Rest In Peace Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh, founder of shoes marketplace Zappos and the author of Delivering Happiness, passed away last week. He was 46 years old, much too young to leave this world.

Reading the news on twitter, cant help but feeling sad and sentimental. Never knew the guy, but the book Delivering Happiness was the first business book that ive bought. The book opened new horizon for me on startups and business management in general.

Worn out copy from ten years ago

For context, i bought the book back in 2012. I was a software engineer in Telco back then and always thought working in technical fields will be my future. However, Tony’s book was written in a very enjoyable way that a non-business guys like me can digest.

In this post, i write couple of interesting lesson in the book that still goes with me until now. This is my way of celebrating Tony’s life. And if you havent read his book, hopefully this will intrigue you to start reading.

Never Enter The Game You Dont Understand

Delivering Happiness was written in a first person view. Tony write the book like a blog. He tell the stories, explain his reasoning and take you to his journey.

Before Zappos, Tony went into couple of entrepreneurial journey, including trying to be poker player. His best lesson in poker, was never enter a game without understanding what happens. Recipe for winning consistently in poker was picking a table youre comfortable at.

I know nothing about poker but i use this wisdom all the time.

Always thoroughly research the company before applying for a job. Never invest in instruments that dont make sense. Be skeptical if you got offer thats too good to be true.

Dont be a fool chasing fool’s gold.

Always Test Your Business Ideas

Back in 2012, i never know about startups, product development or agile. I thought if you want to build company, you need lot of capital, build lot of things upfront and then just launch your product to the masses.

Hence reading how Tony test his Zappos hypothesis was very interesting.

Tony was building Zappos in early 2000s where e-commerce was a young industry. People only buy certain stuff online and shoes was not one of it. What if you buy the wrong size ? what if it doesnt look good at your feet ?.

To test his Zappos ideas and check whether people is willing to buy shoes online, Tony just setup a website with lot of shoes photo on it. He didnt have inventory, Tony just take a picture from a shoes store nearby. If there is an order on the website, he ran to the store, buy the shoes and ship it to the customer.

Couple of buyers laters, Tony convinced himself the idea could work. Assumptions validated with less upfront cost.

Customer Centric

Tony Hsieh is world famous shoe seller who don’t care about shoes. He famously only have 2 pair of shoes and couple of sandals.

What he care deeply about is Customer Service. Zappos is a customer service company who happen to sell shoes.

Tony definition of customer service is integrated end to end, not just mere call center. It starts from their core offering. Zappos have to squash customer anxiety of buying shoes online. Hence they offer 365 day free returns. Customer just order, and they can return it all year long, no question asked.

Then the legendary Zappos customer service. Zappos view customer service as revenue generator instead of cost center. Call center number is displayed front and center on their website. Its available 24/7. Operator dont have script and time limit. Operator objective is to help customer, even if it means referring caller to Zappos competitor.

Importance of Culture

Before Zappos, Tony build a startup called LinkExchange. It has been quite successful and got acquired by Yahoo. However, when the startup got big, he felt uncomfortable with people he work with. He felt uninspired and not wanting to get to work, in his own startup.

Tony felt that this is because he didnt put effort to develop company culture.

With Zappos, Tony consciously put set of culture values which define how all employees should behave. If Zappos want to build brand based on customer service, then the culture should support that.

Zappos has 10 core values :

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationship with communication
  7. Build positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

These 10 core values drive decision making for the whole company. For example, in hiring candidate, even if they are rock star developer but don’t exhibit humbleness in interview, then decision is clear : reject. Because the candidate doesn’t fit the culture.

Zappos also famous for offering their new hire USD 10k to quit. The reasoning was, if the candidate chose the money, then they didnt want the job enough at the first place.

Delivering Happiness was my gateway drug to other business books like Gladwell’s, Dubner’s and Lewis’s. It make me realized that business of side is exciting and maybe im more suitable to work in this area rather than being software engineer.

I switched career a year after buying this book, from engineer to corporate strategy. Never look back ever since.

Thanks for the inspiration Tony. Gone too soon man.

Delivering Happiness e-book can be bought in Google Play. If you want to listen to Tony’s stories in building Zappos, heres his episode on How I Built This podcast.

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