Each year, Jeff Bezos writes an open letter to Amazon’s shareholders. Over the last 2 decades, these letters have become an unparalleled source of insight into how one of the world’s richest men thinks about efficiency, online customer experience, retention, managing through crises, and more.
Amazon is a hugely successful, precedent-breaking company. The online bookseller didn’t turn a profit for 6 years — today, it’s the second publicly traded company ever to hit a $1T market cap.
Since founding Amazon in 1994, CEO Jeff Bezos has run his company according to an unconventional set of core principles: don’t worry about competitors, don’t worry about making money for shareholders, and don’t worry about the short term. Focus on the customers, and everything else will fall into place.
Bezos broke all the rules when he built Amazon. In doing so, he carved out a unique way of looking at the world, at companies, and at tech in general. And nowhere is Bezos’ philosophy of business, technology, and leadership better articulated than in his annual shareholder letters, which he has written every year since the company’s initial public offering in 1997.
To read Bezos’ shareholder letters is to get a crash course in running a high-growth internet business from someone who mastered it before any of the playbooks were written.
In this report, we analyze the letters and unpack the most important wisdom in each. We also include an appendix linking to each letter.
Download the report to see our deep dives into each one.
- 2020 (final letter): Company culture can be both employee-centric and customer-centric
- 2019: In times of crisis, be aggressive and agile
- 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency
- 2017: Build high standards into company culture
- 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes
- 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions
- 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside
- 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation
- 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust
- 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation
- 2010: R&D should pervade every department
- 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves
- 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next
- 2007: Missionaries build better products
- 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business
- 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers
- 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation
- 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership
- 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs
- 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow
- 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat
- 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own
- 1998: Stay terrified of your customers
- 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values
- Links to Jeff Bezos’ Shareholder Letters (1997-2020)