Making Sense at Zappos

I recently attended the IMMERCIO 2014 Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, a gathering sponsored by the NEA and MexicoIT. It focused on strategies to develop and strengthen Latin America’s nearshore IT industry.

At Making Sense, we are committed to networking with and learning from the “best of the best”, so I decided after IMMERCIO to visit Las Vegas, Nevada, where I had the privilege of being a guest at Zappos’ fabulous new corporate headquarters. Zappos is one of the most well-known and successful online shoe and clothing retailers in the US. The company has developed an atmosphere and culture where entrepreneurial-minded people want to make a career.


An Amazing Experience!

Every company, whether small or large, has a culture. Company culture is the shared values and practices of the company’s employees. Some of its elements include mission, management techniques, daily work practices, work ethic and language. There are companies that invest heavily in their employees’ satisfaction, because they believe that if their teams feel empowered to make a positive difference and are working in a fun, relaxing environment, the final result is much better.

Zappos‘ success can be largely attributed to the company’s commitment to a thriving, employee-centric culture where initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit are valued.  This unique company is well known for its customer service and lively corporate atmosphere and for the enormous emphasis it puts on creating real relationships with their fans and customers. Zappo’s was founded in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn. That same year, Nick approached Tony Hsieh (now Zappos’ CEO) and Alfred Lin with the idea of selling shoes online. The three of them decided to create a website that offered the absolute best selection of shoes in terms of brands, styles, colors, sizes, and widths. But over the past years, Zappos has evolved; they not only offer the best selection, but they also provide the best service online in any category. Although was sold to Amazon in 2009, the company culture and working atmosphere remain true to Tony’s original vision.

Zappos Headquarters in Las Vegas

Their unique culture is one of the things that makes Zappos a company so many bright, talented, enthusiastic people want to work for. But, why is culture so vital? Because it has a direct impact on a company’s brand – on customers’ perception of the company. If employees aren’t happy with their jobs and are burdened by a toxic company culture, customers will notice.

At Zappos, employee happiness matters. The company believes employees should be inspired, not just motivated. Zappos’ employees thrive in the culture of the company that sees them as unique individuals and are motivated to work hard for their customers’ happiness. The company and its employees understand that their happiness at work directly impacts their customers’ happiness with their customer experience.

If you haven’t read Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness, you should. It’s quite entertaining, and delivers a powerful lesson on the importance of company culture. And you will also love the Zappos “family”, the term employees use to refer to their fellow team members.

There are 10 values the employees at Zappos chose to define its company’s culture; these are reflected in everything they do and every interaction they have:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

These values should be followed by each and every single member of the Zappos Family. The Human Resources team looks for employees that will feel comfortable with them and will work hard to fulfill them. If they are not “on board” with these values at the beginning of the interviewing process, they won’t last long at the company. The Zapponians were not only in charge of creating this list of core company values, they also leveraged the power of social proof to ensure their employees act on what they believe.


Zappos and the Vegas Community

A day before visiting Zappos‘ office I decided to take a bus tour of downtown Las Vegas. I was surprised that even with all of the major tourist attractions we saw, the tour guide pointed out the Zappos building on Stewart St. and talked about Zappos’ unique culture and what the company had provided to the city and to the Downtown Project.

This landmark project is run by a passionate group determined to turn downtown Las Vegas into the world’s most community-focused big city. The Downtown Project sponsors a number of events designed to foster a collaboration between bright, inspired, passionate people committed to transforming Las Vegas’ downtown area into a vibrant, connected urban community.

When our tour guide pointed out the Zappos Building and remarked about the Downtown Project, I realized there is a close bond between the company and the city. And that was really well represented on the tour. Even though founded in San Francisco, Zappos has bet on Vegas, and now its offices are located where the City Council used to be. There is a former Casino and Hotel that now is the home of quite a few Zapponians that chose to live right next to the office thanks to this project investment.


The tour

I must admit I was really excited about going to Zappos’ offices. I had read a lot about their culture, core values and the way they work, and I was looking forward to visiting their offices to live and experience that fun and relaxed work environment myself. And in fact, they WOWed me from the moment the Zappos shuttle picked me up (for free!) at my hotel and dropped me off at their headquarters offices in downtown Vegas. The driver told me that she had been working at Zappos for about six years already, and was really happy with her job! Also, and it seemed part of the experience, she showed me where Tony Hsieh lives, right in front of the company’s offices.

Main Lobby Zappos

Once I walked into the main lobby I knew the tour was going to be so much fun! There was a popcorn machine next to the front desk, some games for everyone to enjoy, and people at the reception area were really friendly and outgoing. The tour guide made the late comers pay a penalty, for the ones that arrived late, they had to sing us a song! And then we learned about the Zappos’ history with some videos we watched before the tour, and I won a prize for knowing the answer in the contest they held asking us questions about facts that were mentioned in the videos! My Zappos shots are now safely at home and awaiting to be used at my next party :)

The headquarters are huge. During the tour we were able to see so many different offices, all of them so colourful and with a fun and relaxed touch. There were even exercise machines that were turned into desks! I believe the company’s open minded values allow these kinds of fun and entertaining ways of working!The tour guy took us through every department, including the Customer Representatives (they call them the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team CLTs), finance, marketing and human resources departments, describing their role in the company and how they provide excellent customer service.

Colourful decoration at Zappos

There are as many kitchens as there are floors in the building. If there is a vending machine that is not working, they hang a polite and funny sign that states that the vending machine “is not feeling very well”. Also, there are great services for the employees. For example, if your cellphone or your notebook suddenly broke, Zappos has a Help desk office just for employees. How cool is that?

During the tour they tried to show us every single detail in the office that reflects their corporate culture, and for me was really easy to see how they apply Zappos’ core values. One of those core values was about being “a little weird”; the company fosters an environment that gives team members the space to be themselves.

Walking through their offices is such a unique experience! It’s easy to feel Zappos’ relaxed, fun-loving and close-knit family atmosphere. Their employees are happy, having fun and smiling but mainly doing great at their jobs.


The aftermath

The last step of the tour was to leave our name tags with Lucille (see the pic). And we were told about a series of recommended books, all of them related to the importance of corporate culture and core values, something Zappos encourages every day with their employees. As guests on the tour, we  were able to buy any of those books for $10 each, much lower than the regular market price, and this money helped a school nearby.

Lucille Zappos

As I am involved in the Communications field, I thought it would be a good idea to buy a couple of them just to learn more about the different actions and tools they use to improve their internal communication and culture. We also received a copy of the 2012-2013 Zappos Culture book, written by the employees of Zappos (uncensored!) about that it means to work in the company. People working at Zappos are very grateful for all the opportunities and benefits the company offers them daily; they have a huge mural full of “thank you messages” from the employees in the main lobby.

It was wonderful to experience how big companies like Zappos can create a totally relaxed work environment where employees feel free to innovate, learn, and deliver the best customer service all at the same time.

This opportunity not only helped us see how many things we can improve in our company, but also made me realize Making Sense has a great working atmosphere as well. Although we are still growing and learning a lot, we are on the right path!

Making Sense believes that delivering creativity, innovation and an extraordinary customer service demands talented hardworking employees who are loyal, motivated, and encouraged and supported in their pursuit of excellence in their work.

Do you want to learn more about our corporate culture? Do you have a revolutionary idea for an app or software program? To discover more about how we can help you, contact us today at!