Tony Hsieh, The Billion Dollar Interview
Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos. Under his leadership, Zappos has grown gross merchandise sales from $1.6M in 2000 to over $1 billion in 2008 by focusing relentlessly on customer service. Growing from $1.6 million in 2000 to over $1 billion in 2008 takes some doing – so as you can imagine we are delighted to be able to interview Tony and get his tips on life, business and being an entrepreneur. Prior to Zappos Tony was involved in a number of other ventures including LinkExchange, which he co-founded. LinkExchange was successfully sold to Microsoft for $265M in 1998.Hi Tony,
Thank you for providing us with this interview. I first met you at Yanik Silvers Underground Online Seminar in 2008 and I like just about everyone else in the room was blown away by you and your business ethos. It is a sincere pleasure to have you here on RetireAt21.com – the fact that a busy man like you is taking the time to help out Young Entrepreneurs is greatly appreciated.
First off – can we have a little background information on you Tony – Where you live? How old you are? What motivates you? What inspires you?
I’m 35 and grew up in the Bay Area (California), but currently live in Las Vegas. My motivation for Zappos is to build a business where culture is the number one priority. It’s important to me to build a business where money isn’t the primary motivator because in tough times, I’ve found that it isn’t enough to see it all the way through. I believe success is created by following your passion and going through the journey of redefining what success means. I think there’s something to learn from anyone no matter what their position or background, and that anyone can be inspiring somehow. I’ve been told that I have a diverse group of friends. I think that’s helped me in the business world, even if they aren’t all from the business world.
In the late ’90s, I had formed a small investment fund called Venture Frogs with Alfred, our COO/CFO. We invested in 20 or so different Internet companies and Zappos happened to be one of them. Over time, it became clear that Zappos was the most promising and the most fun. Eventually, I decided to join the company full time, and I became the CEO.
2) Zappos sells footwear – with approaching a billion dollars in revenues, that is a lot of customers. What has allowed you to grow to such a large business while at the same time retaining an excellent reputation for service?
The #1 driver of our growth has been through repeat customers and word of mouth. We focus on having the best customer service, but ultimately, our#1 priority is company culture. Our belief is that if you get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like great customer service and building a great brand, will happen naturally on its own.
3) Can you share some of the biggest lessons you have learned personally and as a business as Zappos.com has grown? If you were to start again, what might you do differently?
Something I’ve learned over the years is that it’s a good idea to hire people more slowly and fire those that are harming the culture more quickly. In general, I think mistakes are fine as long as we learn from them and do our best not to repeat them. I wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently, but I would try to do everything faster.
4) What next for Zappos? Where do you see the business in say 5 years time?
We’ve already begun to expand into other categories like apparel, accessories, and even electronics. In 2008, we did over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales, primarily in footwear. Apparel is four times the size of the footwear market, so we’d like to get customers to think of Zappos not just for shoes, but for clothes and other things as well.
5) Zappos is about fashion – how do you / your team keep on top of fashion trends? How do you predict how many of a particular style you will sell for example?
We have a dedicated team of buyers that stays on top of the latest trends in fashion and style.
6) Do you have any recommended strategies for getting customers who buy once to come back and buy from you again – other than of course good service?
It really is service and delivering “wow” through service that keeps our repeat customers returning. Our merchandising team also maintains a constant inflow of new products to ensure that inventory stays fresh and in line with what our customers want.
7) I have been reading your guide to Twitter , It seems everyone is now very excited about Twitter – but what excited you about it so much and made you an early adopter of Twitter.
I first started using Twitter in March 2007 at the SXSW Interactive conference. While at the conference, I found it was a great way to find out what was going on during the day at the conference as well as figuring out what parties to go to at night. After the conference, I introduced it to my friends in Vegas (where I live now) as well as my friends in San Francisco (where I used to live). I found it was a great way to find out what was going on and for meeting up with friends in Vegas. I also found that it was a great way to keep in touch and feel connected to my friends in San Francisco. After using it with just my close friends for about a year, I realized how much Twitter had allowed me to form more personal connections with everyone, so we decided to introduce it to Zappos as a way of growing our company culture. We’ve found that it’s been great for building more personal connections with both employees and customers.
8) Do you have any suggestions for coping with set-backs, negative experiences?
I believe that ups and downs are naturally all part of the journey. If you don’t have setbacks, you probably aren’t taking enough risks.
9) How do you keep your business focus – Do you have any suggestions for entrepreneurs who are experiencing challenging times?
I’ve found that it’s helpful to focus on being the best at one (smaller)thing rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
10) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on?
No, I really enjoy meeting lots of different people, both within and outside of my business circles. I think there’s something to be learned from everyone.
11) Do you have any favourite business related or web design related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
If you go to www.zapposinsights.com and click on the Suggested Reading link on the left, you’ll find the books we recommend to all of our employees, customers, partners and friends.
12) What is the best advice you have ever been given?
To never forget that the most important thing in life is the quality of life we lead.
13) You are one of the most famous Young Entrepreneurs in the world today- based on your experiences, what advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur starting their first business today?
It’s generally better to do things fast (knowing you’ll make mistakes),than to take a long time and try to get things perfect.
14) What do you like best about the Internet?
It’s a perfect medium for instant gratification, an efficient way to connect with people and it’s always there.
15) What do you like least about the Internet?
It’s always there.
16) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
Just to continue chasing the vision (not the money), to be real and transparent in everyday life and constantly improve on the quality of life. Find out more about Tony and Zappos at Inside Zappos – http://blogs.zappos.com
Follow Tony at http://twitter.com/zappos
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