I am not sure how came across this book, but I am extremely glad I did. The book is “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. When I bought the AudioBook from Audible.com I knew very little about Zappos other than having heard about their legendary Product Videos on their site and that they were bought by Amazon in 2009 (which implied they should be super smart on e-commerce & warehousing).
The book starts with Tony Hsieh (pronounced as shay) talking about his childhood and teenage misadventures and business ventures. Tony’s narrative style, especially listening to as Audio grabbed my interest. I was reminded of similar incidents in my own school & college days and it motivated me to immediately make a list of events of interest in my own growing years thank you, Tony. Then Tony talks about his founding days of LinkExchange, I remembered I was one of the early users of the service and loved it for generating traffic to EasyTools.com in those early days (~1998). He then goes on to sell LinkExchange two years after founding to Microsoft for $265 Million after realizing the culture of the company deteriorating so badly that he couldn’t get himself up from bed to work one morning. Many entrepreneurs won’t have the luxury that Tony got of selling it and starting new – so it is important to listen to the second part of his story of how he built a fun & energetic culture in Zappos.
It was news to me that Tony didn’t start Zappos, instead, it was by a young first-time entrepreneur Nick Swinmurn. Tony Hsieh got involved in Zappos initially as an investor through his venture fund “Venture frogs” which had invested in Zappos, then after the Dotcom burst, Tony became more hands-on and then risked his entire LinkExchange fortune on Zappos – fascinating indeed. Many entrepreneurs including myself can easily relate to the struggles the company has gone through in early days from 2000 to 2003, but the growth story from 2003 to 2009 (when they hit a Billion Dollars) was like a fantasy come true. It would have been great to learn about those years had Tony chronicled them in detail (in the preface of the book he did say this is not a Biography of Zappos, but I wish it was). Tony wants us to believe it was all due to the Culture he created in Zappos. Maybe it was the culture primarily, but I feel it got to have been helped greatly by other factors as well – their technology, marketing, warehousing capability and so on.
The book then focuses on what is happiness (sounded to me like a PR creation and retro-fitted in later years, though nothing wrong about it), what Tony has learned on the subject from research he read, Employees talking in their own voice on how Zappos culture impacted their happiness & well-being. Some of the things about Zappos stand out clearly & uniquely and those are certainly inspiring. They have something called a culture book – you can see videos of it online and can even request a free copy of it (they ship anywhere outside the USA and international as well). Their risky move from the “hip” San Francisco to Las Vegas (of all places on earth). The ability of Zappos to maintain their independence even after their sale to Amazon. Their willingness to share their ideas on Culture & Delivering happiness to the rest of the world – through tours of their offices as part of Zappos Insights, through this book and now they even got a bus tour as well.
There is one incident in the book which I found to be super impressive. Most organizations view their customer call centre or support as a cost centre, Zappos sees them differently. To illustrate the point, Hsieh recalls an incident. It was a company retreat/meeting and it was running late, they wanted to order pizza since it was a new city they didn’t have the number, so they called Zappos customer care and without revealing their identity asked them for help – and they got it! Incredible. I am sure there are only a handful of companies around the world which can deliver this kind of service (happiness).
After listening to the AudioBook I have bought a few copies of the paper-back from FlipKart.com to gift to my colleagues for them to enjoy and learn. A great management book that is fun to read, which can bring happiness to employees around the globe if only every CEO under the sun reads it.
Update 29th Nov 2020:
I feel very sad to read about the tragic death of Mr Tony Hsieh due to a house fire. My condolences to his family. May his soul rest in peace.
“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” -Tony Hsieh
Update 5th Dec 2020:
Forbes magazine has carried an article titled “Tony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months Of The Zappos Visionary”. It covers how the COVID lockdowns affected Mr Tony Hsieh and he was feeling lonely in the last few months. Sad!