Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, is a fascinating read.
(I should mention that since we’re mere days away from our big knit industry tradeshow in Columbus that Zappos might as well be a show co-sponsor, since it seems to be a tradition among my friends to buy new shoes for the show from them beforehand…I know that’s where I bought these!)
Starting from his childhood memories of entrepreneurship (worm farm gone wrong, anyone?) and highlighting all of his trials, errors and successes along the way, Hsieh is a truly engaging writer. I think that’s important in a business-related book — more important than most publishers seem to think! Jargon is boring: tell me about you, the person behind the brand! That’s always stood out to me as one of Zappo’s strengths even before this book came out. Fancy words don’t make you any better, they make it sound like you’re hiding behind whatever new trendy buzzword you’re spouting. One of my favorite quotes in the book, about Hsieh’s company LinkExchange before he sold it for $265 million dollars, was this:
(I never actually did figure out what a “strategic partnership” meant and how it was different from just a regular partnership, but everyone who said it sounded smarter so we liked to use that phrase a lot).
After selling LinkExchange, and doing some personal inventory about where to go and what to do next, Hsieh finds an investment opportunity in a shoe-related website. Raise your hand if you remember the crazy stuff going on in late-90s dotcomland — pets.com, anyone? I was a stockbroker in 2000, I watched that stuff collapse from the inside, all while reading The Industry Standard and other dotcom bibles cover to cover. Before Zappos, no one was doing drop shipping directly from manufacturers to customers on a large scale in the footwear business. You know what? it’s finding those weird little niches that helps you come up with a viable business model. It’s not like we’re all going to stop buying shoes tomorrow.
What I really liked reading, though, was how Zappos developed its company culture, from cultivating shared values and deciding what their focus would be (customer service is paramount — as a Zappos customer myself, I’ve experienced their amazing, human customer service firsthand). The employees had a say in what happened, and this made them even more determined to live up to the high standards they set for themselves, unlike the top-down management styles of most Big Corporate Whatevers. At the end of the book, Hsieh challenges the reader to turn the tables and stop passively reading the book but actively use what s/he’s learned to figure out what it is that makes them happy, and why.
Why should you, a knitter, knit designer or other person in my usual readership care about this book? Apart from being an entertaining read, it sparked a lot of ideas in me for improving my own customer service skills and other sides of the business I don’t often actively think about. Sure, some of it is me on auto-pilot, responding to emails or whatever, but Delivering Happiness made me rethink what it is I’m doing and why.
I’m giving away a copy of the book to the person with the best customer service story in comments. You can be on the giving or receiving end of said service, just tell me what stood out the most to you and made you think “I would like to do business with this person again”.
You can read more about the book at here (check out the Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Read This Book), and follow along with tweets about it at @dhbook (see also: @zappos)