Tony Hsieh, the oldest of three sons, was born to Taiwanese immigrants. He grew up in Marin County, Calif., and never liked the idea of working for others—he quit a promising post-college job at Oracle to start LinkExchange out of his apartment living room, a company he eventually sold to Microsoft for $265 million when he was 24. His next step was co-founding a venture capital company called Venture Frogs. It was there that Hsieh learned of a fledgling online shoe retailer named Zappos.com, which he invested in and eventually took over. Since then, Hsieh has helped Zappos, based in Henderson, grow from a fledgling Internet shoe company to having $1 billion in annual sales. Even after selling Zappos to Amazon in 2009 for an estimated $1.2 billion, Hsieh stayed on as CEO to make sure the Zappos way would remain intact. Spreading the word on workplace culture is the focus of Hsieh’s new book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose (Grand Central Publishing, $24), available June 7.
What inspired you to write a book?
Part of the point of the book was spreading this idea that you don’t have to choose between profits and making customers happy or making employees happy, you can actually have it all. Maybe it was different 50 years ago, but now we’re living in this Internet world where everyone is hyper-connected and information travels quickly. There actually is a way to make employees happy and make customers happy and make investors happy through profits. I think that was the point of the book, to hopefully inspire other companies to take that approach instead of feeling like they have to choose.
Zappos interviews job applicants for both skills and personality. What is the most important question in the personality portion of the interview?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s the questions themselves. It ultimately it just comes down to a gut feeling and that’s something that our recruiting team develops over time and they just get better and better at it. If they let someone into the Zappos culture that’s not a culture fit and then a year or two later they get fired or leave, they’ll learn through that process. It would be like asking you, if you have to make a new friend, what questions could you ask to determine whether you would be good friends or not? Ultimately, it comes down to a feeling, right?
Would you get hired by Zappos?
I guess maybe the better question is whether I would apply to work at a company. I think I’ve just always been very entrepreneurial. We’ve always encouraged a lot of entrepreneurism within Zappos, but I don’t know if we actually do a good enough job of getting that message out there. Once you’re actually hired into Zappos one of the things I push for is that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. If you’re passionate about something, even if it’s not a part of your job description, then just run with it, make it happen. We’ll figure out how to make it into a business later, but if you’re really truly passionate about something it’ll work out in the end.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
A lot of people talk about work/life balance … but the implication in that is that what you’re doing at work is somehow limiting. For a lot of people it means work sucks and you’re leaving a certain part of yourself at home when you go to work. What we’re striving for is work/life integration. The only way that can happen is when you can truly be yourself in the company. We don’t want you to be a different person, whether you’re hanging out with your friends or in the office, and the only way that can happen is if the people in the office are truly your friends. So that’s something we really push for; it’s something that is hard for a lot of people who are used to the corporate world to grasp because they’re so used to putting on this one front at the office and then being themselves outside the office.
What’s next for Zappos?
Zappos started out selling shoes online. Hopefully 10 years from now people won’t even realize we started out selling shoes online and really the brand is just about the very best customer service and treating employees well. … We could have a Zappos airlines or Zappos hotel or Zappos bar, whatever, and really just take the whole customer service to the next level.
What do you like about living here?
I’ve been here six years. I like that the Strip is always there if you need it, but as a resident it’s almost like any other suburb—you wouldn’t even know you were in Las Vegas. Everyone comes and visits you. I moved from San Francisco and a lot of my friends from San Francisco I see more often than when I lived there. … There are direct flights to almost anywhere. I love the summers, going outside at midnight during the summer and it’s 80 degrees out so all the restaurants and bars and clubs have patios.
What don’t you like about the area?
There’s definitely a significant portion of the people that I meet that are very transient. It takes a while to get a feel of who’s real and who’s not. A lot of people say a lot of things and I think that’s probably more just a reflection of the casino industry. … People promise things left and right because that’s just how a lot of the Strip culture is, but I think for us at Zappos, being our own little oasis, there’s really much more of a San Francisco culture in that.