For this week’s blog we wanted to turn our thoughts to someone who probably never even knew the impact he had on us and then subsequently many others. In 2010 when Clate Mask, CEO of Infusionsoft (now Keap) and I were undertaking to build a great culture and subsequently a great company we decided to visit a pioneer in the space, Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh.

Tony didn’t come up with the idea that a great culture would produce a great company but in a masterful way he executed on it and impacted countless others. His mantra of “Deliver Happiness” served as a guiding North Star for everyone in his company. He pursued that end in a relentless challenge of many of the norms of management at the time. Their industry was hardly the coveted industry that investors flocked to back. Technically they sold shoes, but every system seemed to show that they were selling a much bigger dream…he was delivering happiness and so was every member of the team.

We left our tour of Zappos that week with more clarity about what we could achieve for Infusionsoft. We were inspired and we were determined.
Just over one year later, we saw that what we had learned could help countless smaller businesses as well, and so we started sharing what we learned on our journey from Tony and many other amazing company builders. The original experience we created in December 2011 was called Elite Forum. Now that offering is a separate business called Elite Entrepreneurs. Hundreds of small businesses have been changed for the better. Thousands of lives have been improved, in part, because of that Zappos tour we took 10 years ago.

Tony created a legendary workplace at online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos, and since his passing in November of 2020, it is important to take time to remember the contribution Tony made to our understanding of the profound impact of shared Values and a great company Culture, and to review the many business leadership lessons Tony taught us through his humility and his passion for his employees.

The lessons we learned from that impactful visit were invaluable in growing Infusionsoft (now Keap) and they hold true for any business, so I hope you’ll look to Tony Hsieh’s legacy as an example of what a strong Culture can do for your organization.

Invaluable Business Leadership Lessons

Tony Hsieh touched countless lives through the examples he shared and the powerful Culture he built at Zappos. Importantly, the business leadership lessons he shared work for companies of any size and industry, and they can serve as a powerful growth catalyst and a magnet for attracting top talent.

One of the key strategies Tony employed that I found helpful at Infusionsoft was that he would present new hires a choice at the end of their training period:

  • Continue to work for Zappos now that they’ve experienced what it’s like working for the company
  • Or… take a sizable one-time payout to quit their new job.

Let’s consider that for a moment. Why would Tony offer new hires money to quit their jobs, after he had gone to the time, effort, and expense to hire and onboard them? Isn’t that just throwing good money after bad?

Tony believed, as do I, that a wrong-fit employee can be a costly mistake. By allowing new hires time to acclimate to the Culture at Zappos and then offering them money to leave, Tony was ensuring that only the people who truly wanted to stay and who were committed to the shared Vision and Values of the organization would remain in their jobs.

Adapting Tony Hsieh’s Business Leadership Lessons to Your Own Workplace

The important business leadership lessons Tony Hsieh taught us can be adapted to your own company, regardless of where you are in your growth journey.

For example, Zappos offered an in-house life coach to help support and motivate employees. While your business may not be of a scale where you can do the same, the important lesson here is that you can find other ways to demonstrate your support and dedication to your team members.

You can move beyond a transactional employer-employee relationship and create a Culture that supports a Vision everyone on your team can work toward, with shared Values that resonate and help align everyone to the same goals for the company. Alignment like that is powerful growth fuel; if everyone knows the destination and is working together to get there, you’ll reach your goals much more quickly.

Tony Hsieh’s legacy of unparalleled, visionary leadership serves as a powerful example of why Culture matters.

Tony was an entrepreneur. Tony had a dream, a big dream, a dream that would drive his efforts regardless of the success or failures he encountered. That is just what entrepreneurs do. We honor you, the entrepreneur, along with Tony Hsieh. Thank you for your tenacity. Thank you for your big dreams. Thank you for trying to make the world a little better. You have more impact than you can possibly imagine.