[YS Exclusive] After six years in India, Amazon India Head Amit Agarwal says it’s ‘barely day one’ in the ecommerce giant’s fastest-growing market

In an exclusive interaction with YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma, Amazon India Head Amit Agarwal talks at length about the ecommerce giant's India journey and long-term commitment to the market.

28th Jun 2019
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Amazon India Amit Agarwal

Amit Agarwal, Global Senior Vice President and Country Head, Amazon India in an exclusive interaction with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma.

In just six years since Amazon set up shop in India, the global ecommerce giant has transformed the way Indians buy and sell. With nearly half a million sellers and 130,000 women entrepreneurs on board, a network of 50,000 neighbourhood stores, and a wide selection of 170 million products, Amazon India is clearly India's largest store by any imagination.

 

And steering the global e-tailer to the top in a highly competitive Indian ecommerce market is Amit Agarwal – the man Jeff Bezos rightly chose in 2013 to build ‘India’s most customer-centric company.’

 

With Amit Agarwal at the helm, Amazon India has witnessed staggering growth in the past six years, despite obvious challenges such as competition from established homegrown rivals like Flipkart and regulatory hurdles. Growth for Amazon in India has been fuelled by investments of over $5 billion in the market on innovation, seller and customer-focused initiatives, infrastructure, and technology.


Under Amit Agarwal, India is today the ecommerce behemoth’s fastest-growing market, winning over customers and sellers in even the most remote corners of the country to become the most transacted and most trusted Internet brand in India. But these Amit humbly credits to Amazon’s laser-like focus on its culture of ‘customer obsession.’


Amazon India Amit Agarwal

Having spent close to two decades in Amazon – two of which were as Technical Advisor to Jeff Bezos himself – Amit does not just speak the same tongue as that of the customer-focused e-tailer and its inspiring founder, but also “lives and breathes its culture.” His determination, clarity of vision, and drive are unmistakable, as is his passion for improving customer lives and driving the economic flywheel of the country.

 

“There are very few times you find this perfect intersection of something that is great for customers, great for business, and great for the country. Ecommerce brings that harmony in place,” Amit Agarwal, Global Senior Vice President and Country Head of Amazon India, tells me in an in-depth interview on Amazon India’s journey in India.

 

And yet, in Amazon India’s pursuit to transform lives and script the new India growth story, “it is barely day one,” the self-effacing Amit tells me.


Join me to get a comprehensive overview of Amazon’s commitment to the Indian market and Amazon India’s journey – its learnings, impact, and growth opportunities – and long-term focus areas. All this, backed by its singular obsession with customers, driven by the three pillars of Amazon – selection, value, and convenience.


Watch YourStory's in-depth interview of Amazon India Country Manager Amit Agarwal:





Read the full, in-depth interview:

 

Shradha Sharma: You were part of the shadow team of Jeff Bezos and have worked closely with him. As one of the young, inspiring Indians we look up to, tell us more about your journey.


Amit Agarwal: Thanks for having me here and thanks for the kind remarks. I've been at Amazon for 20 years. I find myself in a very fortunate position to be doing what I'm doing in India right now. 

 

In that journey, I did get an opportunity to be Jeff's technical advisor. It was a very fortunate moment in terms of just getting to learn a lot. I think the three things that stood out for me in that experience, which are relevant for any entrepreneur out there, is just the intensity of what customer obsession really means. Understanding what it really means to invent on behalf of customers and thinking long term. And each of these three things are aspects that have come really handy to me as I went about my India journey here. 


You know, we have a tremendous opportunity in India -- customers are very different, have diverse interests, capabilities, locations, and cultures. Small businesses come from different parts of the country. They are of different sizes and with different capabilities. And then when you think about the opportunity, you realise you have to work backwards from their needs and invent on their behalf. 

 

You need a good degree of patience, resilience, and relentlessness in a country like India to build out a service that can truly and meaningfully change the lives of hundreds of millions of people. I think all of these three things come in good stead. 

 

The good news is that Jeff writes about this quite a bit. So I would encourage the viewer to read his shareholder letters, which I think are life lessons in their own regard. And in the most recent one, he talks about what inventing on behalf of the customer really means. He talks about this notion of listening to customers, but at the same time, what he calls guided customer-centric wandering to make disruption happen. How imagining the impossible is really important and how it's also important that failure scales with the scale of the company.





Shradha Sharma: So Amit, before Amazon India, you were working in the US. You moved to India six years back to set up Amazon India. What have been some of your learnings in the Indian market?


Amit Agarwal: I think there are two, three things that stand out for me.


The first one is when we launched Amazon in India, we had this belief that customers globally are similar in the most important things. What I mean is we have learned elsewhere that customers care about massive selection, great value, and great convenience. 

 

I can say that for sure after six years that customers in India are no different than customers anywhere in the world. And, in fact, what I'm really super pleased and surprised by is how quickly they responded to convenience when we would have thought that that might take more time. 

 

So I think that's kind of learning number one -- customers in India are no different on the most important things than the rest of the world. But you do have to figure out how to give them what they need, you know, in a locally relevant manner. 

 

On the other side of the spectrum, I look at the small and medium businesses. It has been very heartening for me to learn how resourceful and open to technology the Indian entrepreneurs are. 

 

Yeah, so while there would always be disruption by technology, and while there'll always be segments that would be disgruntled and not embrace technology, I think India is blessed with such a large entrepreneurial base that is willing to adopt technology and think of them as digital entrepreneurs. 

 

So when I look at Amazon's journey this year, you're looking at nearly 50,000 neighbourhood stores across the country in 350 cities that have morphed themselves not only to be that little kirana store or the bakery store, but they become pick up points, delivery points, customer system points, and recharge points for Amazon. 

 

They are delivering services to customers and increasing their revenues every month, and increasing the footfalls for the core business they're doing and become tremendously successful.

 

At the same time, you have these manufacturers and sellers who are using Amazon to sell to customers across the world and building brands. So that's kind of second learning. 

 

And I would say the third learning for me is, how much aligned great customer experience is in driving the economic growth of the country. That seems like a very far fetched connection. But when you really think about the basic building blocks of providing great customer experience, I talk about selection, value, and convenience. 


Amazon India Amit Agarwal

The investment needed to do that, which is empowering the small businesses to offer selection, building fulfilment technologies to reduce their costs, reduce defects, and to building logistics, infrastructure, and capabilities to deliver all of these three things, drive the growth of the small-medium businesses. It drives jobs around small and medium businesses. And that drives the economic growth to the country. 

 

So I think these three learnings stand out for me, which I would not have been able to articulate in this manner six years ago. But I had a hint that this could happen.





Shradha Sharma: Like you've said, selection, value, and convenience or fast delivery have been the three pillars of Amazon, but the Indian market is very different. It's also constantly evolving. How did you tackle this? Did you have to change your playbook for India? What did you do differently?


Amit Agarwal: I think that's a great question. You know, companies have different ways that they operate. One of the peculiar ways that Amazon operates is, we tend to find out those two or three things our customers really care about that would mostly be durable with time. 

 

If you think about selection, value, and convenience, the beauty of these three things is I haven't come across any customer, either by geography or in any time in my 20 years at Amazon, who has said, ‘Hey, please offer me less selection at higher prices and slower delivery’. 

 

All the investments that Amazon did 10 years ago are paying dividends to us now. And all the innovations we're doing now will keep giving us benefits 10 years from now. 

 

So I think the first and foremost priority for us has been keeping our focus very steady on these three things. When I look at our six-year journey in India, our focus has been: how do we essentially empower the smallest of the sellers to bring a selection of marketplace. 

 

Today, after six years, we have nearly half a million sellers. We have 730,000 artists. We have 130,000 women entrepreneurs, and 170 million products -- it is India's largest store by any imagination. And many of these sellers are now using Amazon to reach out to hundreds of millions of customers. So that's kind of our investment in selection that is having this impact. 

 

When I look at value, we are focused on fulfilment technologies and services that allow sellers to remove defects from the operations and reduce costs. Our innovation in seller flex, which was essentially taking our large warehouse technology into their small store, was so that they essentially get the same defect-free processes, and are able to offer prime enabled selection to our customers with low defects and high conversion. 

 

At the same time, their cost of operation goes down because they're using their own facility and this has allowed them to increase on an aggregate level the total profit they make. So, the reason their per unit margin goes down is because they are competing in an open marketplace, and on the aggregate, they make more money. Smart entrepreneurs take that and funnel it back which then has great value for customers. 

 

So that's our approach to allowing customers to benefit from great value and lower prices. And finally, we have built a network of 50 fulfilment centres, 20 million cubic feet of space. We have logistic networks that cover a hundred percent of our pin codes. As I said, we have a network of 50,000 plus neighbourhood stores that are acting as part of our overall logistics and all of these things allows us to offer fast and reliable delivery.


So I think all of these innovations will continue to yield dividends and will continue to inject more and more energy in these three areas.





Shradha Sharma: Coming to the question of sellers or entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses, do you as a company track the growth of the sellers to understand whether they have increased their income and sales?


Amit Agarwal: Yeah, we track stores sales for these sellers. In fact, you know, a very recent data that was shared with me was that not only do we have more than half of our seller base from very small cities, and not only 80 percent of our customers are coming from small towns, but among that base, we have created 3500 plus crorepatis in a short period of time. 

 

So we track this kind of insights to see who's becoming a crorepati just for the fun of it. We have a seller summit where the sellers come and tell us how their lives are changing, how it's not just allowing them to pay for the fees and other aspirations that they have, but how its enabling them to buy a new car or a new house. 

 

So yeah, we absolutely track that. And not just this, we get to hear dramatic success stories. So we have a tea brand that started its journey on Amazon and they started selling globally through our global selling product. And they were picked by Oprah Winfrey. Who knew that an operation that started humbly would become kind of this lottery ticket for them. 

 

These kinds of stories happen. This magic happens because it's unfettered barrier-free access to customers.


Shradha Sharma: Amazon India today boasts close to half a million entrepreneurs or sellers, but we have so many millions more waiting to be tapped. How do you plan to win them?


Amit Agarwal: Yeah, I mean this is just the tip of the iceberg.


So the beauty of the country is that we have six crore entrepreneurs. We have a lot of work ahead of us, which is why I said that we need to continue to inject energy. 

 

We started with simple and humble operations like Chai Cart. We use to take this cart serving tea to sellers. In that process, we used to have conversations with them about their business, about what online means, how it will be great for them to sell online, and they would then sign up on Amazon. 

 

Those processes have allowed us to create awareness. We are seeing sellers sign up. Clearly, we need to continue on that journey. We have launched lending services that bring working capital access to our sellers and programmes like global selling that gives them global access to new customers. 


So we have to continue investing in a lot of these efforts. 





Shradha Sharma: In our meetings with MSMEs, they all have this aspiration that they should be selling globally. How are you planning to get more and more sellers to sell globally? 


Amit Agarwal: I think for the benefit of the viewers, the global selling programme is a very unique programme that allows us to essentially do the heavy lifting for our small manufacturers and sellers in India so that they can worry about building great products. We deal with customs, storage, storage in the destination country, logistics, returns, customer service, and so on. 


If you think about it, for a small seller and the small entrepreneur, this is essentially levelling the playing field. Yes, the same service is used by big brands as well. So it's a great level playing field enabler.


We continue to look at each part of this operation trying to remove friction and barriers -- in many cases, we are working with the government because it perfectly aligns with the vision of Make In India. 


This is essentially Make In India at scale, to remove the forms, to make things more automated, make things more digital so that the friction is removed, and we are seeing a great impact. 


Just to give you a sizing of this, we recently announced that we crossed $1 billion in exports through Amazon. Our estimate is that in the next three years, we will grow to $5 billion. And to give you an idea of $5 billion of exports is about three percent of India's total merchandise exports, excluding jewellery. So the power of such internet-based services in growing the economic flywheel of the country is just tremendous.  



Shradha Sharma: Do you have stringent criteria to avail of the global seller programme or can anyone become a global seller?


Amit Agarwal: You know, the beauty of (this) whether on Amazon India site or any other site, is sellers can simply go to the website and sign up. We literally allow sellers to get started without our interference. And they could literally sign up. They could start sending their inventory to the fulfilment centres. 


In some cases, they might need help. For doing that at scale, we have created this ecosystem of help. So we have this protocol, seller university for example, that allows us to partner with the ecosystem to teach sellers how to sell. 


We have a solid partner network, which are services such as photography, labelling, shipping, boxing, and so on, where individuals or companies can sign up, and we provide access to sellers or what services are available in their locality. 


We have built these kinds of support services. I talked about seller lending, where they could get capital from banks and NBFCs and so on to bootstrap their operations. And then as they scale, we also inject our own energy in terms of account management and so on, so that they could get very targeted help to figure out how they could accelerate their growth. So it's a combination of the ecosystem, community, and resources. 





Shradha Sharma: From a consumer standpoint, as a company, Amazon is looking at grabbing a greater share of the Indian consumers’ wallet. What are some of the categories you think are still not deeply penetrated and what are some of the key opportunities you see in the Indian market? 


Amit Agarwal: I think the beauty of the customer is that the customer is perpetually dissatisfied. Hence having a strategy that is very customer obsessed helps. So we don't really have to wait for market opportunities to emerge. 


We listen to our customers and they're always telling us things that we should have that we don't have.


I mean, just the other day at our semi-annual event where I get together with my whole team and address them, there was somebody who had a question that we don't have garden pesticides. This person, she might be trying to do home gardening, and she didn't find a great selection.  


So if you look across every category, there is so much work to be done, to add more selection.


To answer your question, there is an existing opportunity in every single subcategory that we are in, where customers want us to add more selection, even though we are India's largest store. But we will continue adding more and focus on bringing selection.  


Having said that, you know, there are opportunities that we are going after in a much more systematic way, and grocery is one of them. You know, we have built a set of services that allows us to serve customers all grocery needs. So, we have a two-hour service, under the umbrella of Prime Now that customers can essentially get the whole basket of groceries delivered to their home in two hours. 


We are in four cities, it's doing very well and customers love it. And then we have Amazon Pantry, which is in 110 cities and growing. So, whether you're looking for the greatest convenience or greatest value, we have you covered. 


In addition to that, we have the largest selection of gourmet and grocery that customers might be shopping. So if you are a customer who's originally from Chennai but now living in Mumbai, and you were looking for this sambar masala that your grandmother used to use, I guarantee that it will be on Amazon; so, you don't really have to feel homesick. So there are these pockets of consumption like grocery that we're working in a lot more systematic manner. 


Amazon PRIME

Shradha Sharma: Can you talk a little bit about the growth you're seeing in Prime users in India? I heard someone from Amazon saying that Prime behaviour of Indian consumers is very different. 


Amit Agarwal: Prime has been one of our greatest surprises and delights in some sense. Prime is this loyalty programme that we have, which is a unique, one-of-a-kind programme anywhere in the country that offers customers unlimited, fast delivery on tens of millions of items. 


It offers you unlimited, ad-free streaming of great content that includes blockbuster movies, regional content, TV shows, and our own originals that we are making, whether it's ‘Mirzapur’ or ‘Made In Heaven’ for the people who have been following that. 


We have Prime Reading that allows them to enjoy ebooks, and we have exclusive deals and launches for them. 


Prime Day is also coming up on July 15, which would be the largest celebration for Prime members globally for us.   


So, there are a lot of great benefits for a very simple plan of Rs 129 per month - probably the best shopping deal out there in the country. 


When we started (Amazon) India, we would always hear that customers may not pay for convenience. And what we found is if you are consistently delivering on their expectations, you earn their trust. Indian consumers love convenience the same way as any other customer in the world. And the proof is that Prime in India has become the fastest-growing Prime base ever in the history of Amazon in any country in the last 30 months. In just the last 18 months, we've doubled our base here. 


We’ve observed that the Prime customer tends to engage with us more. We see they shop with us more, they watch more hours of entertainment, they listen to more music, they start shopping with categories like grocery, and they use Amazon payments for a lot of their everyday needs. So, all in all, it's a great way for us to give them the best of Amazon. 





Shradha Sharma: From what I hear, there is tremendous growth happening with the Indian consumer and Amazon is investing to make that happen. But how do you see ecommerce leapfrogging in India compared to the US or the China market? 


Amit Agarwal: When I look at Amazon's journey in the last six years, I see the pace at which we have launched some of these innovations. Prime, Prime Videos, and Prime Benefits launched very early. We launched Alexa at about the same time we launched Prime. 


A lot of the innovations that took many years earlier are now coming sooner to customers. We are seeing customers being a lot more aware and a lot more knowledgeable. So, they are adopting these at a much faster rate, which is a delight. 


India is one of those places where pretty much everybody has access to mobile internet. This mobile internet penetration is probably the greatest on the socioeconomic level if you consider the diverse country we have. And that is fuelling adoption. Really low data costs and high consumption of data are acting in favour of driving very rapid adoption. 


I think customers use more of what they find more convenient. And that's where we see our role -- the more selection, greater value, and greater convenience we offer, we see customers adapt to it more and use more often. So I think the innovation, inventing on their behalf, and making things easier are what we are focussed on. And we're seeing that kind of adoption in India. 





Shradha Sharma: How do you view the ecommerce space in India? Reliance is entering the space and Flipkart is number one in the country, according to many of the numbers we're seeing quoted. How are you looking at the ecommerce market and the growing competition therein? 



Amit Agarwal: First, based on all the public and credible data that we have, Amazon India is the most transacted, most visited, and recently, continuously voted as the most trusted internet brand. So, just to set the record straight, it is very humbling to see the momentum we have gained in the last six years. 


Having said that, ecommerce itself is very, very early in its journey in India. It's barely in the initial stages of growth with hardly a low single-digit penetration of the whole retail. I also feel that there will be many winners. There will be many different models that could emerge to serve customers. 


We don't get up in the morning trying to worry about what's changing around us or the competitive landscape - we wake up paranoid, knowing fully well that customers would only shop with us until the moment they find a better experience elsewhere. And, it is that drive to obsess with customers and keep improving experience every day that drives us. 


We are very humbled, as I said, with the journey that we've seen. It's very early, but we are very committed to India and the transformation ahead of us. It's barely day one for us. 


Shradha Sharma: There have been regulations and policy changes focused on the ecommerce space. Did it impact Amazon India? Interestingly, I've read that all these changes implemented by the government have not affected ecommerce companies. Can you talk about any impact you've seen?


Amit Agarwal: One of the things I'm very happy and excited about is that the core elements of our business model, which is offering selection, value, and convenience, perfectly aligns with the intent and the spirit of what the government is trying to do. So if you start there, the way we add selection is by training, skilling sellers, by empowering small and medium businesses to bring their products online. 


That is essentially what the intent of the government is with Digital India and the policy intervention -- to drive the growth of the small and medium businesses.


The way we allow our sellers to offer great prices is by empowering them with better technology, better tools, and services so that they can remove defects and lower cost of operations. And that perfectly aligns with how we want small and medium businesses to grow. When you do that, it increases jobs around them, which drives job growth. Then, you build infrastructure for fast and reliable delivery. 


We have built 50 fulfilment centres in 13 states. We actually have a network of 50,000 neighbourhood stores, as I said in 350 cities, that is acting as a spot for the logistics network. So the growth of the neighbourhood stores is creating jobs at scale. When I look at this, our core business model perfectly aligns with what the government intends. 


Hence, we find ourselves in complete harmony with what the policy intent is in the long-term. Whenever there is a disruption of technology, you will challenge the legacy laws. You will challenge the legacy way of doing things and these would be small perturbations that will adjust to the realities. In much the same way anything that happens, we remain patient; we have a very high compliance bar as a company. 


Because we have a high compliance bar, we always ensure that at every moment, we are complying with the letter and the spirit of the law. So for us, these perturbations required us to deal with any incremental guidance -- that's a given. 


But, overall, since our philosophy aligns with the spirit, we continue seeing customers come to us, prefer us, and shop with us. We look forward to remaining engaged and partner in this journey to digitally transform India. We are very committed to India for the long run. And as I said, it's just day one for us. 


Shradha Sharma: Now that you have been building Amazon here in India for the last six years, if you had to make certain recommendations to the policymakers who are shaping the ecommerce story on the government side, what would you say? 


Amit Agarwal: I feel that all of us have this beautiful gift right now -- of something that can not only improve daily customer lives but actually drive the economic flywheel of the country. 


There are very few times you find this perfect intersection of something that is great for customers, great for business, and great for the country. Ecommerce brings that harmony in place. 


I think that mindset will be very important because, with that mindset, the government should focus on policies that drive the growth of ecommerce instead of trying to figure out all the edge cases and have an edge case-based policy. 


With that mindset, if you start looking at the lives of small and medium businesses, there are so many hurdles on their way to come online. They need to register in different states. There's some registration tax that they need to be able to sell in different states. The GST exemptions they get for offline stores versus the online store are so differential.


My second suggestion is try to remove each of those paper cuts and barriers, so that ease of doing business online goes up.  


On the third bit, I feel, within ecommerce, exports is this huge opportunity knocking on our doors. It's completely in alignment with where we want to take India. Making it a manufacturing hub and moving very fast to remove inefficiencies that sellers have today to go and sell globally is a great opportunity. 


The fourth is recognising that to make these things happen, given that India did not have a logistics infrastructure or a payment infrastructure or even an organised retail infrastructure as evolved as other countries, you will need a large capital injection ahead of scale to build this whole stack and that's what we're doing. 


So, investments are not necessarily losses, they are being made to scale and to make those long-range investments, you need a very stable and predictable environment, a policy environment that can allow you to take the longer route. 


Shradha Sharma: One of the big things ecommerce and Amazon have contributed is the creation of jobs within the company and outside, for the entrepreneurs and the sellers on your platform. But in the past few months, we've heard and debated at length about the condition of the delivery partners -- people in the supply chain and logistics market. More often than not, there is a judgment that the working conditions may not be right. What are your thoughts about this workforce and addressing these concerns? 


Amit Agarwal: None of these instances was of Amazon’s. We run our business by first spending time in defining what we call this tenet. Tenets are our guiding principles that we would not waver from, no matter what happens. For example, just being honest is a good tenet to have. 


When you look at our operations, our first tenet is safety.


Even if it creates a higher cost structure for you, you can innovate and figure out how to reduce your cost activity. We take the safety of our fulfilment centres, our delivery associates, and security very, very seriously. And we pride ourselves in having a very high bar when we measure ourselves.  


And then, we also have a team that spends a lot of time listening to what we call, ‘the voice of the associate’. So understanding from them on what we can improve is important for us. For example, the assistance they need when they are delivering heavy items, like having a co-associate with them is important. So, there are lots of innovations we do in terms of the bag design, the weight, and the maximum limit of the weight with the voice of the associate in mind. 


And, I think you bring up a good point. I think we should all probably think about how maybe customers can start with just thanking associates who deliver items to them. I always feel that a good way to start is to just say thank you to them. So, I would ask people to do that. That doesn't take a lot. I would encourage all companies to have some guiding tenets in place that focus on these issues. 





Shradha Sharma: You've been with Amazon for the last 20 years. You also come across as a passionate leader who lives and breathes Amazon; you have all the numbers and figures at the tip of your tongue. How do you remain so energised and passionate for 20 years in a company when people today are changing jobs so quickly? 


Amit Agarwal: I don't live and breathe Amazon. I think I live and breathe the culture of Amazon, which, in my opinion, is the most important thing. The culture and the purpose that holds people together. When I think about my journey at Amazon, I would say the act of joining the company was a pure element of luck. I was a computer scientist, I was looking for a hard challenging problem to solve. 


There was this startup in Seattle that wanted to be the Earth's biggest store and sounded very ambitious and impossible. And I got attracted to it as I went through this journey.


You know, I find myself in a situation now where I am, for the last six years, working in what I feel is the luckiest job I can have, which is not just innovating and solving hard problems but also having a large and meaningful social impact on hundreds of millions of people. 


But I think at the end of the story, when this book gets written about India, I feel that the things that we're doing and what we are enabling in the country would actually have a meaningful impact on the economy and in the future of what India looks like. 


How many times do you get a chance to do that kind of a job in your life? I think of it as a once in a lifetime opportunity for myself.


At the core of it, just the culture of obsessing with customers, inventing on their behalf, and having a long-term license to innovate for them is very rare. It's such a large organisation, and I think that keeps Amazon nimble and energetic. And I think that kind of shows what I'm talking to you about. 


Shradha Sharma: Personally, what have you learned from being here in India in this role for the last six years? 


Amit Agarwal: I mean, there are learnings of all kinds. I talked to you about some of the business learnings that are there. I think, personally, for the last six years, it has allowed me to test my boundaries on customer obsession, invention, and long-term thinking. 


I think you never know till you challenge your limits and boundaries of how much you can stretch yourself. 


So, I feel very excited about that process of learning how to actually make this happen. 


I feel that our purpose is far bigger than just ecommerce. I genuinely, without any bias, believe that this thing can actually change the lives of people in a really meaningful way and could really drive the economic flywheel of the country.


Just being a participant in that with such a broad-based investment is very fortunate. I would say just learning how to think about that purpose and challenging my boundaries are things that are very fortunate. 


Shradha Sharma: You've said that people working in Amazon don’t need to respond to emails from 6 pm to 8 am, so they enjoy 'work-life harmony'. Does that really happen? 


Amit Agarwal: To set the context, so that people understand, is that it is very important for people to feel energised by the purpose and to be able to give their best. And hence, you want a culture where you're not really talking about work-life balance because when you talk about balance, you talk trade-offs; you have to give something up to create a balance. Would you talk about work-life harmony? That was the context of this. 


Harmony is achieved when you're really intensely involved in the things that you love. So, when you're with your family, you're giving them all your attention. Then, when you're working, you're giving all your attention there. And to achieve harmony, it's also important for us to respect people's personal times. 


So the guidance was that there would be moments where we all need to huddle together and work long hours and days to serve our customers because it is a need of the day, but you don't have to make that the norm and things could wait.


So, while the expectation is not for people to not do what they wish to do in that period, we wanted them to respect people's personal time. As for the things that can wait, they can wait. 


Shradha Sharma: How do you maintain work-life harmony with 15 days in the US and 15 days in India in a month?


Amit Agarwal: Well, it's not that bad as you may think about my travel schedule. But yes, I do have to travel a lot. First of all, I do something that is a dream job. I don't know how many people can claim they have the ability to create such a large impact.  


I feel very energised by the work that I'm doing and by the challenges we're solving. I personally leave at 6 pm so that when I'm with my family, I'm present there, and I'm enjoying with my kids and my family. And when I'm at work, I'm really intense about doing that.


So, I think it doesn't matter the relative hours you're spending, but the quality of time matters more. I try to balance that. 


Shradha Sharma: For everyone watching, especially the youngsters, who want to be like you when they grow up, what does it take to get to where you are? 



Amit Agarwal: I think I would be a very low-bar role model for them. I think there are far greater role models for them to follow.


But you know, some of the things I personally learned are having a bit of passion and to go after that passion. 


I have been very fortunate to be able to do the things that I love at Amazon and not be so obsessed about career milestones.


If you focus on the inputs of your career, which is to solve hard and challenging problems and find a purpose that you're passionate about -- the rest of the things take care of themselves. 


And, be patient. I think people tend to be impatient. I have been in this company for 20 years and I can probably claim that it really works.


Shradha Sharma: What is that one big dream you have for Amazon India? 


Amit Agarwal: Well, I think we are living a dream right now. We started with this vision that we wanted customers, anywhere in India, to be able to find us to buy anything. And we wanted a business of any size, anywhere in this country, to be able to reach customers globally.


I genuinely feel that there's so much work that needs to be done to do that.


If we could make that vision real, we would have had made some meaningful dent in that but there's so much work to do. It could really be one of those legacies that when we look back we can claim that we solved some really challenging problems that made a big impact on people's lives. 


We could say that we were part of that generation that changed the future of the country. I genuinely feel that's the legacy I want to aspire to have and that keeps me going every day. 


Shradha Sharma: My last question: The startup world in India is growing and there's so much of ambition. As Amazon India grows too, are we going to see you investing in startups and engaging more with the startup community?



Amit Agarwal: Well, we very actively engaging with visionary entrepreneurs. We, as a company, love our organic strategy and that's working really well for us.


But having said that, we are always looking out for entrepreneurs who are building things with the same visionary mindset and the same customer obsession, with the same long-term focus that allows us to serve our customers better. 


We have invested in many startups, from companies that are doing payments to the ones that are building payment technologies and in areas that improve services that we have.


So, we continue to welcome any entrepreneur who believes in this journey that I just talked about, and we would love to talk to them. 


(With thanks to my team for their inputs on the text story [Harish Vadde for transcription; Dipti Nair, Saheli Sen Gupta, and Tenzin Pema for the edits] and for the video production [Video Producer Aditya Ranade, Cameraperson Raja Rukmangada, and Video Editors Anand Prasad and Anjali V.] For my team and I, readers come first, which is why, bringing the best stories to our readers is our obsession.)




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