First and best, for 100 years

Day 28: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

I work with a lot of entrepreneurs. Most of the companies I interact with have been around for less than 5 years, many for only 1, and each are in ongoing development mode. They are passionate about the work they do and, being in healthcare, oftentimes have a personal story about why they do the work they do. It is wonderful work – entrepreneurs have said they want to make a difference, that the current way of doing things wasn’t good enough on it’s own, and that they want to contribute to making it better.

In thinking about what makes at least some of these companies successful as they scale, I’ve been primed to look at Amazon first, and recently received another example in Patagonia that is similar, yet with some key differences. I recognize the immediate thought may (should) be “But Zak…those aren’t startups”. Correct. But they are both led by entrepreneurs who have control and who have established what success looks like for their companies.

Taking Amazon first, Bezos saw Amazon wasn’t great at working internally when one team needed access to what another team was working on. Perhaps the means of getting there are a bit unsettling, but Bezos mandated that teams had to create interfaces to connect with one another, and that all communication must be through these interfaces. For context, Bezos was taking away any shortcuts – it was more work to create these interfaces (particularly backwards, in many cases). When your vision is to be around after 100 years, though, you build it right – no need for shortcuts, you build it to last and to scale. By forcing teams to create this infrastructure to support Amazon.com, they had also built it for the rest of the world – AWS allows for Amazon to build tech infrastructure that others would use, and they know others will use it because they use it. They are their first and best customer (and…it’s nice when your best customer is the largest online retail giant). Amazon has also done this with their distribution infrastructure, figuring out how to fulfill 2-day delivery all across the US. By building it to meet their own needs, they can just as easily meet others (because they intimately know the needs and challenges faced).

Turning to Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard founded the company because he didn’t like the equipment available to him for climbing. Wanting better gear, he made it – realizing others would want it, he made more and sold it. He did the same for clothing, finding that he couldn’t find elsewhere the clothes he himself would want to wear. The jackets not built to last, nor built for quickly changing weather. The shirts were too bland, the shorts not sturdy. As he created, he also brought on others who, like him, did the activities he wanted to create a company to support. Who better to know what the surfer needs than the guy who, rather than be in his job, mostly just wants to surf all day. While not a clean comparison (Patagonia employees aren’t themselves a best customer in the way that Amazon.com is for AWS, not supporting with nearly the same size/scale) and I’m over-simplifying, but the end-result is similar – Yvon created a company that values doing it “right”, as if they were going to be there in a 100 years, and made products that they themselves wanted in order that they might better do their passions/jobs.

I’m not sure what this looks like for healthcare. In advising health systems, it looks like first and foremost creating a system that the individuals themselves would want to go to. Perhaps that means there is more personalization – whether genomics or simply knowing I prefer Zak to Zakary when I come in. Perhaps it’s a focus on making things safer – perhaps by reducing unnecessary variation in supplies so people can become better experts, perhaps by enforcing hand-washing. Perhaps it’s building a workplace that supports its employees – a workplace that clinicians want to go to, even though the work they do every day is physically and emotionally taxing. I’m not exactly sure how to put this into practice for entrepreneurs within healthcare, but it’s something I think about. Perhaps making medical records more accessible, or innovating within chronic disease or mental health is relevant.

Anyway – I like the idea of creating things that will last, not because of “legacy” but because it’s inspiring to act in a way that is rewarding – to “do it right” and feel satisfied in the work done because it wasn’t for short-term gain or one that took shortcuts. It’s admirable to put in the work, having the discipline to do it right – even more so when empowering others to do that work in their daily lives with you.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

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3 thoughts on “First and best, for 100 years

  1. I don’t know how it is in other programming languages, but in Java, you can literally spend months designing an abstract class or interface that doesn’t do anything in itself—it just helps structure the overall program. I remember my high school computer science teacher used to say that those were the most important parts of a program… probably also the most tedious.

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