Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Delivering Happiness - The Zappos Company Culture Example

“Delivering happiness.” That is the brilliantly simple and effective organizational concept developed by Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos.com, an online retailer that specializes in “fast, free shipping on all orders.” It also just happens to be the title of his 2010 New York Times best selling book.

In this video presentation hosted by WordOfMouth.org, Tony describes how “delivering happiness” can apply to a company’s customer service priorities as well as its internal company culture. His general point is that if the focus of an organization is on making people happy and not so much on the bottom line, the bottom line will take care of itself.

So, what makes people (employees or customers) happy? According to Hsieh's presentation, happiness is about perceived control, perceived progress, perceived connectedness, and the sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself.

In a nutshell, a great deal of the success of Zappos.com is attributable to the fact that company management attempts to make both employees and customers feel happy. Like they are in control of their careers or their purchases, as if they are making progress towards a promotion or a discount incentive, feel a sense of connection with a company and common community that is greater than themselves.

The company believes so strongly in the concept that they built happiness-related statements into their core values. Taking it a step further, the company makes these core values 50% of their hiring and firing process. According to Hsieh, that is the only way to create true alignment between what a company says it will do and what it actually does.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Finding Your Target Market - The Sara Blakely Example

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, found a need for clothing accessories that minimize undergarment lines and make women feel better in their clothing. She used one word that I think summarizes the need the best: “confidence.”

We all want to feel more confident, whether it is in the corporate environment, during a sales pitch or presentation for our companies, or on a first date. Self-confidence (self-esteem) is a multi-billion dollar industry. Think of products such as breast implants, minoxidil, lipstick, and cologne. I could spend two hours listing products in the category and would have barely touched the surface.

If there is any doubt that self-confidence is a major market, just take a look at the hundreds of pages of books available on the subject at Amazon.com.

The opportunity that Sara discovered early in the process was that her idea was truly original, could be patented, and she smartly kept the idea to herself as much as possible. With a patented product in place, she was able to expand the product into an entire brand, sometimes doing nothing more than creating a “better” version of an existing product – a copycat model that has created some of the greatest and most beloved companies in the world.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Are You Planning Your Business To Death?

While researching expert opinions on business plans, I came across Chuck Blakeman, author, speaker, and founder of the Crankset Group, who offers a very “un-scholarly” view on the subject. His basic position is that a business plan is a waste of time that would otherwise be spent on getting a business underway; life happens, and the future is not predictable, he says (Blakeman, 2012). I was immediately intrigued for several reasons.

As a graduate business student at Full Sail University, I have spent the last ten months exploring every aspect of a business plan and the methods for properly running a business. To hear an expert say that was a waste of time was a curve ball. Yet, my father, a successful entrepreneur in the transportation sector, concedes that he never created a business plan. He once told me “everything manufactured has to be delivered to its customer” (Beliakoff, personal communication, 1998). Talk about a vision of job security. Unless you own a funeral home, you are unlikely to find a more steady business stream.

To find out what other experts think, I went to my favorite search engine and asked the question: “Is a business plan important?” I was expecting to see all positive results, but of the first ten articles returned, there was one negative from a trusted source, Forbes.com, with the title Why Business Plans Are A Waste Of Time. Author Paul Brown gives three reasons why over-planning and failing to act now could cause your business to fail: No revenue, opportunity cost, and lost time-to-market (Brown, 2013).

I am by no means suggesting that a business plan is not important. There is a critical need to look into the future with as much insight as possible. I am suggesting that entrepreneurs take a moment to assess their product or service and ask themselves whether planning to introduce it is more important than actually leaping into the market. If you offer something unique, do it now. Plan later.

I can say, as a former manager of corporate planning, that the more money you need, the more time you will have to spend putting pen to paper. If you need $350 million to build an ABC, for example, you will have to justify where every bolt will be placed, in a 130-page document. If you need $25 thousand to acquire an XYZ, you might just consult your contact list with a friendly email, or post your business plan on kickstarter.com.


Blakeman, C. (2012). How: The Worst, Most Asked Planning Question. ChuckBlakeman.com. Retrieved from: http://chuckblakeman.com/2012/8/texts/how-the-worst-most-asked-planning-question

Brown, P. (2013). Why Business Plans Are A Waste Of Time. Forbes.com. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2013/08/14/why-business-plans-are-a-waste-of-time/