In a letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos speculates on how to keep Amazon vital. The one-time startup has grown to dominate internet commerce and cloud computing, and is now the fourth-largest U.S. public company. But settling into success unsettles Amazon’s founder.

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The expansion of’s empire might seem unstoppable, as the company adds tens of billions in revenue to its top line and tens of thousands of employees to its payroll every year. But as the e-commerce and cloud-computing giant sails through its second decade, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is apparently devoting a lot of thought to the matter of avoiding decline.

In his annual letter to shareholders, a widely read document that gives the investment community a rare peek into Bezos’ mind, the executive — who is fond of saying that every day is “Day 1” at Amazon — wrote that he was asked at a recent meeting what does “Day 2” look like.

It’s a fair question for a one-time startup that has grown to dominate internet commerce, book selling and cloud computing, and now has become the fourth-largest publicly traded U.S. company. But settling into success unsettles Amazon’s founder.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death,” Bezos wrote. “And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Bezos’ latest letter, published Wednesday, repeats a theme that the executive touched on in last year’s missive to shareholders: how to keep alive the animal spirits that led Amazon to greatness. Last year Bezos focused on the value of experimentation and the acceptance of failure.

This time he gave more elements of a management road map to staying vibrant. Some of the ingredients are well-known Amazon principles, such as “customer obsession.” But there’s also the “eager adoption of external trends,” examples of which, according to the executive, are automation and machine learning.

Then there’s “high-velocity decision making,” and interestingly, a “skeptical view of proxies,” meaning that measuring success by anything other than actual customer satisfaction might lead to dead ends.

“We can have the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one. But we have to choose it,” Bezos wrote.