On Friday morning, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization hosted Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos and author of “Delivering Happiness”. Daniel Hindin and I went to hear him speak and to see if we could learn something we hadn’t already considered about building Arment Dietrich and Spin Sucks.

I have to say, I was a tiny bit disappointed. Tony is not a great speaker. He’s not charismatic or charming. He’s very flat and a little monotone. I don’t know if it’s because he’d been on a bus for 10 days (for his THREE MONTH Delivering Happiness tour) and it was the end of the week or if that’s just the way he is, but I’ve never heard people say those things when they describe him so it was rather shocking to me. What he did, though, was tell funny stories and he’s brilliant. So I can put aside his faults for funny and brilliant.

I do find it extremely impressive that he’s built a company he can leave for three months. I’d love to be able to leave my company for three months to promote a book, go on sabbatical, or just be away to think. But I’ve not built that company…yet.

So let’s start from the beginning. A lot of the stories he’s told, I’ve either heard or read before through interviews he’s given. But the gist of it is that he’s always been an entrepreneur, starting with a pizza “shack” in his college dorms and ending with Zappos. In between there, he and some friends built a company called LinkExchange, which they sold in 1998 (just four years after graduating college) to Microsoft for $265 million. From that sale, he and his friends (er, partners) created an investment fund called Venture Frogs and it was that company that invested in Zappos when they had no sales in 1999. Everyone knows the happy ending – they sold to Amazon last year for $1.2 billion.

How do you build a company from no sales to selling for $1.2 billion in 11 years? He says it’s all culture. He says you have to be willing to hire and fire based on values, not on skill and, if you are, it works.

Following are seven things I learned that I’ll be applying to the growth of my business:

* Spend a good amount of time (they spent a year) understanding what the business is about and who works there in order to create values to achieve the vision.

* Create values that are so synonymous with the business, that when you Google them, Arment Dietrich is on the first page.

* Interview for skills and for culture…if there is a red flag in either of those areas, the person isn’t the right fit.

* Create interview questions around culture so everyone has the same chance, but also so your people who are interviewing are asking consistent questions.

* Training, training, training is the most important thing when a new person starts…spend five weeks putting them through training and then offer to pay them to leave.

* Create a promotion track that provides upward mobility every six months.

* Chase the vision, not the money (I think we do this one really well already!).

Tony recommends reading “Good to Great” and “Tribal Leadership” as part of your journey in building a business. I’ve read “Good to Great” and I agree it’s one everyone should read (even if you’re not building a business). I’ve not read “Tribal Leadership” so I’ll add it to my growing stack, er, my growing list on my iPad. And, if you’re in Vegas and want to stop by the Zappos HQ, they’ll give you one or both of those books for free.

Have you read “Delivering Happiness” or seen Tony speak? What do you think?

P.S. I’m trying out this affiliate link thing so the three books I mention are linked back to us.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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