Ten years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle and established the appeal of reading on a digital device. Four years ago, Jeff Bezos and company rolled out the Echo, prompting millions of people to start talking to a computer. Now Amazon.com Inc. is working on another big bet: robots for the home.
The retail and cloud computing giant has embarked on an ambitious, top-secret plan to build a domestic robot, according to people familiar with the plans. Codenamed “Vesta,” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.
The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like “Software Engineer, Robotics” and “Principle Sensors Engineer.” People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees’ homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on “rumors and speculation.”
It’s unclear what tasks an Amazon robot might perform. People familiar with the project speculate that the Vesta robot could be a sort of mobile Alexa, accompanying customers in parts of their home where they don’t have Echo devices. Prototypes of the robots have advanced cameras and computer vision software and can navigate through homes like a self-driving car. Former Apple executive Max Paley is leading the work on computer vision. Amazon has also hired specialized mechanical engineers from the robotics industry.
The project is different than the robots designed by Amazon Robotics, a company subsidiary, in Massachusetts and Germany, people familiar with the project say. Amazon Robotics deploys robots in Amazon warehouses to move around goods and originated as a company called Kiva Systems, which Amazon acquired in 2012 for $775 million.
The promise of domestic robots that offer companionship or perform basic chores has tantalized the technology industry for decades. Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, introduced the three-foot-tall, snowman-shaped Topo Robot back in 1983. Though it could be programmed to move around by an Apple II computer, it did little else and sold poorly. Subsequent attempts to produce useful robotic servants in the U.S., Japan and China over the years have performed only marginally better. iRobot Corp.’s Roomba, which only does one thing — vacuum — is the standout in the field and has sold more than 20 million units since 2002. The company’s shares fell as much as 8.6 percent on Monday, the biggest intraday decline since early February.
More recently, Sony Corp. and LG Electronics Inc. have shown interest in the category. In January at CES, LG showed off a robot called Cloi in a demonstration that failed multiple times. Sony demonstrated a new version of a robotic dog called Aibo, which it sold a version of until the mid-2000s after first unveiling the concept about 20 years ago. It doesn’t do much other than bark (although Aibo has been programmed to play soccer). The canine bot also costs $1,800, or about the same price as a real dog from a breeder.
Advances in computer vision technology, cameras, artificial intelligence and voice activation help make it feasible for Amazon to bring its robot to the marketplace. The retail giant has shown itself willing to partially subsidize the costs of its devices for Prime subscribers who buy more products and subscribe to services through its gadgets. That could also make such a product more affordable for mainstream consumers in the future.
Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos, and Donald Trump have all thrived on their ability to get things done. They have each established enormous brands and images that have fueled their personal and/or company success over the past many years.
There is a lot that can be learned from the ways that they rose to fame. This is especially true for marketers that are trying to grow their companies and increase brand awareness. Here are 10 marketing lessons, specifically, that can be learned from Oprah, Bezos, and Trump:
1. Be honest
To start, Oprah has built much of the rapport she has with fans by being honest in her shows. She has discussed her struggles with weight and has been deeply personal in front of large audiences. That has established a higher level of trust in what she does because people take her word more seriously.
The same could also be said for the way that Jeff Bezos has showcased Amazon’s vision. It is no mystery that they want to be the store where people can buy anything at a fair price. This mission has resonated well with customers and driven the majority of the decisions that Amazon makes as a business.
The word risk is ingrained into the vocabulary of Trump, Bezos, and Oprah.
Oprah quit her job as a news co-anchor in Baltimore to run a poorly rated show in Chicago. Then, after helping take that show to the top, she started her own show. Similarly, Jeff Bezos has taken Amazon in directions, like with AWS, that many would never have even associated with the company. Possibly most emphatic of all, Donald Trump ran for president.
The chances that these three have taken put them in situations that could have led to massive failure. Some of the chances that they took did, indeed, end poorly. For example, Amazon acquired pets.com which totally failed; Oprah once invited neo-nazis onto her show, and Trump has received extreme backlash for some of his political decisions.
That said, it is these risks that they have all taken that have put them in their current situation. In marketing, being willing to take chances is what could differentiate your company.
3. Think outside of the box
Oprah ventured away from her TV show by writing books, creating a magazine, a TV network and more. Furthermore, the creativity that exists within Amazon and Bezos’s contribution to that creativity are tremendous. It is one thing to take a chance when presented with two options. It is something completely different to come up with those two options in the first place. The Alexa team, the physical bookstores and everything tied up in Amazon Prime are just a few examples of this creativity.
Traditional marketing ideas are floating around at every company. Being creative is the way to step away from the pack and gain traction.
4. Care about people
There was an episode of Oprah where she gave everyone in the audience a new car. Jeff Bezos has put Amazon at risk of failure just to provide his customers with lower prices. Trump appealed to millions of Americans and won the election based off of their belief that he could make life better. What has helped these three establish such powerful brands is their intense focus on their viewers/customers/users. This has been communicated through words and actions.
As a marketer, thinking about how to really help people instead of just getting their money is the best way to create long-term relationships and trust.
5. Embrace trends
Amazon has been quick to embrace new trends. They have emerged as leaders in countless fields because of their ability to adapt to the times. As a large company that can be extremely challenging. In politics and popular media, the same can be said. Trump and Oprah have excelled from their ability to discuss and navigate relevant issues.
Staying up to date personally and as a company will keep you exposed to new and relevant information that you will need in order to succeed moving forward.
6. Think long-term
When opportunities present themselves, you have to jump on them.
It is remarkable that even while doing quite well, whether it be with Amazon’s revenue, Oprah’s personal brand, or Trump’s financial well-being, all three continue to be forward thinking. For example, Amazon has been around for over twenty years. Oprah spent 25 years on the air. Trump has been popular in the media for even longer. They have created long-term visions that have enabled them to be effective, continuously, over time.
7. Invest in a channel
Twitter has become an extremely powerful platform for Donald Trump. He currently has 44 million followers, which is more than 10% of the US population. Subsequently, it has become a platform for him to express himself and his ideas/opinions extremely frequently.
Creating a singular channel where you have such a large reach and impact can be extremely valuable for marketers. This can establish you as a thought leader, build community and give you a powerful platform to share your ideas and new products.
8. Be thoughtful about your audience
One of the most important aspects of marketing is understanding your audience. Trump, Bezos, and Oprah have excelled at this. Despite preconceived notions going into the election, Trump reached the people in America that he was trying to reach. That led to them showing up on voting day, and it won him the election.
Oprah has also developed an astute following over time. She caters her content to people whom she thinks she can make happier. She then has added value to their lives. Amazon focuses on particular niches of people as well within each of their different services. They have extremely customized pages for each user based on buying preferences, for example.
Understanding who you are targeting and doing what you need to actually target them is a huge advantage for marketers. You will spend less time on people that are lower value and you will be able to help the ones you are actually after.
9. Use humor
Oprah has been the best at this. She makes people laugh and approaches life with a sense of light-heartedness. Humorous marketing campaigns, as long as they are not offensive, can build serious brand traction.
Too many people take the world very seriously today. A more lighthearted approach will lighten up the mood of customers and can be powerful in marketing efforts.
10. Be a thought leader
People have flocked to Oprah because of the knowledge that she provides. Between her book lists and thoughtful content, audiences have been attracted to her brand and leadership. You could say the same for Bezos and Trump.
Being a thought leader in a particular category relevant to your product can drive large audiences to your business. This can lead to a huge uptick in sales.
The gap between the really rich and the merely rich continues to widen, as fortunes soar to new heights. A record 2,208 billionaires made Forbes’ 32 annual ranking of the world’s billionaires. Altogether they are worth a record $9.1 trillion, up 18% from a year ago. The 20 richest people on the planet are worth a staggering $1.2 trillion, a sum roughly equivalent to the annual economic output of Mexico. In aggregate, they may represent less than 1% of total billionaires but their riches amount to 13% of the total fortune of all billionaires worldwide.
Jeff Bezos is the richest person on the planet and the first centi-billionaire atop our annual ranking. Shares of his e-commerce giant Amazon rose 59% in 12 months, helping boost his fortune by $39.2 billion. It was the biggest one year gain since Forbes started tracking billionaires in 1987. He easily moved ahead of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who ceded the top spot for only the sixth time since 1995.
France’s Bernard Arnault had the second best year after Bezos. Record results at his luxury goods empire LVMH and a deal to buy out nearly all of Christian Dior helped boost Arnault’s fortune by $30.5 billion. He is the richest European for the first time since 2012 and number four richest in the world.
Two tech entrepreneurs from mainland China climbed into the top 20 for the first time. Ma Huateng (also known as Pony Ma) is Asia’s wealthiest person, ranked number 17 in the world, thanks in part to his firm Tencent’s WeChat, a ubiquitous social-messaging app with nearly 1 billion active users. Tencent also has stakes in Tesla, Snapchat parent Snap and music-streaming service Spotify. Jack Ma, the 20th richest person, is the chief of another e-commerce giant Alibaba, whose shares increased 76% in a year.
On this year’s list, the billionaires hail from 72 countries and territories, including the first ever from Hungary and Zimbabwe. One country not represented: Saudi Arabia. Forbes chose to leave off all 10 Saudis given reports of asset seizures after the Saudi Crown Prince detained some 200 people, including some billionaires, some for as long as three months.
While the vast majority of the world’s billionaires added to their fortunes in the past 12 months, 16% had fortunes that slipped. One notable loser was President Donald Trump, whose fortune fell $400 million since March 2017 to a current $3.1 billion. He is now ranked 766 in the world, down from 544.
The richest African, for the seventh year in a row, is Nigerian cement and commodities tycoon Aliko Dangote, with a net worth that Forbes pegs at $12.2 billion.