I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Tony Hsieh’s new book, “Delivering Happiness,” which is available today in book stores everywhere. The book is a great read for any entrepreneur or business executive who wants to look at business (and maybe even life?) differently.
Before I give my review, I want to frame the context by reminding people about who I am and how I read the book. I’m an aspiring entrepreneur who recently co-founded Ampush Media, a dynamic performance marketing company. I read the book as someone who is trying to build a company, manage a team and who is generally enthusiastic about all things startup. With that said, here’s my review:
Delivering Happiness is a semi-auto-biography of Tony Hsieh, one of the early employees/backers (and now the CEO) of Zappos.com. It’s a great book. It’s well-written, a bit quirky and easy to read (I knocked it out while flying SW airlines and connecting through a bunch of random airports.) It also has a unique style where it brings in multiple sub-essays and other voices into the book (more on this later.) There are tons of great (and most importantly) contrarian business advice in the book. And of course, it emphasizes and helps one really understand what the word CULTURE means. For anyone trying to start a company, or even infuse some more culture into their team, it’s a MUST READ.
The book starts out with Tony’s early entrepreneurial exploits (raising worms, doing mail order catalog stuff) and takes us through his entire entrepreneurial past. A massive, bubbilicious sale of LinkShare to Microsoft and then of course, the early days of Zappos. Let me say this very clearly: TONY HSIEH IS AN ENTREPRENEURIAL BEAST. One of the biggest “takeaways” for me was how focused Tony always was on making sure he was doing the right thing for him and that typically meant entrepreneurship. When you talk about ‘having no fear,’ think Tony. While I slaved away at jobs for ~4 years working for the man, Tony left Oracle 5 months into his job without thinking twice. Think that’s a big deal? He walked away from an $8M earnout in his sale of LinkShare when he could have stayed just another 6 months. But he clearly doesn’t really care for money and so he left. Finally, the guy essentially invested every dime he had made on LinkShare (~20-25M) into Zappos as it was running into a million various hiccups in the early days. He has huge cajones and was truly “in it to win it.” And he did.
What I really enjoyed about the book: Tony is a solid storyteller and writer. He does a great job of painting the picture, his thought process and how he solved issues. There were three elements I really enjoyed about he book: 1) The specific stories about the businesses Tony started and more specifically, the struggles he faced. He goes into details about funding issues, a crazy story about how he literally built a shipping/fulfillment center from scratch and how he moved the company to Vegas. These stories are priceless. 2) Any area where he gave direct advice on business, startups or happiness (he has a whole section where he compares poker to business and gives lessons.) He talks about hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro and the challenge it was. He generally shares reflections at different key moments in his startup past. And last, the whole connection and back of the book which focuses on Happiness and the science/meaning. You can read the book our go to his website, but there are some cool studies on happiness he includes. Of those three, the best were the details around his struggles starting Zappos. It is one of the best stories because for anyone who is trying to, planning to or has started a company… it’s accurate and shows JUST how challenging entrepreneurship is.
What could have been better: There were a few areas where I got bored, skimmed or parts which left me wanting more. Specifically, 1) The middle/2nd half of the book is an extreme deep dive into Zappos cultural background. It walks through all 10 of their values and has different employees write essays about that value. While it is fitting that Tony did it that way, it ends up reading a bit too corporate/PRish which is not in line with the rest of the book. Like I said, the book is at its best when Tony is talking and there are maybe 50-100 pages where he isn’t. 2) It’s weird but a lot of entrepreneurship books do this next thing: they discuss in excruciating detail all the pain, challenges and problems they faced. And then, all of a sudden, the clouds clear and the business is a billion dollar success. In Delivering Happiness, Tony details struggles and then skips over 6 years of what must have been the “good times.” I would have loved to read more about when Tony was Kicking Ass and what that took. After all, he’s clearly a brilliant executor and while I’m sure the values/culture were critical, they can’t be everything. The narrative of them performing well would have been great. 3) I feel a bit bad here but some of the examples/stories in the book felt contrived. Specifically, he talks a lot about raves early on in the book. And while I don’t doubt he went to them, the imagery and symbolism behind them (and later on in the book) just didn’t feel real.
Overall, a great book. The good things far outweighed the not so good. I enjoyed it and would recommend buying it. The last thing I would have wanted from the book is some more personal details from Tony. While he talks all about the business, any aspiring entrepreneur knows there is a consistent challenge between personal life and your startup. I think advice, examples and his narrative here would have been helpful. Overall though, the book teaches any entrepreneur about the importance of culture, tenacity and commitment in being successful.