Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Beauty Of A Tribe

Depending on what side of the Atlantic you call home, ‘Zappos’ may or may not be a household name to you, and the same goes for Tony Hsieh its CEO. This pioneering online retailer may not yet have reached European shores but it’s becoming well known as the business success story that grew to $1billion revenues in under ten years. Last year the company was acquired by Amazon in a deal worth $1.2billion. Tony has a book out - ‘Delivering Happiness: a path to profits, passion, and purpose’ (out in the US now/ out in the UK July) - where he tells the story of his entrepreneurial life, sharing insight into how he made Zappos so unique, and ultimately so successful.

I first saw Tony close-up at SXSW Interactive 2009 where he gave a keynote. I was impressed by how understated this successful entrepreneur was, standing on stage in jeans and t-shirt. Twelve months later it was great to be a – tenuous – guest (via my friend Espree Devora) on board Tony’s ‘Delivering Happiness’ bus one night travelling around Austin, Texas at SXSW 2010. What was clear from that evening was that Tony is a generous guy. We hadn’t properly met, yet here was the CEO of a $1B company personally fetching me BBQ food and letting me down a few vodkas at his on board bar. Reading his book you get a real sense of that spirit of generosity in hosting parties and bringing people together. He describes the loft apartment in San Francisco where he lived surrounded by friends, and his decision to buy the penthouse apartment so he could host huge parties. He wanted to create an environment where people could come together and hang out. Without realising it, he says, with his friends he had created and developed their very own tribe which was bringing stability and excitement to the group’s future. And that feeling is powerful as he explains in this excerpt from the book:

“The connectedness we felt was making all of us happier, and we realized that it was something that we had missed from our college days. I made a note to myself to make sure I never lost sight of the value of a tribe where people truly felt connected and cared about the well-being of one another”.

Of course, that spirit of togetherness is at the heart of Zappos; where he has created a strong and unique organisational culture that has become the brand’s USP and made it famous in entrepreneurial circles around the world.

I may not have labelled it as ‘culture’ at the time, but that same spirit has been evident in every successful business I have worked in, or with. That culture where you hang out with you co-workers out of the office, where you’d rather sit in the board room after hours drinking wine and playing ‘beat the intro’ than going home, where your work and non-work identies blur.

Delivering Happiness’ is a great story of Tony’s journey in creating and building Zappos, and of all the inevitable highs and lows along the way. Zappos’ success story may have different contributing factors but #1 is about that focus on organisational culture that resulted in great loyalty, productivity and customer service. And whether it’s about building a billion dollar business or transforming a school bus into a party bus for his friends, of course (of course!), it’s all about the people.  

1 comment:

Espree said...

I agree "Delivering Happiness" was life changing. How grounded and humble Tony is about his innovation and success makes him such a quality person to learn from and to be friends with. Fantastic post Ian! Grateful to know you. :)