A Remarkable, 10-Year-Old Email from Tony Hsieh on Zappos Company Culture

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In early 2005, Tony Hsieh was a relative unknown.

Zappos was a fast-growing company, but it was far from being the household brand that it is today. While it hadn’t yet come up with its core values for which it is famous today, the company had a growing sense of its own culture and identity. They were on the cusp of something big.

It was against this backdrop that Hsieh emailed this never-before published update to investors, employees, partners, and friends of Zappos. It’s an awesome behind-the-scenes look at what drove Hsieh and kept him up at night. In this glimpse into how Hsieh thought about building a company, you can see the seeds of what would grow into Zappos’s world-famous company culture and brand.

Within five years, Zappos would hit $1 billion in revenue and Hsieh would author Delivering Happiness, a #1 New York Times Bestseller, which would catapult him into being one of the most influential business persons in the world. But here is an unfiltered look into the mind of Tony Hsieh, before the notoriety and fame.

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This Deli Makes $50 Million a Year By Staying Small

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It’s crazy to learn about a deli that makes $50 million dollars a year. It’s stranger yet how they’ve done it.

Most restaurants grow their revenue by opening more locations and eventually developing a franchise model like Subway. You sell more and more sandwiches as you open more and more stores. The problem is that the quality inevitably declines. Your restaurant becomes more about volume than great food and remarkable service.

Zingerman’s, a deli based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, faced this fork in the road: open more locations or face continually stagnating revenue growth. Instead of choosing the conventional franchise path, they blazed their own trail.

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What Will Fast Company Write about Your Startup’s Culture?

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Successful entrepreneurs like Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, exhort startups to write down their core values on Day 1 and make company culture a first-order concern from the very beginning.

Have you tried it? The problem is that after you look at what you wrote, you’ll probably see a bunch of boring clichés. Many of your company values might sound suspiciously similar to Zappos’s and Netflix’s. Your company couldn’t sound less exciting.

Molly Graham, former Head of Mobile at Facebook, who worked with Mark Zuckerberg to define Facebook’s company culture in 2008, recognized this common pitfall. She came up with an ingenious solution to the problem, rooted in a simple trick that Amazon uses to build its products, that helped Facebook own the Hacker brand that defined the company through its IPO.

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Failure & Cake: A Guide to Spotify’s Psychology of Success

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Nobody enjoys failing. It’s never really what you set out to do.

At Spotify, failure is cause for celebration, because it’s seen as an opportunity for growth. Jonas Aman, who is part of Spotify’s People Operations team, told us that instead of treating setbacks like speed bumps you rumble over in the course of running a business, they “celebrates thing that don’t work. It’s about the effort, not the result.”

Sometimes, failure calls for cake.

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Do You Take Work For Granted or With Gratitude?

When I first joined iDoneThis, I hated our weekly meetings. They were demoralizing and amorphous. We rambled on, drowning in circuitous discussions about product that led nowhere. The meetings became a chore, making us feel like sulky high school students waiting for the bell to ring.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner noticed a similar bad meeting phenomenon of tending to “devolve into a round robin of complaints.” His unconventional solution was to change up the meeting format by promoting something you wouldn’t expect:  gratitude.

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How Buffer Came Out on Top After Getting Hacked

“Aw crap,” I muttered as I looked at my inbox a few weekends ago and saw an email from Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne with the subject line “Buffer has been hacked — here is what’s going on”.

We rely on Buffer to handle all the iDoneThis social media accounts, so I braced myself for all sorts of toil and trouble as I clicked on the email. It began:

I wanted to get in touch to apologize for the awful experience we’ve caused many of you on your weekend. Buffer was hacked around 1 hour ago, and many of you may have experienced spam posts sent from you via Buffer. I can only understand how angry and disappointed you must be right now….

Fortunately we hadn’t been affected, but I continued to follow updates as they unfolded. Throughout, Buffer was transparent, responsive, and reassuring. They disclosed, accepted responsibility and apologized for the security breach. They communicated not just what they knew but gave us a heads up about their next steps and guidance on what we could do to protect our accounts in the meantime. They also continued posting updates and answering everyone’s questions while resolving the problem.

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The Risky Mentality that Made Jeff Bezos So Successful

Success often feels like a chase, especially in the startup world. You scrabble to gain ground, obsessing over features and metrics and competitors, and though you think you’re moving fast and hard, sometimes it feels like you’re running up a down escalator.

For Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, success isn’t a pursuit or a race to the top. It’s an adventure. You don’t just buy The Washington Post when you think you’re in a race. Rather, his key to success is maintaining a mindset of exploration rather than conquest. Bezos told Charlie Rose in 2012:

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The Secret to Marketing that’s Impossible to Copy

As marketers, we’re always searching for a formula for how to be successful — but there’s no formula for this:

What Do You Want to Learn from Wistia?
While watching Wistia’s recent dance video promoting a feedback survey, I realized that it wasn’t the production, the camera, or the lighting that made the video so compelling, or explained why I watched and shared it with friends. It was the personality of the company’s people shining through.

Wistia offers an incredibly comprehensive guide on how to make incredible marketing videos for your company, but there’s one vital ingredient to successful marketing that can’t be taught in an instructional video.

Today, it’s company culture that creates marketing messages that spread. It’s that secret sauce that’s impossible to replicate.

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Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s Unexpected Advice on Preserving Startup Culture in Your Company

Startups are fast-moving and exciting, with a culture of getting stuff done. So it’s one of the biggest shocks for startup founders to see that culture change as the company grows, and naturally founders often get nostalgic for the days of yore.

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Founder of Evernote Phil Libin has seen his company skyrocket to a billion dollar company in six short years, ballooning its headcount from 45 people in 2010 to pushing 400 just three years later. Growing concerned over what that precipitous employee growth meant for Evernote’s company culture, Libin reached out to Dick Costolo, CEO at Twitter, who’d gone through it before.

As Libin recounted to PandoDaily, he asked Costolo how to preserve the startup culture at Evernote that had made it so successful. And Costolo gave him an unexpected response that stuck with him, shaping his views on scaling company culture.

Don’t, Costolo said.

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