Sure, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is a real-life Asian-American superhero and the would-be savior of Las Vegas’ urban core. But does he cut it as a comic-book character?
Last month, Hsieh self-published a visual adaptation of his best-selling inspirational tome, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose ($13). The comic compresses and renders the story of a Peter Parker-grade nerd whose tech-investment acumen makes it unnecessary to transform into Spider-Man. Forget an epic battle against world-eating Galactus, though. It turns out Hsieh has vanquished many actual monolithic entropies.
The book details Hsieh’s dramatic rise from pint-size worm-farmer to grown-up shoe-shipping magnate. Oddly enough, the comic version humanizes an adorably drawn Hsieh, whom we see running a grill and pizza-delivery business as a Harvard student. Eventually he founds Zappos and moves the company to Las Vegas. If you think transplanting employees into a different state isn’t enough of a headache, consider the added challenge of securing venture-capital investment money and lines of bank credit. Many lesser companies have died waiting. Part of Hsieh’s success, the comic makes clear, stems from his refusal to sit still and let things happen to him.
There was also Zappos’ tricky negotiation of ditching its board of directors while being acquired by online retailer Amazon (in 2009) without losing control of the company or its values. Indeed, the two-dimensional Happiness makes the game of growing and selling a corporation look fun, doable, worthwhile. Despite his Ivy League degree and innate skills, Hsieh succeeds in projecting himself as Everyman. Or at least an approachable Superman we’d love to emulate on one level or another.
Happiness was produced by Round Table Comics in Illinois. The company’s other works include, ironically, a biography of 15th-century Italian diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote the cutthroat political-philosophy guide The Prince. The anonymous artists here do an admirable job of infusing drama into a story that takes place in bars, offices and Hsieh’s old San Francisco party pad, Club Bio. A highlight is Hsieh’s trek to Kilimanjaro’s summit, where the story’s pacing goes languid and sunlit colors erupt to drive home an epiphany: “Anything is possible.” Including, apparently, the bold notion of building your company around customer service.
But the real triumph of the comic-book version is that someone like me, a casual comics reader, bothered to finish it. When I worked for a local gaming corporation, Hsieh’s book was passed around, but I couldn’t get through it—too dry. This 50-page Classics Illustrated-style (or let’s be honest, CliffsNotes) presentation is ideal. Hsieh’s simple yet difficult-to-implement message of putting customers and employees first so that your company is tested and rewarded goes down smoother when you avoid a 250-page hardback of gray text and inspirational prose.
Even if he doesn’t rescue downtown Las Vegas, at least Hsieh saved me a few hours.