Last week, I visited a few of our partners in Silicon Valley. First, I met with the recruiting team at Apple where we discussed trends in the online-recruiting industry, the impact of mobile disruption on recruiting, and TheLadders’ 2013 product roadmap. As my next meeting, with Zappos in Henderson, NV, wasn’t until a few days later, I decided to spend the weekend in nearby Las Vegas and participate in the 26.2-mile “Strip at Night” Zappos.com Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon.
Despite running several marathons around the world, I found this event unique because the race started in the afternoon and finished at night in front of The Mirage Hotel in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. Given the high altitude and dry heat, it was a challenging competition. Below is a picture of me at the start line.
The following day, I met with the recruiting team from Zappos, which is well-known for giving private tours of their headquarters to anyone interested in their culture and operations. I had heard about the tour after reading Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness.
In many ways, Zappos offers the typical culture of a start-up: young, informal, and with an open-plan. No one in the flat organization has an office, and food and drinks are free. Not surprisingly, you can find these attributes among many tech start-ups in both Silicon Valley or in New York City.
However, here is what I found to be most unusual about Zappos:
1. Nearly 3½ years after being acquired by Amazon, Zappos still operates fairly independently of its owner. In 2013, Amazon will take over the fulfillment and warehousing of Zappos’ merchandise in Kentucky, near the UPS hub. That is the only influence Amazon exercised over Zappos.
2. The Executive Corner is called the “Monkey Row.” See below.
3. If you want the inside scoop on Zappos’ culture, you must read its annual culture book, which is produced by Zappos’ employees. The content, except for typos and spelling errors, is unedited, providing the public an opportunity to read about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
4. There is no standard, annual, base-salary increase for just “being there.” Learning, development, and self-improvement are highly encouraged, and acquiring news skills is the path to increasing your compensation. For example, their royalty program empowers employees, with the help of a full-time life coach, to “Get Off Your Butt” and go through a personal growth experience via a professional or personal challenge.
Once employees have achieved their goals, they get to be part of the “Goal Club Wall” in the company’s main staircase:
5. They do not track many KPIs. Their call center is not data-driven. They do not measure talk time or drop rate. In fact, there is little focus on profit, shockingly for a company that generated more than $1B in annual sales.
6. Finally, CEO Tony Hsieh’s number-one concern is employee satisfaction and improving his employees’ happiness.
Regardless if you agree with the Zappos approach, it is definitively a unique culture that is not for everyone. So, if you plan to work there, get ready to drink the Zappos “Kool-Aid.” But, what cannot be argued is the fact that they have built a phenomenally successful e-commerce operation that produces value for its stakeholders and its ecosystem.