Jeff Bezos' best piece of advice to entrepreneurs: Be missionaries, not mercenaries

Jeff Bezos Michael Seto/Business InsiderAmazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com in July 1995 with 10 employees and few sales.

Within two months, Bezos and his team had customers in 45 countries and all 50 states, and sales of $US20,000 a week. In May 1997, Amazon went public with a $US500 million valuation.

Today, Amazon has a market cap of $US172 billion and sells nearly anything a customer can think of at low prices and fast shipping speeds, in addition to hosting a cloud computing platform worth over $US3 billion, and continues to grow.

Bezos is an example of an “exponential entrepreneur,” according to serial tech entrepreneur and XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis and Flow Genome Project founder Steven Kotler, authors of new book “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.” They attribute his success to both long-term thinking and a customer-centric attitude.

Diamandis writes that he had a chance to speak with Bezos at the TED 2014 Conference. He asked him what advice he would give to aspiring exponential entrepreneurs, those looking to build a business that can grow 10-fold annually.

Bezos told Diamandis:

It’s so hard to catch something that everybody already knows is hot. Instead, position yourself and wait for the wave to come to you. So then you ask, Position myself where? Position yourself with something that captures your curiosity, something that you’re missionary about.

I tell people that when we acquire companies, I’m always trying to figure out: Is this person who leads this company a missionary or a mercenary? The missionary is building the product and building the service because they love the customer, because they love the product, because they love the service. The mercenary is building the product or service so that they can flip the company and make money.

One of the great paradoxes is that the missionaries end up making more money than the mercenaries anyway. And so pick something that you are passionate about, that’s my number one piece of advice.

On that point, Diamandis tells Business Insider, “There are people who are lucky, and who hit it out of the park on their first shot, and that’s great. But unless you’re being driven by your passion and purpose, you’ll give up before you succeed. And so fundamentally passion and purpose trumps everything.”

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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