I’m a big Zappos.com fan. I think every pair of shoes I currently own came via Zappos.com. Their selection and service are amazing, and they make the shoe buying experience very simple. But the thing I really love about Zappos (which I know has been discussed to death on the internet), is their company culture.
Today I was listening to an interview (yes, another mixergy interview) with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, someone I’ve come to really admire. In the interview he tells the whole story about the founding of Zappos, how he first got involved as an investor and then later on as CEO, and how the company’s legendary culture evolved. I realized in listening to Tony talk, the key to their success, one of the key factors in the evolution of their famed culture, was the ability to think and act in the long term. I think this is one of those things that you always hear (just like following your passion) but very few people have the courage to actually do it. It’s clear that Hsieh and his team have a long term vision for the company, and they’re willing to allow it to evolve. The thing about having a long term perspective is you can absorb short term costs such as their legendary $2,000 offer to pay new hires to quit, or their 365 day return policy because over the course of 5 or 10 years those policies will pay off big. In fact in the interview Hsieh even says he could instantly add to the bottom line by shutting down their 24/7 call center, and most likely it would have very little effect on sales over the course of 6-12 months. But the worsened customer experience would eventually eat into their most valuable asset (perceived high quality of service), and start to hurt sales.
The more books I read and interviews I listen to about people who do big, remarkable things, and I’d put Hsieh and his team’s work at Zappos in this category, the more I see the importance of thinking and acting with the long term in mind.
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I enjoyed this article in yesterday’s times about people who have become entrepreneurs after losing their jobs in the most recent recession. I guess this is really unsurprising, and there have been numerous articles about this of late, but it’s always nice to see. It seems with each new downturn, there is a significant upturn in people turning to entrepreneurship. There is no cheaper and better time to go out and be an entrepreneur as the cost of starting a business has come down to literally a few hundred bucks (including legal). Even better is that the costs required to sustain a business have come way down as well, so the hurdle to sustainability is significantly lower for a vast majority of these entrepreneurs. But something I hadn’t thought of until today…the one huge hurdle that remains, especially for older first time entrepreneurs, is health insurance. The people mentioned in this article are used to good health care coverage provided by their employers. As an entrepreneur not only are you on your own in terms of health care coverage, but it is WAY more expensive as an individual or small business. I have to wonder how many people thought about pursuing a more entrepreneurial path, but had to turn back because of health care coverage. I think that’s a shame..it’s clear to see that encouraging more people to go out and create is good for us all, so lowering and removing the health care hurdle could be a significant stimulus in itself. (not making a political statement here, just an observation). There can, should, and will always be hurdles to entrepreneurship. I just don’t think health care coverage should be one.
I’ve got a little project I’m working on (more to come in another blog post) and part of that is to take note of things I appreciate about certain companies. Yesterday I took the time to listen to Andrew Warner’s interview with Jason Fried over at mixergy (highly recommend mixergy by the way, it has replaced This American Life as my preferred gym listening). While there are many things in this interview I enjoyed, and there are definitely a lot of great lessons in here for any entrepreneur, the thing that really hit home for me was Jason’s cultivation of his employees hobbies.
At 37 Signals they believe very strongly that a good programmer doesn’t become a better programmer simply by spending every waking moment reading, learning, and talking about programming. Instead they believe you become a better programmer by becoming a better all around person, and part of doing that is pursuing things (usually outside of your focus, in this instance programming) that you find interesting or exciting. In the interview Jason mentions that one of their employees really wanted to become a pilot, so the company encouraged him to pursue that by paying for half of his lessons. It’s truly a win/win for all. The hobbies are cultivated by the company, the employees get to do all sorts of things that interest them (and may have never fully pursued otherwise), and as a result they are much happier, more well rounded, curious, and loyal employees. Sounds like exactly the kind of people we’d all want to be and work with. Seems well worth a few thousand bucks per employee per year.
I’d like to be in a similar situation someday as well. I’d like to add the idea of encouraging people to pursue a trip or experience at least once a year that gets them out of their comfort zone a bit. For example, when I did improv classes a few years ago, I was incredibly uncomfortable…and a few months later I walked out with a whole new set of skills, excitement, and overall aliveness (partly due to conquering another challenge). I think that’s a feeling we should all have the opportunity of having at least once a year.
I think for us the lesson is that pursuing our hobbies (and challenging ourselves a bit) can go a long way to not only making us better at our professions, but just happier in life overall.
Anyway, check out the interview.
We all have problems. Some people think the problems in front of them are the worst problems anyone in the world is facing. Others see their problems as nothing more than puzzles that need to be solved. Worse some see their problems as reflections of who they are and how they run their life. I’ll admit to being that last one a good deal of my life. It’s not a very fun way to deal with things. So not only are you dealing with the external challenges, but you’ve added the fun of beating yourself up for creating those challenges. It makes things a bit more complicated. It’s hard to realize you’re even doing this (if you are) until you learn more about how other people see the challenges they face in life.
Yesterday morning I had coffee with my friend TJ. TJ has some very complicated issues in front of him, including a business that is suffering and scrambling for credit as well as being sued by a competitor. And while TJ is not enthusiastic about dealing with all of this, he’s not reading too much into all of it either. These are issues that need to be dealt with. They are not a reflection of who he is or how good of entrepreneur he is, they are simply part of the process of living and running a business. TJ simply sees these “problems” as steps forward in growing as a person, and growing his business. I like that. And it’s true. No matter how good you are at anything, you’ll have to deal with these challenges. It’s part of life. The trick, the opportunity, is understanding how you perceive these problems. You can see them as proof you’re a “bad” person and hide from them, or you can see them as opportunities to progress in life. I’m going to try the second I think going forward.
It gets really, really hot in NYC in the summer, particularly in July and August. It’s the kind of hot where you’re sweating the moment you open the door, and all you want to do is stay inside in the A/C. I really feel for those who have to head out everyday in this heat wearing a suit, and I really feel for those who have to wear a suit everyday AND ride the subway. The subway stations are literally like an oven this time of year. Ugh. I’ve been fortunate to work generally in a “virtual” environment, and don’t really have to ever dress up except for a few meetings here and there. But despite this freedom, I have continually worn jeans and a nice shirt when I head out during the week. It’s one of my rules (I’ve written many times about my rules.), and I finally broke it this summer (without even noticing it until today).
We all have rules, some of them make a lot of sense, and some are just bizarre. Forcing myself to wear jeans when it’s 90 and 80% humidity is a stupid rule (note: if you’re one of those people who just likes to dress up to feel good, then go for it). Why did I do it? Because I wanted to convince myself and others (who don’t really care) that I was indeed a working professional, not just some bum with a computer. Why? I don’t really know, but it was one of those things I didn’t even notice I was living by until someone pointed it out to me one day. It’s hard to notice the rules we hold ourselves too, but we all have them. The key is figuring out which ones need to be broken.
Today as I was walking in the scorching NYC streets, I was thankful to be in my shorts. I feel for those poor people that make themselves wear pants in the summer.
I feel like this is a question I’m constantly asking, and perhaps that is part of the issue, but I feel like I’m really at decision point on what to do next. As I touched on in this post, I had a big project I was working on come to an end in May / June and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: “what to do next?” Now don’t get me wrong, my current situation is actually very good. I’ve got a very good consulting gig working on a startup that is not short on energy, excitement, or capital. It’s been fun to work with people who really passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s been nice to not worry about paying my bills. It has been a great summer experience, and at the very least I’ve helped get an interesting concept off the ground and assist another entrepreneur in pursuing his dream, all while putting a little money in my pocket (I’ll share concept when it is live). That’s a good thing, but truth be told I know that this is only another project for me. I know that 6 months from now I’d like to be back on my own, pursuing a concept, industry, niche I feel more personally connected to.
I know I’ve talked much about finding a purpose and pursuing a passion, but I’ve backed off that a bit. There is something very heavy in telling yourself that you must find and work on your passion, your calling. Especially when you’re like me, and you are interested and excited about all sorts of things. How do you pick one thing when you have ten that seem interesting in front of you? Add to that the weight of picking the one that is your purpose, and you end up stuck…as I have been many times before. I will say though, I don’t really feel stuck at the moment. I’m moving forward and picking up skills and connections that will help me down the road, but I still am in the same position of not knowing exactly what road I want to at least try and go down. Simply put: I’m not sure what to do next. I don’t want to carry all that pressure of finding my calling, and I don’t want to just go with the flow like a stick in the stream. I want to go forward with something that is especially interesting to me, something that feels good, but I am not worried about it being “it.” I just want to feel close personally to what I’m working on (I will not make the mistake again of investing time, energy, and money into something that I don’t care about, no matter how good of an idea it seems).
I do consider myself very lucky to still be in a position in my life where I can seriously ask this question, and at least feel like I’m in a position to pursue the answer. My responsibilities are fairly light, and I’ve been at this long enough to have a good group of people around me who support whatever I want to do. I look at the world and honestly feel that I could do anything. I’ve always felt that way. Or maybe deep down I don’t. Maybe that is why I can never seem to answer that question because if I don’t answer it, then I don’t have to do it. OK now I’m just making things complicated.
Man this post seems like a giant circle, perhaps that is part of the issue here. I think part of my answering this question is to write more. I want to write here more. I think I want to list things I know I don’t like / want. I want to go back and explore my past writings, maybe even update my careerography, reach out to more people I admire, but what else?
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