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Jan
18
2006
We saw Jeff Bezos speak today at North Dakota's Marketplace for Entrepeneurs exposition at the Fargodome. He was scheduled to speak at noon, but did not reach the stage until after several minutes worth of self-congratulatory patting-on-the-backs by the elected officials responsible for the Marketplace's existence. Happily, his speech was listenable and entertaining, unlike the eBay CEO's speech at the UGPTCTS last year. Both companies -- Amazon and eBay -- were children of the mid-90s big bang of internet companies, and the companies' business practices were very evident in the speeches provided by their leaders.

The eBay speech was very business-oriented and highbrow, with the clean sharp edges of a business presentation created by a committee of marketing and communications majors.

Bezos, however, seems to have built his Powerpoint presentation on the airplane, and had a blast doing it. His speech was friendly, energetic, and direct from the business mind that created Amazon itself, unlike eBay's recently-hired CEO and her generalized Best Business Practices. Bezos talked about what he thought the most important parts, as an entrepeneur, of building a successful company. He talked very little about Amazon's world-expanding business plan that has influenced so much of online shopping (and their suspicious patenting of rather generic features), instead talking about -- and showing -- the humble roots of Amazon in the garage of his Washington home ten years ago.

Had I no idea what Amazon was, I'd see Bezos for exactly what he is: an energetic, imaginitive guy who had a cool idea and put it into practice. Back when he built his office in his home and he needed desks, he put nails into boards and built his own desks in the garage. His family and friends debugged his software for him. Their first non-friend-or-family-sale (as indicated by an audible bell written into the cart program!) was important enough that he knew, today, exactly what book it was, and he even included the cover in his presentation.

Bezos described the success of Amazon as the result of many of the features that we take for granted today: customer reviews, cheap shipping, easy customer service, broad expanses of products available, but he showed through what an entrepeneur needs to get started: they need to be so sold on the idea, that everything about their business delights them. He laughed loudly at the two video clips he included as examples (one from Plains, Trains, and Automobiles and one from Falling Down), such that it seems they were chosen simply because he liked the movies so much. He was so proud of the little rambler that housed his first employees and the company's first sale that they were included in his presentation. It's not to do the steps of entrepeneurial business creation, but to love the steps so much that you'll show off pictures like these just as readily as your baby photos, because in your mind there's not much different.

Happily, for the most part, the tradeshow was full of people with similar love for their businesses. We stopped to talk to a writer (as a publisher, we felt important!) who has been self-publishing just for the love of writing, and I wished I'd talked to Leo E Connors, the inventor of the all-wheel-drive bicycle, the Chicago California 2 Bi 2, but there were too many people around to stop for long despite his carnival-barker presentation -- but I was impressed with how the bike appeared to work. And, my pal Roxy, who teamed up with family members to build a screenprinting and ballprinting empire in their garage, is always in high gear to make the business succeed, and had her own booth at the show.

This tradeshow wasn't for people to sell their wares, as much to show off how great their ideas are, and most did think their ideas were the greatest and couldn't help but tell anyone who'd listen. It made it all the more disappointing when people sat lazily in their booths, on the celphone or chatting with their boothmate, ignoring the people browsing the materials on the table. If only he knew of it, their lack of faith in the business would bring the scorn of Bezos upon them.

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