SxSWi Keynote: Tony Hsieh Preaches the Value of Corporate Culture

image I had hoped to liveblog the Tony Hsieh Keynote this afternoon at SxSW here at SiliconANGLE, but the sheer volume of people on their laptops completely took down all available bandwidth in the room.  There is an incredible amount of palpable affection for all things Zappos, the company Tony is the co-founder of.

If you’re not familiar with Zappos, you probably don’t surf social media blogs and rub elbows with the Web 2.0 technorati.  If you fall into that camp, that’s fine, but they’re considered the darlings of early adopting companies from the non-tech world.

They’re, at a surface level, a shoe company.  At their core, they’re focused on customer service and positive corporate culture, and that was the gist of the keynote Tony gave this afternoon.

I’ve got about four pages of notes, with many anecdotes that close followers of the company are probably familiar with.

I’ll repeat a couple here, but I want to zero in on what Zappos is about for the uninitiated, because the principals of their company can be applied to startup and large corporations. 

What is Zappos, and How Does It Apply to My Company?
image It starts with a bit of self-awareness and introspection, because Zappos doesn’t consider itself a clothing company, a shoe company or even a company focused on selling.  They consider themselves a brand first.

There are specific attributes to that brand that make up the whole, according to Tony. Certainly, a part of it is impressing upon the public who you are (the very definition of the word), but the company itself is focused on making every member of their company understand what that means and work it into the corporate culture so that it naturally flows out.

Take, for instance, Yahoo.  Even with their new CEO, Valleywag consistently grabs and publishes leaked memos from the employees.  The corporate culture of Yahoo is splintered, divided and uneven pools of high and low morale.

The Zappos answer to that is to only hire passionate employees, ones that embrace the well defined core values of the organization.  Certainly, that’s difficult to enact in a juggernaut the size of Yahoo, which is why startups are in a much better position to from the ground up build an organization that can prevent the dry rot that often occurs at large companies.

Consider Google versus Microsoft and even Yahoo versus IBM.  As bad as Yahoo is in relation to Zappos, if you had twenty minutes to ponder, could you come up with their core values and what their culture represents?

For startups (and large corporations as they endeavor to rehabilitate or enhance their brand), Tony reminds us that “when your personal values are in line with the company values, you don’t have to worry about what your people will do, and what will be revealed.”

Your brand will shine through, and your marketing budget will be your payroll.  Every member of your company, be it through social media engagement or customer interaction, will be an evangelist for your company.