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[Book Review] Delivering Happiness

2011 Reading List #004

Delivering Happiness
by Tony Hsieh (Zappos.com CEO)

For my full 2011 reading list, click here.

4/5
Filled with many great stories, Zappos CEO’s book delivers an entertaining fast read. Order a pair of shoes, start reading,and  you’ll be done before they arrive to your door tomorrow morning. In his very candid account of how he almost accidentally created a billion dollar business, Tony Hsieh delivers great business, branding and life lessons. He could have done without 100 pages of pure Zappos recruitment propaganda – but we get it… it’s a great brand and a great culture.

WHY I PICKED IT UP

Who doesn’t want to read the story of a guy who created a big online shoe store?
Okay, clearly Tony Hsieh has accomplished far more than that – a brand that stands for amazing customer service, a company where every employee is a proud ambassador, a message that happiness is the most powerful driver of success. Now that’s worth reading about, no?

THE BIG IDEA

Delivering Happiness is essentially… an autobiography. It’s all about Tony’s stories, what he learned on his way to creating a billion dollar business, and more importantly (in his own eyes) how he found a path to happiness by following his passion and finding his purpose.

The good news: he’s a surprisingly great storyteller. His journey is a rollercoaster ride of success and failure, in particular the last ten years running Zappos and bringing it back from the brink of death almost once every twenty pages.

As per his learnings, here are the five biggest (my picks… which I all agree with 1,000%):

  • Company Culture is the best foundation, both to create a great place to work, and to project what a brand is about through every interaction.
  • Experiences that go above and beyond expectations, and WOW your consumers, employees, vendors and partners, are the surest way to give them something to talk about.
  • Outsourcing a core competency is the biggest mistake you can make (in Zappos case, customer service and ecommerce logistics).
  • Alignment is a critical make or break factor: between new recruits and company culture, between customer experience and brand promise, between leaders vision and investors expectations.
  • Passion and Purpose trump short term pleasures and profits to create great businesses, and to find happiness.

A FEW COOL NUGGETS

  • About the lack of company culture at LinkExchange: “It was a strange feeling to be walking around the office and seeing people I did not recognize (…) looking back, it should have been a huge warning of things to come.
  • About leaving LinkExchange before the end of his post-sale contract: “People thought I was crazy for giving up all that money (…) it was a turning point in my life. I had decided to stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion.
  • About layoffs at Zappos in 2000: “Everyone remaining stepped up and worked harder than before (…) we had laid off the underperformers and the non-believers.
  • About being let down by third party eLogistics: “It was a valuable lesson. We learned that we should never outsource our core competency. As an e-commerce company, we should have considered warehousing a core competency from the beginning.
  • About brand stretch: “Maybe one day there would be a Zappos airline that would be about the very best customer service and customer experience.
  • About social media: “There’s a lot of buzz these days about social media (…) as unsexy as it may sound, our belief is that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer’s undivided attention for five or ten minutes, and if you get the interaction right (…) the customer remembers it for a very long time.
  • About customer service: “It’s okay to fire customers who are insatiable or abuse your employees.
  • About culture: “What’s a company to do if you can’t just buy your way into building the brand you want? What’s the best way to build a brand for the long term? In a word: culture.
  • About recruitment: “At the end of the first week of training (…) we offer everyone $2,000 to quit (…) less than 1% of people end up taking the offer.

MY THOUGHTS

What strikes me the most is how accidental Tony’s success really was – from random encounters and ideas generated over pizza and beers, to a few key decisions made to save the business from immediate death, that end up shaping the most important assets of his company. At the same time, his success was not an accident in the sense that he chose to chase his passion, and to go all in with a project he believed in.

So, bottom-line – the big lesson is to be passionate and clear about your goals, yet flexible and open to change on the journey.

Now, I’m not a Zappos customer, but I think I’ll go ahead and place an order, just to see what happens.

NEXT STOP

Engage, by Brian Solis

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