Bill Carr ’89 claims that, as a first-year student, he was “immature” and “not always a self starter.” Now he is vice president, digital media at Amazon.com and oversees the company’s new digital download service, Unbox, which delivers television shows, movies, and other video for the world’s largest Internet retailer.
What’s the path from passive freshman to cutting-edge digital mogul? In Carr’s case it winds through an auto dealership in Philly, business school down south, the financial services industry outside Boston, and, eventually, to Seattle.
In a small, stark conference room on the first floor of an unremarkable office building in downtown Seattle, the Colby English and economics major recounted the tale of his remarkable career.
After Colby, Carr signed on as a management trainee at a car dealership in northeast Philadelphia. While not exactly presaging the future course of this high-tech marketing guru, the position yielded insights he taps to this day. “As a 21 year old,” he said, “I got to meet face-to-face with the customers and learn how they tick.”
From the car dealership Carr moved on to Dictaphone as a field sales representative, where he decided that he wanted to get involved in the big-picture marketing and management aspects of running a business.
Business school was the next logical step, and Carr earned his M.B.A. from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in 1994. An internship at Procter & Gamble led to a full-time job where Carr spent three years developing marketing plans.
Carr’s growing interest in technology—and a Colby connection—drew him next to Evare, a Boston-based start-up co-founded by Craig Welch ’88. Carr spent two years running the marketing group at Evare, a company that provided portfolio management and financial transaction technologies to municipalities and other fixed-income entities. “At P&G, I was not involved in make-or-break decisions,” he said. “At Evare I had to make important decisions every day, and I saw others make key decisions. By analyzing why X or Y or Z did or did not work, I learned what it takes to gain customer traction in a customer-based business. The company wasn’t successful, but one can learn more from failure than success.”
One can also appreciate the Colby network, as Carr discovered once again, when yet another Colby friend, Kirk J. Koenigsbauer ’89, convinced him to move to Seattle and join Amazon.com. It was 1999 and Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, would soon be named Time magazine’s person of the year. The giant Internet bookseller was expanding its retail capability beyond books, and Carr came on as a product manager for Amazon’s DVD store. “It was a heady time,” Carr recalled. “There was so much energy at the company, and our feet seldom touched the ground. I clicked with the mission right away.”
One of Amazon.com’s major initiatives was to build a DVD store for customers, and Carr was soon called upon. He managed the buying and merchandising group for DVD and music, and directed US Books, Music and DVD. Two years ago Carr was assigned the task of overseeing two Amazon.com offerings in digital media: Unbox Video and another yet to be made public.
In September 2006, the company launched, under Carr’s supervision, Amazon Unbox. According to the press release, Amazon Unbox would be “a new digital video download service offering customers thousands of television shows, movies and other video content from more than 30 studio and network partners from Hollywood and around the world.” Unbox claims to be the only video download service offering DVD-quality picture. Its “RemoteLoad” technology also allows customers to purchase content using one PC (at the office, say,) and download it to another.
As Carr noted, “Now Amazon.com customers can choose to get videos delivered to their doorsteps from Amazon’s DVD store or choose Amazon Unbox and download DVD-quality picture movies or television shows to their PC.”
“We’re pleased with the early results,” he said, “but we’re continually soliciting customer feedback and making adjustments.”
Not that Carr’s life is all about work. He enjoys life outside of the office with his wife, Lynn, and 16-month-old son, Evan. “We love Seattle. We have lots of friends here—many of them Colby grads—and we have amazing access to the natural beauty of the mountains and the sound. I’m still an avid skier, and Lynn and I love to hike and sea kayak, but we don’t have as much time for these things since Evan arrived.”
Carr readily acknowledges that being in the middle of a pivotal new area of a fast-paced Internet retailer can be daunting. “I get to work alongside a team of talented people who are doing what they love to do,” he said.
“But this is not a comfortable place to work, as there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of ambiguity. But it’s always an exciting ride.”