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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

#51 Tony Hsieh

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Tony Hsieh

What do you ask one of the most influential businessmen in America? He's not only the CEO of Zappos, he's also investing 350 million dollars in Vegas (www.downtownproject.com) and the paperback of his book Delivering Happiness hits today, March 19th! Hope this interview delivers happiness to you! 

1. What comes to mind when you hear "Mourning Goats?"

Sad sunrises high up on a mountain.

2. Zappos isn't about selling a shoe or a coat, it's about selling a feeling, is that the future? Do you see anyone else truly grabbing on to that belief?

I think almost by definition a brand is a short cut to one or more emotions. The good brands end up mapping to positive emotions.

3. Happiness framework is one of my favorite parts of the book, but can I ask why two of the four start with "perceived" (perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness, and vision/meaning)?

There has been research that has been done that show you don't actually need control, you just need to believe you have control. For example, there was one experiment when participants were subjected to loud, uncomfortable noises for a long period of time, and afterwards they were asked to rate their happiness level. There was another group that was subjected to the same thing, but they had a button in the room they were told they could press in order to stop the noise. Nobody ever pressed the button, but their happiness level was much higher at the end of it because they had perceived control of the situation. For all we know, it could have just been a fake button.

4. I got goosebumps when I read about ROC, can you tell our readers what it is, and how it's different from ROI?

For our DowntownProject.com investments, we don't just focus on short-term ROI (return on investment) goals that most developers focus on. Instead, we think about the long term ROC - "Return On Community" - as a necessary filter that must be passed for every investment we make. In addition to it being a good investment, each investment must also somehow help build community.

5. Making mistakes is encouraged in the book, as long as you learn from them, what was your biggest mistake? What did it teach you?

My biggest mistake was with my previous company LinkExchange, when we didn't know any better to pay attention to company culture, so by the time we got to 100 employees, I myself dreaded getting out of the bed in the morning to go to my own company. For Zappos, I wanted to make sure we didn't make the same mistake again, so company culture has always been important to us from the beginning.

6. PLUR is something that hits home with me in the book. Was this the backbone of your philosophy?

PLUR is an acronym for Peace, Love, Unity, Respect from the days I attended raves. I think an attitude of being accepting and non-judgemental is an important part of our culture at Zappos.

7. I feel like a lot of people would have tapped out after selling a company for $265 million, what drove you for more?

I think probably boredom more than anything else. I enjoy building things that require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, and being an entrepreneur allows me to do that on an ongoing basis.

8. Boy's Life... do you believe that is where you really got the first taste as an entrepreneur?

Trying to sell greeting cards to neighbors that I bought from the back of Boy's Life magazine when I was a kid was definitely one of the first experiences I had where I learned that not everything is as easy as it seems.

9. As a creative, I tend to struggle with happiness, even in success, what's your advice on getting that delivery?

One of the frameworks I write about in the book is that happiness is about four things:

- Perceived Control
- Perceived Progress
- Connectedness (the number and depth of your relationships)
- Being part of something bigger than yourself that has meaning to you and purpose

Usually when people struggle with happiness it means that at least one of those elements is missing, so I would say try to figure out how to incorporate the missing element(s) into your life and work.

10. When they say, "put your money where your mouth is," they usually don't mean a $350 million investment and transforming a city. What's happening with all of this development in Vegas?

Our goal is to make downtown Vegas the most community-focused large city in the world (in probably the place you would least expect it). We want it to be a place of inspiration, entrepreneurial energy, and learning. We want it to be a place where you have everything you need to live/work/play within walking distance.

You can learn more about DowntownProject.com - or next time you're in Vegas, I'd suggest coming for a Zappos tour as well as a Downtown Project tour!

11. Is pressing the snooze button a good reason to think about what you're doing with your life?


12. I've recently been thinking a lot about brand, can a person, a company, and a location all have the same brand or are they independent of each other?

I think they can be similar in the beginning but eventually each will have its own separate unique facets that will be amplified over time.

13. As a known personality, how hard is it to go out, nowadays? Has celebrity changed any of your views from the beginning?

I don't really get stopped off the street when I go to a random place, it's usually just at certain conferences that I speak at.

14. You've made a lot of references to poker in the past, why is Vegas your "poker table" for Zappos? Why not build up in Kentucky?

With Vegas, everyone eventually comes to visit you. It's hard to say that about very many cities.

15. What's your writing process like? Are you always writing? Outlining? Planning?

For my book, I locked myself up in a cabin for a week (and then two long weekends afterwards) and just cranked stuff out. I would write for an hour or two, take a nap, then repeat over and over again. It was definitely a very strange sleep schedule.

16. In one interview you were asked what question or two you would ask to get a sense of a person, and you said, "what would you say is the biggest misconception that people have of you?" How would you answer it?

I've heard feedback that people think I don't like them because when I first meet people I don't really say anything. It's because I'm just shy and introverted, but for some reason people think I must be thinking bad thoughts about them, which is not the case. 

17. The paperback version of your book is coming out on March 19th, are there plans for other books?

Too early to tell. One of our goals with DowntownProject.com is to come up with a model for community-building and urban revitalization that can be easily replicated to other communities and cities. So instead of focusing on an expensive stadium or sports team or having a Harvard or Stanford, we'd like to show that there's another way. For Downtown Project, we focus on acceleration collisions, community, co-learning, and connectness.

18. Is the Zappos culture book still going strong? How do outsiders get a copy?

Yes, just email ceo@zappos.com with your physical mailing address to get the latest copy.

19. And all of this is going down before you're 40? Big plans for the birthday?

I turn 40 in December. No big plans yet, but I was joking with some friends that I might do a "Pixel Party", in which everyone that comes to the party gets a tattoo with a single pixel (including myself - I don't have any tattoos yet). Maybe it'll turn out not to be a joke.

20. What's next for Tony Hsieh?

I think Zappos and Downtown Project will keep me pretty busy for the next five years. :)

Thank you!

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  1. Excellent interview. Makes me want to read the book. I remember being in two different cabs in Vegas where the cab drivers talked about the Zappos move there. Sounds like big things brewing.

  2. Great interview -- and good timing for me on a personal level. Great to hear about a company that cares about its work culture -- it makes such a difference.

  3. Great interview -- and timely for me on a personal level. It's awesome to hear from a CEO who cares about work culture and giving back to the community.