Delivering Happiness: Summary & Review

delivering happiness

In Delivering Happiness author Tony Hsieh shares his story as an entrepreneur, and how he achieved success by focusing on employees’ and customers’ happiness.

Bullet Summary

  • Don’t follow pleasure (the next high), follow a higher purpose (meaning of your life)
  • Focus on one thing, and be the best in the world at it
  • Don’t hire for bottom-line profit, hire for culture (and you’ll get long term profits)

Full Summary

Delivering Happiness starts with an overview of the tiger Asian families culture and how they use their children as bragging tools.

Then Tony Hsieh goes on to describe how he evaded his musical studies duties and how he went about his first entrepreneurial ventures as a young boy.

All stories are hilarious and highly instructive, but for the purpose of this summary I will skip them.

Starting As Unhappy Employee at Oracle

Tony Hsieh started at Oracle with an easy job that paid good money.
And in the beginning he was glad about it: good money and little work.

However, common to many people with an entrepreneur mindset, he eventually realized it wasn’t making him happy.
And as his side business started taking off, he quit focusing on LinkExchange, his first company.

LinkExchange Success

After he sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for 265 million dollars he was a rich man.

He went on a cruise, partied with his old pals and then started exploring other interests.

  • Poker (he got into poker and learned that if you apply a set of math rules you’ll win in the long run)
  • Rave culture (loved techno raves’ dancing culture: everyone talks to everyone without ulterior motives and people, a symbol that it’s possible to make the world a better place)
  • Trader (and lost lots of money)

Poker and Business

The author learned that in poker you can make a lot of money if you sit at a table with tired people and lots of chips.
But at poker you can only pick the table.

In business, you can invent a new table or make the table bigger.

LinkExchange Lessons Learned

Tony Hsieh realized that when he hit 100 people the culture changed.
They were hiring people for all the wrong reasons, he says.

Yes, they were smart and motivated, but most of them had the following in mind:

  • Work a few years, then move to the next resume building company
  • Get rich and retire

The author learned that hiring people and taking care of the culture was crucial to build a company where people could be happy to work at.

The author also wasn’t very happy after he sold the company.
The money was good, but he had lost a reason to work hard for.

Zappos Competitive Advantage

The author says that Zappos competitive advantage, in his opinion, are three:

  1. Brand
  2. Culture
  3. Pipeline

All the rest can and will be copied.

Zappos Strategy

Through the course of Delivering Happiness the author makes it clear on what he focused on to make Zappos a success:

1. Wow the Customers

Zappos strategy was to “wow” the customers.

2. Be The Best at One Thing

They wanted to best at something crucial and important instead of trying to be good at different things.

And they picked customer service.

They once called customer service as a test/prank and complained they couldn’t order a pizza. And the customer service rep helped the caller order a pizza.

Exception: in Zappos case though the customer wasn’t always right. If they mistreat an employee or abuse the system, then they would “fire the customer” (same concept in 4h Work Week)

3. Don’t Outsource Customer Care

Customer care was too important for Zappos and they never thought of outsourcing it. They thought about building center in the Philippines or India, but they never thought of not owning it and running it themselves.

4. Let Your Product do The Marketing

Don’t spend money on marketing, but reinvest it into making your product and your N.1 priority the best in class.

That will do the marketing for you.

In Zappos case, it was customer service.
Not just good customer service reps, but the whole process. From free shipping to free returns to making contacts easy.

The author realized that over the lifetime of a customer at least once they were going to get in touch.
And they wanted to build relationships, one customer at a time.

5. Culture: Build a Tribe

After his first experience the author focuses on culture and no building a company with a “tribe” spirit.

Hsieh believes that people in the best companies have interactions outside the office as well.

They didn’t hire people that would make a difference on their bottom line simply because they weren’t good cultural fit.
That’s not how most companies operate, and that’s why most companies don’t have a great culture, says the author.

5. Values

Zappos wanted to codify its culture in a set of values.
That set of values would then serve also for making hiring decisions.

Also read:

Best Decisions Are Bottom Up

The author believes that the best decisions are made bottom up, by the people who are closest to the issue and the operational details.

The role of the manger, he says, is to remove the obstacles for people to operate.

Never Lose Sense of Urgency

The author says that becoming great is a constant, never ending effort.

You should never stop striving to become more efficient and going tings better and better. Don’t settle because good is the enemy of great.

And never lose your sense of urgency in improving and moving forward.

How to Be Happy

The author says that whatever your goal is, if you ask yourself why a few times, we all want it because it will make us happier.

And it makes sense then to study a bit the science of happiness, which is particularly important since we are very bad at guessing what we actually like.

For example: achieving our final goals will not sustain our happiness.
What’s the answer then?

Happiness Framework #1

Happiness is the result of:

  • Perceived control
  • Perceived progress
  • Connectedness (amount and depth of your relationships)
  • Vision / Meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself)

You can apply them to your business as well, like the author did at Zappos.

Happiness Framework #2

The second framework is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Once the basic needs of people are met, then higher ideals such as belonging and meaning matter more.

In business, it means that increasing the salary is rarely the best way to make employees happy (read more with Drive by Daniel Pink).

Happiness Framework #3

There are three levels of happiness:

  1. Pleasure (chasing the next high, it’s hard to maintain and it’s the shortest lasting)
  2. Passion (flow, where peak performance meets peak engagement; second longest lasting)
  3. Higher purpose (being part of something bigger that resonates with  you; longest lasting)

Most people chase the pleasure thinking that once they can sustain it, they will then get to passion and maaaaybe higher purpose.

Instead, it would make sense to do the opposite and start with the higher purpose.

Happiness and Business

I loved the final tying of happiness to the business.

Delivering happiness makes the point that when you can bring happiness and fulfillment into the very fabric of your organization, then you have laid out the foundation of a sustainable business.


On not settling for good enough:

We must never settle for good enough, because good is the enemy of great

On happines and money:

Money alone isn’t enough to bring happiness. Happiness is when you’re actually truly ok with losing everything you have

On chasing passion, not money:

I had decided to stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion

delivering happiness book cover

Real Life Applications

Make Progress Steps Smaller
Make your progression steps within the company smaller and more staggered as to give people more of a feeling of progress.

Keep Sense of Urgency
If you want to get great, always keep a sense of urgency in moving forward.

When You Snooze the Alarm Too Often It’s a Bad Sign
I liked how Tony Hsieh realized that he didn’t like working at is company anymore when he snoozed his alarm for six times.
That’s an awesome indicator.
I used to have the same feeling in my previous jobs.
Now I wake happy and excited.


Too Much Meat on The Grill
Albeit interesting most people probably didn’t need to read all the details of tiger Asian families and the author cultivating worms.
The poker foray could have been sorter too.

Huge Zappo Ad
The second part of the book turned out to sound like a huge advertisement for Zappos.
Some bit felt a bit like bragging too.
Their huge parties with tutu dancers, fireworks and “you name it, we probably have it” was reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street attitude.
And the people who “tried to sneak in to enjoy the fun”, well… That’s how all catered parties are.

Grandiose Speaking
I changed my mind after I finished the book and read about the author’s research on happiness. But as I listened to the audiobook, some statements sounded way too overblown.

We were part of a bigger movement, it was no longer just about Zappos, we were helping to change the world

Collectively, this marked the beginning of the next leg of our journey to help change the world

We had announced to the world

Zappos is about delivering happiness to the world

After I finished the book, I got the author’s point of view. But as I read them it felt a bit narcissistic.

Paternalistic and patronizing?
This idea of engineering a workspace to make employees happy feels somewhat paternalistic and somewhat patronizing.
Not necessarily a bad aim, but it feels like communists who wanted to tell people how to behave so they could all be happier.
If you think of the example of the customer who called to ask about a pizza, to me it feels unfair to put on the customer service employee the expectations that he couldn’t just tell the “customer” he’s got the wrong number.


Deep Wisdom!
Such deep wisdom in this book to build great companies.

Groundbreaking Message
Building companies to maximize fulfillment and happiness is a revolutionary idea.
I was trying to make the same in my Toastmaster club and Delivering Happiness gave me a framework that I hadn’t thought of myself.


“Delivering Happiness” is an awesome book.

It tackles a bit too many topics maybe and I think the first autobiographical part was unnecessary.

I still loved it, but I am afraid that some might miss the great ideas in the midst of so many different threads.

Just think of the title itself: I would worry that many will discount Delivering Happiness as a non-business book.

I hope that’s not the case.
Because Delivering Happiness is a must read for people searching for happiness, entrepreneurs and business leaders alike.

Read the best entrepreneurship books or get the book on Amazon

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