[Edit Notes: The Aam Aadmi Party, India’s fastest growing political startup and Amazon are different as chalk and cheese, but they are both disruptive entities trying to grow at breakneck speed, writes Akshat Choudhary the founder of BlogVault.]
“I felt they had so much potential. Now I feel let down”. I have heard this from so many friends, whenever the topic of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) comes up. My friends make many valid points, and sometimes their concerns that AAP is imploding do appear credible. Even the biggest AAP supporter questions the pace at which AAP is growing. Is the leadership too ambitious? Are the problems we are seeing not sufficient proof that they should slow down?
Reading The Everything Store, the book about the early history of Amazon, I wondered what Jeff Bezos, its visionary founder would have to say about the hype surrounding AAP. He was in the middle of the storm, when Amazon underwent the torrential growth in a very short duration. Amazon and AAP may appear as different as chalk and cheese, but they are both disruptive entities trying hard to rapidly scale.
Amazon grew at breakneck speed since it was founded in 1994 and took just 6 years to cross the $1b revenue mark. It was not the only e-commerce site that was founded during the heydays of the dotcom boom. However, it was one of the only few which recognized the unique point in time they were in, and placed a big bet on it. This
rocket ship was not a joyride though, and there were many hiccups along the way.
It hired key talent from the top technology and retail organizations such as Microsoft and Walmart. Recognizing the opportunity to be a part of something historic, the best minds in the world had come on board. Over a period of 3 years it also saw major churn in its ranks. It had multiple COO, CMO, CFO, VPs etc. leave as the mess created by the growth was found to be untenable to many.
During this phase, many of the early Amazon employees were left behind. Shel Kaphan, Amazon’s first employee, felt bitter resentment about his five-year odyssey. He calls Bezos’s decision to remove him from active participation in Amazon “a betrayal of a sacred trust”.
There were many very expensive missteps as Amazon rapidly tried to enter multiple verticals at the same time. It blew up billions of dollars and had very little to show for it when the dust had settled.
During its early day, Amazon was a darling of the press and analysts. At the peak of the bubble, their stock was predicted to grow manifold. Things moved to the other extreme pretty quickly when the bubble burst. Every action of Amazon was dissected in detail by the media, and it could not catch a break.
The CEO of Forrester Research, a widely followed technology research firm, issued a report in which he called the company “Amazon.Toast.” A lot of folks thought that Barnes and Noble, which had launched with a $200 million investment, would kill Amazon.
Bezos had predicted that the chain retailer would have trouble seriously competing online, and, in the end, he was right. B&N was reluctant to lose money on a relatively small part of their business and didn’t want to put their most resourceful employees behind an effort that would siphon sales away from the more profitable stores.
The criticism which Amazon had received during and immediately after the bubble, was not without merit. Amazon had deep scars which were left because of the challenges faced during this growth phase. It took many years to undo and recover from these wounds.
AAP has been in the spotlight in the past few months, especially after its remarkable performance in the Delhi elections. In spite of having just 28 seats, they even went ahead and formed a minority government with the support of one of their rivals.
AAP had the option to consolidate on this initial success. Its leaders could have proved that they were capable of governance and were not just activists. Instead they believe that the upcoming national elections, is a unique opportunity for it to look beyond Delhi. It can now make its mark on a much bigger canvas and become only the seventh national party in India. Like how Amazon changed its trajectory during the dot com boom, AAP too has undertaken a path to “get big fast”.
To attain this goal, AAP seems be doing too many things too fast. It has limited resources, and risks spreading itself too thin. By putting up candidates in 350+ Lok Sabha seats, they might appear to have bitten more than they can chew. Like Amazon, they too will face losses in most of these. This fallout will have to be absorbed in the path that the party has taken up.
As it became evident that AAP was a force to reckon with during the Delhi elections, eminent people from different walks in life came forward to become a part of this revolutionary movement. Technology stalwarts like Balakrishnan, former CFO of Infosys, entrepreneurs like Captain Gopinath and banking head Meera Sanyal are a few prominent faces that came on board. However, many left the organization very quickly too. The march towards unnatural growth took its toll and many of them were dismayed by the lack of maturity of the organization. While some left, others aired their discontent.
AAP has seen discontent among some of its earlier supporter too. Founding members of the party, such as Madhu Bhaduri, have quit because of issues with internal structure. Other members who were key during the early days have been left behind, as they are not seen to be aligned with the bigger goals of the party.
AAP’s rise has created a frenzy among media. After the Delhi elections they were projected to be almost infallible. Every major media outlet gushed in admiration of the incredible achievement. The fall from grace however has been equally quick. It soon was put under the microscope and every action of it was magnified by the media. Every fault of theirs has been subject to the harshest criticism.
Election is a zero-sum game and AAP faces some daunting competitors. Like Amazon, AAP too should not really worry about its opponents. The other parties are so set in their ways, and corruption is so deeply ingrained within the culture of the other parties that it is not possible for them to evolve.
After the elections, AAP too will need to address all the issues brought up in the recent past. It will need to make the structural changes required to build a long lasting institution.
Bezos had a compulsive focus on customers through this entire period of turmoil and after that. The unwavering pursuit of this one goal was the difference between Amazon and the dozen others that did not survive. A vast majority of AAPs supporters believe that it will help fight corruption, and hence AAP should not lose its focus from this one goal.
Finally, it is important to understand that what AAP is undergoing is not unnatural or unique to them. If they do emerge out of this successfully, they will have an impact which would make that of Amazon appear trivial.
Recommended Read: Meet AAP, the Fastest Growing Startup in the Country [Startup Lessons]