Monday, June 7, 2010

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh Delivers Happiness

Last year the "science of happiness" turned ten.  While my post-depression era parents would have been perplexed at the thought of studying happiness, the quickly growing field of positive psychology has since initiated hundreds of studies, titles and headlines about what makes our hearts and souls thrive.
          During the very same time eleven-year period a Harvard graduate, entrepreneur and venture fund manager by the name of Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) established and grew an innovative on-line shoe retail company to $1.2 billion in gross merchandise sales. The company is ZAPPOS and the rest isn’t history -- but yet to come.
          Let's stop right now and think for a minute.  We are so accustomed to sentences packed with hyperventilating numbers that it's easy to lose track of what they mean. Even if you do a simple equation, say, shoes at an average cost of $30.00 per pair -- that is 10 million boxes of shoes a year, just a million shy of all the cancer survivors in the United States. In a year.  The shoes don’t fit? No problem.  Shipping is free in both directions.
          Now ZAPPOS CEO founder Tony Hseih tells us the story of Zappos and its "culture-driven" path to success in his first book, Delivering Happinessan immensely readable, often funny account of the best example of “failing forward” that the business world has seen in a very long time. This is a guy everyone thinks is cool. Because he is. He writes clearly and makes all his accomplishments seem effortless, just as right as rain, perhaps a clue about his particular genius. 
          The book is easily divided in three sections – ‘Profits,’ ‘Profits and Passion’ and ‘Profits, Passion and Purpose’ and starts with Hseih’s entrepreneurial beginnings at age nine selling earthworms. During his first year in high school he found the computer lab, where the rest may have indeed become history. Within two years he was teaching PASCAL to summer school students.  At Harvard he ran a pizza business in lieu of attending class. After a short stint at Oracle as a software engineer, he went on to establish LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft for $265. He was 24.
           In fact, everything about Tony Hsieh's accomplishments, his values and ideas about customer service are so superlative -- kindness, FUN, honesty, meaningful relationships, clear communication -- that I found myself searching for dark spots. I don't know if that's the albatross of middle-age or because I grew up in the Midwest where you always wore clean underwear (not because you wanted to) but because you might-get-hit-by-a-car-and-end-up-in-the-hospital.  
          What finally dawned on me after I finished Delivering Happiness was the gift of facing life with confidence, and what can happen when you stay on track. Because another thing that Delivering Happiness illustrates from both the personal and business perspective: making your customer incredibly, delightfully, and “WOWfully” happy takes laser focus  -- from hiring, to empowering your employees, to not just defining core values but putting them in action.  It ain’t at all about the shoes, Willis.  
             Delivering Happiness is about creating meaning and value by turning traditional business models sideways.  It isn’t about all the things you can’t do, but how you can apply your own talents and derive the greatest possible experience from what you undertake as long as it is something you are passionate about.  When he makes mistakes, Hseih says so.  He passes on the invaluable lessons he has learned.  Just a few:  
         Never outsource your core competencies.  
           Without effort, inertia wins.  
           Make your core values your life values.  
           Ask anything.
         Enjoy this book.  Tony Hsieh absolutely fills the pages with all he knows and gives it all away many times more. That is leadership, an incredible story that puts the word "why" and "wonder" back into our vocabulary.

NOTE: Stay tuned for info on how to get a free copy of Delivering Happiness.  If you'd like to purchase a book from Amazon go to: .  I was provided with a free advance copy with the understanding that I would write an honest review, which I did.  I really enjoyed the book -- jms


Annemieke said...

Dear Jody,

As always you get to the core of things in no time: you make me curious and thinking I should read that book as you make me think about all the subjects your write about. One of your amazing qualities, besides being the best cancer advocate there is, is that you open people´s eyes to a lot of things. Thank you for sharing this with us as well, you remain my main role model. Big hug, Annemieke

Jody said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and write this during the few spare moments you had today.

There's much more about this book than I was able to cram into my post.

I accepted the book because of the partnership Tony Hseih developed with Livestrong (donate $33.00 in honor of Doug's 33rd birthday for a copy of the book) and the importance of happiness to our well being as survivors. I'm going to be writing more about the "science of happiness."

And Tony's book truly is awesome.

Love to you,

Debbie said...

I think I have to read this book, especially in light of my search for fulfillment and passion and happiness in a career. A career for which I am still searching!
Thanks for your review and insight!
Love, Deb

Jody said...

One of the cool takeaways from the book was that life values and your work values should be synonymous. Tony Hsieh had the good fortune of a brilliant mind, a tempered ambition, and ability to work with trusted others to make Zappos happen. That's a one in a lifetime thing. What he found along the way was that when he worked at something he didn't care about, he wasn't as happy. He found he could still be happy when he had to sell everything he owned to make Zappos happen.

From all that this is what rings true to me as I hope it does for you: happiness is possible even in the heart of a storm.

Big hugs,


Sarah said...

I am in the middle of Delivering Happiness, which I ordered as part of Doug's birthday partnership donation. Since my mind has been consumed with thoughts of direction and decision, I've been in awe (and a bit of jealously) about what you mention here:

"What finally dawned on me after I finished Delivering Happiness was the gift of facing life with confidence, and what can happen when you stay on track."

In the midst of reading about Tony gathering his tribe, I can't help but harken back to a foggy memory of what life was like my final year of college, when the whole world and it's opportunities were in front of me. The week of my college graduation was also the week of Mike's diagnosis from a cancer that eventually took his life entirely too soon.

Like many other young adults, we never approached our lives the same after his diagnosis or during those twelve years he fought. And now, after, I find myself with much less confidence, more fear around taking chances, and a lack of direction after being bounced off track time after time.

Yes, there were many lessons learned during the wonderful years I had with Mike that benefit me now, including cherishing every moment and all the love in my life. But it was also life-changing in ways that I still need to "unlearn". As I embark on chapter 3 in Tony's book, I hope to garner wisdom from his life lived on track, with passion, and with confidence.

Jody said...

Oh, Sarah, your descriptions are so beautiful. We stood in awe of the same thing: his unwavering, yet humble, confidence. I had to build it, build it again, then rebuild it after cancer. It finally dawned on my that what I needed to trust was life. I was never sure for a time just when the sky was going to fall. What joy you'll find when the sense of dread fades completely, and the fog lifts.

You are doing an incredible job. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Hope to see you again:)
Jody said...

Hi Jody,
I want to read this book. Thanks for giving us your wonderful perspective, which in and of itself, is an example of the science of happiness.