A version of this op-ed was originally written for Forbes.
Before being worth an estimated $25 billion and before Amazon was under scrutiny for it’s work-life balance policies, Jeff Bezos went to his boss to seek advice about the risk of quitting his established finance job to pursue a startup. On a walk around Central Park, they candidly discussed his current hedge fund job and his startup idea. At the end of the two-hour conversation, Bezos’ boss confessed that he thought it would be a huge risk for his mentee to chase after his idea.
Bezos weighed the pros and cons over and over again. And finally, he came to a realization that made the decision to pursue his startup idea “incredibly easy.” He called it the regret minimization framework, in which he imagined himself as an 80-year-old man looking back at his life. Foremost, as an elderly man, he knew that his life’s regrets, more so than anything, would keep him tossing and turning late into the night. At the same time, he strongly believed that the 80-year-old Jeff Bezos would not regret having tried building a startup that had a chance to make real impact — even if it most likely ended in failure. What would deeply haunt him would be the regret of having watched the opportunity pass him by.
Now almost a decade after Jeff Bezos made the decision to start Amazon, the barriers to building a technology startup have never been lower. New technologies have equipped a wave of entrepreneurs around the world to build startups faster and cheaper. Open source technologies have allowed users to “fork” and build on top of existing software rather than reinvent the wheel. Massive open online courses have brought top university classes and teachers to computer screens across the world. And social media has provided a platform to scale across networks and connect directly with leaders as never before.
Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to keep up with these evolving and expansive technologies. Jeff Bezos might have said it best when he commented on the pace of technology. “We humans co-evolve with our tools. We change the tools, and the tools change us, and that cycle repeats.”
I am seeing this first hand. This week, teammates and I launched a startup toolbox that opened up findings of our market research with technology entrepreneurs across three continents. The toolbox compiles a range of resources from prototyping tools and online courses to technology accelerators and influential Twitterati that entrepreneurs identified as most useful in their endeavors. In an attempt to evolve with users’ preferences and keep up with new breakthrough technologies, we decided to crowdsource the ongoing curation of its contents. Already we have seen new tools and iterations of technologies added that we never came across in our research, and the users’ rankings of tools have changed our thinking on what technologies current entrepreneurs actually find most useful.
And it is these technologies that also have Jeff Bezos thinking about the future again. A recent study of almost 2,000 millennials found that 58 percent classify themselves as entrepreneurs and more than 60 percent say they’re likely to quit their job within two years. These millennials are following in Bezos’ footsteps but have more powerful tools to build the next Amazon.
In a 60 Minutes interview, Bezos was asked if he was worried about Amazon being disrupted like so many other companies. He responded with candor:
“I don’t worry about it because I know it’s inevitable. Companies come and go. And the companies that are, you know, the shiniest and most important of any era, you wait a few decades and they’re gone.”