5 Things I Learned at Zappo’s (AWESOME) Las Vegas HQ Tour

24 Jun 2011

More details below:

#1: Tony Hsieh’s (Zappo’s Founder/CEO) Desk Looks like…
#2: A Live, Working Example of a “Less” Diverse, but Dynamic Organization
#3: An Amazing Place to Work…
#4: Enforcing Culture
#5: “Let’s do a shot of rum.” + More…
#6: (Bonus!) It’s About the People You Meet/Know

If you don’t know what company Zappos is, a quick background: Zappos started in 1999 and sold shoes online, and became famous for going above and beyond the call of selling to make their customers really happy.  10 years later, they would grow to be bought by Amazon for $1.2 billion.

#1: Tony Hsieh’s (Zappo’s Founder/CEO) Desk looks like…

This is Tony’s desk:

He’s in the middle of the office with his management team, all of whom also have cubicles.  The only people I saw at Zappos who had offices were people in their legal department.  Management gets the same desks as…

… everyone else’s.  Of course, I’m guessing that the rest of the teams don’t get…

… an entire team to filter their e-mails.  Then again, they probably don’t get around 2,000 e-mails a day.  :)

#2: A Live, Working Example of a “Less” Diverse, but Dynamic Organization

One of my favourite professors at University, Dr. Peter Flynn, often warned of organizations that always hire the same “type” of people.  For example, introverted engineers hiring only introverted types would mean that there would be a less diverse response to different situations, and the ability to survive and persist calamities would be limited.

People at Zappos have *incredible* taste :) 

In its road to be sold for close to a billion dollars, I imagine Zappos has gone through its share of difficulties.  That said, Zappos, from what I’ve read and seen about it, seems to embrace (and enforce) its more monotone culture of extroverted, customer-loving folk.

Their personal backgrounds seem diverse and dynamic, but their overall core values are shared and embraced:

Core values on every employee id card.  That's Rocco, our amazing tour guide.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface of Zappos with what I’ve read before, and a tour of their offices.  But it’s one living example of how it could work, and I’ll be researching this a bit more.

#3: An Amazing Place to Work…

… for the people who work and belong there.  By the way, we were all welcome to take as many photos as we wanted (this level of disclosure is quite crazy compared with other companies that don’t have a tour, let alone photos to be encouraged).  With that:

You can’t see the details here, but it’s a photo of their corporate challenge games at their lunch room.  There’s another photo with a full list of their (extensive) benefits, which include, among others, free food/drinks, chiropractor visits, and prescriptions.

On our way back to the hotel (driven by a Zappos employee – want to say… Megan), she noted how people at Zappos work and play together because they like the people they work with that much.  Different, no?

It’s certainly not for everyone, of course.  Given that there are multiple tours per day and each team cheers our arrival every time we pass them, I imagine it’s got to be a pretty distracting thing for work – it would be for me.  Then again, if each team takes 30 seconds (we don’t stop long at each cubicle zone, given that there’s so much to see) to cheer everyone on, it’s probably a good distraction and a good team building exercise.

#4: Enforcing Culture

To get to this sort of culture, Zappos does a few neat things.  You’ve probably already heard that Zappos offers anyone who’s made it through their training process $2,000 to leave if they don’t feel like they are a fit with the company’s culture.  One thing we experienced: while someone was being interviewed in a conference/interview room, we were asked to make as much noise and to wave at the interviewee for the interviewer to determine if the interviewee would comfortably handle tours like ours, part of the criteria for being hired at Zappos.

I had read before that Zappos tries its best to not enact policies: the idea being that policies and rules constrict the freedom and creativity of great people, and are used to curtail the not-so-accepted practices/behaviours of a few.  I learned another thing at Zappos: they are quite meticulous about performance measures and general performance.  They have systems/people in place to make sure that you’re up and at work: being late is taken quite seriously.

It’s not to say, however, that if you drop, you’re out.  In order to curb situations where employees may have legitimate difficulties or situations, there are one-two (I believe it was two) conversations an employee would have with a supervisor to improve on his/her behaviour/performance before being let go.

All said, I find it fascinating that Zappos has come up with a way to keep their current, positive culture (that their employees seem to gush on about) and ensure that people perform.  I’m sure it’s not an easy act, but they seem to have found something that works.

#5: “Let’s do a shot of rum.” + More…

Delivering Happiness is the name of Tony’s book…  Which we got.  For free, at the end of the tour.  And here’s more that they did to “Wow” us:

- At the last leg of the tour, we saw that the Zappos Insights team had…  Alcohol.  In the middle of the office.  This was the team stash.  Someone mentioned we should do a shot.  So the four of us from MicroConf did – with Rocco, our tour guide.  I’m sure it’s the first and last tour I’ll do where alcohol is involved in a billion-dollar company that doesn’t make liqour.  :)

- Pickup and dropoff for the tour (which was free) was…  Free.  No need to plan transportation.  It just happened.

I had Skinny Cow ice cream.  Want more.

- When we went by the lunch room, Rocco asked everyone to grab whatever we wanted (it was free for the employees and tour guests).  I grabbed ice cream.  Awesome.

- I have to say that Rocco’s enthusiasm, eagerness to make us feel happy and at ease – alongside with the staff we saw along the way – really made the whole experience feel really welcome.

#6: (Bonus!) It’s About the People You Meet/Know

This is less about Zappos, and more about random opportunities.  I always wanted to visit Zappos, but I never knew that they had moved to Las Vegas until Jas Panesar mentioned it.  This ultimately became my highlight of the trip to Vegas outside of the conference (Cirque du Soleil’s “O”, and finally seeing the architecture in the Luxor were deserved seconds), and I would’ve never gone without him having mentioned it.

And Jas wouldn’t have mentioned it if Frank Denbow didn’t know about it, and offer to go together.  And I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as fun/informative if David Kay didn’t come along.  He had read Tony’s book already, and offered insights into the tour and the man behind the company that we didn’t know.

Thanks for the experience and the tour!

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About ideaOwl

Tech Entrepreneur, MBTI INFJ, random idea generator in the evenings. Been in the military, developed financial risk rating software, and worked in Waterloo, Singapore, Boston.


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