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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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:

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 and they make preserving startup culture a priority.

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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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The Culture Hacker

We’ve seen an interesting trend at companies that are extremely culture-focused: the culture hacker. Software developers have built internal developer productivity tools since time immemorial because great engineering cultures push for automation and improving iteration speed. But now developers are turning their attention to addressing team dynamics and how the whole company functions and works together on the whole — in a word, culture.

Zappos: making values concrete with process and code

At many companies, company values are just words on a piece of paper tacked to a wall somewhere. At Zappos, they’re extremely thoughtful about giving their values bite. For example, they’re famous for paying new employees to quit. After new employee training ends, each employee is offered the opportunity to quit their job and walk away with $1,000. They do this because one of the Zappos core values is “be passionate and determined”, and paying people to quit ensures that those who remain are incredibly enthusiastic about their work and in it for the long haul.

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Company Culture: The Best of the Internet

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Happy Friday! Catch up with the best of what we’ve shared on the interwebs this week!

We wrote about Peter Thiel’s unorthodox management philosophy of extreme focus.

How important company culture is to Zappos.

Using better “behavior design” to motivate, because why we are all basically still four years old.

Happiness is like a butterfly.

Lucky vs. good.

Motivation and Self-Discipline: The Best of the Internet

Lucy

Happy Friday! Catch up with the best of what we’ve shared on the interwebs this week!

How socially conscious startups find motivation.

Jeff Bezos’s peculiar management tool for self-discipline.

Are you happy at work? I believe you have my stapler…

A case for the workplace’s digital village.

The less-is-best approach to innovation is simpler and quieter. Ahhh.

Reconsidering the Startup Open Floor Plan Office

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s plans for a new campus, a 420,000 square foot single-story warehouse made to look like “a hill in nature,” one giant room fitting thousands of people.  He described their aspiration as wanting to build “the perfect engineering space.”

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I admit that Zuck’s statement caught me off guard because I dislike the typical open floor plan office and so do most engineers that I know.  Many engineers wear headphones to create the missing wall so that they can concentrate and focus on coding without distraction.  We chose the small offices at WeWork in SOMA, SF, over co-working for those reasons.

The New York Times reported that recent research supported the hunch that open floor plan offices reduce productivity.  The research showed that ambient conversations at work and a noisy office space contributed to “a decline of 5 percent to 10 percent on the performance of cognitive tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory, like reading, writing and other forms of creative work.”  According to the researcher, “Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain’s working memory.”

Nevertheless, the open floor plan office has become a shibboleth of startup culture.  It reflects our rejection of hierarchy, and our embrace of agility, collaboration and creativity, and as a result, many startups take the open floor plan for granted.

We’ve recently visited two startups, Shopify and Zappos, that are reconsidering and riffing off of the standard startup open floor plan office, and we’ve been inspired by what they’ve come up with to ensure that engineers have the relative solitude that they need to get in the zone, without reverting away from the promise of the open floor plan for serendipity, collaboration and work happiness.

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Visit Your Musers

It’s hard to build great technology products without a muser. The muser not only adds emotional motivation to the developer’s work ethic; she serves a cognitive function of focusing his mind on the one thing that truly matters: what using the thing is like. Without her, projects disintegrate into scattered bundles of individual features, appealing to the intellect but not the heart.

- Jakob Lodwick, Elepath.

Hands down the most inspired we’ve felt as a company has been our excursions to visit our musers, see first-hand how they get down with iDoneThis, and chat about the vision and direction of the company.

From San Francisco to Ottawa to Learn How to Startup

It started serendipitously.  In February, we’d started corresponding with a guy named Tobi at Shopify about a support matter who turned out to be the CEO.  The more we talked to Tobi and read about Shopify, the more enamored we grew with them — they do things their own way and on their own terms, and they’ve been wildly successful.

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