Amazon buildings

The Amazon culture and its effect on Seattle area startups

There is a lengthy piece on the New York times on Amazon’s employee culture. It is largely negative on their push-to-the-max, dog-eat-dog world and stack rank nature of the company.

Having worked with, know of and learned from over a dozen employees at Amazon, I can tell that it attracts a certain kind of employee. It certainly is not as bad as the article indicates, but many over achievers love to work there.

While many ex-employees have talked about the “challenging” work environment, I have personally talked to ex Amazon employees who wish more companies were like Amazon after they left.

What are the parts that they like the best. Relentless push to do better when you believe you have hit the peak. There seems to be no real “peak”. It is a state of mind. Doing better is what we all strive for and Amazon’s culture pushes you beyond that.

The intense focus on numbers and customer metrics over going by the highest ranking person’s opinion. This happens in many companies, including the best run large technology firms. When the highest-ranking person enters the room, the conversations is about “their experiences”, “their interactions with customers” and their prioritization. Amazon’s not like that, is what people tell me. Data and analysis trumps opinions.

Disciplined experimentation is another area that most folks believe Amazon excels at. The willingness for people to be given the latitude to try multiple experiments over time prevents boredom.

Amazon’s culture may not be good for 80 or 90% of the folks who are seeking employment, and that’s okay since they dont need all the employees of the world to work for them. Just the ones that value work over everything else.

Now that I have explained the other perspective, I have an observation about the impact of Amazon’s inwards looking focus on the company and its customers on the local Seattle ecosystem for startups.

Amazon buildings
Amazon buildings

The impact is pretty significant. The number of ex-Amazon employees looking to start companies is far and few between.

There are a few, for sure, but most employees at Amazon work at a startup themselves (Amazon) and are either a) happy working there, b) are burnt out at the end and want an easier job at a larger company or c) dont ever have any time to engage with startups or have time for side projects.

What this means is that many ex Amazon employees make good employees at companies who are trying to reboot their culture, but not a good fit for starting companies.

One thought on “The Amazon culture and its effect on Seattle area startups”

  1. I think that in India, the reverse is true though. MANY ex-amazon employees start companies..
    Because they learn from Amazon and for India, the Amazon pay enables them to save and then start their own journey.

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