Flash back 2 years. I was completely unhappy. I didn’t like what I was doing with my life. I didn’t enjoy work anymore. I was totally burnt out. I would fall asleep at 8 p.m. and I was still consistently (and constantly) exhausted. I knew I had to do something about it.
Since I could walk I have always been one to take action. If someone scraped their knee on the playground, I would run to get the nearest teacher. If someone was struggling in school, I would offer to help them through their problems. If friends are struggling with a dilemma, I listen and give advice. But the moment the tables are flipped and I am the one who needs help, I am typically floundering.
This time, it had to be different. I had my big girl pants now, and if I was unhappy I had to do something about it. I started with reading every self-help article on the planet. Soon after, I officially launched the blog. And I got my library card.
Why is the library card significant? Well, I used to read, and read a lot. But high school hit and cliff notes (and internet access) just seemed like the easier solution. I went back to my roots. Both of my parents read all the time, and they definitely did their best to instill this within me.
What if I read something to help? Surely there had to be a book that could get me over this hump. Then I found, "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose". It seemed like the perfect mix of fixing my attitude towards life and jump-starting my new purpose and passion. (Note: I originally read this book right after I started my own business, long before Emylee and I even started TCC.)
I would love to say I checked this baby out and read every last page (of actual paper), but I cheated and listened to the Audible version instead. It seemed perfect! I spent approximately 2+ hours in my car everyday driving (back when I commuted to and from work), so instead of jamming out to the same 5 songs the entire way to work, why not enrich myself a bit and hopefully learn something along the way?
I could go on for twenty minutes about the life of Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay), most notably, CEO of Zappos, and author of this book, but you can read his biography anywhere. What I want to focus on is why the book is relevant.
Tony is a normal guy. Sure, he may have above average intelligence and incredibly supportive parents, but the only real difference is the amount of effort he puts into things. He didn’t accept failure and he certainly didn’t accept status quo. When he was unhappy with his first job, making great money at a stable company (Oracle), he quit. Sure, he had somewhat of a plan, but nothing was set in stone.
That first idea failed quickly (i.e. web design for the brand new Internet). But instead of pushing him back into the corporate world for stability, this failure just made him try harder. In 1996, Tony began developing an idea for an advertising network online. At first they were giving away services and free advertising, but two years later they sold that company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $250 million (source).
How did he accomplish this? Tony had pure determination and a bit of having the right idea at the right time in the right place.
What to Do When You Are a Millionaire
The obvious answer, become an angel investor and move directly above a movie theatre with all your “favorite” people. This part of Tony’s life, and his book, was more of a time of discovery. Sure, he had hit the jackpot, but he wasn’t happy and he hated how the culture had dwindled to nothing at his last company. In an effort to counteract this, he did a lot purely to make himself “happy”.
It was also a learning period. He put a ton of his own money on the line. He invested in companies that failed, companies that survived, and one that ultimately thrived.
I don’t think Tony ever imagined being in the shoe business, especially with his background in computer science. He didn’t seem to mind though; it really was a happy accident. Tony didn’t found Zappos, it purely started as an investment in a company and person with a passion, meet Nick Swinmurn.
Tony, when left with all his options, i.e. companies failing (that he had invested in) and Zappos (slowly going bankrupt), he kept investing more of his own money into Zappos. Why? A question I honestly don’t think I could answer. When he went over every decision he made and how he came about it, it really seemed like a gut feeling to me. Zappos was not profitable for many years! Sales would grow, but time and time again Tony was in the same spot, pouring every last dime he had into the place. Most people would have folded, or decided it was no longer worth their time, but for some reason Tony kept with it.
It wasn’t until 2004 (5 years after start-up) that they finally received outside funding. Sales continued to climb. In 2005 Amazon offers to buy Zappos after sales hit $370 million. Tony declines the offer. In 2007, revenue hits $840 million and for the first time, it makes a profit. Fast forward to 2009, Amazon acquires Zappos for $1.2 billion. Tony remains the company’s CEO with a hefty salary of $36,000 per year. (source).
Let’s be real for a second. No matter how much determination you have, sometimes money is the only thing holding back an incredible idea from succeeding. Zappos 100% would have died if it weren’t for the continuous financial support of Tony Hsieh. That money would not have existed if it were not for his prior success.
Lesson Learned: Not all great ideas can become a reality.
We could just pretend that the whole story was about Tony being a fool, who continued to be fooled into more bad investments. Of course, that wasn't the case at all. Tony and his team worked their butts off.
They made bad decisions and had to pay for them 100 fold, but they learned from their mistakes. Tony knew that if this were going to be a success the culture of the company had to be at the forefront.
It took many years before the core values were announced, but once they were, they didn’t just become a sign in the lobby; they became the reason the company existed. Zappos would only hire someone if they already lived out the core values (rather than forcing them to live in a box they didn’t belong in). They let many qualified candidates walk out the door, purely because fit wasn’t right.
When the culture and values became the center of the company, the customers and clients quickly followed. They put customer services at the forefront. Not just answering every phone call with a live person, but a person interested in you and making sure you got exactly what you needed. This might have even been taken to an extreme, as the longest customer call on record was 10 hours and 29 minutes (source).
What’s In It For You
You might be thinking this is just a book about Tony Hsieh and how he made lots of money and how companies he worked for made lots of money. It may all sound like pure luck, but if you read it (or cheat and listen to it), it is a story of what it is like the be an American Entrepreneur. It is not all lemons that make lemonade. Being a business owner is hard, but Tony wants to make it a little bit easier with his roadmap. Not only do you get to see the mistakes he made, in black and white, but you get in-depth views of how they developed Zappos. Many of these lessons are applicable to the mom and pop shop down the street, but also the mid and large sized corporations in need of a major culture overhaul.
My Action Plan
So I started reading the book because I was unhappy myself, and ultimately it lead me down a completely different path than I ever imagined. I am continually inspired to do more, try harder and never give up. I am reminded why I started my own business in the first place, and why I want to continue to build it with Emylee. My clients took center stage and as our business shifted away from one-on-one work this book reminded me just how important it is to value your customer. In fact, you are why we are in business at all. Ultimately, we want to deliver happiness and through that let our passion and purpose shine. .
How do you deliver happiness to your clients? What is your passion or purpose? Comment below.