I recently sat down with the Eisenberg brothers to discuss the hardcopy release of their latest book Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It. The book is a business bible that brings readers on a refreshing journey, serving up insightful life-lessons alongside powerful marketing concepts sewn together with a rich dialogue. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is featured as a thought-leader in the story, discussing the concepts that made him so successful and making these accessible to the small business. “It’s the Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It that’s more important than the Amazon part,” says Jeff Eisenberg.
After reading the book, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview, not one, but two Eisenbergs about their recent book, written in partnership with renowned small business marketer, Roy H Williams. Check out the video interview or transcription below if you’re ready to get inspired by some of the best in the industry!
Video Interview with Bryan and Jeff Eisenberg
Badda Bing…Badda Boom!
Transcription: Interview with the Eisenbergs
Chandal: Hi, I’m Chandal, Acquisio’s Content Manager I’m here with Bryan and Jeff Eisenberg, brothers, influencers and co-authors on their book called ‘Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It’. It’s available in digital form now on Amazon, but it’s coming out in hard copy this June. Thanks for speaking with us today guys.
Bryan Eisenberg: We’re excited to be here!
Jeff Eisenberg: You’re welcome, nice to be here with you.
C: Let’s get started! Why don’t you tell us a little about what inspired you to write the book?
BE: Do you want to take this one Jeffery? You’re the older brother so you get to start first.
JE: I told him he’d be doing most of the talking! We thought about writing this book about 5 or 6 years ago. We started it and there were all sorts of versions. We just couldn’t get it written without turning it into an 800 page book. It started being about all these processes, all these different ideas, all this stuff we were thinking about.
BE: It would feel like a textbook.
JE: Instead, two or three years ago, we wrote Buyer Legends – the book that should have gone second to ‘Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It’. It talked about the process we use to help people actually be like Amazon. We were still working on this and we had an idea for condensing it. We thought maybe we could get this down to like a 3-400 page book. We talked to Roy Williams, our mentor, our really good friend, and we said to him, we really need help and you’re a way better writer than us, so you talk us through it. He said, show me everything. We literally spent a day presenting to him, and somewhere before we were done he said okay I got it. We were like, what do you mean you got it? He said, ya we’re going to have to lose a lot of that material. We said, no but we can’t! He asked, what’s important? And before we finished we actually got down to what was non-negotiable – what must we say in this book?
By the way, out of everything we came up with (and I won’t tell you what isn’t in there but it was just one thing that we just couldn’t put in), he put everything in and he managed to do it in less than 21000 words. It’s a story, it’s a novella – it’s not a parable. This is an actual story, there’s character development, there’s dialogue, it’s kind of interesting – neither one of us is that talented a writer. Roy saved our bacon! He’s really busy, he’s got plenty of clients and plenty of his own work, but he just said, no this is important and I want you to get this across – people will care about it. I don’t know if you know, but Roy is one of the leading small business advertisers – he’s won all sorts of accolades and been sought out by American Express, De Beers… He represents some of the most important independent brands out there. He said, my audience is ready for this. 5 years ago when you were talking about this, they weren’t. Today, Amazon is a household name and people are curious about this. Regular businesses, mainstream businesses that he was dealing with (not digital businesses like we were dealing with), they’re asking these questions – so let’s get this book out.
C: What did you guys think about the symbolism that the characters are on a journey as they’re having this rich dialogue throughout the book?
BE: The goal of both the process and what we share in the book, talking about the Four Pillars and using the Four Pillars to develop this flywheel for growth, can also be used as a metaphor for personal growth. They’re on a journey, they’re trying to transform their business from where they are today, to be more like Amazon – to be more competitive. There’s a lot of similarities behind that road trip and having a conversation, and kind of being that person in the back seat listening to this conversation between the characters Poobah and Sunshine and learning as you go along and being able to bring the evidence of ‘hey you know what, you just mentioned this, I can see where you found that on Google’. I think that’s what allowed Roy and us to bring the concrete facts that we needed to support a lot of the information in the book without making it like a textbook, without making it too dense so that you can enjoy the story at the same time.
JE: It’s odd for an author to say this, but yes it’s our content and our ideas and Roy influenced more ideas – not just ones that he added while he was writing but he’s influenced our thinking all along so it’s hard to separate. What I actually want to say is, for us to be this proud of the book has very little to do with us. The writing of it, the making of something entertaining, fun to read, short but packed with information – we couldn’t be more proud. But that’s not us tooting our own horn! I want to make that clear. Not that I’d be above tooting my own horn, but in this case, it really is because he did a great job – maybe one of the best things he’s ever written.
C: It’s a fictional journey between Poobah and Sunshine, but it’s packed with non-fictional stories from General Motors, Amazon etc. So I wanted to know if you considered your book fiction or nonfiction?
JE: It’s a nonfiction book. Even though there’s character development and it’s a novella, that’s besides the point. The reasons that those companies come up is because the basic premise of the book is the Four Pillars of Amazon which are the unifying principles of Amazon. When we tell stories about General Motors, Kodak, or Walmart, or any of these other stories, the purpose of the story is to illustrate a nonfiction idea. It’s a business book, it’s just kind of odd.
BE: There’s certainly been plenty of great business books that have been written more as business fables and stories, and they’ve developed great reputations. The key thing that we wanted to do is – and we know this from an analysis of all the best sellers of the year – all the best selling business books in history have been between a 5th and 8th grade reading level. None of our other books have ever been able to get below a 9th grade reading level. And we have one that was a 12th. This book was a 5th grade reading level. One of my proudest moments was being able to see my 8 year old son actually read the book – he didn’t get all the business concepts, but he was enjoying the story. The fact that someone so young could read it adds to the value it may have over the long term.
C: The book’s focused a lot on Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos. Out of curiosity, what was the last thing you bought on Amazon?
JE: I buy things in Amazon like a couple times a day, but I think the last thing I bought on Amazon was those little spikes you put on your pool to keep birds away. I wish it was more exciting than that! I think before that I ordered a cookbook by Joan Nathan.
BE: Actually, I remember clearly because we ran a contest on our site giving away copies of Rand Fishkin’s wife Geraldine DeRuiter’s new book ‘All Over the Place’ and I ordered copies for the contest winners. I sprained my ankle last week so I fell behind but yesterday I ordered those.
JE: Bryan and I probably average a box a day.
BE: Yesterday I got my Subscribe & Save box, so lots of things came yesterday. The fact that we’re in Austin and the distribution center is no more than 6 miles between our houses (we have Prime Now) means they’ve delivered things in under 20 minutes.
JE: We were one of the first test cities for Prime Now.
C: Is Amazon aware of this book? Do you know Jeff, does he know about the book?
JE: When we do a seminar of some sort or we speak, we’ll often show that when they interview candidates, or at least 2 years ago when they interviewed one of our friends for an important job, they sent out a whole bunch of internal links, like ‘get to know Amazon’, and they referred to one of our links the Four Pillars of Amazon, which was the only external link in that whole email. But here’s the interesting thing – while we know people that work there, we never speak to them about Amazon because it wouldn’t be proper. Lots of people who left we’ve grilled them intensively. We know that some of the people who work at Amazon who are our friends have read the kindle version of this book already, but we have no idea if they’re aware.
As much as we’re Amazon fans, the book has very little to do with Amazon. Follow me: you can talk about Amazon and understand their unifying principles, you can look at something like frustration-free packaging, and I can explain how it covers their Four Pillars, how it is part of their unifying principles, however, it’s more what you can learn from Amazon. The Everything Store is a good book, it’s an analysis of Amazon. This is more of Amazon as an ideal, because they are a real company with real people, they screw up, they don’t do everything right.
BE: Doing it both in B2B and B2C, the principles carry over to any kind of business. Most of the examples are smaller to mid-sized businesses that we actually talk about in the book. We highlight the principle as Amazon but go into the very accessible business – HVACs, jewellers, people who haul junk…
JE: When we’re speaking in public, we talk about donut makers, pet supply, etc. The most interesting thing is that it’s the ‘Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It’ that’s more important than the ‘Amazon’ part.
C: Based on one of my favorite quotes from the book, ‘your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room’, which comes from Amazon CEO Jeff, what would you say about Amazon when they’re not in the room?
JE: When we were working on this book, our working title was not ‘Be like Amazon’ it was ‘Brand Like Amazon.’ We were concerned that once we had written more about it, it would be pegged as a marketing book – it’s not a marketing book. It’s a general business book, it’s a growth book. What we thought was an interesting play was, if you think about it, Amazon spends very little on traditional branding methods; they don’t do a lot of radio, TV, print ads. They are a big consumer of pay per click, but that’s not really what grows their business. In fact, most people start their search, any product search, on Amazon – 50%. The idea that Amazon is a brand is shocking to traditional brand people. We’re digital people in some way, so maybe we’re not shocked by that but Amazon built a brand out of performance, out of what they did, how they acted – that’s why it became ‘Be Like Amazon.’
BE: It wasn’t as much about what they said, but it was what they believed and how they acted. I think that’s what Jeffrey is trying to point out. We talk about that a lot in chapter 10. Everyone has become a big fan of Simon Sinek over the last couple of years since he did his TED talk on the power of why. But if you go back to understanding Jeff Bezos when he first started the business, there are two fundamental beliefs that really set the course for Amazon: the first one is that he wanted to be Earth’s most customer-centric company (I want to come back to that and unpack it for a second) and the second one is he said if you do the right thing and align yourself with the customers over the long term, you get the results.
Now here we are, Amazon is celebrating 20 years and we can see the kind of growth they’ve had. It took 18 years to catch up to the market value Walmart, and in the last 2 years they’ve doubled the market value of Walmart. And it comes back to number one, what do they mean by being customer-centric? What Jeff Bezos understood about online marketing at the time, now digital marketing, is that you can tie every bit of information to that one customer – to that one unique identifier – to an email, to a cellphone number, to cookies – and put all of that information together and understand the behaviour of the customers, understand what they browse, what they share, what they’ve gifted, what they’ve read in Kindles, what they’ve highlighted, what they’ve watched on Amazon Prime, what outfits they’ve shared with their Echo Look, all of that information drives an understanding of people’s behaviour. Using that data as a feedback loop to keep improving the experience, that’s really the big differentiator between a Walmart and an Amazon. In Walmart, you may be their most valuable customer or I may have never walked in a Walmart beforehand and they have no idea. Because everything is tied to location, product, a skew, a shelf – they have no idea about the individuals. If I had to take one big lesson away, for anybody who is listening to this is that their number one mission should be how do I get to understand who my customers are better? And what data can I collect to keep improving that and how to keep doing that continuously based on what we believe?
C: With the fact that there’s this overarching tone of customer centricity and truly injecting care into a business throughout the book, what’s your biggest customer service pet peeve?
JE: When I think about injecting the customer, customer service is kind of like my last step. Customer service is your last chance. On the other hand, a company like Zappos, which was bought by Amazon, uses customer service as a way [to engage]. They want to get you on the phone because they’re going to give you something for free: they’ll give you free shipping, they’ll upgrade you for free, they’ll send you something, they’ll do something. The biggest pet peeve is that for so many people this is an afterthought.
Bain did a study a few years back and they came up with something called the delivery gap. They asked 362 executives at large companies whether they thought they were customer centric. 80% said yes we’re customer centric. Then they went out and asked those company’s customers and 8% said yes they’re customer centric. That’s a delivery gap, that’s a real disconnect. I don’t think those people were lying, I don’t think they did it in bad faith – there’s going to be lots of people who are watching right now who actually believe they’re customer centric, that they care about the customer, but the evidence is contrary to that. It’s part of what we work so hard on trying to explain in the book. We work on it with clients… They recognize these things and yet it’s so hard sometimes to see the label when you’re in the bottle, to actually say oh yeah, that’s just the way we do things. I’ll give you an example: you’re tied by a technology, you use technology and therefore this is what we do, but what if that doesn’t work for the customer?
BE: Actually I want to touch on exactly that, it’ll give you my pet peeve. So two weeks ago I was down at a conference at a Ritz Carlton, I was invited to go by a company that was holding their event there. I got there around lunch time and I wanted to go check-in my room because I was only going be there overnight so I wanted to make sure I could go hang up my shirt and be ready for the next day. As soon as I walked into the Ritz Carlton, the person at the front desk says, ‘Oh I’m very sorry all of our systems are down, here’s a pass so you can go into the spa if you want and a coupon for a free drink.’ I’m like well all I really want to do is hang up my shirt, so that I don’t have to iron it first thing in the morning. And of course she couldn’t do anything so I ran off to the conference because they had already started and they couldn’t check me in. So I waited and waited and finally I went on Twitter. I sent a message over to Ritz Carlton general. Low and behold two hours later (3 minutes after I sent out the Tweet to Ritz Carlton) I get a phone call from the front desk, they managed to get me into the room. The computers were still down, but they found a way to get me into the room.
Technology is going to break and it’s not one of those things we should anticipate will always be perfect. That’s an expected failure and you have to plan for those. So when I got back to my house I actually got an email from the front desk manager and she asked if she could speak with me. We had a whole conversation and she apologized. She said you know what, I’m really using this as a way to teach our front desk because we need to have those backups, we need to have ways to get people in, and we had a whole conversation about that and that’s what makes the Ritz Carlton great. They messed up, she said hey if you ever come to another Ritz Carlton hotel just let me know and we’ll take care of you. But the fact that they’re willing to learn from a mistake and address it! No one is expecting anyone to be perfect and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges people have in customer experience – you expect everything to be perfect. No, it actually happens in the details when things go bad. You have an opportunity to shine in how you address that. The Ritz Carlton handles it in an exceptional way like they’re known to do. If they had said, ‘hey can I have your shirt so I can hang it up in the back and we’ll take care of it and bring it up to your room later?’ – that would have been ideal. They missed that opportunity, but they’ll fix it for the next one. It’s always learning. As long as you can keep on improving – one of the Four Pillars is continuous optimization – you’re going to get to that point where you can build a brand like Amazon.
C: Simon Sinek has a really famous Ted Talk about why every company should have a why, and this is discussed in the book. Acquisio’s why statement is, ‘we wake up everyday inspired to help people thrive in the digital economy.’ So I wanted to know what your personal brand why statement is if you have one, and if so… Why?
BE: I actually wear mine on this little blue bracelet and I actually had these printed when I was coaching my son’s baseball team. I realized it was my personal motto, obviously having been in the optimization space for so many years, and I went on a personal weight loss journey… My personal motto is be better today than you were yesterday. There’s always something that you can learn, there’s always something that you can improve and as long as you focus in on that journey and making yourself better, you’re accomplishing something, you’re living.
JE: But I think that the difference in the ‘we believe’ statements that we work on with clients is we ask how can we observe that – versus the why statement. What can we see? In the book we happen to mention Goettl. One of their beliefs is that every screw should be replaced. They replace every screw in an air conditioning system because the rattle and the hum of leaving a couple out, which most technicians can do, can actually damage the system. You can observe it every time. Not only can you observe it but they actually bought red screws so that you can see that they changed each one. So they demonstrate their belief right? And so those statements that you believe are much more credible when they’re backed up with something I can look at and say oh yeah obviously they believe that, they care about it, I can see them doing it.
C: It’s typical for writers and novelists to struggle to finish big ideas and big concepts. I wondered if because of the extremely motivating material of the book, if you were more inspired to write it?
JE: We saw it kind of how you guys saw it. We did this presentation for Roy and he asked us a million clarifying questions. But he gave it to us kind of a chapter at at time. Sometimes we’d get a chapter out of order but we didn’t experience it very differently. Sure there was feedback, but so many of the decisions about the character development and the dialogue – that’s not what we were involved in. We were involved in ‘oh maybe he should also say this’ because we forgot a fact or are trying to clear something up. So we experienced the book in a way very much like the reader.
I remember getting an email – because Roy writes at ungodly hours and Bryan wakes up at 4:30am and Roy’s probably been writing for 2-3 hours since then – so we would get these emails and basically as soon as I’d wake up (I wake up at a normal hour 6:30-7:00am) I’d get on the phone with Bryan and we’d be like ‘WOW! Can you believe that?’ So yes it was motivating, but the authorship, the writing, I wish Roy was here so you could ask him that question!
C: I left the book feeling really inspired, determined to reshape how I tackle business challenges and committed to a lot of the wise principles you shared. What were you hoping readers would takeaway most from the book?
BE: We’ll come back to Chapter 11. I speak at a lot of retail conferences, both enterprise retailers – all the big brands you know, as well as small retail conferences. I’ve got to tell you that over the last year, year and a half, they’re more frightened than ever beforehand. They’re really concerned – we’re really hitting a tipping point. I’m hoping that that’s exactly what the book does for them. It gives them hope, it gives them that roadmap that they need in order to understand what they need to accomplish, what they need to look like to be an organization that can thrive in the future. Retail is dramatically changing, there’s no question about it.
I have an example I use when I do presentations. I’m passionate about it because it’s a brand my 15-year old daughter loves. I don’t know if you’ve seen it up in Montreal, a brand called Lush?
C: Yes I know them well.
BE: Yeah, so bathbombs and masks and all that. She went with a friend of hers to one of the stores here in Austin and she bought a mask, both her and her friend. It’s about a 20 minute ride from the house. So they’re on the way home and she decided she wanted to open it up and smell it because that’s part of what people love about the Lush brand. So she opens it up and she looks at the container and it looks like people’s fingers have been in there. And I’ve seen friends post pictures of the masks they get at Lush and it’s packaged beautifully and it’s always really nicely put together. So she calls up and says, ‘hey I just opened this up and it looks like someone put their finger in there.’ So they said, ‘okay no problem, why don’t you just come on back to the store and we’ll replace it?” So her friend turns around, drives the other 18 minutes back the other way to the store and they get there and the salesperson says, ‘no that’s normal, we can’t return it’. And of course she left frustrated.
I think Lush is doing some amazing things as a brand, they have their big ‘we believe’ statements on the board and it even talks about how the customer is always right. And here they have this organic, all-natural, hand-packed, hand-made stuff, but it looks like someone’s fingers were in there and now my daughter has to put it on her face.
C: That’s a little too hand-made…
BE: Yeah! It eroded part of her relationship. She hasn’t given up on the brand, but obviously she’s going to question it a bit more. Lush lost an opportunity because it was maybe their average employee or less-than-average employee on a non-average day who met her, instead of their best employee on a good day that picked up the phone. That breakthrough in that experience may not hurt them today but if it happens again what do you think the chances are that she will come back? And that’s the point – we’ve got to be paying attention. We’ve got to have the systems in place to understand these things and that’s what’s gonna make the brand grow in the future. If they forget about that they’re not going to be around in the next 5-6 years.
JE: My answer is more modest than that. We’ve been writing books now for 20 years. The reason to write the book is sure, promoting the book and we’ll be out there and tens of thousands will sell if history is any indicator, and that will be wonderful and we’ll appear on interviews and whatnot. I couldn’t wake up in the morning to that. So what makes me get involved in something like this is every once in awhile, at a conference or somewhere else, somebody comes and says we read your stuff, we did your stuff, and it totally transformed our business, it changed things, it made things better. It may be very selfish but I’m just looking for…
BE: A little pat on the back!
JE: Yeah but over the next 5 years if I hear that another dozen times – hey I read that book, it inspired me and I changed and it really made a difference in my business. What turns me on and what makes me wake up and want to do this work is that every once in awhile you find someone who you were a huge influence on and they went ahead and transformed themselves and their business. We’ve got several friends like that over the years who have built tremendous businesses and they credit it to us. We can’t take the credit, we consider ourselves inspirations, but they did the work, we just wrote the book! (laughs)
C: You guys are being humble again because honestly it is a wonderful book. It’s full of transformative advice for any business and I think it’s going to continue to leave that legacy, it’s not just now, it’s not just as the hard copy comes out, I think it’s going to go on. And I hope you continue to get as many pats on the back as you deserve because it’s a great book. Tell Roy that too because I don’t have the chance to tell him myself.
We’re going to leave it there, but I’d really like to extend my most sincere thank you to Jeff and to Bryan for speaking with us today about their book Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It.
BE: Thank you!
JE: Thank you!