Archive for April, 2009

The Next Chapter

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Dear family, friends, colleagues, blog subscribers, twitter followers, facebook friends, acquaintances, Jeff Bezos, and random internet stalkers,

Here’s the short version of this for people who don’t like to read a lot, and just want the facts:

  • I’m quitting Amazon.
  • April 17th is my last day
  • May 12th I will be moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • I’m starting a software company initially employing me, myself, and I
  • I plan to launch a web app at the first Twitter conference on May 26th
  • I estimate I have more than a year’s worth of personal runway to figure things out

I’d like to tell you all about the start of the next chapter in my life. But, before I do that, a condensed history. I don’t want to spend too much time on the past, so I’ll just say this… I was born, raised, and went to college in Michigan. Go Blue! I studied computer science, and one summer decided to learn web development. That led me to an internship and then a full time position at in Seattle, WA. The thing is though, I want to build my own software products. Basically, I was doing the type of work on wanted to do (namely web development) but not building the type of software that I wanted to see exist in the world.

Amazon is a great company. They are going to do just fine. I’m actually going to keep my stock, and maybe even buy more. Although, if I’m going to do serious investing in the stock market, I’ll have to look at the companies and pick ones I really believe in. Palm may actually be one of those. Their new Web OS on the Palm Pre looks pretty darn impressive.

Amazon is no longer a start up. Too much friction to get certain things done. My guess is that this problem is not unique at all to Amazon… any big company has issues like this to deal with. Once you have a lot of revenue, any change could have a big impact in the business. Since a startup, by definition, doesn’t make a lot of money, changes to the business or the software won’t have as big of impact in absolute terms. It’s all about risk verses reward. In a large company, you can spread risk across many different projects and people in the company. This is one reason why Amazon is able to do so many innovative things. They can take risks in certain areas like Kindle, AWS, AmazonFresh, etc, and even if those projects fail (which I actually doubt they will) Amazon itself will be fine as a company.

When I was an intern at Amazon, Jeff Bezos (the CEO) gave a short talk, and then left most of the time for Q&A. The question I asked was why he thinks Amazon was able to survive the dot com bust. The answer he gave was basically that the business metric graphs had very little relationship to the stock price. Even though the stock price tanked, Amazon as a business was still growing. Also, Amazon has very long term view of things. There is little to no change in strategy in tough times. It’s always lower prices, more selection, and relentless focus on the customer. I think that is as much true today as we go through this recession, as it was during the dot com bust.

I’ve wanted to do a startup for a long time, but didn’t want to spend the time looking for funding. I’d rather spend the time building the software instead. People have told me that it is generally a good idea to build it first, before you start looking for funding. I still would rather not have to spend the time seeking out funding for a startup. So, I’m going to start by bootstrapping instead. This means that I will have to have revenue very early on, ideally on day one. So, I’ll be doing some experiementing with that model over the next few months.

Why am I moving back to Michigan? Well… my family lives there. I have some friends there. There is a small, but growing tech community in Ann Arbor. It is much cheaper than Seattle.

I’ve just jumped off a cliff, and I’ll be building the airplane on the way down. I estimate that I have more than a year’s worth of falling before I hit the ground. Wish me luck!