Hundreds of Amazon employees also tested out the device and complained of its lack of intelligence.
One manager, who had to fill out a spreadsheet every week explaining what questions he asked and how the device responded, said, “It would hardly ever give me the right answer.”
Another tester said it was a stupid product, adding that the device was “doomed” because it “didn’t work for shit.”
But eventually engineers at the company figured out how to make the “Doppler,” smarter. In 2014, Amazon released the first version of its novel Alexa device. Within five years, the company sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa built in.
Use of the Alexa devices soared during the pandemic, as people started using them more to connect, and even to find out what day of the week it was. Now, it has helped people find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and schedule an appointment. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.
In his last shareholder letter, Bezos said that when he started the company in 1997, “we hadn’t invented Prime, Marketplace, Alexa, or AWS. They weren’t even ideas then, and none was preordained. We took great risk with each one and put sweat and ingenuity into each one.”
Jeff Bezos recently published his 24th and final annual letter to Amazon shareholders as the company’s CEO.
The e-commerce group’s founder and future executive chairman has shared his views on invention, failure, customer obsession, long-term thinking, and other subjects in his yearly missives. He’s also reflected on what he’s learned as Amazon’s leader, and what others can take away from his company’s phenomenal success.
Here are Bezos’ 25 best quotes from his shareholder letters, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:
1. “This is Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute well, for Amazon.com.” (1997)
2. “It’s not easy to work here (when I interview people I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three’), but we are working to build something important, something that matters to our customers, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about. Such things aren’t meant to be easy.” (1997)
3. “There is no rest for the weary. I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers. We consider them to be loyal to us – right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.” (1998)
4. “We are doubly blessed. We have a market-size unconstrained opportunity in an area where the underlying foundational technology we employ improves every day. That is not normal.” (1999)
5. “As the famed investor Benjamin Graham said, ‘In the short term, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long term, it’s a weighing machine.’ Clearly there was a lot of voting going on in the boom year of ’99 – and much less weighing. We have our heads down working to build a heavier and heavier company.” (2000)
6. “Long-term thinking is both a requirement and an outcome of true ownership. Owners are different from tenants. I know of a couple who rented out their house, and the family who moved in nailed their Christmas tree to the hardwood floors instead of using a tree stand. Expedient, I suppose, and admittedly these were particularly bad tenants, but no owner would be so short-sighted. Similarly, many investors are effectively short-term tenants, turning their portfolios so quickly they are really just renting the stocks that they temporarily ‘own.'” (2003)
7. “We started by setting ourselves the admittedly audacious goal of improving upon the physical book. We did not choose that goal lightly. Anything that has persisted in roughly the same form and resisted change for 500 years is unlikely to be improved easily.” (2007) – on Amazon’s decision to create the Kindle e-reader.
8. “Missionaries build better products.” (2007)
9. “At a fulfillment center recently, one of our Kaizen experts asked me, ‘I’m in favor of a clean fulfillment center, but why are you cleaning? Why don’t you eliminate the source of dirt?’ I felt like the Karate Kid.” (2008)
10. “Start with customers, and work backwards. Listen to customers, but don’t just listen to customers – also invent on their behalf.” (2009)
11. “Our passion for pioneering will drive us to explore narrow passages, and, unavoidably, many will turn out to be blind alleys. But – with a bit of good fortune – there will also be a few that open up into broad avenues.” (2012)
12. “A dreamy business offering has at least four characteristics. Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time – with the potential to endure for decades. When you find one of these, don’t just swipe right, get married.” (2014)
13. “Our business model for original content is unique. I’m pretty sure we’re the first company to have figured out how to make winning a Golden Globe pay off in increased sales of power tools and baby wipes!” (2014)
14. “Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.” (2015)
15. “Outsized returns often come from betting against conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is usually right. Given a 10% chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of 10. We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.” (2015)
16. “No matter how good an entrepreneur you are, you’re not going to build an all-composite 787 in your garage startup – not one you’d want to fly in anyway. (2015) – on the power of scale.
17. “Many characterized AWS as a bold – and unusual – bet when we started. ‘What does this have to do with selling books?’ We could have stuck to the knitting. I’m glad we didn’t. Or did we? Maybe the knitting has as much to do with our approach as the arena.” (2015) – suggesting Amazon applied the same strategy to cloud services as it did to online retail.
18. “Our growth has happened fast. 20 years ago, I was driving boxes to the post office in my Chevy Blazer and dreaming of a forklift.” (2016)
19. “Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.” (2016)
20. “One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary.'” (2017)
21. “The biggest needle-movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.” (2018)
22. “If you had gone to a customer in 2013 and said, ‘Would you like a black, always-on cylinder in your kitchen about the size of a Pringles can that you can talk to and ask questions, that also turns on your lights and plays music?’ I guarantee you they’d have looked at you strangely and said ‘No, thank you.'” – underscoring that customers didn’t know they wanted Amazon Echo smart speakers until their release. (2018)
23. “If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. Any business that doesn’t create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn’t long for this world. It’s on the way out.” (2020)
24. “We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable. We are all taught to ‘be yourself.’ What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.” (2020)
25. “Be kind, be original, create more than you consume, and never, never, never let the universe smooth you into your surroundings. It remains Day 1.” (2020)
The billionaire investor said Berkshire’s focus is boosting operating earnings and making large, high-quality acquisitions. His conglomerate “met neither goal” in 2020 as its operating earnings slumped 9% and it failed to close any major deals, he said.
Moreover, Buffett admitted to overpaying for Precision Castparts, the aerospace-parts manufacturer that Berkshire purchased for $37 billion in 2016. The price tag was a “big” error that fueled an “ugly” $11 billion writedown last year, he said.
Buffett dedicated most of his letter to reflecting on some of Berkshire’s most famous investments. See’s Candies, Geico, National Indemnity, Nebraska Furniture Mart, and Clayton Homes all received a mention.
The 90-year-old investor argued their US origins were a key factor in their success. “These builders needed America’s framework for prosperity,” he said. “Our unwavering conclusion: Never bet against America.”
Buffett didn’t miss the chance to highlight that Berkshire owns $154 billion in US-based assets such as factories and equipment – more than any other US company. AT&T is the runner-up with $127 billion worth, he said.
The Berkshire chief also discussed his shareholder base. He emphasized the “special kinship” he feels to the million-plus individual investors who trust him with their money and embrace Berkshire’s culture of partnership.
Buffett made a distinction between Berkshire’s long-term shareholders and people who buy into the hype around the likes of Tesla, GameStop, and Bitcoin. He reminded traders that the fees they pay to constantly tweak their portfolios flow straight into Wall Street’s pockets.
“The tens of millions of other investors and speculators in the United States and elsewhere have a wide variety of equity choices to fit their tastes,” Buffett wrote. “They will find CEOs and market gurus with enticing ideas.”
“If they want price targets, managed earnings and ‘stories,’ they will not lack suitors,” he continued. “‘Technicians’ will confidently instruct them as to what some wiggles on a chart portend for a stock’s next move. The calls for action will never stop.”
Finally, Buffett revealed that his 97-year-old business partner and Berkshire’s vice-chairman, Charlie Munger, will join him on stage at Berkshire’s shareholder meeting in May.
The event will be held in Munger’s home state of California, after he decided not to fly to its usual Nebraska location last year due to the pandemic.
Michael Burry of “The Big Short” fame turned to Warren Buffett to hammer home the dangers of inflation in a Twitter thread on Tuesday.
“Warren Buffett’s #BerkshireHathaway annual letters guided me tremendously earlier on,” the Scion Asset Management boss said.
“During the last great inflation, #WarrenBuffett wrote about the topic at hand, and for those eyeing the future, this is worth revisiting, the 1980 chairman’s letter.”
Burry shared several screenshots from Buffett’s 1980 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. In the letter, Buffett explained that high rates of inflation act as a tax on capital, discouraging companies from investing by reducing their real returns.
Inflation can also result in investors earning negative returns, Buffett said, because it serves as an implicit tax on their purchasing power, on top of the explicit taxes they pay on dividends and investment gains.
“The average tax-paying investor is now running up a down escalator whose pace has accelerated to the point where his upward progress is nil,” the Berkshire chief wrote.
Burry dredged up the letter to emphasize that if inflation ramps up, corporate profits today will be far more valuable then profits in the future.
“Taking #Buffett’s lessons from 1980, and porting them to 2021 doesn’t take much translation,” he tweeted.
“If high inflation…Each $ of earnings today becomes important,” he continued. “Earnings 10 and 20 years from now, the corollary goes, may be worth substantially less tomorrow than today.”
Banging the inflation drum
Burry shot to fame after his billion-dollar bet against the US housing bubble was immortalized in the book and movie “The Big Short.”
He also paved the way for the GameStop short squeeze in January when he bought a stake in the video-game retailer in 2019 and wrote several letters to its board.
Burry has been sounding the alarm on inflation. He warned investors last week to “prepare for inflation” as the US economy reopens and receives a fresh round of stimulus. He also compared America’s current trajectory to Germany’s path to hyperinflation in the 1920s.
The Scion chief studied Buffett early in his career, but decided not to model himself on the Berkshire boss. Burry realized Buffett’s quirks and distinctive investment style were key to his outsized success, and also recognized he was too socially awkward to ever be as popular as the investing icon.