This is not a book to read at face value. If you enjoy the twists and shadows of autobiographies, Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) writes in a very engaging manner, and there’s definitely some interesting stuff going on beneath his blithe chatter.
By the third chapter, I was trying to figure out why Tony’s narrative voice sounded so familiar. Then I got it: Hsieh sounds exactly like Richard Feynman in What Do You Care What Other People Think? Fun, direct, energetic, and unabashedly (even charmingly) egotistical.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first part, where Hsieh talks about his youthful ventures. A born hustler, he was always in the pursuit of more pocket money. I especially liked the story of the garage sale where his friend dressed younger than her real age and sold lemonade. Of course they made 5 times more on the lemonade than the garage sale.
Tony spins a rapscallion version of his youth, giving the impression that his parents were very concerned about grades but that young Tony was not, and then somehow he magically/effortlessly got into Harvard and Brown. He chose Harvard “to please his parents” and continued to do business-y things like manage the snack bar of his dorm.
The story doesn’t get out-and-out weird until we get to Zappos. He goes on and on (and on) about how culture was the most important thing about Zappos. They didn’t care if they were selling shoes or plane tickets, it was all about culture culture culture and WOWing the customers and coworkers. He and his execs get so circle-jerky that when they discover over drinks that Zappos culture means different things to each of the execs, they ask every single Zappos employee to write a one-page entry in a Culture Book about “what Zappos culture means to me.”
They love the culture book so much that they decide to do it anew every single year. Gentle reader, are your eyebrows still in their at-rest configuration?
A little while later, Tony and the top execs decide that San Francisco isn’t a long-term home for Zappos because Bay area types don’t want to work in call centers as a career, so they make arrangements to move the entire company to Las Vegas. They announce it to their employees after the decision has been fully made, and Tony spins it as some kind of victory that “in the end, 70% of our people decided that it was worth it to uproot their lives, sell their homes, have their spouses find new jobs, pull their kids out of school…in order to work for our awesome company because we are the bestest evar!!!” [Editor’s note: This is not a real quote, but it might as well be.]
I really wonder what entries were censored from the Culture Book that year.