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Tom's Blog: Success

suc·cess, səkˈses/, noun: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity; the outcome of an undertaking, specified as achieving or failing to achieve its aims.

Two extreme examples of success: one with which you are familiar and one with which you probably are not. 

Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, with a net worth, north of $130 BILLION dollars!  Money is a measure of success, but Mr. Bezos’ net worth is not why I think he is successful.  He is successful, because he has never taken his eye off his most valuable asset:  his customer.  Below is an excerpt from his latest annual letter to shareholders, which I encourage you to read in-full when you have the time:

We now offer customers gift certificates, 1-Click shopping, and vastly more reviews, content, browsing options, and recommendation features. We dramatically lowered prices, further increasing customer value. Word of mouth remains the most powerful customer acquisition tool we have, and we are grateful for the trust our customers have placed in us. Repeat purchases and word of mouth have combined to make the market leader in online bookselling.

Let’s skip past how many households simply have an Amazon account and consider that 64% of all homes have Amazon Prime.  That is an extraordinary statistic!  But Mr. Bezos does not take his customer for granted.  In this letter to shareholders, after highlighting just how much customers love Amazon (and now we know, it’s A LOT), Mr. Bezos wrote:

One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature…yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’. You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it.

In other words, what is amazing today, is table stakes tomorrow.  For any company, product, or service, at any stage of the life cycle, this makes for a tremendous business opportunity: if your company simply believes in delivering the best possible experience for consumers, then your company will never achieve its goal.  If your company, product, or service however, embeds in its culture that customers are unattainable and ever-changing, then you are disruption-proof.  Mr. Bezos has proven that again and again, for over 20 years.

Now for the less familiar:

Shivani Siroya is the CEO of Tala, a company that provides credit instantly for men and women in third world countries.  You and I have credit ratings that give banks the “trust” they need to loan us money for large purchases, like cars and houses.  There are 3 billion people in the world however, who have no financial identity, who have no way of indicating that they are “trustworthy” when it comes to providing them access to credit.  That translates to roughly 1/3 of the global population - and these people don’t need a line of credit for a gated community home, they need $20-$300 to get their bakery started. 

So, how do you build trust and open financial access to this population?  Ms. Siroya created a mobile application that determines the credit worthiness of these men and women, based on thousands of data points, derived from their mobile phones.

Mobile phones you ask?  Within the next decade, it is entirely possible that every person on the planet will have a mobile device.  Over 80% of people living in Africa have access to mobile, versus 33% for television access and 1% for fixed telephone lines. 

Instead of going to the local loan shark who has a 300% markup, or the local lender that asks for the traditional information, Ms. Siroya solves this problem by using another, rich set of data, that is just as powerful to make lending decisions.  What does this rich data look like, once they have downloaded Ms. Siroya’s application?  One example is regular phone calls to her family.  Data shows a 4% increase in re-payment from people who keep in regular contact throughout the day with family members.  Another example is location consistency.  Using an applicant’s mobile GPS, data shows a 6% re-payment from people who are consistent in their location – for example, from work to family and back.  A final example is access to electricity.  If an applicant can regularly plug in their phone to charge, then they have reliable infrastructure and are more likely to be a good credit risk. 

Three data points that we take completely for granted, Ms. Siroya has used as successful mechanisms to start businesses on a global scale, to facilitate participation in a global economy, and enable millions of people to control their economic destiny.

To date, Tala has delivered credit to more than 1.3 million people and originated more than $300 million in original credit.

Mr. Bezos and Ms. Siroya are great examples of success for the young person thinking about starting a company, or for the mature company that is trying to figure out their next competitive edge. But they are also successful examples of grit, perseverance, vision, creativity, and leadership. 

These necessary characteristics of success for the 21st century economy are important for the aspiring college student, the Second Lieutenant, the hospital administrator, the coffee shop manager, or the newly-elected public official. 

Originally published in Madison Living

Published on July 10, 2018

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