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  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

What’s So Special About Founders?

Americans have an obsession with business founders and what sets them apart. Is it vision, drive, or insight that helps them turn industries upside down and conjure billions of dollars? Is it how they run meetings or make decisions? Is it because they eat vegan, take cold showers, and meditate? Founders occupy a cultural space that combines celebrity, guru, futurist eccentric, and occasionally comic book villain.

And why not? Jeff Bezos changed both how we shop and how the internet operates. Elon Musk can cause a meme currency to skyrocket with a single tweet. Mark Zuckerberg can sway public discourse and elections. Bezos and Musk are in a literal space race! If you could figure out just what differentiates them from the rest of us, you could become—or at least invest in—the next superstar founder.

For exactly that reason, myths about founders are powerful. They act as a filter for who gets the capital to start companies and a model for those trying to replicate phenomenal success. But although many investors have honed the art of the judgment call, it turns out that popular notions of what a promising entrepreneur looks and acts like are often wrong. Those notions can have major consequences.

Five new books seek to understand the people behind successful start-ups and how much their imprint matters.

In Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, the journalist Brad Stone follows up his book The Everything Store with an explanation of Amazon’s evolution from mere success to inescapable part of everyday life. Bezos is, of course, the founder against whom all contemporaries are measured. He has reached an unparalleled level of celebrity: He throws Hollywood parties, has his visage hung in the National Portrait Gallery, and publicly spars with former president Donald Trump. He also fits a particular archetype: white, male, Ivy League–educated, and a visionary, uncompromising industry outsider.

Bezos’s now-legendary 14 leadership principles (including “customer obsession,” “bias for action,” “disagree and commit”), which inform decision-making at Amazon, are cited as instrumental in the development of Alexa, Amazon Web Services, Prime, and Prime Video. One manager told Stone that she reflexively offered some “Amazon-style critical feedback” to her mother, who said, “Please stop using the leadership principles in our relationship.” Bezos’s blunt, sometimes explosive approach is mimicked by team leaders—whom coworkers have described as “totally cleaved from Jeff’s rib”; his obsession with efficiency inspired Amazon’s expansive distribution network and dictated the punishing climate of its fulfillment centers.



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