True Stories of How Tony Hsieh Taught His Zappos Team the Meaning of ‘Wow’

During the early days of Zappos, Tony Hsieh encouraged his team to develop a set of core values for the company.

The first on the list was “Deliver WOW Through Service” — and it was No. 1 for a reason. Not only did that mission come to define the e-commerce company and its customer-centric philosophy, but it was an outstanding characteristic of its founder.

Here, members of the Zappos team share how Hsieh taught them the importance of “wow.”

Tyler Williams
Director of brand experience

The first time I met Tony, I had just won the Zappos Halloween costume contest by dressing up as a Centaur. He walked with me back to my desk and invited me to hang out with him downtown that night. It just so happened that my band (a country band based in Las Vegas), was already playing in that area. I shared the details on when and where my show was. He walked away without saying a word and I thought maybe I’d just ruined my chances to get to know my CEO. That night, we were playing on an outdoor stage to a total of about five people, when all of a sudden a double-decker red bus, the “Delivering Happiness” tour bus, and a Zappos parade float pulled up on the street in front of us. Dozens of people poured out of the vehicles and started dancing to our music, supporting us. I saw Tony on top of the bus. He was watching everyone have a good time and he seemed to be enjoying to show. Later, when I got to know him better, I discovered country music is not his favorite genre of music (’80s love songs were). He came that night to support me, someone he had just met. It really had a profound impact on me. Eventually, I became a Fungineer for Zappos and help create fun experiences for our employees. Tony instilled in me that night what “wow” really means. It’s about making someone feel really special. I will forever love and cherish the lessons he taught me over the years, and continue to further his mission of bringing “wow” to the world.  

Tyler Williams Zappos
Tyler Williams in his award-winning centaur costume.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Tyler Williams

Cameron Guerrero
Program manager

Tony loved taking colleagues and friends to go see Vegas Golden Knights games, and he always insisted that groups take his personal tour bus to games together. One of my favorite memories of being wow’d by Tony occurred on the bus. I told him that my partner was working and would need to meet us at the game. Tony quickly suggested that we pick Michael up at his office. Not expecting that, I insisted it wasn’t necessary, but Tony didn’t see it as an inconvenience — more like an unplanned adventure. I will never forget pulling up to Michael’s stuffy corporate building in a giant tour bus with Tony greeting him at the door in a sequined jacket. I can only imagine the spectacle it must have been to all who witnessed it inside. I still smile widely thinking back on that feeling. He explained to a few of us as we arrived at the arena that he enjoyed mixing different people together, like a chemist. That each of us are atoms, and together we could create endless combinations of molecules, outcomes and possibilities.

Jeff Espersen
GM & chief merchant

“I have had the honor of knowing Tony since I started at Zappos in 2010. He made me feel welcome on the very first day. The way he repeatedly wow’d me was by putting his trust in me to help build the business with our vendor community. It was humbling. I didn’t have to ask for his approval to do what I believed was right for the customer. He always said to me, ‘Just believe in what you do and always be true to yourself.’”

Zappos Jeff Espersen
Jeff Espersen, GM and head of merchandising at Zappos.

Precious Bucher
Customer Loyalty senior operations manager

Before a meeting I was telling Tony how my best friend from back home was going to see Jewel in Hershey, Pa., that night [with her Grammy]. After the meeting was over he told me to text him her name, and tell her to go to the box office when she got there. She called me so excited: Her tickets were upgraded and included a meet-and-greet with Jewel. I didn’t mention this [to Tony] with the intent of anything, simply something to have a conversation about. Tony barely knew me then — and certainly didn’t know [my friend]. I was always in awe of how he shared whatever it was he had, with whomever it was he could. He didn’t know the impact he was going to have, and what an impact it was. Jasmine got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and memory with her Grammy that will never be taken away. I am forever grateful that Tony did that. 

Melody Loveday
Program manager, Zappos Experience

Tony loved making gigantic batches of soup that became his signature at Airstream Park. One cold night just before Christmas, a resident came down with a cold. Tony purchased the ingredients and I helped to prepare them in the community kitchen. As we washed and chopped vegetables, he explained how each ingredient played a part and how the flavors complemented each other. I realized in that moment that the way he cooked very much represented the way he approached life. He was thoughtful, giving and passionate about bringing people together similar to the way he brought those ingredients together. It wasn’t so much about the food as about making them happy. A few days after he passed, my friend asked if I would make soup for her because she wasn’t feeling well. At first, I didn’t want to because I was feeling down, but then I thought, “Tony would’ve made it for her.” So I pulled myself together and made a huge batch of soup in Tony’s honor. His legacy lives on in all of us, so be kind, deliver happiness and make the soup.

Las Vegas Airstream Park Zappos
Some Zappos team members live in 240-square-foot trailers<br />in nearby the Airstream Park.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Zappos

Mike Normart
Senior director

Tony always invited lots of people to his annual New Year’s Eve pajama party. In 2013, my daughter and fiancée were in town, and Tony said, “Of course they can come, too.” It was pre-Uber, so we planned to get a hotel nearby. Hotels were sold out in downtown, so I asked Tony for recommendations, but he said, “You can all stay in the furnished units in my building.” I was blown away by his generosity. I had heard [the units] were very nice. We arrived to spacious units with view of The Strip. The party was really fun, with music, games and, of course, a llama. We had a great time, and my daughter thought her dad was pretty cool. Tony definitely wow’d me and my family.

Megan Petrini
Onboarding manager

I had the privilege of being a part of the Zappos 20th anniversary issue of Footwear News. A few days before the photo shoot, I received a specific request we wear black jeans. Unfortunately, I don’t own any black jeans. I offered to buy some, but was told to just come in any jeans. The morning of the shoot, Tony came in wearing black jeans. He looked right at me and said, “You’re not wearing the right thing.” (He always loved to give me grief.) I gave him a very smug look, telling him I got an exception because I was super cool, only the nerds still had to wear black jeans … with a quick “just kidding, I don’t own any.” Tony opened up his backpack and pulled out three extra pairs of black jeans. He offered to let me wear a pair for the shoot, so I put his jeans on over mine. That’s how we found out that we wore pretty close to the same size. In the end, they had me just wear the jeans I came with. It was one of the last times we all got a lot of time to hang out with each other, and the photographs are a good reminder of how he wow’d me.

Zappos’ 20th anniversary cover of FN.
CREDIT: Shayan Asgharnia

Scott Schaefer
GM of finance

For Tony, delivering happiness was his mantra. He particularly loved our quarterly Zappos All-Hands meetings and invested a significant amount of time personally curating the theme, speakers and content for each one. Sitting backstage during the event, you would see Tony’s passion firsthand as he meticulously pored over every detail of the presentation material, changing content on the fly when he thought it would land better. He also enjoyed having announcements that would surprise and delight employees. Seeing our team members’ smiles, tears, laughter and cheers was the purest form of Tony delivering happiness and receiving it right back, as he knew he had effectively touched hearts by creating great moments people would never forget. Thank you, Tony, for these memories and so many others you blessed us with during your life.

Sarah Vlasic
Director of back-office systems

In a weekly meeting, I mentioned I was excited for a Vegas Arcade Fire concert. The next day, I received a text message from Tony asking me how many people I was going with to the concert. The night of the show, Tony texted again, asking to meet us. He then presented us with special-access passes and personally walked me, my husband and our friends to the front row and explained to security that we were his special guests and could stay there for the rest of the concert. Tony had also learned where Arcade Fire’s after-party was being held, saying he couldn’t necessarily get us access, but had suggestions on how we could talk our way in, which worked like a charm. This is just one example of how Tony was always listening to those around him and trying to figure out ways to deliver happiness, which he did for countless people, in countless ways, through the years.

Jeanne Markel
Director of communications

In 2013, I was given the opportunity to work directly with Tony and Fred Mossler on the Downtown Project. My first week in the new role, Tony invited me to join him and Fred at a Vanity Fair Summit in San Francisco. The summit closed out with a cocktail party, which organizers made very clear was for conference speakers only (read: leave your entourage at home). Tony would have none of it and figured out a way to get me and Fred in. No exaggeration, everybody there was a household name. I had a sort of an out-of-body experience when I found myself chatting with Katie Couric about shoes. At one point, I looked up and saw Tony across the room in conversation with the caterer. He caught my eye and smiled. Parties like this weren’t his thing — but we weren’t there for him; we were there because he wanted to provide this “wow” experience for me and Fred. I worked with him as chief of staff/advisor for six more years and had countless similar experiences. I am incredibly lucky for having known him and had the privilege of learning from him.

Rob Siefker
Senior director of Customer Loyalty

I started at Zappos as a temp in San Francisco in 2004. When the company planned its move to Nevada, I was offered a full-time job. The job was fun and meaningful, I was 23, so I prepared for a great adventure! None of us Zapponians knew anyone else in town, so we hung out with each other. The group would frequent Sunset Lanes for bowling. One night I talked with Tony about my work on our Customer Loyalty Team. I told him about frequently being on the phone with our warehouse manager trying to locate lost inventory, and how I wanted to better understand how the warehouse operated so our team could provide better customer service. The next day, I was emailed confirmation of a flight to Louisville, Ky. The cool thing is that we kept sending CLT to Kentucky to see operations. It was organic at first, but led to our full-blown “KY Bootcamp” program. Tony wow’d me! 

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