Back at the South by Southwest conference in the spring, I happened to meet Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online retailer Zappos. He and a crew were driving around Austin in a purple school bus giving away copies of his book "Delivering Happiness." They were also giving away pizza and beer, which is another good way to deliver happiness.
If you're not familiar with Zappos, it's an interesting story. At first, Hsieh was just an angel investor in the company, but as the company struggled to raise additional funds from larger VCs, Hsieh ended up committing more capital and eventually became CEO. There were still many ups and downs in building the company, but eventually they found their stride and became a billion dollar online retailer of shoes. Their claim to fame was the focus on customer service, making it easy for customers to buy their shoes --or return them --all with free shipping. In 2009, Amazon acquired the company for approximately $1 billion.
The story of Zappos is an interesting one, and I wish the book provided more details on how the company grew, challenges they faced scaling the business, etc. "Delivering Happiness," like a lot of books by CEOs, is somewhat uneven. There are some good lessons on building the culture of a company, but some areas are glossed over. You never really get a clear understanding as to what went wrong culturally at Hsieh's earlier company LinkExchange. There's a lot on Hsieh's early years as a high school and college student coming up with ways to make money, which may or may not be of interest. Most of the sidebars on culture by Zappos employees are more illustrative of the energy and enthusiasm at Zappos than they are instructive to outsiders.
There are some good ideas in the book and things to keep in mind in building a company and a culture. But it falls short of what it could have been in providing more take away lessons for managers and entrepreneurs.