The Growing Ex-Amazon Club and Why It's a Good Thing

Updated: Call it a coincidence, but over the past few days I have spent a lot of time with folks who used to work for Amazon but are now out doing new things. It all started with Jason Kilar, the CEO of Hulu, who was a keynote speaker at our NewTeeVee Live conference. Then last night I met with Dave Schapell, founder and CEO of TeachStreet, an e-marketplace for teachers. And this morning I had coffee with Jeff Lawson, co-founder of Twilo.

My buddy Dave McClure was the one who pointed out that they are all part of the Ex-Amazon club. Just like the rising number of ex-Google entrepreneurs I wrote about last year, these guys are leaving top jobs at one of the best technology companies in the U.S. Here is a list of just some of those names, their current companies and their previous positions at the e-tailer:

Plus Jason Kilar, CEO of Hulu (Amazon Marketplace)

Now this isn’t even a comprehensive list, and slowly and surely, it is expanding. The easy availability of capital in Seattle certainly helps, but more importantly it speaks to the amount of top-quality talent that Amazon has been able to attract over the years. Lawson, who stopped by for a cup of tea this morning to pitch his company, Twilio, said that one of Amazon’s biggest strengths has always been its ability to recruit and hire great minds.

It is because of this hiring policy that the company has not only stayed ahead of the technology curve, but established itself as the leader in Web 2.0 innovation. That’s in stark contrast to other tech giants such as Yahoo and Google, which have instead taken their cues from small startups. For talented people, the allure of working with Jeff Bezos can be what clinches the deal, according to Schappell of TeachStreet, which counts Bezos Expeditions as one of its investors. His company has essentially developed a place where you can go to find things like a French teacher, or someone to give you trombone lessons. I like to call it the Yellow Pages with brains, and it’s the kind of service a company like eBay should have launched instead of mucking around with things like Skype.

Those who know Bezos well say that he isn’t afraid of losing and wants to win big — and that means making big bets. This “nothing-in-the-middle” attitude is particularly attractive to folks with an entrepreneurial gene.

Of course, it also has its downside. Bezos’ big-play approach frustrates those who want to unleash small ideas, and nurture them over a period of time. Eventually some great people couldn’t live within the corporate structure of Amazon and went on to do their own thing. Like Lawson, who was the CTO of Stubhub in that company’s early days before starting Twilio, a company that has developed an easy way for web application developers to add voice capabilities to their offerings using standard web-programming techniques.

Should Amazon be worried about this brain drain? Absolutely not, for the company continues to attract talent the way lights attracts moths. I’ve often wondered what Amazon would do next, and I have a few ideas as to where I think they’re going. Someday I’ll blog about that, too.

Check out my video interview with Jeff Bezos.

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