Time to share your Secret Sauce

Successful businesses used to protect their No.1 position by keeping their guard up at all times. Investing huge sums in protecting their winning ideas, strategies and practises. Keeping their key employees under lock and key (with lips sealed). In a nutshell, doing everything possible to keep their secret sauce bottled and firmly corked.

However, there is a new breed of business emerging that does the complete opposite – and they are reaping the rewards as a result.

Think about businesses like Zappos , Southwest Airlines, Innocent Drinks, Starbucks. What is it that they all have in common (aside from becoming hugely successful businesses over the past decade)?

It is that they are not afraid to share their secret sauce – in fact they’ve turned sharing their secret sauce with the world into a game-changing competitive advantage. Whilst their laggard competitors invest huge sums in a vain attempt to defend their fleeting advantage, these new businesses are open and transparent in providing access to their culture, working practises, what makes them tick and even show-casing their key employees’ thoughts and strategies.

Identifying and then sharing your business’s secret sauce with your customers, your competitors and the world might seem counter-intuitive to most business owners, yet time and again in recent years, it proves to be that elusive missing ingredient that can be attributed to the success of that new kid on the block.

Isn’t it time for you to find and start sharing your firm’s secret sauce with the world?

[Post script: if you’ve yet to find your secret sauce, there’s never been a better time to start experimenting with some new recipes and ingredients]

Delivering Happiness – as only Zappos knows how

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) CEO of world-famous Zappos is released and available in all good book stores from today.

Having been lucky enough to receive an advance copy to review, here are my thoughts on the book:

The BIG idea behind Delivering Happiness:

Tony Hsieh led Zappos from being an online footwear retailer with virtually no sales in 1999 to over $1bn in sales in 2008.  This astounding success and growth has been built upon a relentless focus on developing a thriving internal company culture that puts delivering a WOW! service for customers at its heart.

In essence, Zappos has grown by delivering happiness to its customers, employees, suppliers and stakeholders.

Major highs:

Delivering Happiness is an easy to read book with plenty of interesting anecdotes wrapped up in Tony Hsieh’s chatty written style.

It is open, honest and transparent. Much like Zappos. Tony is open about the bad as well as good times e.g. most of us are aware of Zappos’ roaring success however, I was not aware of how close Zappos had come to folding in its early days, plus there’s a frank account of the difficult decisions made to lay-off some of the Zappos “family” during the 2008 economic storm. Tony also reprints some of the emails written to the Zappos employees covering the highs and lows which is open and revealing.

Chapters are interspersed with short interludes written by Zappos employees or associates. This helps emphasise key points from different perspectives as well as providing interesting diversions and interest. Tweets to live by is also a nice touch.

The famous Zappos company values along with the accompanying internal detailed narrative as provided to all new employees is reprinted which provides a further fascinating insight into the internal culture of the company.

I will not attempt to steal the thunder from the many fun, weird and cool ideas that the company engages in to grow its business and brand suffice to say that I would be stunned if reading this book did not make you rethink your business…

Minor moans:

I would have liked to have learned a little more about the day-to-day running of the business and in particular how the Zappos culture and energy is maintained. The book pin-points the main turning points of the business and touches upon many of the less conventional ways of doing business but I would have liked a little more depth – perhaps I’m being greedy!

I found the chronological order of the book  a little tedious in parts, for example, the book kicks off with Tony Hsieh’s early entrepreneurial dabblings which might have worked better as flash-backs from the meat of the Zappos story rather than being addressed in isolation first.

Tony sets out some academic findings in relation to the effects of happiness at work but these are presented as short / “further reading” summaries rather than being weaved into the story itself – either a missed opportunity or a chance for a follow up book perhaps?


8/10 – a must read for all entrepreneurs and business owners.

If you would like to get your hands on a free copy of this latest book, please email me via the contact form with “Please Deliver Happiness” in the email. One lucky winner will be picked at random. Good luck!

Jaffe Flips the Funnel of Marketing

Its nice when you listen to a podcast and the thoughts of the speaker completely resonate with your own.

This happened to me recently when I listened to Joseph Jaffe speaking to John Wall at Marketing Over Coffee. Jaffe spoke about the need for businesses to Flip the Funnel (the title of his latest book –  I must get a copy to review here!) and focus their marketing efforts on servicing existing customers rather than spending often huge $amounts£ on new customer acquisition. The 80/20 rule shows that 80% of your profits (more than likely) come from 20% of your existing client base so why do so few businesses focus their efforts on that 20% they already know and work with?

Its an issue that increasingly perplexes me and hearing Joseph Jaffe argue this point so passionately was one of those magical, reassuring light bulb moments – I agree wholeheartedly that customer experience WILL be the single biggest competitive advantage in business for the next phase. If you are a business leader or entrepreneur you simply must listen to this podcast interview.

Somewhat spookily, no sooner than I took the ear-plugs out from listening to this podcast, I opened a parcel containing an advance copy of Delivering Happiness from Tony Hsieh to review on this blog.  Zappos is a company that single-handedly brings WOW! customer experience to central stage and is a shining light of tomorrow’s business – much in the way that Jaffe sets out.

Two breaths of fresh air just moments apart – I love it when a plan comes together!

Zappos points to Future Business Model

You will see from the above video that Zappos is no ordinary company.

Zappos launched in 1999 and today has annual sales in excess of $1billion.

Zappos sells footwear and clothing online. Sounds fairly ordinary however, the key to Zappos’ success is its unwavering focus on building a unique community culture amongst its staff and customers by aiming to build WOW! into every interaction.

This culture is evident from its (refreshingly different) values:

Deliver WOW Through Service

Embrace and Drive Change

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

Pursue Growth and Learning

Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

Do More With Less

Be Passionate and Determined

Be Humble

Yet the Zappos culture is disruptive in other ways too including the fact that:

  • employees are encouraged to open Twitter accounts – so for any customer complaint posted to Twitter, expect to see an employee run to the rescue within minutes (that’s if a raving customer fan doesn’t get there first!)
  • all new employees are put through an intensive training induction course then offered $2,000 to quit! Not only does this weed out those in it solely for the money (merely a job!) but it also helps maintain morale for the existing team who are reassured that only the committed join the community.
  • Zappos is active in all social media channels and listens to customer comments as well as gripes. An online suggestion to stock sunglasses was listened to and acted upon. Sunglasses sales rocketed and Zappos is now one of the largest online suppliers.
  • It offers a 365 day returns policy. Likely to be abused, most would think – however, those that do return items turn out to be Zappos’s most profitable customers overall.

The list of counter-intuitive policies and business practices (compared to conventional business wisdom) goes on and on….. yet the success of the business is undeniable (Amazon acquired the company for c$1 billion).

The really interesting point is where Zappos could go from here. It has built a reputation for reliability, trust, innovation, relentless customer focus, community, inventiveness, transparency, passion and fun. At a time when traditional BIG business has suffered a fall from grace, there is an open goal waiting for disruptive businesses like Zappos. Zappos is, in effect, a service company (that currently happens to sell footwear) and could go on to sell anything as its mad raving fans would flock to support it.

How many UK companies match Zappos’ approach to business?