Customer Obsession [Steve Yegge]

Steve Yegge talks about his experience as an Amazon *customer* (not employee) vs Microsoft.

Listen to Steve Yegge's podcast:


first in this little series was i talked

about their ability to root out disease

and dysfunction in the

organization and squash it immediately

the second one was about their focus on

retail customers and individual people

and how they put that front and center

in first and foremost and there was no

also customer service mentality there

in this episode what we're talking about


that situation where grabs servers would

run on amazon's cloud

so it's like a rental service it's like

we rent computers

from from amazon and we have other

options we could have been on google's

cloud we could have been on microsoft's

cloud and there were some efforts

actually to get onto microsoft's cloud

at least part of the computing just to

really mostly i think for negotiating

leverage but

but the reality was grab was not really

that important

i mean there are a lot of companies on


essentially someday all companies that

have any sort of computing in the

background which is most companies will

have uh a cloud presence okay

and so you know huge huge names you know

netflix runs on amazon

go figure they don't have their own data

centers as far as i know

everything you know i certainly know

their biggest

they're uh they're amazon's biggest

customer or they have been and they go

in and out of being amazon's biggest


you look at the top 50 customers for

amazon and uh grabs not in that list

you look at the top 100 customers and

grabs probably not in that list just in

terms of how much they're spending okay

corporate customers uh you know pretty

pretty sizable chunk of money but not

not really a blip at amazon scale

and yet


whenever i had a question uh about

amazon's cloud let me tell you what i

what i did



i would say

hey bob can you come over here for a sec


notice i'm not touching a phone or a

computer uh

i'm talking to bob over here who who is

from amazon he's an amazon employee he's

a cloud specialist and uh knows how to

answer a lot of customer questions uh

he's an engineer uh and and sue you know

bob and sue she would do the same thing

they'd come in we had all these these

different account reps in a rotation

uh and they would uh they would come

over and say yeah what do you need what

do you need what were they doing in my

office in graham's office in downtown

bellevue we're not a top 100 customer

they can't that how does that even scale

they can't have enough people to go and

sit on site with every single customer

now you could make the argument oh well

grabs kind of important because you know

they're going to be the gateway to

southeast asia and so on and so they're

masasan's investment they're big and you

know there's a lot of you know smoke and

mirrors and you know it's it's all true

and it's going to come true and and grab

is going to be dominant but it's never

been a foregone conclusion i mean uber

was competing with him and then now

gojek's competing with him and gojek has

a bunch of really big investors and it's

not clear-cut right you know that

they're that they're gonna be big and

why would you bet on a customer that's

gonna be big when you've already got

customers that are already big

and yet amazon had people sitting in our

offices you know uh they offered we said


uh you know microsoft got into that and

they sent some people too and that was

that was fine you know you know us too


but it was never really the same

so so i'm gonna i'm gonna close with a

with a story about uh i'll close this

off with a story about um

the conferences okay the developer

conferences because those are sort of a

customer interaction sort of a way that


can demonstrate customer obsession

and it's kind of um it's not a direct

thing it's more of an indirect thing you

know and how successful the conference


but you know it's a it's a it's a signal

uh so the story is i was at my grab in

my um

my first year

it was 2018

uh i joined just late the previous year

and uh my boss mark porter

he said hey steve yeah let's uh let's go

to re invent

reinvent is amazon's cloud conference

okay it's about aws

and it's in las vegas and you know i'm

in seattle and so it's only like a two

and a half hour flight

and so it made sense you know for for

for me to go and represent uh you know

as a head of engineering and ads and all

that stuff uh but i didn't want to go uh

you know i like i don't like conferences

i don't know why i don't like them i

just don't like them like they're

they're a waste of time they just

they're just like um

i could go on and on about how how

shallow they are but they're they're

nothing gets done at a conference

and they're

i don't see the point a lot of people do

like them they like they got their badge

and their lanyard and their packages

swag and they're like i'm in a

conference and they feel important or

something and people speaking at

conferences feel important i've done

that too and then it was ultimately it

was like why did i do that what was what

was the goal here right just building

brand recognition with developers i


you know fine fine

it's fine that they have them and it's

fine that some people like them but i

didn't want to go okay because i was

busy like my job was very stressful and

i'll talk about my job at grad and how

working with asia from the united states

is just in general in in another episode

and mark's like oh come on man you got a

year to come you got to come it's like

you have to

and he was very insistent and i'm like

okay fine you know fine i'll take the

hit for the team and i'll go to las

vegas and bring my wife along and we'll

upgrade our hotel room at our own on our

own dime and we'll try to make it a fun

trip because conferences suck and i

don't want to go

but we'll do some gambling

so we go to re invent which i've never

been to before in 2018


uh well i went and i learned um

there were basically three components of

the conference that i want to compare to

the microsoft conference that i went to

a couple of months later

the uh the first one was the keynote


i want you to remember these things when

i talk about the microsoft ones uh the

keynote speech is you know by andy jassy

i don't know if he still does it but at

the time you know for many years andy

jassy would give the keynote and you

know what a keynote is right a keynote

is some self-important person standing

up there and going well i'm really super

glad that you all came and boy i'm sure

making a lot of money off this and let's

head up to the strip club you know

whatever i don't keynote speeches um

this was not that

so i don't know if they're recorded man

it would be really uh really interesting

if you could just watch maybe


andy jassy stood up on stage for like

two and a half hours and this was in

like a vegas hotel like their conference

area like i think it was the venetian

and or the palazzo and they they like

had these giant rooms with giant screens

and he was projected on the screens i

wasn't in the room with andy jassy

because i showed up late because 65 000

people showed up to the conference a

whole football stadium filled with

people a bunch of tech geeks all like

with this narrow-minded focus singleness

of purpose they came marching in there

was this buzz this excitement and i was

just like you know this is new and

different it was like invasion of the

body snatchers to be honest and uh and

everybody got under the seats and there

was this electric you know buzz and andy

starts talking he talks for like two

hours two and a half hours okay it just

goes on and on and on and on and on

and it wasn't you know hello folks glad

to have you here no he stopped there and

went well folks here's our report card

and he just went through and like for

two hours he just did

statements of the form

you guys asked for this

we delivered it

you guys felt our performance wasn't up

to snuff in this particular area here's

the new numbers

you felt like our competitor had an

offering here that wasn't doing justice

to you know we didn't do justice in our


we answered okay oh and you know and he

could go on and on and on about things

that people had asked for and you know

what i as a customer of aws of amazon

web services i used a bunch of their

services and i had things that i wanted

and i saw some of them in the

presentation and i'm like wow i saw

other ones that i knew were going to be

useful and i saw some i was like i don't

even know what i'm looking at it was so

big and complicated it would be so it

would take so long to learn all of

amazon's cloud i mean like i didn't even

have time to do it all

but it was extraordinary

uh somebody told me mark told me that

andy you know goes to this like you know

goes to his private retreat you know

like in a movie and he like disappears

for 10 days or two weeks or whatever and

you know psyches himself out for the

talk because it was a really impressive

performance that he gave up on stage

kind of from memory just go on feature

feature feature fix fix fix performance

pricing all this stuff

it was it was uh remarkable and it was


like getting just eaten up by the

audience because they were like yeah

finally finally right i can use these

special indexes you know and my redshift

will talk to my dynamodb and blah blah

blah they finally fixed it right every

there was there's excitement because it

was making people's lives easier right

they were amazon was taking

load off of people's shoulders and

shouldering it themselves

so that was the uh keynote

the second dimension was uh the the

vendors which was just overwhelming

right they were they were spread over

multiple hotels and you can go anywhere

and everybody who's anybody who offers a

service offers it on aws and so

everybody was there

and then finally there were the uh the

meetings okay the meetings with with the

teams which i didn't know we were gonna

have but somebody at amazon set up some

meetings for us i was like oh okay we're

gonna have some uh some meetings um

who are we talking to

and mark's like you know the teams

you're scheduled to talk to and he named

off a bunch of teams that were teams

that uh owned the services they built

and launched and ran the services that i

was using on my teams and i'm like okay

yeah so like the account reps she's like


no no i mean the teams and so i went in

there and like i was like oh you know i

knew some of these people i mean like

some of them have been in amazon for

years and years i mean like since i was

there in 2005

and it was like the engineering leads

and it was the program managers and

product managers and general managers

the gm's and that all the actual people

not some proxies not some you know like

you know ambassadors and they and they

and they were there going yo hey steve

you know what do you need what can we do

for you and this is where the humility

that i mentioned earlier came in because

i was overwhelmed that they were taking

their time out of their day because

first of all running aws is no joke and

second of all they're all rich

like rich as crisis i mean they

they all held their shares and they

started in 2005 and the stock ran up

from like forty dollars to three

thousand three hundred dollars per share

during the time that i had left

and you know what what possible business

could they have sitting there asking me

what my team needed because i was with

grab not netflix right and yet they gave

each one of them gave me half an hour or

40 minutes or whatever and they were you


they were serious

like you know i'd say well we could

i mean i'll go on a limb here we could

really use this and i'd give them some

you know some request you know and

they'd look at each other and they would

they would not you know and sometimes

they'd tell me that it was on the road

map or sometimes they'd take really

detailed notes and say okay this is and

how would you rank that relativity these

other features and they would like talk

about it

and i realized that i was dictating

their freaking road map for them okay

it doesn't work like that at google i

mean let me tell you when i was in

google cloud for five years how how

stuff worked in google cloud people in

google would go well we solved this

problem at google because google's

pretty much solved all computing

problems and we did it our way and our

way is the best way and i know the rest

of the industry does it differently but

they're doing it wrong and what we're

going to do is we're going to get a

think tank together of all of our best

and brightest engineers who built

google's cloud google's core


and we're going to have them build the

cloud version

they're going to go into a room and

they're going to close the doors and get

some snacks and seal themselves off

and they're going to from from scratch

from first principles they're going to

invent what the right solution is for

these customers out here that are using

the wrong thing on aws

and uh and they're when we're we're

going to roll it out to great fanfare

and they're gonna use it you'll see if

we build it they'll come and and they're

gonna like it

that's that's how google cloud operates

it's just nuts you can't talk to a

customer like

my boss okay got promoted uh in part you

know for her innovation and it really

was an innovation which is the saddest

thing ever of talking to customers she

would she would go out and find

customers of the services that our

organization built and uh you know they

were always small companies like just


they were on google cloud just for cost

and maybe no other reason or maybe they

were ex-googlers right so they had a

little bit of loyalty and there's no

real reason to be on google's cloud over

amazon's cloud

unless you already know google's cloud

and so and it's because of this problem

where google designs things different

from the rest of the industry and then

you have to like you have to look at it

and go well okay i can learn how to do

it your way and then i'll be completely

locked into your cloud and i can't

migrate because amazon does things the

open way right

and so uh you know she got promoted

because she would like once a year uh

bring in five

you know volunteer corporate customers

and put him up in director's chairs on

the stage and our whole org would

shuffle in and we'd all sit there for

like an hour hour and a half however

long he can go without having to go to

the bathroom and we would get to ask

these people in the director's chairs

you know so what do you think of our

stuff and one of them they'd look at

each other and one of them would say

well you know we kind of think it's okay

but boy it really could be better in the

following 57 dimensions and we'd all

look at each other just like the amazon

folks the amazon teams did we look at

each other except we were saying

that's never going to get fixed we knew

it was never going to get fixed because

we couldn't do anything about it because

of blockers i'm going to talk in

specific gory detail about the kinds of

blockers that exist in google cloud and

exist in other places all over

i've got buddies people have left google

friends who are telling me the same

horror stories and other companies it's

everywhere but we knew it wasn't going

to get fixed because you can't fix stuff

because google cloud has an execution

problem because they don't put the

customer first it was innovative that we

even brought them into the building in

the first place once a year compared to

grab go to ground every day and aws have

a person in their office

an engineer sitting there in their

office taking notes begging please tell

us what we can do better so night and

day right

so now let's now let's talk about

microsoft's build conference and then we

will uh we'll wrap

uh i mean i really could talk about this

stuff in much more detail um

but you know time constraints

we can revisit if it's a popular topic

um a couple of months after re invent

which re invent was just mind blowing

it's across the board i was just like

i couldn't believe what i was seeing uh

the first useful conference ever so i

went to microsoft bill and i was like

hey maybe all conferences are good these


and microsoft build was in the

washington state convention center and i

also had to go to that because it's like

five minutes from my house

and so of course it made sense and we

were using some microsoft uh stuff

off of their cloud and by the way just

you know up front hey um you know all

the folks i worked with at microsoft in

in azure the cloud they were really

smart and they were cool and they're

professional and they were humble and

they were nice and they were um

very accommodating they were they were

great hosts i hope that we were good

guests uh and uh you know don't want to

disparage anybody in microsoft cloud

because they're they're working you know



they're not amazon

and they know it right and you know they

they know they're so far behind that

it's it's almost comically bad

um but but you know they're trying

really hard uh so but i went to the

conference uh because that was those

those were meetings that i had like on

you know in redmond in on microsoft


uh but the conference the build

conference is this big vague fuzzy

directionless pointless kind of

parade sort of a fair ground where

basically a bunch of random people show

up and they give random demos they're

trying to i don't it's it's back to the

old conferences that i hate kind of

model where they're giving just random

demos that are not useful to you so it's

like uh you know it's like when you go

to disneyland with your family and you

decide that maybe just like you're going

to spend a few minutes in you know in

walt disney's imaginarium where you can

see his vision of what the 1950s thought

the future was going to be like and what

you know a a modern home might be like

you know and

you know you go in there and it's

air-conditioned and you're like okay

i'll hang out for a while but it's not

fun and then you go back to the rides


that's kind of what microsoft build was

like their their expo was just a bunch

of random people most of them with

macbooks uh giving demos of random stuff

that they did it wasn't cloud focused it

was a hodgepodge a mishmash now satya

nadella you know who's you know he

really is brilliant and he's you know

he's an amazing leader he's kind of a


uh you know

uh he came from microsoft cloud and he

knows microsoft cloud is their business

it's their future like nothing else

matters at this point windows in office

you know and they'll they'll drag on

maybe for another 10 years you know and

they can eat some more revenue out of it

but it's kind of over and they know it

and they're not innovating anywhere else

they're trying and they're failing it's

cloud that's their only shot at staying

alive oracle's actually in even worse

position but in the same position right

they just they just have it worse

oracle's dying quickly and they know

they need to get in the cloud and they

can't because they have a terrible

execution problem

so so we go to build and satya gives his

keynote remember i told you about the

three components of the conference and

how they were all amazing

and then let's talk about how they

happened at microsoft

so i went to the keynote

and i was excited because andy jassy's

keynote was just mind-blowing okay and i

was like i want to see what microsoft

has launched in the past year let's see

let's compare their progress

and satya nadella stood up there and he

gave a keynote

uh and the keynote was pretty short and

it was about how

they were proud to announce

that microsoft had partnered with


and that the starbucks was using

microsoft machine learning algorithms

to be able to tell you where your

espresso beans came from

and that was the keynote

and it was quite frankly

embarrassing to be there it was

embarrassing to watch i was embarrassed

for them i was embarrassed for myself i

was embarrassed for everyone else in the



i i mean

what the hell

and uh so i was like okay well uh you

know that maybe the keynote isn't really

the right way to measure the success of

a of a developer conference maybe

they're maybe they

they fell a little short there unless

you're a really really big espresso bean

fan uh but you know uh maybe the other

areas and to be fair you know in one

area which is the team meetings where we

got to meet with the teams same thing we

got to meet with the teams they were

real nice to us they were competing for

our business from aws

they wanted us i think as a um

just to show off just like they could

show off starbucks right they didn't

care how big we were we were just

southeast asia but they were still very

nice and we had good meetings with them

and they you know they offered to go fix

things uh don't know how how much

progress they made on those things so be


but the the third pillar which i only

briefly touched on right was the the the


booth the floor

which is kind of like you know when you

go to the state fair you go to a you go

to a big event you know uh

an art fair or a crafts fair or

something where there's like there's a

bunch of space where people can can pay

to have a booth

right like a little tent a pavilion or

whatever and you know like buy to

seattle you can go get food and of

course the measure the yardstick of like

how successful your event is and and

whether your venue was worth the money

is how many vendors showed up

and then you know in turn that'll drive

you know people showing up

so my buddy uh my buddy who's uh now

ebay and i hope to get him on the show


he says uh he's with me there at the

microsoft build conference he goes yeah

let's go check out the vendor pavilion

because you know what that's how you

tell how successful a cloud is or any

platform for that matter he was right he

says you know it's a you can see if

there you know if there's a if there's a

lot of let's say there's a lot of

database companies there okay and

they're all saying hey use our database

on microsoft azure

what that means is that azure doesn't

have good enough databases

because there's a bunch of third-party

vendors going hey pay us a bunch of

extra money on top of your regular cloud

bill for our better database than the

one that microsoft has and there's all

kinds of different you know

uh parts of a cloud that could

potentially have third-party offerings

that compete with the core cloud and

amazon of course had all of them and so

we went to microsoft to see what holes

they had what was missing from their

lineup and we went in there and it was

just like it was like the old west the

tumbleweed rolls by and we were a couple

gunslingers and the town was completely

empty and we were like

you know like we could hear the

the spaghetti western music playing it

was empty there was nobody there i'm not

talking about people yeah there were no

people there just people random people

wandering around it looked like a

carnival but there were no

companies there there were no offenders

there were like four like total like i

knew some of them personally they're

like oh hey steve i'm like oh yeah hey

what are you doing here and they're like

you know because there was there was no

point because there's like there's a

marketplace at work here and

marketplaces require buyers and sellers

and you have to have a lot of buyers and

you have to have a lot of sellers you

can't have one or the other with that


half of them will evaporate

and sure enough i don't know if it's

because microsoft cloud doesn't have

enough customers or because microsoft

cloud's really bad because they're not

enough vendors but for one reason or

another all of the booths at the

pavilion were filled with microsoft

teams it was like whoever planned it was

like oh my god we didn't get anybody to

sign up for this thing so get your team

get in there and just pretend to be a

third party sort of right and so they're

waving like hi you know we're we're a

microsoft team that you know is here in

the vendor floor and it was 80

microsoft and i we were floored we were

like there's not a hole in their cloud

their cloud is a big gaping hole the

whole thing

and you know so we left you know very

disappointed the whole thing i mean

honestly if they they did more brand

damage you know certainly to me as just

a developer who uses cloud i use

google's cloud but it doesn't matter um

you know

the whole point of a dev conference as

far as i know is to build you know brand

excitement and enthusiasm for the for

their for their brand for the microsoft

brand the azure brand

they did more damage to that by having

that conference that that that i gave

feedback on and i'm sure they didn't

read it uh

then then if they hadn't had the

conference at all i mean seriously they

should they should just pass why wasn't

even why wasn't it about cloud if cloud

is going to be their business going

forward their only hope right obi-wan

their only hope is cloud and yet they

had all this other stuff

right and i'm sure part of this is

because of the disease that we're going

to talk about which is that a lot of

teams get big and they have a lot of

sway when they shouldn't

so anyway this has been our episode

about corporate customers to recap

i became a corporate customer of a cloud

at a

fairly medium-sized company grab for the

first time in 2018 and i continued that

relationship with amazon through until

the pandemic started uh i was blown away

by how um

customer obsessed

i mean it's such a cliched term and yet

i was blown away that they were sitting

there asking me what

i wanted their roadmap to be and and but

you know what i wasn't surprised because

that's exactly how they treat their

retail customers right that you're the

retail customers in aggregate are voting

for what's next for amazon

and uh

and once you reach that point i'll tell

you when you're done because amazon's

like done in a sense okay

done for the day say

the the the guy sitting you know or the

gal sitting at the table near my desk

from amazon who i could ask questions to

day in day out month in month out right

the entire time we were aws customers

they were done

and they had done their job and they

could feel good

when we said

we're good

thank you you've done

so much great stuff for us and we really

can't think of anything else that we

need at this time

not even speculative we just we're good

that's when you know you're done and

that's when you break through

into this new you know green field you

know sort of innovation space where you

can say wow our customers literally have

everything their heart could desire that

they know about that they can think of

uh let's start thinking of things for


which is what google started with

remember google's like i'm telling you

i'm telling you there were google teams

that would go in and design something

and then a product manager from another

company there's a really good pm from

microsoft and she came in and she was

like she was

just rocking in google cloud and she got

attached to this one project

and she came to me and she said they

just went into a room and designed

something that's completely unusable and

nobody would want it and they didn't ask

anyone and she had to she had to go in

and she had to slap him around and say

you need to start over again and this

time make sure there's a customer in the

room with you

and they were like huh

you know because google it's all about

also the customer

also we do customer we talk to customers

sometimes too

it's night and day 
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