Monday, April 26, 2010


The prelude (You can skip this if you are more about the destination than about the journey and go straight to the book review. I wanted to make seperate posts on how I came to review the book and the review itself but decided to combine them!):

If you talk to any senior colleague who might have been in the company since around the time of its inception, you might hear one thing from them that's common: 'Things are not what they used to be.' Change is the only permanent thing (© Buddha circa 400 B.C )

Change is usually for the better. But most probably you will hear them wistfully talking about how things got a little less warm. 'At the start everyone knew everyone. There was less bureaucracy and fewer restrictive rules. There was a time when Orkutting was allowed but one fine day Orkut, Facebook, Blogger, etc were blocked. The company at its inception had a few people who were very passionate about what they were starting. For each of them the company was like their own. As the company expanded to about a few hundred, many of them turned out to be not that passionate anymore.' (This is actually a compilation of what many different people had to say on this!)

Have you heard this often? I have heard this so often that I had almost decided it is the norm rather than an exception. Was this even avoidable? At least some of it! There must be a way. I also had a lot of questions about what it is about a workplace that makes you want to stick around, work, and still be happy about it. It is true that if you do what you love chances are you will be happier. But this is not everything as I came to know the hard way from my own experiences. The culture at your work place goes a long way. By culture, my initial idea was of a place where everyone was friendly and none was the kind who would make things hard for you due to some vested interest. I realized that is not all! Why not have a culture that is not only a place where no one messes with you but is also about fun, togetherness, a lot of group activity very much like what we were evolutionarily programmed to do: be part of a 'tribe' in a way that would make us feel happy from within. I would recommend you read this book to know more: I haven't read it yet so do let me what you think of it!

I started regularly reading articles on and I got to know a lot of things about the science of workplace happiness (that I was so missing at that time! ) . I also came to know about a workplace where happiness is given top priority and has also proved that it affects the company bottom line positively (almost nothing to $1 billion in ten years!). That company is Zappos.

Initially, the idea that such a company existed intrigued me and I started researching more on it online trying to find out if the skeptic in me was right. The skeptic in me said that such a thing might look good on paper but was it practical? I told about Zappos to one of my friends who has been working for about 20 years in a corporate environment and he told me it would not be possible unless the number of people was way less than 500. Then I googled for the total number of employees in Zappos and YES there are more than 500 people in Zappos! I also found Zappos is now among the Fortune list of 100 best companies to work for.

And now for the best part. I happened upon this link about a month ago: I found that Tony (CEO of Zappos) has written a book about his journey as an entrepreneur and how it led him to become part of Zappos. All I had to do to get a pre-release copy was to fill a form with my address and agree to review it with my honest opinion on the day of its release, which is today, 7th of June!

I was very thrilled to get the UPS courier from Zappos in a few days and was pleasantly surprised to find two copies inside instead of one! They managed to create WOW there too!

I opened the envelope and just could not help taking a pic:

The review:

Anyhoo, here is the review:

This book has a nice conversational style and I enjoyed reading it. Tony peppers the narration with little anecdotes that make it all the more interesting. There are quite a few sections that were contributed by other people who talk about their take on how their experience with Zappos was.

You might find some concepts repetitive in the later half as different people write about their experience but talk about similar ideas. At some places I found that the font used to denote transcripts of emails is a little low on readability, especially if you have more than a page of that text.

This book might not be a masterpiece in terms of writing style. Tony says he refused to use any ghost writers to make sure it was straight out of the horse's mouth, so to speak, in all it's rawness. But I would still value this book and seriously recommend it for the message that it holds. Those of you to whom organizational behavior, science of happiness and workplace psychology are a topic of interest, this book is not to be missed!

This book might turn out to be a first in corporate history to document what has been confounding many corporations (ironically): What makes employees truly happy? How come hefty raises and perks fail to retain some employees? ...and many other questions.

As you can see I was almost a fan of Zappos even before I read this book. But I have tried to give an honest opinion of this book both in terms of reading experience and the value of the ideas it conveys.

The Conclusion:
Highly recommended! 4.5 stars out of 5.

The giveaway:
I am going to giveaway one of the free copies to anyone who is interested. I will mail it to the address you are at and don't mind bearing the postage. I have no financial benefit from doing this but it feels great to spreading the message that this book has!

You can also buy this book at:

Further reading:

Some of the content and links that I randomly collected before I read this book and wrote this review are here. Instead of rewriting it, I decided I might as well paste it here. I have tried to include links where the material might be copyrighted. If any of it violates copyrights I will remove it.

Interesting transcripts from the video:
"If you get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like great customer service or building a brand will just happen naturally."

"For us, actually customer service is not our number one priority. Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right then most of the other stuff like great customer service or building a great brand will just happen naturally."

"For us we formalize the definition of our company culture into ten core values and hire and fire people based on those values. We actually have two sets of interviews. The hiring manager and his or her team will do the standard interview and the HR panel does a separate interview for culture fit."

Some interesting stuff at this link: