Project Precipice Week 5: brainstorming with bezos


week 1 how’s it going
week 2 say hello to inlo
week 3 strategery and defiance
week 4 a breakfast octopus prequel
week 5 brainstorming with bezos

Welcome back. Last week I left you hanging, asking you to guess the question that Jeff Bezos asked me when we first met in March 2006. So without further ado, here it is. The question that Jeff leaned forward and asked me was:

Have you ever considered showing your customers your cost?

Bam. He was suggesting we reveal what we paid for the things we were selling. You may now just see this as a random common question, but let me assure you that it is not. Not when asked by Jeff Bezos. None of you were going to guess it. It’s not like it’s a complicated question but it implied a greater appreciation of Woot than I expected. The quality of our customer relationship or even the limits of that relationship as a retailer. He understood why we had fans and not just customers. But he also knew we had constraints. Damn. An honor to be asked this, I quickly thought.

I tried to recall specific examples of our push toward customer transparency, but they were lame compared to this. Still, the question had to be answered affirmatively. So, yes, I said, after some false starts. I actually had thought about that. And then nothing else but a smile – acknowledgment that it was a good question. A nod back from him. I simultaneously wish I had said more while also being pleased I didn’t fuck up a high-bandwidth exchange.

Robert Redford subtle nod gif

As far as I remember, that might have ended the meeting. It didn’t literally but I mean as far as I was concerned, nothing else of any relevance was said. As I traveled back home, I thought about this question. Could it be that Bezos wondered about the disruptive quality of Woot with regard to how we could affect Amazon? Like, did he fear erosion of his margin if his costs were known, item by item? Nah, that can’t be. We’re tiny and irrelevant. Was he just showing me that he appreciated our rebellious attitude – that he was also a rebel? Perhaps. Or even more clever, maybe he was saying he saw through it all. That we couldn’t possibly be totally honest with our customers and his question proved it. I was equally a sellout to him.

I actually have a twinge of guilt when the Original Breakfast Octopus story is shared. ¹ ² ³ Why? I mean sure it’s entirely reasonable and appropriate to hate on billionaires. But the single story presents a simplistic caricature of Bezos, 4 years later, working to give me a thoughtful answer to why they had then acquired Woot. The breakfast octopus quote makes him sound like a crazy cartoon villain. He kind of is now. But it was a more reasonable deflection with context. The blunt answer was tactical and boring to both of us. Amazon bought Woot because it was unique, hard to compete against and accretive to their value. It was just the classic “buy versus build” assessment. But he knew that was not inspiring. So he tried. The full arc of the story is going back 4 years to know he’d done better back then, in 2006. The second attempt just fell flat.

A few weeks into our Project Precipice revival project, I realized this memory was actually aligning with some of our ideas for SideDeal. No new features are ready to launch, but we’re keen on defining a new meaning for the SideDeal brand. Like, a side deal should be when you get something outside of the regular retail channel. You have a connection to get a better deal, on the side, so you do it. To prove out the deal, you need transparency. I told the Bezos story to my team and was surprised to recall so well the hearing of his question. It felt like Bezos was participating in our brainstorming. Yes, great input Jeff! Let’s make each SideDeal have this as a Bezos-mode.

Have we thought about showing customers our cost? Yes sir! and 16 years later we’re going to try it out.

Participation Request!

Our current idea is to have a button that you can press to see our cost on SideDeal item pages. We want to see how much interest there is in the feature across the board. To start, however, only select deals on SideDeal would have this transparency enabled.

Your task is to Design / Photoshop / Sketch and photograph your suggestion for a “Bezos Button” (with or without credit to Bezos) Entries with the most likes will win something.