Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Title & Author: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
Genre: Business, Customer Service
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The visionary CEO of Zappos explains how an emphasis on corporate culture can lead to unprecedented success.
Pay new employees $2000 to quit. Make customer service the entire company, not just a department. Focus on company culture as the #1 priority. Apply research from the science of happiness to running a business. Help employees grow both personally and professionally. Seek to change the world. Oh, and make money too.
Sound crazy? It’s all standard operating procedure at Zappos.com, the online retailer that’s doing over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales every year.
In 1999, Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined Zappos as an adviser and investor, and eventually became CEO.
In 2009, Zappos was listed as one of Fortune magazine’s top 25 companies to work for, and was acquired by Amazon later that year in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing.
In his first book, Tony shares the different business lessons he learned in life, from a lemonade stand and pizza business through LinkExchange, Zappos, and more. Ultimately, he shows how using happiness as a framework can produce profits, passion, and purpose both in business and in life.
To describe Tony Hsieh as enterprising would be an understatement. As a boy, he decided to start a worm farm to beat the area competitor (with worms purchased from said competitor). This was at the wise old age of nine! Though the worm farm ultimately failed, the desire to build something remained a constant part of Tony’s personality. Since my goal isn’t to retell this whole book I’m going to bullet point Hsieh’s earlier years.
- During middle school, Tony created a paid newsletter for his friends – not a great success – and built a mail-order button-making business that was eventually passed down to his two younger brothers due to its huge profitability. All this while maintaining excellent grades and being accepted to Harvard!
- From Harvard, Tony and his friend Sanjay got hired to work for Oracle in San Francisco. Tony’s job primarily involved running regression tests daily. After starting their own small web design company, the two left Oracle to pursue design.
- A random idea wound up turning into a huge platform for the Tony and Sanjay: LinkExchange. It became a revolutionary banner advertising company and eventually sold to Microsoft for $265 million.
- As LinkExchange expanded, Tony discussed feeling the loss of the original company culture that he and his friends had built. Adding new staff without a culture statement or definition of values brought many hangers-on hoping to pad their resumes. (To me it was interesting to see this man who obviously enjoys new challenges and making money finally realize that culture plays such a huge part in your happiness, personal or professional.)
Using some of his money from the sale of LinkExchange, Hsieh decided to become an angel investor, which was how Zappos fell into his lap. A man named Nick Swinmurn had purchased the domain shoesite.com to start “the Amazon of shoes and create the world’s largest shoe store online.” After discussing the idea with Nick, Tony eventually invested if they could find a different name. Nick came up with Zapos (short for the Spanish “zapatos”, meaning “shoes”); Tony suggested adding in an extra “p” so that it wouldn’t read as “zay-pos”. [Note: type shoesite.com into your browser’s address bar and see where it takes you.]
Zappos was in dire straights for a while; nobody really thought they could pull it off. Hsieh kept investing in the company long after their initial angel investing period because he believed in the people and their passion. He became CEO to become closer to the project and lead them to a venture capital firm that could help. Said venture capital firm wasn’t interested in participating initially because they wanted to see more growth before investing. It might be hard to imagine it from the outside but the shoe industry seems to have been very slow and hesitant to change. It was also fractured by egos. Nobody really thought that the Zappos team would be able to pull it off. Hsieh eventually invested all of his money in Zappos and sold off all of his property (except the loft he lived in) to keep the company afloat. As you probably know if you do much online shopping, Zappos is still alive and well.
Though Amazon.com technically has a controlling interest in Zappos now, the company still operates autonomously and has maintained its culture. And what a culture – they’ve put their core values front and center for all to see. Those values are:
- Deliver WOW Through Service: go above and beyond to impress the customer every time and win their loyalty
- Embrace and Drive Change: continue to evolve as a company to keep the competition guessing – don’t get too comfortable or set in your ways.
- Create Fun and A Little Weirdness: be able to laugh at yourself and have fun; do things in your own way.
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded: be comfortable taking risks and making mistakes – it’s the only way to grow!
- Pursue Growth and Learning: find ways to challenge yourself and grow; take initiative and look for new opportunities to stretch yourself.
- Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication: get to know your coworkers (and customers, suppliers, etc.) on more than a surface level to build trust and mutual respect.
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit: knowing your coworkers so closely and interacting in and out of the office makes you a family. You want to look out for each other.
- Do More With Less: find creative ways to accomplish goals using less time or money.
- Be Passionate and Determined: don’t take “no” for an answer – find another way to solve the problem.
- Be Humble: treat others as you’d want to be treated; don’t get cocky!
The book [and the links above] goes into detail on each of the values. Having been through some growth periods at previous companies, I know how difficult it can be to keep everyone focused on maintaining culture – hats off to them! If more companies embodied just a few of these traits the business world would be much better off. I particularly love numbers 1, 4, 5, 7 and 10 (but they’re all hugely important to a great culture).
What really strikes me about the company is their focus on customer service – note that it’s the first value on the list above. Everyone hired at the company has to complete a month-long training on providing service the Zappos way before they start their actual job. While that might sound daunting to some, it sounds incredible to me. I’ve had positions where customer support was one of my roles, and its practice was very fragmented throughout the company. Imagine if everyone knew how to provide support to any customer at any time! I’m now left wondering how I can spread the gospel of customer service and make it more of a priority company-wide in my current job.
Verdict: I enjoyed Delivering Happiness overall, though some of the earlier portions of Hsieh’s life felt a bit repetitive. Though Hsieh certainly isn’t the best author I’ve ever read, the lessons he shares in the book are definitely worth the read! There’s a lot of great wisdom in there.
Recommended for: anyone interested in how providing world-class customer support directly impacts a whole corporation, those looking to build/improve their company culture or goals, or individuals who are interested in increasing their own happiness.
Price: about $9 – $18 depending on your preferred format. Find it on Amazon!