This is (slightly) off-topic as it looks at a new book written by a guy who has come to fame not in the mobile but “only” in the online world (or click-and-mortar as would be more accurate). But it is a book that will give everyone who has to deal with value chains, investors and people (vendors, customers, employees) a couple of interesting insights on how it can (also) be done.

The book, of which I received an advance free copy (which I was told I needed to disclose here), is by Tony Hsieh, the iconic CEO of Zappos, and it is called – unsurprising to anyone who has ever heard im talk – “Delivering Happiness”. It is available for sale from today.

The book has two very distinct parts. The first one gives you an interesting and humorous account of the journeys of an entrepreneur – all the way from a worm farm when ickle Tony was 8, via LinkExchange, which he managed to sell to Microsoft for $265m, through the start, near-death and eventual exit with Zappos, which sold to Amazon when it was valued at some $1.2bn on the day of closing.

Part 2 could be termed the introduction to the Church of Hsieh. Tony is famous for preaching the importance of happy employees in order to run a good business, and there is many an example from the world of Zappos that raises eyebrows elsewhere in the corporate world (to pay new employees $2,000 should they leave within X weeks being one of them). Most of it comes from one of the 10 core values Zappos set itself, namely the “be fun and a little weird”, and I find it almost insulting to judge a company or its policies by random examples alone.

At the very least, the book shows you that there is much more to it than the wacky ideas of a driven entrepreneur (and I’ll get to more in a moment). If you take, for instance, the story of the $2,000 leaving-bonus and look into it a little deeper, some very sound thinking reveals itself:

The idea is that people should only stay if they really feel aligned to Zappos’ vision and principles and the idea is that only people whose mindset is a real fit will not be tempted enough not to take it; it also shows a lot of respect to the nature and common sense of their employees: if the job [and the company] is really that good, $2,000 is very little! According to the book, less than 1% take the cheque.

So what do you get from that? 1) employees that should be a better fit than average, and 2) reduced recruitment cost. The first part is invaluable whenever you run a business that has customers (so, always) because employees that fit with your culture and vision should be better enabled to communicate this – internally and externally, which helps the business. The second part is self-explanatory.

The relentless focus on company culture is as awe-inspiring as it must be spooky to some. And it is, arguably, amongst the reasons for their sale to Amazon (or so VentureBeat interprets this part from the book). Sequoia pocketed $248m on $48m investment and were keen to liquidate (and, according to Hsieh, his board was not entirely convinced of “Tony’s social experiments”).

One should however not forget over this that Zappos operating principles are based on hard-nosed facts (from vendor relations, logistics, finance, employees to customer relations), and the “secret sauce” might then indeed be the company culture (Tony Hsieh is of course not the first one to propagate this). If he tried to take things too far is beyond me to say but I would say that a company that strives to make its customers, vendors and employees happy is not following a necessarily wrong path – even under cold-nosed corporate standards:

  • Happy customers will help you by coming back to you (low retention costs and follow-on revenue) and by recommending you to their friends (low acquisition costs and incremental revenue);
  • Happy vendors will be more likely to accommodate your requirements as to your stock (lower cost of supply), delivery schedules, etc, etc.;
  • Happy employees reduce your employee churn and will – arguably – provide for higher productivity of the company as such (lower operating cost).

It is, in short, a very worthwhile book to read. And if you read it with the right glasses on, you will be able to look through what might sound like the preachings of Hsieh to find some real benefits for your own company (whether it exists already or is in the formation stages in your mind only and whether it is mobile, online or good old brick and mortar). If you are then still a believer, check over here for more…

And if you want to buy it?

Buy “Delivering Happiness” here