Innovation and Amazon? Size, As Well as Pizza, Matters!

woman measuring light bulb with calipers

To understand Amazon‘s success, I need to digress a bit. A few years ago I visited a leading mid-western department store retailer on a regular basis overseeing their work with a brand they licensed from me and my partner. At the first few meetings in 2008 there were 5 people in the room (three from the retailer) as we meandered through a “new” corporate headquarters filled with empty chairs and easy parking.

Within two years the meetings were with a team of over 25 people (we were still 2 people) and my partner was introducing members of the retailer’s team to each other after fighting to find a big enough and unused conference room, never mind finding a parking place. Other than killing our brand along with many others they licensed during that period, the handwriting of bad management was literally around the overcrowded table around which no one could move forward.

With that story in mind, one of the better “digestif” pieces about Amazon/Whole Foods is in Harvard Business Review. The analysis focuses on investment in R&D and its clear where this story will end. But there is a chart buried in the story that is amazing. It lists, by year, the new initiatives taken by Amazon and whether it was successful or not. Red means bad and blue means success. Blue outnumbers red, but not by as much as you’d think. What is “Blue and Red”, is how innovative Amazon is relative to all others. We all knew this, but the chart captures the epic pace of innovation.

As I said in an earlier post, this is the Waterloo moment for the grocery industry and all of supporting brands because of the private label angle. Scott Galloway of L2 has a chart that illustrates private label penetration at Whole Foods vs Amazon Fresh. Brands must innovate and fast.

So what is the HBR secret innovation sauce analysis? “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously believes that if you can’t feed the team with two pizzas, it is too large”.  Thank God my competitors don’t even think of pizzas! There is clearly much more to innovation, but as they say, size matters.

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