Book review: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

In Delivering Happiness we get a glimpse of how a promising startup becomes a multi-billion company and the life events that shaped its leaders. Tony Hsieh, author of Delivering Happiness, is CEO of Zappos.com, one of the largest online retailers in the US. The company he built, alongside other co-founders, was acquired by Amazon in 2009, in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion.

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You can also get more resources on building your startup at deliveringhappiness.com

If you’re planing on buying the book you’re definitely not wasting money. It is a great insight in the mind and life of the man that drove Zappos from a great idea to a company worth billions. But Tony Hsieh is an entrepreneur, a story teller and probably a great leader for his company. There’s plenty to learn from him. But he’s no writer. At least not yet.

From a literary perspective – don’t expect too much. „Delivering Happiness” is fun and easy to read, it’s packed with practical advice and real-life stories to get the point across. But Tony is no Hemingway.  The writing sometimes rushes through some really important events and sometimes lags behind boring details. For example there is a bit more info on how Tony decided he should build a worm farm when he was nine years old than there is on how actually did Amazon decide on acquiring Zappos.

Literary style aside, Tony Hsieh’s life story and Zappos growth is nothing less than amazing. The book cycles through three very important areas on building a business, overlayed on top of Tony’s life story: Profits, Passion and Purpose.

It seems as if the book is less about Zappos and more about Tony’s search for purpose. From an individual point of view I believe anyone can relate to striving for purpose. Just as the title hints, Tony Hsieh’s purpose was ultimately delivering happiness to the people around him: employees, vendors, customers.

You’ll get a feeling of just how entrepreneurial Tony is from the first chapter, Profits. He shares funny stories that show his drive for profits. Be it an worm farm, a newspaper delivery operation or the pizza delivery business he created in college, we see a clear drive for profits that ultimately leads Tony to cofound LinkExchange, a media business ultimately sold to Microsoft for $265 million.

But it wasn’t all great. Building LinkExchange, Tony felt the initial energy and culture in the company ultimately faded away. In the days leading to the company being acquired by Microsoft, many employees became unexpectedly greedy, trying to squeeze as much as possible from the transaction. This fact left a bitter taste with Tony. However, the patient took the bitter medicine and applied the lesson to Zappos.

One of the most important aspects to Zappos is clearly the focus on customer service, something impossible to build without a spotless company culture. It was the bitter taste Tony felt in the days leading to closing the LinkExchange transaction that set the tone for Zappos „fun and a bit weird” culture, one of the assets that helped the company reach more than 1 billion in sales in less than 10 years.

It was the culture that helped the company evolve, kept its employees with the company when the going got tough and it was the culture that drew attention of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

It was the culture that showed Tony and other executives that they have to steer away the company from previous investors, which wanted more profits and less customer focus. This ultimately lead to what Tony calls a „marriage” between Zappos and Amazon – the transaction that tied the knot on two of the largest online retailers, two companies that take pride on being customer centric.

„Delivering Happiness” is a great  book for any entrepreneur. It outlines the struggles and hard times that are usually invisible in the media. It shows how painful and energy draining it is to build an world class company. It also shows how important passion and purpose are when trying to scale beyond the startup phase.

Delivering Happiness shows Tony Hsieh’s struggle to go beyond being an one-shot entrepreneur. It shows the struggle to go beyond profits and build an organisation that brings together passionate people that ultimately share a common purpose. It is the story of how this purpose came to improve the lives of those inside and outside the company.

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