Focussing on culture – Zappos case study

A few weeks back I wrote the post ‘It ain’t what you do (it’s the way that you do it)‘. In this post I state that a focus on business model and company culture is more important than the product or service you’re offering. The best way to get in touch with a theory is by looking at good examples and best practices, so I would like to dedicate this post to a company that like no other understands the impact of culture. The company: Zappos, the driving force: Tony Hsieh.

I first heard about Zappos while reading Tony Hsieh’s book ‘Delivering Happiness‘ (I strongly recommend this book, it’s amazing). In this book, Tony shares his stories from teenager entrepreneur up and including the founding and leading of Zappos, an online shoe retailer. In this company, Tonys extreme focus on happiness, feeling good and customer service has lead to a company culture that has taken on legendary proportions. This also resulted in the fact that Zappos ranks as one of the best companies to work for some years now.


Even though the companies pretty well known for doing things their way (like offering new employees money to quit), they managed to shock the corporate world in the beginning of January, when it announced to the world it was going to ditch company titles and hierarchy. The experiment is interesting to say the least. These two blogpost from The Washington Post and Fast Company give a better insight in this project and what it could mean for the company. This new way of leading a company, called Holacracy promises quite some difference with the Business as usual:

Business as usual With Holacracy
Painful meetings with little or no structure
Led by the boss; vaguely actionable outputs
Focused and coherent meetings
Structured facilitation; clearly actionable outputs
Rigid organizational structure
Encourages fiefdoms and silo mentality
Evolving organizational structure
Continually updated via dynamic governance process
Organizational design centralized in the CEO
Structure doesn’t reflect actual work patterns
Local and distributed organizational design
Agile structure locally updated based on real-time data
Managers are decision-making bottlenecks
Energy wasted on defining the work and dealing w/ politics
Clear structure for distributed decision-making
Authority distributed to clearly defined Roles

Tony Hsieh’s image became even larger in 2011 when he announced he was going to invest $350 million to transform a pretty desolated part of Las Vegas into a new tech entrepreneur nirvana. Recently, Wired Magazine published an amazing article on how the culture of Zappos has been translated into an entire part of a city, and the madness it’s leading to. Hsieh’s belief that working should be at least as good as not working lead to an eclectic mix of parties, festivals, co-working spaces and companies that are changing how the game is being played.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

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