I recently came across a thread on Twitter that gave me a great way to phrase my favorite type of books: non-fiction that read like fiction. Stories about founding of startups end up reading an awful lot like fiction, and Delivering Happiness is no different. It’s the story of Tony Hseih and Zappos, the e-commerce company he founded that sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2009.
Prior to Zappos, Tony founded LinkExchange which sold to Microsoft. Towards the end, the culture inside the company got highly toxic, and Tony resolved that he’ll make sure his next company doesn’t end up in such a mess. Zappos, his second company, is known for its radically different culture. It’s famous for its mission: “Deliver WOW Through Service”. Inside Zappos, customer service is everyone’s responsibility. The customer service reps are the star of the show. Setting up such a customer service center is prohibitively expensive in the SF Bay Area, and they didn’t want to just set up a remote customer service center in Las Vegas — so they moved the entire company over there.
Tony walks us through his playbook: first find the profits. This is blatantly obvious, but a key point a lot of startups seem to miss. Without finding the profits, you cannot become “ever-enduring”. Venture capital can only get you so far. At the end of the day, the business of a business is to make money for its shareholders. Don’t falter on this one.
Second, profits are not enough. The goal of both you, the individual and your company’s employees is to be happy. You have to find what you’re passionate about — so that you actually enjoying doing it day in and day out.
Third, profits and passion are not enough either. You and your company have to find a purpose. Build a culture where everyone in the company feels that they are part of building something bigger than themselves.
Here are a few other lessons from the book:
- Company culture is the most important thing. Hire slowly and hire well to make sure you end up surrounding yourself with people you actually care about. It’s impossible for people to give their best when they hate their work environment.
- Pick one thing you want to be the best at, and relentlessly focus on it. Never outsource the one thing you’re trying to be great at. For Zappos, it was customer service.
- Invest everything into your product, and let the product do the marketing for you. The conversion rates of word of mouth from existing happy customers are much higher than those from another Facebook ad impression.
- Both individuals and companies are ultimately driven by the goal of being happy — you can model happiness as a Maslow’s Hierarchy style pyramid with profits/pleasure, passion, and purpose as the three levels.
Delivering Happiness is a fun, light read that will teach you a few important lessons. I highly recommend reading the book — I sure had a lot of fun.
Stripe, one of the companies I admire a lot, talked about their internal tool called Stripe Home on their blog a few months ago. It helps employees get to know each other better, and is aimed at improving happiness throughout the company. Check it out:
This is #33 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.