The most important lesson I learned from Zappos Culture

Imagine starting your business today and in 10 years having annual business revenue over $1 Billion dollars.  That’s what Zappos did.  On a recent trip to Las Vegas I decided to visit the online shoe retailer.  I took a culture tour to gain insights into what makes this unique company tick.  The most important lesson I learned from Zappos culture is that being remarkable is a choice.


Zappos Head Office
The decidedly unremarkable Zappos HQ


Inside of this very average looking building is an extremely un-average company.  Since they began in 1999, Zappos has had spectacular revenue growth.  In 2000 revenue was $1.6M.  By 2010, revenue exploded to over $1.6B.  Yes, that’s a B for billion.  What’s remarkable is how Zappos achieved this growth.  It turns out that inside these walls, Zappos employees don’t really believe they sell shoes.  The employees here believe they Deliver Happiness.

If delivering happiness sounds a bit weird and flaky consider this, about 75% of purchases at Zappos are from returning customers. As Jonathan Wolske (Zappos Culture Evangelist) told me, “building customer loyalty is at the core of the Zappos growth model”.  John explained that instead of spending $75,000 on a billboard, Zappos would rather invest $75,000 in free shipping so that they can WOW customers and create word of mouth. Using their 10 core values to help shape their culture, Zappos has been able to deliver a branded experience that not only helps to make but also keep a customer.


Zappos core values shape the culture and the brand
Zappos core values shape the culture and the brand


Jonathan highlighted the novel business logic used at Zappos.  In many cases, companies think first about making money.  Then they assume that happiness will be a byproduct of making money.  At Zappos, they think in reverse.  The employees of Zappos expect happiness at work.  They assume that if they’re happy, they’ll make customers happy.  If the customers are happy, they’ll do the marketing for the company.  If the customers are happy and marketing for the company, than revenues will climb.  This new kind of business logic is not only brilliant but evidentially very lucrative.

In the weeks to come, I will share more insights about this fascinating company.  Until then, I’d like to give you one final thought then challenge you with a question.

I left my Zappos experience with one repetitive thought.  It’s the way Zappos does business that matters.  It’s the way Zappos staff work that differentiates. It’s the way Zappos treats customers that gets results. It’s the way they commit to values that makes Zappos a remarkable business.  In short, an exceptional (or average) business is a choice.

Listen to the words in this video if you really want the message to stick.

Are your employees thrilled about showing up to work today?  What would you need to change to make that happen?


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