Book review: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Tony HsiehZappos is the online retailer of shoes and clothing that was last year purchased by Amazon for $1.2Bn. They are known for their incredible service and their unique culture.

As a member of the Zappos Insights programme I received an advance copy of their CEO’s new book, aptly named “Delivering Happiness”. I thought as someone who has visited Zappos, met the management team, and read and listened to dozens of articles and presentations I would not have much else to learn; I was wrong.

The initial part of the book focuses on Tony Hsieh‘s childhood and background before Zappos. To understand Zappos you have to understand Tony, and the book certainly gives a greater insight into him as a person. Unlike the stereotype of a what a businessman should be, money is not his prime motivation.

My favourite example comes from when his first business, Internet Link Exchange, was bought by Microsoft for $265M. Tony’s share meant he was due to get $40M, but 20% of that – $8M – relied on staying on for 12 months after the sale. During the few weeks after the sale – sleep walking at Microsoft –  that he realised he would “stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion” and walked out, and on the $8M golden handcuffs. Why? Simply because the happiest times in his life had never been related to money and he already had more than enough of that.

Another example of new information is the rollercoaster ride of what it was like struggling to grow Zappos. Although it was successful, raising additional venture capital to fund that growth proved impossible after the dot com crash in 2001. Redundancies were made, salaries cut, and Tony personally sold every asset he had, ploughing everything back into Zappos. This was a huge gamble, but underlines the faith and passion he had for this unique business. Looking back it must seem like a distant memory, but it was clearly a difficult time.

The outsider might wonder why all this information, warts and all is shared. The answer is that Tony just wants to help people, when I asked him that question he said, “when you find something really useful and helpful don’t you want to share it with people so they can make use of it too?”

It’s not about content of what they do, it’s more about why they do things that gives Zappos their competitive edge:

“If we want to continue to stay ahead of our competition, we must continually change and keep them guessing. Others can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our website, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service.”

Finally, I found the answer to one of the questions I have been asked most about Zappos, which is what is their policy on using Twitter, which is used by hundreds of their staff. It is very simple: “just be real, and use your best judgement”. That plus the Zappos ten core values keeps everyone aligned.

Delivering Happiness is published on June 7th 2010. For more info visit the Delivering Happiness website.

Meetups are happening all round the world to celebrate the launch so if you want to speak to like-minded Zappos fans, or others who are interested in building amazing company cultures, or want to know more about the path to happiness, then make it happen with other people in your city.

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One Response to Book review: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

  1. Thanks for that Scott, I’ve got that as my next read now.

    I’m finishing off the “Referral Engine” by John Jantsch who previously wrote Duct tape marketing.

    I’ll pop a review of that up on my site when I finish it during the week.

    Kevin

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