Last Thursday, Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, spoke about the evolution behind the culture at Zappos at theÂ Commonwealth Club in downtown San Francisco.
Some quick background on Zappos.com, and then I’ll dive right into my thoughts on the evening. There was a lot of uproar when Zappos sold themselves to Amazon over whether they wanted to sell or were forced to sell by their investors. It ultimately was published in an Inc. article that the executive team of Zappos was trying to maintain their culture, and found that the best way to do it was to sell Amazon who allowed them to maintain their raison d’Ãªtre.
I’ve heard Tony Hsieh speak on video, and so the canned stories about starting a pizza business, selling LinkExchange because the culture crashed and folks asking Zappos to run the IRAÂ that he started the evening with felt a bit clichÃ©. I understand why he has his go to stories, and the value that they bring to the conversation, but… oh well.
I thought the format was superb. Softball questions asked by the Wall Street Journal’s Jeffery Fowler. That isn’t meant as an insult as much as it allowed Tony Hsieh to just go with it, and speak. Fowler didn’t interfere, and the jabs he threw into the conversation were really witty and often very funny. I thought he did a great job personally.
Some of the bigger highlights included:
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t and Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization are the two books which have really laid the foundation for Zappos’ culture
- Good service culture replaces direct marketing
- The product margins are what allow Zappos to do overnight delivery, free return shipping and some of their other perks. Hsieh said it definitely wouldn’t work in electronics or at tourist traps
- Work/Life balance isn’t an issue if you love what you do, are surrounded by your friends and work at a place where the things you do are just part of the greater culture
The only negative of the evening, in my opinion, came from Fowler’s insistence that good culture was analogous to perks. Hsieh kept going out of his way in saying that a ping pong table isn’t a culture, but the disconnect there led to some unnecessary back and forth about specifics of Zappos’ culture. It was the one part of the conversation where I felt that Fowler wasn’t listening, and Hsieh, who happens to be a very quiet, humble guy based on this appearance, didn’t assert.
The night’s big conclusion. Have a set of core values at the company, and if there are those who don’t buy into the company’s core values, then send them packing.
More comments to come on specific questions and answers, but all in all I would definitely say that if you have a chance to go hear Tony Hsieh speak, then take advantage of it.