Amazon Archive

I'm a Hole in Amazon's eNewsletter Logic

I've said plenty of times that I think Jeff Bezos is the dot-com generation's Steve Jobs. And Amazon is like my Apple. I accept the fan boy mantle willingly. I love it as an author-- with Prime, the Kindle store and the site itself, Amazon has taken out more points of friction in the book buying process than anyone save Guttenberg and Louis Borders. I love it as a consumer. ECommerce generally desperately needs better check out usability and among big companies only Amazon has kept innovating, in my opinion. As a result we buy almost everything we can there. And people clicking through on my book link (TO YOUR LEFT!) and buying my book and other stuff has even netted my husband and I more money that a lot of jobs I've done. (That's more a sad statement on what reporters get paid than it is a happy statement on book sales.)

BUT, I've confused my adored site. I keep getting notes about selling back textbooks and other college-themed things that make no sense since I'm 34. Then I realized I've ordered (and mostly read) about 30ish political and economic books on other countries from Amazon, and frequently the only ones I can find are actually text books. But isn't that cool that Amazon sells them when clearly -- according to the algorithms-- only international studies majors and I buy them? Most of these I could never find anywhere else. No tuition required. Thanks, Jeff.

I'm Back. And I'm Leaving Again.

My new daugther Hey everyone. I am back from Rio. I was totally MIA while I was there, again, because of threats from Brazil. So I've been posting stuff to TechCrunch about my trip and FRANTICALLY trying to get a chunk of the book drafted before I leave again....Sunday.

First off, Rio was simply wonderful. I stayed on the beach in Leblon and found if i could run jump in the ocean for even 10 minutes before or in the middle of a day of meetings I felt completely reinvigorated. I also loved wandering around the neighborhood (during the DAY of course.) Aside from that, I met some cool companies and had some really life-changing experiences. I flew and then trucked out to the basin of the Amazon where BS Construtora is building a 1,600 house village. (More on that here.) And spent a day exploring the slums around Brasilia with an entrepreneur who grew up amid drug runners and now is starting and Internet company in Sao Paulo. Then flew back to Rio and spent some time in a pacified favela with a company that's spent a decade building computer labs in the most hard-core slums. What I don't write about on TechCrunch in the next week will be in the book. Oh, I also met a couple who own a trout farm. They said I could come work on it if this whole writing thing doesn't work out. Mr. Lacy says he's game.

One of the cutest things ever happened in the favela, by the way. A little girl-- dressed like an Indian for "indigenous people's day"-- just came up and grabbed my hand like we were friends. (See photo above.) Kids are always fascinated by foreigners. I've had them giggle, point, show me around, shyly ask me where I'm from, but none has just come up and hold my hand like we'd known each other for years. The level of trust from a child in a community that can't yet trust the city's pacification efforts showed how much things could change in a generation if the city stays committed to this. And thanks to the pressure from the World Cup and the Olympics coming to Rio, there's reason to be optimistic. I was so caught off guard and charmed and wanted to scoop her up and take her home. Wouldn't you?

Second off, the book. I've been talking with my publishers about titles and cover art so it's nice evidence I will actually have something tangible to show for all this work. I am somehow, amazingly, ahead of schedule. I spent the last week finishing drafting the section on India, and I'm drafting the section on Brazil now, hoping to finish it before I go. That leaves only Indonesia, Rwanda (which is half written) and the Epilogue and a TON of revising before my August 1 deadline. I can't actually believe I'm going to make it. The publishers do not want it over 70,000 words so I am really pruning and pruning each chapter. A lot of great stories are getting cut out, but I do think it's making the book stronger in the end. You will quite literally get a world of entrepreneurship in less than 300 pages.

Third off, I'm leaving again. For a long time. Five weeks. The longest trip yet. I have no idea what I was thinking, but now, barely recovered from the last trip I'm looking at this schedule and wondering if I'm going to make it. Fortunately, I'm equally as excited about it. Adrenaline don't fail me now... I am going to Cape Town, South Africa first where I'm speaking at the Net Prophets conference. Then, I head to Indonesia where I'll report around for two weeks and hopefully find some cool stuff. (Mr. Lacy is meeting me for the second week in Indonesia.) Then, I head to China for the last time. I've been to China more than any other country and somehow that section of the book has the most holes because so much has been off the record. I'll be a bit all over the place, including some smaller cities. Smaller being the operative word-- nothing is actually small in China.

Fourth off, reading list update. I am reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography now which is pretty great and I plan to finish before my flight. Taking with me "A History of South Africa," "A History of Modern Indonesia," "Asian Godfathers" and "China: Fragile Superpower." Amazingly I'll only have eight books left in my INSANE stack of reading once I knock those out. I have so much stuff about so many places coursing through my head I am forgetting basic things like, phone numbers and names.

Fifth off, packing. I haven't yet done five weeks out of carry-on luggage. There's going to be a lot of sink-washing going on...

I'm Alive, BTW

Just wanted to say a quick blog hai. Things have been nuts for me lately, and now that I'm officially off Michael Arrington-duty, I am trying to dig out of a swamp of logistical things I've been putting off for weeks. Like, getting emails working on my BlackBerry and getting AT&T out here to fix my phone line so I can do radio interviews and have my TiVo back. I'm very proud I finally found time to call the bank and let them know it was indeed me in Africa logging onto my account, not some fraudster, so I can finally pay my bills online again. My various bill collectors are probably glad too. (Yes, I do need a new assistant. I know.)

Long time readers might remember that I'm neurotic and goal-obsessed enough that I not only make a very well thought-out list of New Years Resolutions, but every month I grade myself on how well I do. In January I scored a lousy 61 out of 100. In February I upped that to a 72, partially because i scored higher on the "Be Nicer to Mr. Lacy" category. I'm up to a C-student!

Speaking of goals, I should have some cool news soon. In the meantime, here's the coverage I did for TechCrunch in February, a link to the last two Press:Here shows I was on, my latest ValleyGirl column on unsexy but profitable eNewsletters, and, below, a few segments on gadgets I did with BusinessWeek review honcho Steve Wildstrom for TechTicker last week.

I am still lusting after the Palm Pre more than any other gadget, but the Kindle 2 is a close second.  With all the international travel I'm doing these days Bose Noise Reduction Headsets are a close third. And Mr. Lacy and I have been close to caving on a huge new flat panel for more than a year, but we're taking Mr. Wildstrom's advice in clip #2 below instead. Not that we can afford any of these indulgences. Oh to be back in pre-recession days!

Amazon: The Exception to all the Rules

My new goal is to get Jeff Bezos on TechTicker. That's right. Fair warning Mr. Bezos: You are the new Moby Dick. (Larry Ellison, you toyed with me for too long.)

Since I've historically been a Valley beat reporter, I've never gotten to interview the Seattle-based Amazon CEO, and I am increasingly amazed with his leadership. Om Malik put it best on TechTicker several months ago, when he said Bezos is the closest thing any Internet company has to a Steve Jobs. Before you hit that comment button: Larry and Sergey aren't CEOs, and Facebook is too young to call.

First off, there are almost no tech founders who remain CEOs from starting a company through its IPO and beyond, particularly given the short-sighted nature of Wall Street these days. The only other one I can think of is Ellison, who I've said before deserves to be the highest paid CEO in tech, for his uncanny ability to get where his business is going from a technology point of view, a market point of view and a business point of view.

But more than that, Ellison is that rare breed who can inspire and terrify his people at the same time, and exert enough authority that Wall Street doesn't question him. Ok, maybe the question him, but they'd never dream of ousting him even in the bad times. In fact, over the last few months while everyone has been saying no other tech CEO has the same value to his company as Jobs, I've argued Ellison is a less-sexy version of the exact same dynamic. (By "less-sexy," I mean he sells databases and middleware, not iPhones. I only swoon for Mr. Lacy and this man.)

Bezos is the only CEO of the Internet generation cut from Ellison cloth. He has routinely stood up to Wall Street and was often considered an absolute dog next to eBay's "monkeys-could-run-us" lean and mean business model. Nonetheless, he thumbed his nose at Wall Street with his famous chortling laugh, which you can hear in the clip below.

Similarly to Ellison, Bezos was a visionary in terms of product (cloud computing and the Kindle), knowing his customers (a brilliant user interface, pioneering recommendation engine technology that actually works, and Amazon Prime) and business (investing more money and continuing to discount quarter-after-money-losing-quarter believing volume would win out in the end).

So I know what you're thinking: What about that Internet "four year curse"? Well, it only holds true for the do-no-wrong Internet darlings like Yahoo, eBay and Google. Amazon never quite fit that. It never had a golden-goose of a business model, so it never got lazy. It never had the luxury to get lazy.

In fact, Amazon is increasingly the exception to not only to the four year curse and the horrific 2008 fourth quarter, but a lot of stories I write. Back in August, I wrote about the antiquated publishing industry. One solitary bright light: The Kindle, which the fourth quarter results showed actually boosted book sales, something so counterintuitive even Amazon-bull Henry Blodget totally mis-calls it in the above video. In a time when Borders is fighting for its life and Barnes & Noble had to cut jobs for the first time in its corporate history, that's nothing short of amazing. (And as a reporter pitching a new book, I'm nothing short of grateful.) You have to wonder whether Bezos sold his soul to the devil during one of those post-2000 quarters when it looked like the company was going to go belly-up.

Then there was my December column on how stagnant ecommerce has been since the 1990s. My one exception? You guessed it: Amazon. There are a zillion small reasons why I always try to make purchases on Amazon, despite that old conventional wisdom that you can't build loyalty in ecommerce because it's so easy to click to a cheaper competitor. Among my reasons: Amazon's superior user interface and search, the ease of one-click purchasing and free overnight shipping via Amazon Prime, and the affiliate system. Amazon has given me more than $1,000 in credit this year, thanks to people clicking through my site to buy my book and other items on Amazon. Speaking of, anyone need to do some shopping? That link is up and to the left...

So, keep up the good work Mr. Bezos, and just know that me and my camera crew are coming for you.

Part insightful analysis of what ails Silicon Valley and part madcap journey to far flung hubs of aspiration and innovation, Sarah Lacy takes us around the world in 180 pages to find the fascinating people who are creating the new wealth in a new world of start ups and ventures that America ought to be paying a lot more attention to.
Brilliant. Crazy. Cocky.

New Book

An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.

Excerpt »

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Srah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is an award-winning reporter who has covered high-growth entrepreneurship for more than fifteen years. She is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of PandoDaily.com, the site-of-record for the startup ecosystem. She lives in San Francisco.

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