Zappos gets Culture

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the current cultural buzz factory ‘Zappos’ the billion dollar online shoe store.

I got a unique opportunity to have dinner with their CEO Tony Hsieh & their COO Alfred Lin.  The following day which was Saturday they set up a 90 minute exclusive tour for 12 of us followed by an additional 90 minute  behind the scenes Q&A session where they really opened up to us.

To start with – I was intrigued and a little bit cynical.  Where they REALLY as good as all this press was saying ?

I’d been the Chief Operating Officer for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? during the heyday of the companies growth and cultural buzz.  During the midst of my tenure I was lucky to be there when we ranked #1 Company to Work For in BC two years in a row by BC Business Magazine and then ranked #2 in all of Canada to Work For.  I knew how the whole culture thing worked.  I saw how we cranked it up – and I saw it go up and down at various points during our growth.  We were having tours & Q&A’s of our company every Friday during those days too.  Were they really this good ? What did they do differently ?

I’d also helped build a couple other companies over the years with awesome cultures. College Pro Painters was where I cut my teeth with culture, and Ubarter.com was where I had fun trying it the dotcom way.  1-800- GOT-JUNK? was where we nailed it.

So with Zappos, I just wanted to see if they were REALLY as good as all their press said (and I’ve had lots of experience getting Free PR too)…..

Here is what I learned at Zappos.  I wouldn’t say I was blown away – I wasn’t – but it was damn good and I learned.  I was and still am in awe of HOW DEEPLY rooted their CEO & COO both live the core values that eminate throughout the company.  I have to go back on a weekday now too – to be fair – in an office that seats 700 people only about 20 were milling about.  My bet is the energy is mind blowing when they bring me back.

Key Points I saw and learned:

—First 10 hires are the most important people to ever hire.  They hire everyone else and they set the direction of the company culturally.

—Core values first…Make all your decisions based on them.  They asked employees what the core values should be and they call each other on them daily.

—They grade employees on how they are living the core values in all roles, two times a year.

—They bring job candidates from the airport in a shuttle. And after they drop off the candidate they ask the driver for his thoughts on the candidates fit culturally – the interview starts at the airport.

—To figure out your company core values they really pushed to have us ask ourselves what are our own personal core values….the company values come out of those.

—Core values should be short phrases not just single words like “passion”

—They tell the employees that they are responsible for care taking the core values.

—Culture is like what makes a flock of birds work with out leaders as they all fly and turn as a group. It’s their cultural DNA.

—As their CEO Tony said – if you don’t fire people for not following core values they become a meaningless plaque on the wall

—In 2003 they decided they wanted to be about customer service. So they cut a profitable model of drop shipping to REALLY focus on Customer Experience – and um – it’s working.

—Most important thing they’ve done is exceed expectations.

—Every year they print and give out a Culture Book (I got copies of 2008 & 2009) and it is only edited for grammar and spelling.

—Tony is obsessed with Happiness  – and suggests we all read the “Happiness Hypothesis”

—I think their quirky decorating of all workstations is a little bit too cluttered, dusty, and could use a few days of junk removal – but if that’s the only negative I found then even a guy with all my A.D.D. could turn a blind eye.

These guys GET Culture.  I only wish I could buy shares in the company.  Too bad Amazon bought the whole company for over $900 Million a few months ago 😦

This guest post was written by:

Tony Hsieh, Cameron Herold, Alfred Lin

Cameron Herold

Founder, BackPocket COO
www.BackPocketCOO.com

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5 responses to “Zappos gets Culture

  1. Great post thanks. Cameron, can you say more about the profitable drop-ship method they ceased? I’m always interested in how to structure online/offline and b-2-b fulfillment models. I think I know what you mean about the “drop-ship” (they used their brands to ship product directly) but need clarification.

  2. Stephanie Corker Irwin

    Very cool! Team McNakers or Cameron Herold – let me know when you would like the once over on the lululemon culture:) It’s somethin’ to write home about…or at least blog about!

  3. Re: Drop Ship

    Hey Rich – Where Tony was focused on was awesome customer service. And while drop shipping worked great, was really profitable, and was easier for Zappos; Tony felt that it was better to do ALL of the shipping themselves because they could be deliver a consistently WOWing experience to their clients instead of trying to get each individual supplier to be close to as good. Hope that explains.

    And Stephanie – I’d love a Culture Tour of Lululemon – let’s make it happen….

  4. Pingback: Are you making Conan O’Brien’s mistakes? « WOW. FUN. PEOPLE.

  5. Pingback: Are you making Conan O’Brien’s mistakes? « Dennis Wolff | Staffing & Recruitment Blog

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