In “Delivering Happiness”, Tony Hsieh shares how he built Zappos from nothing to its eventual sale (or marriage) to Amazon for $1.2 billion. It’s a valuable biography with insights on how to develop a successful start-up, create a happy workplace that generates sustainable returns, and how to follow your passions to create your own path to success. In this summary, we’ve organized the key highlights from the book into 3 parts:
• Insights from Hsieh’s personal journey and philosophies
• Business insights from Zappos’ success story
• Finding your Path: 4 Frameworks for Happiness.
From young, Hsieh has had an entrepreneurial streak in him. From attempting an earthworm breeding business at the age of 9, to running garage sales, to trying his own newspaper to sell ads, to running a mail-order button business in middle school, to crowd-sourcing for a study guide and selling pizzas in college, he has developed a real understanding of money, profits and what matters to him. He shares about each of these ventures in great detail and with a lot of humour. Through these stories, we get a glimpse into his learning experiences and insights, many of which also shape his philosophy and approach to business.
Key insights and takeaways
Here are some of the highlights and “aha” moments we took away from his journey:
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMPANY CULTURE
In 1996, Hsieh co-founded LinkExchange, an internet advertising cooperative. During the first year, they hired friends and people who were attracted by the fun and excitement of what they were creating. The team was dynamic, close-knit and the company grew rapidly. As they grew beyond 25 employees, they started to hire people who were smart but more motivated by money and career growth, and the culture started to shift. By 1998, when the company was sold to Microsoft for US$265 million with about 100 staff, Hsieh realized that he was no longer enjoying his business. This was his first major lesson on the importance of company culture.
DISCOVERING YOUR PASSION AND PATH
Like most people, Hsieh discovered his true passions through real-life experience. Hsieh left his job at Oracle after 5 months (because he was bored) to focus on a web-design business. He learned quickly that he didn’t enjoy web design either, and moved on to start Link Exchange, which was sold to Microsoft in 1998.
By early 1999, Hsieh decided to forgo a large sum of money to leave Microsoft and pursue his passions. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a turning point for me in my life. I had decided to stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion.”
He moved on to start Venture Frogs, a $27 million investment fund (of which Zappos was one of the investments). Hsieh lost a lot of money in investments, the stock market, movies, etc., but learned more about himself, his passions and business along the way. He drew many parallels between business and poker (something he got interested in for a while), and shared one of his key insights about business and life: “I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at. This included knowing when to change tables…In business, one of the most important decisions for an entrepreneur or a CEO to make is what business to be in.”
THE POWER OF CONNECTEDNESS
When planning for his 26th birthday party, Hsieh had a transformational experience at a party, when he experienced a profound sense of connection with the other people and the rest of the universe. He started to immerse himself in rave culture, and learned in the process how to be genuinely interested in other people, with no hidden motives. “The rave culture was a reminder that it was possible for the world to be a better place, for people to simply be appreciative of the humanity in one another”.
The Zappos Story: Lessons for Business
In many ways, Zappos is an embodiment of Hsieh’s values and passions. Hsieh details how he and his partners successfully grew Zappos from scratch to achieving annual gross merchandise sales of over $1 billion.
Zappos went through its share of challenges, especially in the first 2 years of business. Hsieh attributes Zappos’ success to their initial investment and focus in 3 areas: customer service, culture and training. Here’s a quick overview. Do check out the book or our full 12-page summary for more details!
1. Customer Service.
Repeat customers and word-of-mouth are the key drivers for Zappos’ growth today, and this foundation is built through its commitment to customer service. Hsieh shares many examples of how Zappos deliberately builds customer service as an integral part of their brand, including 10 ways to instill customer service in the company.
With the internet, everything has become transparent. The best way to develop an authentic brand is to ensure that your company’s brand and culture are one and the same, i.e. everyone in the company genuinely embraces the core values as an integral part of their lives. Hsieh shares in detail Zappos’ 10 core values, how they were derived through a feedback process to identify what Zappos really meant to each employee, and how they bring these values to life at Zappos. In particular, Zappos uses several unique ways to shape and strengthen their culture, including the Zappos Culture Book, hiring right and training, and creating alignment across all stakeholders (more details in the book and complete summary).
3. Employee Training and Development.
Zappos’ commitment to its core value of Growth and Learning has led to the creation of their pipeline concept. Rather than focus on individual talents, they develop pipelines of people in every department, with various skills and experience. They aim to hire passionate people at an entry level, and grow them internally, with the opportunity to be a senior leader in 5-7 years. Books and courses are offered by their Pipeline Team to develop their staff.
Finding your Path to Happiness
1) Happiness Ingredients
Hsieh identified these 4 ingredients – perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness and vision/ meaning – which you can apply to your own job, team or businesses to create more happiness for you and your staff.
2) Happy Stakeholders
He explained how we can apply Maslow’s Hierarchy in business to serve the needs of different stakeholders including our customers, employees and investors, to create meaning/ fulfillment beyond monetary rewards .
3) Types of Happiness
Hsieh shared the 3 types of happiness – pleasure, passion and higher purpose meaning – and how we can align our daily tasks and activities to our higher purpose.
4) Parallel between Business and Happiness
Hsieh ends off with the powerful idea of how we can use happiness as a principle to build great, long-term organizations. When you focus on bringing happiness and fulfillment to yourself, your team and stakeholders, you are actually laying the foundation for a sustainable business.
The formula = Profits + Passion + Purpose
Other Useful Books and Resources
If you found this book useful, you may wish to check out:
- From Good to Great by Jim Collins: Learn how to build a great company that out-performs your competitors
- Drive by Daniel Pink: Learn how to unlock the intrinsic motivation in you and your team
- Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Discover how to convert your daily activities into opportunities for flow, growth and fulfilment.
Find out how to align your profits, passion, and purpose today!