Bezos' Carnegie Moment

How one man can help Re-Open America

At the height of the Gilded Age, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie chose to give away the bulk of his fortune by making an investment in people and communities.  Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built. By 1919 half of all libraries in America were built with construction grants paid by Carnegie. 

There aren’t many times in history that individuals and institutions have the opportunity to distinguish themselves.  This is one of those times. People will remember those who stood up and did what they could to help their fellow man.  

Jeff Bezos, it seems to me, understands how important this moment is. He’s already taken action to leverage Amazon’s incredible logistics system to prioritize critical items like medical supplies and baby formula. On March 20, Amazon announced an initiative to invest $20M in coronavirus diagnostics.   

And it sounds like Jeff Bezos is  just getting started. In a letter published on March 21, he says: 

“My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role. I want you to know Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won’t stop looking for new opportunities to help.”

Ubiquitous Testing is the key to Re-Opening America

Broad testing requires three things: 

  1. A simple, self administered diagnostic test. [Gates Foundation describes how important a self-adminsitered test is here]

  2. Regulatory waivers

  3. A sophisticated logistics network to deliver tests broadly

  4. Someone with the management skill to bring it all together (That’s you, Jeff)

Are you thinking Big enough, Jeff?

There is no person on earth better positioned to quickly make this happen than Jeff Bezos.  I’m sure Jeff knows this too and he’s already dipping a toe in… Amazon Cares has already reportedly teamed up with the Gates Foundation to deliver home test kits to Seattle residents. 

Creators of great enterprises like Bezos and Gates have gotten a bad rap as the wealth gap has grown.  But, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that it isn’t greed that drives entrepreneurs. This is a chance to demonstrate how the skills necessary to build a great private enterprise can be applied to urgent public problems. 

Yes, Bezos is Fabulously wealthy and Re-Opening America will be expensive.  But, what we need most from Bezos and Amazon right now is not his billions.   We need his farsightedness and his ability to pragmatically solve complicated problems quickly.  And, of course, we need Amazon’s logistics network.

Think Big, Jeff:  COVID-19 Testing as an Amazon Prime Member Benefit

A sophisticated logistics network (#3 above) - is the easiest for Bezos and Amazon.  Amazon controls the best logistics network in the world. Jeff should fully leverage this network to deliver tests across the nation.  In fact, I think Jeff should make it a benefit of being an Amazon Prime Member.  

I get to the tests themselves in a moment. But first, a pricing suggestion…

Who pays?

It’s gonna be expensive to test everyone. On scale, and leveraging the low cost delivery network Amazon controls, it could be $100 per test. 

These are round numbers and I could be way off. But, bear with me...

With an estimated 112million Amazon Prime members, it would cost Amazon north of $1billion to offer testing to all of it’s members.   

But, let’s assume it’s double that. $2billion dollars. Sure, that’s a lot of money, but it’s about half of what Carnegie paid (inflation adjusted) to build libraries across America and, let’s be honest, it’s not that much for Amazon or even Bezos personally.  

But there’s a better solution than Bezos digging deep… 

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Amazon should make it a benefit of being a Prime member.  But, knowing that it will take time to fully ramp up testing capabilities there should be a mechanism that allows Prime members to pay their way to the front of the line.  Don’t grab your pitchforks yet, people. In exchange for paying your way to the front of the line, you agree to pay for your own test and subsidize the cost of the test for one non-prime member.  

For instance, as a Prime member I could either wait until testing is fully ramped up and then request my free test from Amazon at that time.  Or, I could pay it forward to be prioritized. For instance, I might pay $300 to be tested early. $100 would cover the cost of my test and the other $200 would subsidize the testing of two other non-prime members. 

This approach, in my mind, is better way better than Bezos picking up the tab because it gives people who want; people who want to be part of the solution a way they can directly support it.  

Ubiquitous Self-Administered Diagnostic Tests

Drive through testing is popping up here and there, but in order to test everyone we need at-home self administered testing.  A few companies offering this type of testing have been reported on recently. Including:

  • Everywell which plans to offer at-home testing starting March 23 for $135 (but with a Doctor’s approval and in very limited quantities).

  • NURX COVID-19 At Home Test Kit Nurx charges $181 and still requires a telemeeting with a doctor before the test can be administered.

  • Carbon Health plans to roll out a test kit soon.  Cost will be $167 and will focus first on Californians.   

My understanding is that these tests measure the presence of the virus.  But they don’t tell you if you had it in the past. But, the CDC (and probably many others) are working on a Serology test which looks for the presence of antibodies.  Presence of antibodies indicates that a person had an immune response to SARS-COV-2. Antibody tests are important in detecting infections with few or no symptoms. 

The test kit we need to Re-Open America should include a test for current infection and the presence of antibodies in the blood.  

Jeff Bezos/Amazon should go all in by partnering or acquiring a diagnostic firm - or firms - with a test that can be self administered.  

We need ubiquitous testing and none of this will be enough alone. But, 112M+ prime members is a great place to start.

The long term trajectory of Amazon 

Taking the initiative on testing to Re-Open America will deliver untold value to Americans and the American economy.  And while I don’t believe it would be Bezos’ chief motivation, his actions today could position Amazon for an incredible future.  

The cynic in me could go on and on about the downsides to Amazon getting involved in American’s health information. Doesn’t Alexa already know too much about me?  But, frankly, there are higher priorities now.  

This is a time when we need to act in good faith.  We need to leverage our resources and talents to do what we can. And we need to have some faith in each other.  Let’s start working on a plan to Re-Open America. 

No pressure, Jeff. But, seriously… this is your moment.

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