By the time he turned 25, Tony Hsieh had already sold a company he co-founded to Microsoft for $245 million. He then became an adviser to an online shoe retailer in its infancy, and later would become CEO. Today, that company is Zappos.com, the giant online retailer perhaps best-known for its amazing customer service and 365-day return policy with free shipping. In 2009, Amazon.com bought Zappos for $1.2 billion.
Q: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
A: Always be true to yourself, and be unapologetic for it. Follow your passion. Make sure you are maximizing for happiness as opposed to money or society's expectations.
Q: If you could do one thing over, what would it be?
A: Roll out the core values of Zappos from Day 1. We didn't always have core values at Zappos…It was one of those things that we put off for five or six years, because it felt like one of those big corporate things to do. In my book Delivering Happiness, I go into a lot more detail about how we came up with our core values and how they serve as a formalized definition of our culture. Our 10 core values at Zappos are:
- Deliver WOW through service
- Embrace and drive change
- Create fun and a little weirdness
- Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
- Pursue growth and learning
- Build open and honest relationships with communication
- Build a positive team and family spirit
- Do more with less
- Be passionate and determined
- Be humble
You can learn more about our values at http://about.zappos.com/our-unique-culture/zappos-core-values.
Q: What personal trait has been most critical to your success?
A: Curiosity and being willing to adapt and consider new perspectives.
Q: What’s your biggest weakness and how have you tried to overcome it?
A: Shyness. I just try to force myself to be in a lot of different situations where I have to meet and talk to new people.
Q: I know that one of your favorite interview questions is, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how lucky are you?" How much has luck played a part in your success as an entrepreneur?
A: Luck is very important, but the great thing is that you can increase your luck by building real relationships with a lot of people, gaining new perspectives and always being open to opportunity beyond just how a particular situation might present itself.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: The culture we've built over the years at Zappos. A really large number of the relationships that exist at Zappos are true friendships, not just co-worker relationships. Most employees when they leave the office, leave to go hang out with other Zappos employees. That's really hard to find at companies our size (we have several thousand employees).
Q: Where do you do your best thinking?
A: Pacing around the kitchen, in the shower, while commuting, and at the bar.
Q: If you were going to start another type of company, what would it be and why?
A: For me, it wouldn't really matter as long as it were consumer-facing and great customer service/experience can be a differentiator. We've talked about maybe one day there could be a Zappos Airlines or Delivering Happiness Airlines. I think that would be a fun project.
Q: Zappos is known for, among other things, its strong commitment to company culture. What advice would you give to other business owners interested in creating a strong culture?
A: Come up with committable core values, meaning values that you're willing to hire and fire employees over independent of their actual job performance. Come up with corporate values that match your personal values. We actually host a boot camp at Zappos Insights to help other companies figure out the values that are right for them: http://www.zapposinsights.com.