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talk with Tony Hsieh, CEO billion$ company Zappos on Delivering Happiness at Grow Conf

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The Grow Conference took place Aug 19-21 at the Vancouver Convention center. I didn’t attend any of the Conference sessions, as I spent all day interviewing over 22 Grow Speakers, Organizers, and other Business people attending Grow.

The interview list includes featured Speakers such as; Tony Hsieh CEO of Zappos.com, Leonard Brody, President of Clarity Digital Group, Wesley Chan, Investment Partner at Google Ventures, Robert Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at Zynga, Jeff Clavier, Managing Partner at SoftTechVC, and Tom Conrad, Chief Technical Officer, Pandora Internet radio. I interviewed several event sponsors such as Jason Brandon, Director of Rogers Ventures, and Robin Axon and Duncan Hill, General Partners, Mantella Ventures. I also sat down and spoke with Dealmakermedia.com CEO and Grow Conference organizer Debbie Landa. These audio interviews will be published over the next week or two.

Featured interview: with Tony Hsieh CEO of Zappos.com, whose company has grown to 1 billion dollars in yearly gross revenue from online sales. He wrote a book on his Entrepreneurial experiences and his company’s pursuit of “Delivering Happiness”.

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Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com and Author of "Delivering Happiness". Speaker at Grow Conference in the Vancouver Convention Center. Sonia Ryan from Bootup Labs, and Tarlan Seyedfarshi from Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Listen to Tony Hsieh interview

Transcription of the audio interview

Jonathan Hanley: Can you tell me your name and a bit about your company?

Tony Hsieh: My name is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Zappos – we’ve been around for a little over 11 years now. We started out selling shoes online but we actually sell alot more than shoes here, we sell clothing, and beauty products, handbags, and so on. The vast majority of our business is in the U.S., and really our goal is to build the Zappos brand, to be about the best customer service and customer experience. We’ve grown from basically no sales in 1999 to we’re now doing over a billion dollars in gross merchandise sales every year. The number one driver of that growth is through repeat customers and word of mouth. ( online sales ).

Prior to Zappos, I had started a company with a college roommate called Link Exchange. We specialized in online advertising. This was in 1996. We grew that to 100 or so employees, and ended up selling the company to Microsoft in 1998.

Jonathan Hanley: What was the reason for starting Zappos?

Tony Hsieh: After selling Link Exchange, then this guy Alfred, he and I got together and started an investement fund. We invested in 20 or so different internet companies. Zappos just happened to be one of them. But over the course of a year, I realised after a year that for me investing was pretty boring. I really missed being part of building something. It felt like I was always sitting on the sidelines. I ended up joining Zappos fulltime within a year.

Jonathan Hanley: What keeps you motivated to stay at Zappos?

Tony Hsieh: I think it’s that things are always changing. The sky’s the limit, since we’re building our brand about customer service. As I talked about in the interview at the Conference, there could one day be a Zappos Airlines. That’s just about the very best in customer service. I think if the business was just about selling shoes, I’d just get bored.

Jonathan Hanley: Maybe elaborate on your talk today. You spoke today at the Grow Conference, is that right?

Tony Hsieh: I was interviewed by Kara Swisher. I just talked a little bit about Zappos and the book that just came out called “Delivering Happiness” and the subtitle of the book is “A path to profits, passion, and purpose”. Part of the reason for writing the book is that Zappos may seem like an overnight success, but the truth is we made a lot of mistakes along the way. During the interview we talked, for example, hiring mistakes that cost us over a 100$ million dollars. We learned a lot of lessons along the way. Prior to Zappos, I learned a lot of lessons as well. So part of the goal is to share those stories with other Entrepreneurs and Business people and hopefully help them make fewer mistakes.

Jonathan Hanley: What was the reasoning behind the title of the book?

Tony Hsieh: Well, we started out in 2003, we decided let’s build the brand to be about the very best customer service and customer experience. That’s all about making customer’s happy, and then we decided to make culture the number one priority with the thought that if we get the culture right then delivering great service or building a long term enduring brand will just happen naturally on it’s own. The culture is all about making employees happy. So we decided, let’s just expand for the brand about delivering happiness, not only to our own employees and our own customers, but we now have a program called Zapposinsights.com which is about helping other companies build their own strong cultures and deliver great service to their own customers.

Jonathan Hanley: Was there anything that came out of writing the book that you took you in a different direction than you had expected?

Tony Hsieh: It’s been great hearing stories from people who read the book and decided to change their lives and follow their passion, or focus on company culture and customer service, then hearing them come back that their business profits and growth are up.

Jonathan Hanley: How have these stories translate into how you’re running Zappos. Has it affected Zappos in any way?

Tony Hsieh: Yeah, because for Zappos Insights we hold two day seminars at Zappos. In some ways, it forces us to make sure we never get too comfortable. We need to always think about how to grow and improve our culture, especially now if it’s own business we are selling to other companies.

Jonathan Hanley: In terms of a American-Canadian connection is there something, or was it more just coming up because of your Entrepreneur stories?

Tony Hsieh: Yeah, I always love Entrepreneur Conferences. Just the Entrepreneurial spirit in general. That combination of creativity and optimization is pretty infectious.

Jonathan Hanley: What are you going to take away from this Conference

Tony Hsieh: I don’t know. The first thing I did when I got here I got on stage, so I haven’t had a chance to see stuff.

Jonathan Hanley: Ahh..I just caught you in the beginning. Well I hopefully you have a good time and enjoy your time in Vancouver.

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Jonathan Hanley is an entrepreneur, web guy, writer and photographer--- into all things social media and communications. He has worked with international green groups and sustainable businesses for more than 25 years. Bringing people together by building and growing social communities for 14 years.

Jonathan has blogged 28 posts here.