How to manage Day 1 principle as a startup

day 01

Table of Contents

We always try to find ways to improve our business. The natural path is to boost your creativity and the ideas to appear. However, experience and many organizations show us differently.

What if the key to being super-productive is in fact to limit yourself? I believe that the principles of a person and the culture of a company are exactly that. By placing a set of constraints on our way of thinking, we actually funnel our view and see clearer. One of these principles is Amazon’s most used phrase: “It’s always day 1“, a principle championed by none other than Jeff Bezos. 

What is day 1?

Day 1 is a mindset, not a date. It’s all about looking back at the beginning when there was that hunger for obsessing over customers, decisions are made fast, and there was the eagerness to adopt external trends.

This mindset cuts off all the corporate levels and all the bureaucracy, leaving out just the things that move the needle. We want to move fast, we want to hold on to the customers we have, we want to take risks, and this is what day 1 is about.

Day 1, from Amazon’s perspective, consists of:

  • Obsess over customer
  • Make high-velocity decisions
  • Embrace external trends

Day 1 is both a culture and an operating model that puts the customer at the center of everything Amazon does."

Day 2

On the opposite side, there is “Day 2”. Day 2 represents the decline, the inevitable fall if you follow this path. If we think of Day 1 as something that thrives and progresses, Day 2 is exactly the contrast. That’s why Jeff Bezos itself stated over and over again that Amazon fights to remain on Day 1 and not fall for Day 2.

When asked “What does Day 2 look like?” Bezos, in his 2016 Shareholder Letter, answered: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by an excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.” To avoid Day 2 culture, a company must be hyper-vigilant, remained obsessed over its customers, and by agile enough to hop on the next trends.

Day 1 mindset Day 2 mindset
Focus on customer
Focus on internal changes
Embrace failures
Fear failures
Flat organization
Deeply layered organization

Obsess over customer

Arguably, the most important principle of Amazon is obsessing over customers. Starting from the first shareholder letter, Bezos mentioned the importance of having a customer obsession over short-term wins.

This core principle can be easily extracted from “Day 1”, because in the beginning there are not so many customers, and we need to give them much more value than they can get from anywhere else, otherwise, it’s just a matter of time until they leave.

As an example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) features were 90% developed from existing customers’ requests. Only 10% comes from Amazon’s ability to predict the future. But even this small amount of 10% is made with the customer obsession mentality.

We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to."

Make high quality, high velocity decisions

A crucial aspect of maintaining Day 1 mentality is how the company’s decision making processes are changing once the company grows. At Amazon, they fought to keep the velocity of their decision even when the company grow over 1 million employees.

Amazon considers every employee to be a leader and to have the power of decision making. They are constantly reminded of this aspect and are empowered to come up with innovative ways of improving Amazon’s business.

Other aspect of keeping the decisions in the Day 1 area is the two pizza rule, championed by none other than Jeff Bezos himself.  This rule implies that every meeting should be small enough that the participants could be fed only with two large pizzas.


Embrace external trends

One key aspect of Amazon is their ability to try new things, experiment, adjust, and scale the ones that look promising. 

It is obviously again a way in which Amazon related to a startup mentality, a Day 1 mentality. They embrace failure, they asses risks and learn from their past tries.

This is not easy. It requires executives to set the example, creating the right culture and environment to nurture experimentation and be accepting of failure. As Bezos wrote in his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, “Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight.”


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