Mar 142013

Luck Matters (and You Can Only Make Some of It)

Luck Matters ( and You Can Only Make Some of It)

There was a great article recently in the Financial Times that’s worth reading here.  (Warning – you might have to complete a free registration in order to read this article.)  The premise is that most outliers, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, achieve their super status at least partly through luck.  And once that status is achieved, the good things just pile on from there.  This concept is as much Gladwell’s as that term is.

I always say that “you can make your own luck.”  And to some extent, that’s true.  Hard work and persistence and creativity can eventually open up doors on their own, no question about it.  While this article doesn’t say there are limitations to that axiom, it does note that hard work, persistence, and creativity PLUS some good luck is the more likely path to being #1 in your field.

Think about it this way – why is the most gifted golfer of the last 15 years someone who grew up in Southern California with a father who loved golf, and not, say, someone from the sub-Saharan region of Africa?  The latter person might have the equivalent amount of raw talent as Tiger Woods, maybe even more grit and determination.  But he’s probably never even heard of golf.

So what’s the lesson here for business leaders?  First, count your blessings.  You’re probably where you are for a bunch of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with you.  Second, look for other people to work with you who are lucky as well.  I read somewhere once that Tony Hsieh of Zappos asks every person he interviews if he or she is a lucky person – and that question pulls a lot of weight for him.  Finally, put your head down and work hard.  While this point is 100% valid, the thing is…you can’t do anything about it anyway, so you might as well push as hard as you can to do the best you can with what you’ve got!

Dec 062012

Book Short: Culture is King

Book Short:  Culture is King

Tony Hsieh’s story, Delivering Happiness (book, Kindle), is more than just the story of his life or the story of Zappos. It’s a great window into the soul of a very successful company and one that in many ways has become a model for great culture and a great customer service model.  It’s a relatively quick and breezy read, and it contains a handful of legendary anecdotes from Zappos’ history to demonstrate those two things — culture and customer service — in action.

As Hsieh himself says in the book, you can’t copy this stuff and believe it will work in your company’s environment as it does in Zappos’.  You have to come up with these things on your own, or better yet, you have to create an environment where the company develops its own culture and operating system along the broad lines you lay out.  I think Return Path has many similarities with Zappos in how we seek out WOW experiences and in our Core Values, as well as the evolutionary path we took to get to those places.  But as much as I enjoyed reading about a like-minded company, I also recognized the specific things that were different and had a good visceral understanding as to WHY the differences exist.

It is the rare company that gets to $1 billion in revenue ever – let alone within a decade.  For that reason alone, this is a worthwhile read.  But if you are a student of organizational culture and believe in the power of values-driven organizations, this is good affirmation and full of good examples.  And if you’re a doubter of the power of those things, this might just convince you to think twice about that!

May 142008

Legal Aggression

Legal Aggression

I will write more posts on this topic later in the year after a ridiculous lawsuit we’re in the middle of now winds up, but today’s news from Techdirt is that shoe retailer DSW is suing Zappos, who as regular readers know is one of my favorite companies and shopping experiences around.

The lawsuit sounds silly to me, but I’m not in the middle of the details of it.  But what absolutely amazes me is that DSW made no effort to contact Zappos prior to launching the lawsuit with a press release.  How incredibly irresponsible and rude and wasteful.  I hate it when lawyers run amok, or when overly aggressive business people think that a lawsuit is the most productive way of settling a dispute.  That may be true in the end, but for goodness sake, do your homework first and try to have a conversation with the other side, and everyone, try to be reasonable.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Twitter about this says it all.

Thanks to my colleague Lori for the heads up on this one.

Filed under: Business

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Jan 072007

They’ve Destroyed Both Companies

They’ve Destroyed Both Companies

Just when you thought Verizon was in fact the worst company in the world to do business with (see my post here if for some reason you’re not on that page), along comes FedEx/Kinkos.

I used to be a huge fan of both companies.  I was even a fan of the merger and felt like it particularly made sense in light of UPS purchasing Mailboxes Etc.  And I don’t know if our experiences are representative, but Mariquita and I have had nothing but bad experiences with both FedEx and Kinkos for the past couple of years.

Kinkos is the worst — most of the people are surly, unhelpful, not smart, have massive attitude, and ignore you when you’re standing in front of them.  They never have packing materials, and when they do, they charge you for them and make you pack your own box in their store.  Their systems have no idea who you are.  We now walk out of our way to the UPS store, where you walk in, hand them a pile of stuff, give them your phone number, and walk out in 2 minutes while they pack your box up and bill it to the credit card on file for your phone number.

And FedEx, which used to be great at its core business, has slipped tremendously as well.  Its drivers and delivery guys are spotty; sometimes ok, but sometimes they don’t even try.  Their definition of going the extra mile stops at the first foot.  And its 800# operators are awful — they clearly went to the Kinkos school of customer service.  At least their packages generally get there on time.  But at work, we’ve turned increasingly to use Mimeo to both produce and ship high-quality documents without having to print and deal with the FedEx stuff ourselves.  A MUCH better alternative.

Again, I just say, why can’t they all be as great as Zappos?  It’s just not that hard.  And Starbucks has proven that a quick service retail operation can be as great at customer service as an Internet company.

Filed under: Business

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Dec 172006

Merry Whatever

Merry Whatever

We had two horrendous customer service experiences at Return Path lately that just leave me scratching my head about how one could possibly run a business that way.

In the process of buying some holiday gifts for a few of our larger clients, we first tried to order gift baskets from Harry & David.  But we couldn’t, because they wouldn’t take our order via Excel spreadsheet — our office manager would have had to enter each order in a web form by hand.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

Andrea from Return Path:  “Hi, I’d like to give you $2,500.”

Clerk from Harry & David:  “Um, no thanks.”

So, ok, fine, we moved on to vendor number 2 – Wine Country Gift Baskets.  We ordered something suitably nondenomenational, and the ordering experience was great.  But we heard back from a number of clients (ones whose last names were probably like mine – Blumberg, Goldstein, you get the idea) that they were surprised we send them such a Christmasy present.

So were we.  So we looked into it, and apparently our vendor ran out of whatever we ordered and decided to just go ahead and send something entirely different, without asking us.  Again, one has to wonder how that decision went down, but possibly something like this:

Clerk at Wine Country Gift Baskets:  “Hey boss, we’re out of wine and cheese, so how about we substitute in a nativity scene?”

Supervisor:  “Whatever.”

Clerk:  “Should I call the customer to see if that is okay with them?”

Supervisor:  “Is that my donut you’re eating”

Why bother being in a customer service business if you’re not actually going to service customers?  It’s too bad everyone isn’t as fantastic at that as Zappos.

Aug 232006

Getting Good Inc.

Getting Good Inc.

There’s an old saying in PR about “getting good ink,” referring to good press – a phrase that will probably replaced by something like “getting good bits” soon enough now, I’m sure.

Anyway, Return Path was very fortunate to be ranked #167 in this year’s Inc. Magazine Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in America.  See the list here and our press release here.  We were also happy to see clients of ours like Constant Contact, Fishbowl, and Zappos on the list, as well as fellow email companies Exact Target, Vertical Response, and research panel Epocrates.  That’s all the sign of a healthy industry!

2006_inc_500_starburst_1

While we never rest on our laurels, it’s certainly nice to take a moment and reflect on the great growth we’ve had in the business the last few years and celebrate the public recognition.  I’d personally like to thank our customers, our investors, and most of all, our hardworking employees (now 100 strong!) for getting us here.

Now our challenge, of course, is STAYING on the list, and hopefully upping our ranking next year!

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