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What This Ex-Amazon Employee Learned From Jeff Bezos About Building a Multimillion-Dollar Start-Up

CNBC

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' entrepreneurial journey is an inspiration for many. But for Nipun Mehra, it hits closer to home.

As a former software engineer working in Amazon's Seattle HQ in 2004, Mehra got to see first-hand the inner workings of the then-burgeoning retailer, and absorb the leadership lessons of its founder.

So when, 15 years later, Mehra and his former Amazon colleague, Alan Wong, decided to build out an e-commerce company of their own, they had some key learnings to draw on.

"My first job out of college was Amazon. We were inspired, both Alan and I," Mehra told CNBC Make It.

Lessons from the boss

Mehra is the co-founder and CEO of Ula, an e-commerce marketplace launched in 2019 to help modernize Indonesia's traditional street stalls by providing inventory and delivery services.

Founded alongside Wong and friends Riky Tenggara and Derry Sakti, the company has thrived under a pandemic-induced shift to digital, so far onboarding over 70,000 stallholders and raising $117.5 million in funding.

Mehra said that rapid growth stems from the business-building lessons and technology-first approach he picked up at Amazon.

"How do you optimize e-commerce? How do you build a business? The fundamentals of selection, service, price all come from Amazon. The technology-first mindset. Those are some things that are very fundamental to how we evolved," said Mehra.

But perhaps more than that, said Mehra, was the Amazon-inspired customer-centric approach, which enabled the company to onboard and support stall-owners as the pandemic threatened their businesses.

"We're very customer focused, [we have a] very strong belief in that," the Ula CEO. "The belief that the mission is so much bigger than any of us."

"It's about growing the pie and actually creating an impact in people's lives," said Mehra. "To me, that was again something that we learned very early on in our grooming in Amazon."

Winning Bezos' backing

Last month, the company's efforts paid off when Bezos himself invested in the start-up via his family office, Bezos Expeditions. Though the Amazon founder does not know Mehra directly, he was made aware of Ula by one of the start-up's early backers.

The investment of an undisclosed sum formed part of a $87 million funding round led by Prosus Ventures, Tencent and B Capital.

Mehra, who has still not met Bezos in person, said he's unaware of the reasoning behind the billionaire's cash injection. However, he said he hopes that in Ula Bezos saw some Amazon-style attributes.

"I would hope it's for the quality of what we're doing," Mehra said of the investment.

"I would hope it's also because of our Amazon way of thinking and the way we are building our business in the right way, in the long-term way."

Don't miss: Why Jeff Bezos is backing this millennial founder's Indonesian start-up

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