Having created and subsequently sold the ad network LinkExchange for some $275 million dollars before the dot com crash, you might think that Tony Hsieh would have been happy. A stable job at Oracle bored him, and after a abortive attempt at a web design business he created a simple ad network. Being in control of his own destiny kept him amused until the company grew into a place that no longer attracted the sort of people he wanted to work with. Soon, he was just as bored with LinkExchange as he was at his job in Oracle. “Delivering Happiness” is the condensed version of what he learned in starting Zappos – a company he swore wouldn’t attract people who were just there for the paycheck.
The early parts of the book are more of a personal memoir, and it’s clear from the onset that Hsieh has the entrepreneurial bug from the get go. He had various schemes to make money throughout his childhood, and several more for avoiding work. He’s got an relaxed writing style that feels more like an informal chat with a friend than anything else.
Zappos seemed to happen by fortunate coincidence – Tony had set up an incubator fund after his sale of LinkExchange, and invested in Zappos. After some months, Zappos were running out of cash and with the dot com explosion destroying capital markets it didn’t look like they were going to raise any more money soon. Tony made the decision to invest, and then invest again, and then sold assets to keep the company going – the passion and experience of the founders was contagious and soon he stepped in as CEO.
If anything, the book is about Zappo’s famed culture. The culture of a company stems from the CEO – If the CEO wants great customer service and happy employees above all else you get Zappos. If the CEO wants profits above all else, customers get treated like cattle a la Ryanair. ‘Drinking the Koolaid’ is so important in Zappos that they regularly turn away highly technical candidates that could help their business simply due to misfit. Arrogant or egocentric employees don’t fit in with their team culture – they’re trying to create more of a family than just a business. The driving force is to deliver amazing customer service – Zappos offers free shipping both ways, 365-day return policies, and regularly upgrades customer’s shipping to overnight shipping just to deliver that “wow” factor.
The book spends a lot of time explaining Zappo’s core cultural tenets, and explains their infamous rule to award any employee $2,000 if they want to leave. There’s also an interesting reworking of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in terms of career happiness. Is the information applicable to other companies? I think so. A lot of reasoning is given to the question of why they picked the specific cultural ‘rules’; each of them has good grounding in motivational psychology. This book is worth a read, if even to get an insight to what can be done when a company doesn’t have squeezing every drop of profit out of it’s customers as it’s main motivation.
You can read more about the book at the website here.
FCA nonsense: I received an advanced copy of this book, the review above is my honest opinion. I would have bought a copy anyway.