Monday, June 07, 2010

"Delivering Happiness" - a review

A few months ago, I attended South by Southwest for the first time. When I was there, I heard about Tony Hsieh, who had a book coming out shortly called Delivering Happiness. There was a deal for bloggers and writers: if you promised to post a review of the book on June 7, you could get an advance copy. I received two advance copies in April and this is my promised review.  



"I mean, like, WOW!"   

Okay, okay, I've got more to say than that. :)

Delivering Happiness is first about Tony's personal history and his successes in the early part of the dot-com boom. He built up a company called LinkExchange, which he sold to Yahoo in 1999 for $265 million (he didn't get all of that but he got a sizeable piece of it).

You and I would probably call his chunk (um, $40M or so? maybe 'only' $20M?) fuck-you money and maybe even bordering on fuck-everybody money, but Tony didn't feel like sitting back and doing nothing. Money was not The Thing for him. He invested in a lot of dot-com companies that looked worth investing in (and did marginally okay, though he says that his ultimate take was no big deal for doing this), but one company in particular,, looked like a real deal.

Zappos, if you're not already familiar with it, started out as an online shoe store. You could buy many different brands and types of shoes through them. It was a novel idea and it worked. As Delivering Happiness shows, it was hardly an overnight succes; it took 10 years of work to bring it to the point where it was sold to Amazon. During the journey from then to now, Tony (who signed on as CEO) and the rest of the company realized that the company wasn't running the way most software companies do... and that's why it was working so well. They realized they were (chord of organ music here) delivering happiness, and that's what they needed to do. 

The bulk of the book describes how Tony and the rest of the company brought Zappos to success and made it such an amazing place to work. It sounds like a place that I'd love to work because it's so radically different from the many Theory X high tech companies I've been at in the past (read "standard Microsoft-model software companies by people who want nothing more than to get rich/powerful on the backs of a bunch of other people"). At Zappos, people are valued for being people and are actively encouraged to "have fun and be a little weird." The proof is in the pudding: when Amazon bought Zappos recently for $1.25B, they also made a point of setting things up so that the corporate culture that has made the company so successful would not be affected.

Anyone in high tech, anyone in management, and anyone who wants to work in corporate environments should read Delivering Happiness as much as they should read Robert Townsend's Up the Organization and De Marco and Lister's Peopleware, and for the same reason: all describe the right way to run a company for maximum effectiveness and minimal abuse. For more information, take a look at the book's website,

And while I'm at it, if you need to buy shoes, bags, accessories, or a number of other items, you ought to look at Zappos. There's free shipping both ways and a very generous return policy. I'll be buying my next pair of shoes through them.


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