“No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future.” Tony Hsieh
I recently read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. (I realize I am a little late to the party on this.) I loved it. It was interesting and inspiring, easy to digest, pick up, and put down, and I have been thinking about the Zappos culture a lot in the weeks since I finished it.
Delivering Happiness is categorized as a business book, but it reads far more like an autobiography, which is one reason I enjoyed it so much. While the culmination is the success of Zappos.com, the book is truly the story of an entrepreneur’s journey through many ventures, both successful and not. Its readability is one of the book’s many strengths. Tony Hsieh explains in the introduction his intention for the tone of the book to be conversational, and it is. I felt like I was sitting across the table from him, which helped me feel connected to and invested in his story.
The book begins in Tony’s childhood when he started his own mail order button-making business while still in elementary school. (I’m referring to Tony by his first name because I think that’s what he’d tell me to do if I were ever fortunate enough to meet him.) It follows him to his first job out of college in a corporate environment, which he left after five months. We then learn about his first startup, LinkExchange, an online advertising cooperative founded primarily out of boredom and curiosity, which Tony and his business partner sold to Microsoft for $265 million two years later. Next came the venture capitalist period, which had its up and downs, and finally we land at Zappos.com.
There is no BS in Delivering Happiness. It is transparent - sharing all of the early struggles, successes, later struggles, mistakes, setbacks, near-misses and high times that Zappos has been through. One of my favorite parts of the book describes when, despite the business being in financial turmoil (its fate rested exclusively on Tony’s ability to sale a rapidly depreciating piece of real estate), he keeps a commitment to a friend to leave and climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. The physical, mental and emotional stress involved in climbing the mountain so mirrored the struggles back home. The book reflects Tony’s clear philosophy about being open, honest and transparent about every aspect of the business with employees and vendors, and he illustrates how and why that approach has been extremely successful for Zappos. He shares verbatim employee emails that he wrote and sent, both when there was good news and hard news to share. There are sections of the book written by Zappos employees, demonstrating an admirable confidence in the way he has managed the business. As a reader, I really felt like he was trying to teach me something.
“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”
Another highlight of the book was the focus on the development of Zappos’ culture and Ten Core Values. The entire team was asked to contribute to the Zappos Culture Book, a living, continually evolving resource meant to reflect the continually evolving environment at Zappos. Tony believes strongly in the importance of driving and adapting to change. Again, the focus was on transparency: Zappos shares copies of its culture book with employees, vendors, and even customers, if they ask. He describes how the Zappos culture was built (”Create fun and a little weirdness!”) and how it is protected. For example, Zappos has offered to pay employees to resign in certain situations when it is clear the person and culture are no longer a match.
A Delightful Surprise
After I finished Delivering Happiness, I was curious. Would the Zappos experience truly live up to what was described in the book? I had never made a purchase from Zappos, so I went online and bought two t-shirts for a total of $40. Once my order was complete, I opened up a chat window to begin my experiment, and was connected to Kellie P. from the Customer Loyalty Team. I explained that I had just finished reading Delivering Happiness and wondered if a copy of the Culture Book could be mailed to me. She asked me to wait a minute while she checked, and then came back to say she would be happy to put a copy in the mail that week. The entire interaction was friendly, personal, and made me feel good.
Fast forward about 7 days, and the book arrived. When I opened the package, in addition to the book, it was stuffed with shiny gold tinsel and a personal, handwritten note from Kellie P. I was delighted! The next day, Sunday, I sent a thank you note via a general form submission on their website. Inside of 30 minutes, I received an email from another member of the Customer Loyalty Team acknowledging my note, expressing similar enthusiasm for the Zappos culture and experience, and making a personal connection between where I live now and the area she grew up in. Now I was really delighted. Zappos has a new customer and ambassador in me for life.
While I had borrowed Delivering Happiness from the library, I will be buying my own copy, as it is one to dog ear, highlight, and return to again and again. The Zappos experience absolutely lived up to what was described in the book, and the lessons I learned will stay with me for a long time.
Have you read Delivering Happiness? What did you think of it? Books are one of my favorite topics of discussion, so let’s chat in the comments!