Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh Takes the Bus
Thirty-five-year-old Internet entrepreneur Tony Hsieh is a computer desktop screensaver of Silicon Valley success. In 1994, at the age of 24, just a few years out of Harvard and after quitting his first job at Oracle, Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) sold LinkExchange, an Internet company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265, making him a millionaire many times over before his own quarter century mark, and almost certainly annoying many of his former Crimson classmates thereby. In short order, he then had the temerity to gamble his success and, perhaps more surprisingly, his own money down to his last few ten thousand dollars, on Zappos, a little online shoe company he joined as an investor and adviser in 1994, and where he later became CEO. Last year, Internet juggernaut Amazon shelled out in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion to acquire Zappos. According to Wikipedia, Hsieh is said to have “made at least $214 million from the sale not including money made from his former investment firm Venture Frogs.”
As if that weren’t enough, Hsieh has now published a book, one he actually wrote himself. Released last June and called Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, it’s about his entrepreneurial endeavors and personal growth. Naturally it went on to become a New York Times bestseller.
Bully for him, but what’s it got to do with design?
To spread his words, which place primacy on fostering a supportive and transparent corporate culture based on codified values and an ethos of customer service common to the entire company, Hsieh has hit the road on a two-month book tour—in a bus (pictured above).
How does said bus reflect Zappos’ core values, in particular #2. Embrace and Drive Change, #4. Be adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded, and especially #3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness? That’s what I wanted to know. So I emailed the rich, resourceful and youthful Hsieh, who referred me to Zappos Chief Happiness Officer Jenn Lim, whom he refers to as “his back-up brain” and who oversaw the redesign of the bus (as well as all aspects of the book tour). Please note that like all very successful tech-savvy people, Ms. Lim responds sans caps and with the occasional emoticon.
1. So why did you pick this particular bus? Was it the drab gray interior and generic exterior; were they ironic metaphor for the graying and grayness of torpid Old Style corporate America? Or did you just get a really good deal?
after doing an online/offline search for buses this seemed to fit our needs best (size-wise and amenities), was reasonably priced and could arrive in vegas in time for the happiness makeover.
2. Do you rent or own?
3. How did you find it—online?
4. What was the first thing you wanted to change on the exterior? The interior?
interior — change it from the gray and black rock star theme to colors and fabrics more soft, cheerful and, well, happy (within a really compact two weeks before launch). a close second was adding wifi.
5. Were you working with a designer? In-house? With friends and colleagues?
the design was worked internally with our team, plus external contractors when it made sense.
6. How does the bus’s New Look embody Core Values #2, #3 and #4 (not necessarily in that order)?
#2 — we’re taking the traditional book tour to a different place — it’s not just about promoting a book and doing readings, it’s about the overlying message of the book (which is why our tour theme is “Inspire and Be Inspired”). that’s what we had in mind when we happified the bus.
#3 — fun and a little weird — we have “delivering happiness x-ing ahead” signs that we give away to people we meet along the way (fun), we have dutch pickles in the fridge that we picked up from a windmill near iowa city (a little weird).
#4 — a 3-month, 23-city road trip is the adventure, redesigning the bus in a few weeks needed creativity, going to every city without knowing what to expect is the open-mindedness.
7. How would you describe the bus’s style?
inspired by happiness
8. Are you a visually driven guy? Interested in aesthetics? In your book, you mention you didn’t care about clothes in high school. Has this changed?
can’t speak for tony on this, but i’m definitely into visuals and aesthetics. the same kind of thinking that goes into the zappos culture book every year went into the bus — how can a physical form of something capture the essence of a company or in this case, a book and its message. as for tony and his clothes — he still wears zappos t-shirts adorned with holes that he probably got 5+ years ago.
9. Is anyone actually living on the bus (and if so, how many), or is it just transportation from city to city and place to place?
the team spends nights on the bus when we’re traveling from one city to the next. if we’re staying in a city multiple nights, we sleep in hotels. but when we do stay in the bus, it can fit up to 12 people. it’s really our mobile office, part-time hotel and taxi cab (just a really big one).
10. Does the bus have a name? If not (and really, even if so), might I suggest Old Faithful? What happens to Old Faithful after the tour? Is there any chance Old Faithful might secure permanent Zappos employment, say as an employee/executive lounge or shoe storage?
funny you should ask, it does. his nickname is Winky but only a few people know his real name. we’re thinking of holding a contest to see who can guess it…
delivering happiness is a separate entity/company from zappos so the bus will stay with DH. what its next journey will probably evolve from what we’ve been (and will be) inspired by this tour
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