awards, Q&A and having all new employees stand up so we can all marvel at the rate at which this company is growing here in Seattle. Another regular feature is the selection and discussion of one of our leadership principles. We all work with these principles so much; it’s really great to hear leaders talk about them – how they interpret them, when they are challenging. So I thought I would share the principle we heard about this week and some of my thoughts on it. That principle is “are right, a lot”.

So first let me say that I am convinced that almost every new employees wonders what they heard the first time someone mentions this one in a meeting. “We write a lot”? Well, that is also true. But “are right, a lot”, once you get past the peculiar phrasing, is pretty core to how we operate around here. So here is the principle as we define it:

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Well, it seems obvious that someone who is a leader and at the top of their game is a good decision-maker. But I believe the value in this one lies more in the “how” and also what it says about our culture.  I think we can all agree that nobody wants to be wrong a lot and we all work to minimize that for the good of our companies and ourselves. But I think that the real risk, the more damaging flip-side to being right a lot is being too scared or not ambitious or focused enough to make decisions in the first place; not putting yourself in a position where you will be required to make a decision.

So what I think that this leadership principle is saying is that we value decision-making and when decisions are made, we like the ones that are right. We appreciate employees who are willing to make a call, especially when it’s on behalf of customers. I think I’ve mentioned before that in the course of my work, I’ve met a lot of employees to talk about their experience working here. And a theme I frequently hear from people, especially those earlier in their careers, is that they are surprised what they get to own here. Decision-making and ownership go hand-in-hand.

As a company, we value experimentation. The tricky thing about experimentation is that if there isn’t a risk of being wrong, it’s not an experiment. So wait a minute, then how can you be right a lot when you are trying new things that have a relatively high probability of failing? That’s where the “how” of “are right, a lot” comes into play. It’s that third line in the definition above.

There’s something kind of gritty and Amazonian about working to include more perspectives and to try to disprove what you already think you know. Making good decisions isn’t about being the smartest person in the room, it’s about having (and using) the best data. It’s about being the most diligent and most willing to disprove your assumptions. Fortunately, with such a big company with a wide variety of projects and employee backgrounds, you can frequently find the data and the people you need to help you weigh and inform your decisions.

At the end of the day, everything you do here won’t be an experiment, so even if you are wrong 90% of the time, you still have a lot of room to be right a lot. One of the speakers at the all-hands made the point that to be right a lot, you have to be wrong a lot too, and do it quickly and inexpensively. I’ll add that you should learn from it as well. Failure in a vacuum doesn’t help you grow and it doesn’t allow others to leverage your work.

So ultimately, I think the leadership principle is about being willing to make decisions and doing so with the best information available. Am I right?