Q&A: Joseph Park on Amazon, Kozmo and his new career move
A few weeks ago, prompted by the news that Amazon plans to expand its grocery delivery service in Seattle, I went looking for Joseph Park, the founder of Kozmo.com, one of the dot-com era's ill-fated grocery delivery experiments (which was captured in the documentary E-Dreams). It turned out that Park, who joined Amazon after Kozmo's collapse, recently left the internet giant to join Bible Gateway, a Bible search engine that is owned by publishing house HarperCollins. I finally caught up with Park, who's now based in New York. I asked him for his take on Amazon Fresh, and about his post-Kozmo years at Amazon and his new gig.
On Amazon's grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh: I really can't speak about Amazon Fresh's business model. What I can say is that consumers love convenience and they love instant gratification and that is not going to change regardless of whether you're buying shoes, buying books, or buying food. So then the question is if you can deliver a great experience, and I feel like online delivery service offers a very compelling user experience. Then the only question is can you make money in that process. An interesting factoid is that even with Kozmo, we were profitable in 3 of the 11 cities — New York, Boston and San Francisco. We just expanded too aggressively.
On whether Amazon Fresh (currently limited to the Seattle area) will ever go national: The market exists and there's a customer need for it. Safeway delivers. In New York, there's FreshDirect. There's Peapod. Albertsons — all the major groceries do delivery. The model works. Tesco, which is the largest supermarket chain in the U.K. — they got in during the dot-com bubble and they've been profitable. The model works. There's a customer demand for it. It's just about execution and having the capital to fund the growth. There's a huge upfront capital investment. I have a lot of confidence in Jeff (Bezos) and his ability, and I wouldn't be surprised if they expand nationally. I think Jeff is running that business very well.
On what he did at Amazon post-Kozmo: I was at Amazon for 4 to 5 years building Askville as a founder/CEO, and Askville today is probably the second largest social Q&A website. When I left we were doing close to 8 million unique visitors a month. It's a highly profitable business. We did that without riding any of the coattails that Amazon could have offered. We really worked as an independent startup.
On why he went to Bible Gateway: I've been a Christian all my life and I was thinking about what I'd want to do next. I was at a point in time with Amazon where I had earned my earnout at Amazon and I can continue to stay at Amazon and build Askville or I can do something else, and the entrepreneur in me wanted to do another startup ... I was weighing a couple CEO offers and this Bible Gateway offer came in my path and something clicked in me. Being a Christian — and I think the Lord has blessed me in many different ways — I felt like this was a calling. I know Bible Gateway and I know what it can be and more importantly I know what it can be in the future.
On what he's doing at Bible Gateway: What I see as an opportunity is to connect the dots and bring Christians closer to Christian content ... Based on our market research, we're easily three times bigger than any other Christian content site out there. We're uniquely positioned to leverage our page rank within the various different search ecosystems to get those Christians searching for content to find relevant, high-quality authoritative content from Christian authors as well as the Bible.
ERIC ENGLEMAN is senior technology staff writer for TechFlash and the Puget Sound Business Journal, covering online retail giant Amazon.com. Engleman tracks Amazon's increasingly complex business, spanning ecommerce, Kindle, cloud computing, and more. He's been covering technology and other industries for the Business Journal since 2003.READ FULL BIOGRAPHY
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