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. (edited by author)
Amazon Exclusive Author Q&A with Tony Hsieh, Author of Delivering Happiness
1. In the book you say, "I've been an entrepreneur for most of my life." Do you think people are born entrepreneurs or do they become them?
I think usually by the time you're 12 years old, you either have the entrepreneurial spirit or you don't. I would describe the entrepeneurial spirit as a combination of creativity and optimisim. 2. Could you name one particular experience that inspired you to create a company devoted to customer happiness?
For me, it's really been driven by daily examples of bad customer service in my everyday personal life. 3. Was the worm farm really the invaluable catalyst for forming your business and life philosophy?
My parents tell me that as a kid I was always trying to come up with different business ideas. The idea of starting a worm farm is my earliest memory of a business idea. 4. You say that you have always been an avid book reader. What are your favorite books? Which non-business book helped you grow professionally?
Business books: Good to Great, Peak, Tribal Leadership Made to Stick
Non-business books: The Happiness Hypothesis Comedy Writing Secrets The Game 5. What is the ratio between rebelling against conventional wisdom and sticking to the good old truths in building a successful business?
1:10 6. You describe your way to happiness starting with profits, then going through passion and finally getting to purpose. Is that the only path to business happiness?
No, that was just the path that I happened to take. Part of the purpose of the book is to help other entrepreneurs and business owners shortcut the process and encourage them to go straight to combining profits, passion, and purpose. 7. You seem to have taken risks with business ideas a lot while growing up. How do you recognize a risk that you shouldn't take?
I think it just comes down to really breaking down what the worst case scenario actually is. For most of us, we're lucky to live in a time and in a society where we aren't actually ever in danger of dying from starvation or lack of shelter. Most of us have friends whose couches we can crash on in the worst case scenario, so any "risk" we take in starting a company isn't actually that big a risk.
Zappos CEO Hsieh offers a compelling account of his transformation from callow Harvard student entrepreneur through his years as a dot-com wunderkind to the creator of a formidable brand. Interest might flag as Hsieh, fresh off selling his Internet company LinkExchange to Yahoo in 1999 for $265 million, kvetches about lacking fulfillment. But as the tech boom bursts, and Hsieh confronts his dwindling investments, his story comes alive. As the funding for his incubator companies dries up and one of his most promising startups, Zappos.com, a shoe retailer, seems doomed, Hsieh blossoms into a mature businessperson, slashing expenses and presciently making customer service the essence of the company's brand. The story becomes suspenseful as Hsieh recounts the stress of operating in survival mode, liquidating his assets to fund the company in its darkest days and seeking out an 11th-hour loan. By the time Zappos is acquired by Amazon for more than $1.2 billion in 2009, Hsieh and his team had built a unique corporate culture dedicated to employee empowerment and the promise of delivering happiness though satisfied customers and a valued workforce. An uplifting tale of entrepreneurial success, personal growth, and redemption. (June)
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