What’s Not Going to Change in the Next Ten Years?

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Marfa, Texas; photo by the author

I’ve always loved this quote from Jeff Bezos:

I very frequently get the question, “What’s going to change in the next ten years?” And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question, “What’s not going to change in the next ten years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two, because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.

In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true ten years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future ten years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff, I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher,” or, “I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.” Impossible.

And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers ten years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

Low prices. Fast delivery. Vast selection. Ask anyone what they love about Amazon and you’re likely to hear a variation on these three qualities. Together they create an exceptional customer experience and form a defensive moat for the business. Amazon applies them not just to e-commerce, but to cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), entertainment (Amazon Studios), and retail groceries (Whole Foods Market), too.

I find myself thinking about this often as I creep closer to taking on a new challenge. Someone recently told me, “Don’t join a venture-backed startup unless you believe it has a chance, however small, of reaching $100 million in revenue.” To this I’d add, “Don’t join a venture-backed startup unless you’re willing to go long.” If you believe there’s a chance of building something big and are willing to go long to do it, investing in what’s not going to change suddenly seems less counterintuitive.

Three things stand out to me as being universally constant and valuable over the long arc of time—things in which software startups can invest with little risk of their not paying dividends in the future. They are customer service, interoperability, and data-driven insights.

I wrote recently about how customer service is at the center of everything Zoom does. MongoDB’s multi-cloud strategy is contributing to a more than 400% year-over-year growth rate for its managed service. Brightflag, an earlier stage company, is winning Fortune Global 500 customers by delivering unparalleled insights into their spend on legal services.

It’s impossible to imagine a future ten years from now where a customer says, “I love Zoom, but I wish it was less user-friendly and with slower support,” or, “I love MongoDB, but I wish it locked me into Google Cloud Platform.” A global enterprise that finally understands how hundreds of millions of dollars is being spent on legal services, thanks to Brightflag, isn’t going back to a black box. To use Bezos’s word: Impossible.

The next time you have an offsite, maybe block off time to discuss what’s not going to change in the next ten years.

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Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.

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