Delivering Happiness: Tony Hsieh On Thinking Outside The (Zappos Shoe) Box
Tony Hsieh ( pronounced SHAY) is not yet a household word, like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs. But if given a few more MONTHS, he probably will be. And, he might already be to those UNDER a certain age -- say, 35. This is an admittedly arbitrary number, but in terms of the mindsets of youthful entrepreneurs, they know Tony, age 37. He is a serial entrepreneur, who founded Link Exchange while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, and eventually sold it to Microsoft for $265 million in 1998. He eventually became involved with Zappos -- the online shoe retailer in 1999, and came on board full time in 2000.
Under his leadership, Zappos has grown gross merchandise sales from $1.6 million in 2000 to over $1.billion in 2008. And, in 2009, he sold Zappos to Amazon for $850 million, a deal now worth more that $1 billion, due to Amazon's stock appreciation.
He has recently written a book, Delivering Happiness, that chronicles his early personal and professional challenges and successes, that led him from starting a worm farm when he was eleven, to becoming the CEO of one of the most successful 21st century companies thus far.
Somewhere between 2000 and 2009, Zappos became much more than a place to buy and sell shoes online. It became a rara avis -- a company, led by Tony, that envisioned as well as operationalized change, defining a strategic movement from a corporate to consumer-centric focus, creating new parameters of customer service along the way. These range from offering to pay employees to quit after a short time if they were not happy with their jobs, offering customers free shipping both ways and a year to make returns, and hiring 24/7 phone reps who are as courteous, empathic, upbeat, and knowledgeable as any missionary, psychotherapist, or high end hotel concierge. These are are all part of the Zappos revolutionary 21st century methodology that underscore the transparency and humanity of Zappos 10 core values. These values are the essential identity and root system of the Zappos culture : simple, yet profound, they are the e=Mc2 of a more transparent, 21st century business ethos:
l. Delivering WOW through service
2.Embrace and drive change
3.Create fun and a little weirdness
4.Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
5.Pursue growth and learning
6. Build open and honest relationships through communication
7.Build a positive team and a family spirit
8. Do more with less
9.Be passionate and determined
10. Be humble.
What's fascinating is that we have heard these, and their various iterations, before. But how Tony and his exceptional team has operationalized these into a non-hierarchical culture which in turn creates the happiness that is delivered to the customer, is indeed unique. As I read Delivering Happiness, there appears to be a clear concentricity to these ideas, the original pebble thrown in the stream being core values, with the values move outward, creating the culture, and the culture moving further outward, creating the happiness customers feel when they are listened to, helped, with their challenges rectified.
As with any book written by a successful, young entrepreneur, this book shows as much about how Tony thinks as it does about his subjects. He writes clearly, strategically, systemically, and like any serial entrepreneur, he is always looking ahead, toward the next mountain. I interviewed him recently, and asked him about some ideas I hoped he would clarify:
Would you define happiness from a business perspective?
I don't think we have formalized an operational definition of happiness,
but the general concepts we think about from a business perspective are:
- Perceived Control
- Perceived Progress
- Connectedness (number/depth of relationships)
- Higher purpose / being part of something bigger that has meaning
- Passion (flow)
Why do you think other companies and industries have NOT taken such a
simple, customer-service oriented path?
I think, In general, the payoff for providing great service is usually 2-3
years down the line. Most companies tend to focus on what will pay off
this quarter or this year.
You have mentioned in your book that you could see Zappos going into other lines of work.
What areas do you see Zappos aligning with in the next decade?
For the next 5 years, a big part of our focus will be on clothing, which
is 4 times the size of the footwear market.10 years from now?
Maybe we'll be ready for Zappos Airlines by then.
We can only hope!
Delivering Happiness has its own website, www.deliveringhappinessbook.com
and of course it has a Facebook page and Twitter feed. It is on the USA Today and the New York Times Bestseller lists.