Foreword for

September 25, 2000

By Rob Wrubel, CEO, Ask Jeeves, Inc.

For the last decade, business has adopted the mantra of putting customers at the center of everything we do. But the Internet has challenged us to live up to this pledge in ways that we never expected. Today, we're closer to our customers than we've ever been before: we have the opportunity to listen to and know them with an immediacy that was unimaginable only a few years ago.

Some managers may find themselves thinking of the old adage to be careful what you wish for.

E-Commerce leaders, however, will recognize a vast opportunity to rethink and reorganize how they respond to changing customer needs and expectations. We've seen, for example, that some of the greatest opportunities appear in less-than-obvious places. Dell completely reinvented the supply chain model and came out of nowhere to conquer the giants of computer manufacturing. eBay stitched together an international marketplace from the totally improbable fabric of garage sales and swap meets. And at Ask Jeeves, we looked at the Internet's phenomenal store of information and decided to make it accessible to anyone who had a question. By leveraging what we discovered about people's concerns and needs, we expanded into a service helping companies listen to and learn from the questions their customers ask.

Today's business mantra may be that all the rules have changed. Like a lot of slogans, this saying contains an important element of truth. But the most successful companies in the Internet age will balance a rapid adaptation to change with a solid commitment to core values. Revolutionary rethinking has to be backed up with careful planning and flawless execution. And, yes, the customer should be at the center of our offices, our supply chains, our product design and marketing sessions, our board meetings, and our Web sites.

In this demanding and exhilarating environment, Mitchell Levy's book offers valuable, practical steps to understanding how to build and manage an e-commerce company.