The author built and sold Zappos, an online shoe company. Here he tells his tale, starting with an engaging recounting of his first venture as a child - attempting to raise earth-worms. A natural entrepreneur, he kept getting involved in business ventures throughout his school years, and then upon graduating from university he took a job at Oracle and found himself parked.
For all of a few months.
What follows next amounts to one of the most amazing experiences I've ever come across from the dot com and bust years and then beyond. Tony Hsieh is about three years younger than me. He founded the original "LinkExchange" with two friends and sold it to MS for $260 million. He then got involved with Zappos as an investor and eventually ran it but got through the growth phase by the skin of his teeth. He effectively went broke, selling all his possessions and properties into the worst of the post-9/11 bust but plowing all of it into what would become a billion dollar business. Along the way, one of his staff was sent from California to Kentucky with 45 minutes notice in their make-or-break year, and wound up living there in a hotel for three years while the business doubled and redoubled. This is really that kind of story.
Like Richard Branson, Hsieh is a strong proponent of managing through culture - take care of your people, and they'll take care of your problems and your customers. He discusses the Zappos "culture book", in which the employees, customers, suppliers, and anyone else can have a say in what defines the culture and how the core values are applied.
Like Matthews and Pone, the authors of "Brand: It Ain't the Logo", he believes that brand is created at the contact points between you and your clients. He writes at some length about how to manage your call center as a marketing tool and not a cost center - because the purpose of the call center is to build engagement and trust. Quoting:
"We view the lifetime value of a customer to be a moving target that can increase if we can create more and more positive emotional associations with our brand through every interaction that a person has with us."
There's a lot of meat in this section. For instance Zappos staff are trained to learn competitor websites so they can refer callers to a source where they can find what they're looking for. They're building trust and engagement, not interactional return. Banks need to learn this, and learn it fast.
But he ties it all together with this:
"[w]e ultimately came to the realization that a company's culture and a company's brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand is just a lagging indicator of a company's culture."
I found the same when working on my masters degree, which was in risk management.
A lot of the book's talk about culture feels somewhat manufactured as the book goes on.