You're probably wondering, What kind of person is this Spy? I'll tell you: generous, open, sharing. I don't mind that not one of you has visited my new Web site (www.askthespy.com) or emailed me for advice. I can't say that I blame you. You don't know who I am or why you should listen to my advice — much less pay for it. So I'm forced to reveal my identity: My name is Jeff Bezos. Certainly, you've heard of Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos has been profiled in every hip new business magazine in America. Now I, Jeff Bezos, have an advice column. For a nominal fee, you too can have a private business consultation with me, Jeff Bezos. Visit my site, and you too will be on the way to creating a successful business without having to consider irritating things like making a profit.
Are you booting up as we speak? Are you getting out your gold card? (Of course, being Jeff Bezos, I guarantee you an encrypted secure server.) Are you taking my free 10-question quiz, which will help determine how you can be as successful and as famous as Web-celeb Jeff Bezos? If so, my brother-in-law Marty, from whose basement rec room I've launched my soon-to-IPO Web business, was right: All you need is a name. Forget portals. Forget Web-based business models and all that jive. What's so great about being a Webpreneur is that, unlike the real world, the Internet allows you to achieve brand recognition immediately — by borrowing someone else's name.
Hey, on the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog — or which Jeff Bezos you are. So I'm not that Jeff Bezos. With all due respect to that Jeff Bezos, I can ladle the guru slop with the same twist-on-received-wisdom as he can: "Follow the money, and your bliss will come."
The idea to change my name came from Marty, whose own area of expertise happens to be copyright- and trademark-infringement law. Marty says that you can trademark a product or even an expression but that you can't trademark a name unless it's part of the product — as in "Ben & Jerry's ice cream." Look at all of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars and Michael Jordans walking around.
Rhonda just emailed me: "I think you could get into a lot of trouble for this. At the very least, Jeff Bezos can sue you."
"Let him sue me. Then I'll really have a name: The Radical Online Advice Dude Formerly Known as Jeff Bezos. It'll be great publicity. I'll develop a cult following. Barbara Walters will interview me. By then, my site will have had a million hits, and I'll have gathered valuable personal information on a gazillion people who are looking for advice."
"THIS IS UNETHICAL." Now she's IM-ing me.
"I'm just being innovative. Marty says so."
"THIS IS NOT THE SAME MARTY WHO DID THREE YEARS FOR CREDIT-CARD FRAUD, I HOPE."
I emailed her and told her the same thing I'm going to tell you: Visit the Web site, and then decide. Okay, I'm not that Jeff Bezos. But I do have special guest advisers whom you won't find on any other advice Web site. This week, my special guest is Bill Gates! Wait until you hear the wit and wisdom of BillG! When you do, it'll be utterly immaterial to you that this BillG was my 10th-grade woodshop teacher. Here's a sample from this BillG: "Got a problem framing windows? Check your angles to see if they're square. There are no shortcuts when you're building a career, or a nice myrtle-wood coffee table."
With tips like that, the next thing you're going to want to know is, Where does BillG go for his advice?
This is episode 15 in "Working Behind Enemy Lines," The Spy's continuing adventures in the new world of work. Visit the Spy on the Web (www.askthespy.com).
A version of this article appeared in the June 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.