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review of new business book-Delivering Happiness

Zappos

new business book

by Kenneth Rudich

Like countless other bloggers, I received a free advanced copy of a new business book titled “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose,” by Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.  The hard cover version officially launches today, so I imagine you’ll see a veritable explosion of reviews in the next few days.

Despite being a little incredulous over the title “Delivering Happiness,” which, by the way, I still regard as a bit overstated, the book did deliver something I wasn’t expecting.  Something an individual like me, who preaches the gospel of a value chain approach to marketing, could absolutely appreciate.  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

about the book

At around 250 pages, there are two main parts to the book.  One is an autobiographical sketch of the author’s already storied life for someone so young, and the other is an account of how Zappos came to be the Zappos of emerging legend.

In case you don’t know, Hsieh co-founded LinkExchange in 1996, which was then sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million.  In 1999, he got involved with Zappos and eventually became the CEO.  The company went from almost no sales in 1999 to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales, annually.  Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing. 

The narrative of the book, which is written in a somewhat breezy style, walks you through Tony’s personal angst and development prior to the events leading up to those colossal achievements.  It’s a largely unexceptional life until somewhere in his early twenties (or maybe even late teens), when he and a few buddies became consumed with an idea that would eventually spawn LinkExchange.  After that it gets much more interesting, especially if you like to live a little vicariously every once in a while.

the account of Zappos

For the most part, the book is about Zappos – its start-up, the early growing pains, and the trials and tribulations of assembling a value chain that could fulfill the value proposition they were shooting for.

This part of the book reads a little more like a case study, which makes it good for the business-minded members of the audience.  It contains a neatly woven tapestry of stories that ultimately provide value chain-related insights for the reader to ponder. 

For instance, there were a few developmental mistakes that threatened to undermine Zappos viability almost from the outset.  One involved the distribution channels component of the value chain.  An early decision to outsource warehousing and distribution quickly went awry and threw the company into a terrible tailspin.  The effort that was required to pull out of it was nothing short of monumental.

That near catastrophe clearly illustrated the importance of critically evaluating the core competencies a company must have in-house – or build – at each point along the value chain in order to ensure its own survival.  While outsourcing may be a suitable solution at some points along the value chain, it can be a death knell at others.  Zappos came scant inches from finding that out the hard way.

There are also triumphs along the value chain.  Customer care is perhaps the most notable among them.  The amount of resources Zappos invests in this area of its business has yielded untold dividends in the form of both a memorable brand and strong customer satisfaction.  Zappos employees are at the heart of this endeavor, and they have collectively created a company culture that stands apart as the best of breed.  The story of how they managed to cultivate this unique culture may well be the single biggest take away for anyone who reads the book.  (In fact, I highly recommend it as mandatory reading for the employees of a certain petroleum company.  Nuff said.)

in summary

In this day and age of the internet’s virtual world, Delivering Happiness makes it abundantly clear that business still is, and will forever be, about people, not the technology that supports it.  Said another way, the task of developing a strong value chain must keep the focus squarely fixed on the good of the people involved – both inside and outside the organization.

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