Zooming in on Zappos

Tony Hsieh, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Zappos.com (courtesy of Sunni Brown)

Few companies are as zealous as Zappos in ensuring that excellence is ingrained into every single process, person and pore of the organisation. Radical and almost ruthless in their quest for the holy customer grail, Zappos is famous for legendary strategies such as the following:

- Paying brand-new employees US$2,000 to quit if they feel that the job is not right

- Allowing customers to return their goods one full year after their purchase (and paying for all shipping costs too!)

- Surprising customers with free overnight shipping even though the time needed is normally 4 to 5 days

- Making company culture the number one priority of every single person in the organisation

- Creating one of the flattest organisation in history, where employees could tell the CEO what he should do with his money!

Led by web wunderkid Tony Hsieh, who at the age of 24 years sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for US$265 million, Zappos is probably a dream come true for many. Highly social media savvy with a geeky rockstar demeanour, Hsieh (who has some 1.8 million followers on Twitter) is responsible for growing the company from almost nothing to over US$1 billion in gross sales.

More recently, Zappos was sold off to Amazon for a princely sum of US$928 million in total under pressure from its VCs. Fortunately, its charismatic chief Hsieh still helms the ship while Amazon promised that it wouldn't interfere with Zappos in any way.

What are the secrets of success at Zappos? How has it succeeded while many web-based B2C firms have failed (often spectacularly)?

At Zappos, CULTURE is the number one strategy. Employee engagement is way up there on the priority list, and this is why Zappos is considered as one of the best companies in the world to work for.

Adopting the mantra "Your Culture is Your Brand", cultural consciousness is deeply embodied by every single member of the team. It is also encapsulated in its Core Values which are openly shared for all to see. These are namely:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble

In Delivering Happiness, the title of a semi-autobiographical book by Hsieh, the company has even developed a Happiness Framework that looked like this:

Courtesy of Sunni Brown

Accordingly, if one moves from bottom left to top right, there are 3 types of happiness for anybody working in an organisation in ascending order (akin to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs), from:

Pleasure (Rock Star) - Chasing the next high


Passion (Flow and Engagement) - Time flies

to, finally

Purpose - Being part of something bigger than yourself

While having the right culture doesn't guarantee you success (if you're in the wrong industry to begin with), it does help to raise the chances of success for your business. I, for one, am inspired to see if there is a way for my organisation to emulate Zappos in its trailblazing ways.

PS - Zappos has a communication policy that goes like this "Be Real and Use Your Best Judgement!" How cool is that!

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