Winning market-share in India is one of Amazon's biggest challenges right now. It hit $1 billion in sales there faster than it has in any other geography, but continues to face huge hurdles and growing competition.
Amit Agarwal, who leads Amazon's India efforts, told Jay Greene at the Seattle Times that the company has had to completely rethink its international expansion strategy. Part of that is building up a team of "cowboys" and "Jeff Bots" who can move incredibly fast and improvise ways to work with India's sometimes-haphazard infrastructure.
Agarwal recalls to Greene that when Jeff Bezos first saw his original plan to win marketshare in India after it entered the country in 2013, he thought it seemed too methodical and precise. "I don't need computer scientists in India," Bezos told Agarwal. "I need cowboys." Amazon's India employees need to be willing to dive into uncharted waters. They need to come up with creative ideas and be unafraid of untested execution methods. "It's important for us to not think like computer scientists in a very methodical, thorough, precise way, but to think like cowboys where we're not afraid to take risks, where we're not afraid to fire and then aim," Agarwal says.
If an employee comes to him and says that they can't do something because of some constraint, Agarwal will tell that person to go put their "cowboy" hat on, and figure out a way to work around the problem. For example, Amazon can't simply work with a postal carrier to ship goods to households from its giant fulfillment centers, like it does with UPS in the United States, in part because of crazy traffic and a vague address system. Instead, Amazon has had to build a bunch of spread-out "micro-warehouses" that ship goods to smaller distribution centers, where packages are then either whisked off by motorcycle-driving delivery-people or dropped off in bundles at local stores, where customers can pick them up.
The company has also had to build a system for allowing people to pay cash upon delivery, instead of by card when they order online, because that's how many Indians prefer or require it. Besides being cowboys, Amazon India's employees should be "Jeff bots," according to Agarwal. They need to be able to act fast and with confidence: The key, he believes, is to create an army of "Jeff Bots," workers who have so absorbed Bezos' business philosophy - codified in Amazon's 14 leadership principles such as "Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit" and "Insist on the Highest Standards" - that they can enact it without hesitation.
"We are all Jeff Bots. At least, I am," Kumar said. Last year, Amazon invested $2 billion in Inida, but the company hopes the colossal effort will reap even bigger rewards: India's ecommerce market is so attractive to Amazon is because it's growing like crazy. Right now, it has the third greatest number of internet users in the world, after China and the United States, and is similarly ranked in smartphone penetration. Researchers expect the online shopping market in India to reach $15 billion by 2016 up from only $35 million in 2014.