My first meeting and interview with Tony Hsieh #179

My first meeting and interview with Tony Hsieh

Blog #178 I talked about the proverbial straw and a meltdown. In this blog I want to talk about My first meeting and interview with Tony Hsieh.

 

When I first published this story I was still in my blogging about my Nordstrom days and we received the unfortunate news Tony Hsieh had passed away. In honor of him I put this story out early on Medium & Facebook. I’m going to re-post this now to my website to fall in line with the current blog events of my journey.

 

 This story is when I took my Zappos “Leap of Faith” and changed my life in such a positive way. I am heartbroken on Tony leaving us so soon, The world lost an amazing person. Here is my story on when I met Tony for the first time. Here’s to Tony…

 

My Job at Target was becoming a nightmare. So much so it was affecting my home life too. I wasn’t a very happy person at the time. In fact I was miserable. I had talked to Diane about leaving Target but she felt I was on the verge of being promoted to a Store Manager position.The STL that I was working for though was the worst example of a leader. He ruled by fear, not by motivation. It was getting old fast.

 

Fact was, I was ready to leave without a job lined up, that’s how miserable I was. I had talked to Fred a few times about Zappos and each time Diane and I were a little nervous about working for a “startup”, since we had two kids and a house mortgage. On a whim I decided to call Aaron to get an update on what was going on at Zappos.

 

You should come talk to Tony, I can arrange an interview if you like. Someone just left and we are looking for a good “Women’s footwear guy”. It was one of those conversations where you stopped in your tracks and the adrenaline started flowing in your veins. It felt good. It felt right. But I needed more info.

 

Tony

 

Aaron set up the interview for the next day. Didn’t have much time to prepare but I was ready for anything. Prior to this Fred and I were talking about an offer and what they could do to make me feel more comfortable to take the leap. Fred bent over backwards to accommodate my needs which I appreciated. He also kept saying each time, “You should talk to Tony”.

“Who is this Tony guy?” I knew he was the CEO but everyone held him in such high regard. I could hardly wait to meet him. That night it was hard to sleep. This was going to be a wild ride if I decided to take the Leap of faith. It’s what I needed though from the core of my soul. I was dead inside, beaten down, defeated.

 

The spark I had for so many years being in retail was flickering. The next morning I hopped on the BART train. It would take an hour to get there and then a 30 minute walk to the office. Being an “On-Time freak” I started early with a 2 hour window. I got there with plenty of time to spare so I got some coffee nearby and chilled out for a little while.

 

The office was on Van Ness Ave. It was in a building that housed a movie theater and a “Crunch Gym”. There was also a Venture Frogs restaurant. I had done some research on Tony prior to the meeting so I knew Venture Frogs was a VC business and the restaurant was run by his father Richard.

 

Tony was approached by Nick the founder with this idea to fund a footwear website. I’ll go more into this in blog #180. I was going to meet both of them today as well as Fred, who I worked with at Nordstrom Arden Fair.

 

Aaron gives a brief tour

 

Aaron meets me at the door and gives me a tour of the office. It was very “Start-up” with cords all over the floor and 6 foot tables for desks. This was definitely “different”. I’ve seen so many different types of operations it didnt phase me though. It was an exciting feeling but uncomfortable at the same time.  There were only five buyers at the time and if all went well I’d be number six. The interview would be in the restaurant next door.

 

The interview

 

We move to the Venture Frogs restaurant and the three of them were waiting for me. Fred stands up with a warm smile and introduces me to Tony and Nick. They were all dressed casually and I shook their hands and sat down. Both were somewhat quiet with Fred steering the conversation of our time together. Nick looked like a “skater ” type dude and Tony a Tech guy.

 

Aaron would comment how I hired him in the shoe business and between him being there and Fred it was less intimidating. Tony was really smart though, so I was measured in my responses. Nick was also thoughtful in his questions, so I made sure I was listening intently to each question they both asked me.

 

Tony whips out a pair of shoes. “How much do you think the retail should be?” It was a brand I never heard of, RSVP. The sole was man made, looked like a leather upper. I’m not familiar with the brand, I said. Tony told me it was a private label brand they were testing.

From my experience at Nordstrom, we used to say, give a better value to the customer for Private Label items. My first thought was it was probably around 30–40 dollars. So I guessed $29.95. They were going to sell it for $39.95 so I was pretty close.

 

Then he asked me what I thought about the brands they already had on the site. The follow up questions was, if I knew people in the industry to bring on more brands to the site. I had been in the business for some time and built great relationships with people so I said with confidence I could bring on some brands.

 

One flub

 

The interview went very well, one thing I messed up was I suggested that when someone picks a color on the site the shoe should then be shown in that color. Fred was quick to point out that the site was already like that. Damn, with limited time to prepare, I did most of my research on Nick and Tony and should have spent more time on the site itself. I did check out the site but not in depth.

 

Both Tony and Nick were easy to talk to and Zappos was such a great story I was sold. Tony was very impressive in his thought process, so I had full confidence in taking my Leap of Faith. They offered me the position that day and I accepted. Do you need to talk it over with your family? No, I’m ready. Fred and I were already in negotiations so I knew what all the specifics were.

 

We had a few celebratory drinks and then I went back to the BART station. I was almost skipping I was so happy. A huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders similar to when I went up the escalator at Nordstrom for the last time. Plus, I knew this was the right decision for me and my family. The flame that was flickering was vibrant now. The only concern for me now was telling my wife and Target I was taking a Leap of Faith to this Start up Online shoe store. It was going to be the ride of my life…

 

Tony Stories

 

Over my 17 + years at Zappos I had many interactions with Tony and the feeling above was always the same. He was a smart dude. No matter what I say today it won’t do justice to the man I knew. He did so much for so many and that’s what he was about. I feel fortunate to share part of my journey with a person like Tony. So many Zapponians are feeling  numb over this. It’s hard to describe the feeling in just a few sentences. One thing I can share on the feeling is, somethings missing. I didn’t always interact with him on a daily basis but there definately is a void. He was an amazing human being.

 

Here are some of my favorite moments in which I will more than likely share again later in my journey.

 

The Dinner

 

My favorite Story was from when I first got hired in 2003. A rep I had known for a long time from my Nordstrom days, wanted to take a few of us to dinner. He was one of the original 4 brands on the site.

 

Invite Tony and Fred too, he said. We are going to go to a nice Steak House in NYC. So originally it was for five people, but when people found out Steve was the rep many more wanted to come as well. Zappos is famous for taking care of the bill to show appreciation to our reps these days. But back in 2003 the reps paid. So as the number grew I could tell Steve was getting nervous because he wasn’t on an expense account and this was a really nice place in NYC.

 

During the course of the evening in typical Zappos fashion the wine bill was going to be more than the food. Tony ordered some Raw Oysters. Since I was sitting next to him, he offered to “fix mine for me.” He added a bunch of spicey things to it and at first I thought he was messing with me. “Try it” he said. It was amazing and to this day it’s how I eat them. Take the oyster, add a little cocktail sauce, tabasco to your taste and hot horseradish.

 

The bill comes after an amazing dinner and too much wine to go along with it. Tony stands up and grabs the bill. We were all a little surprised but I was super proud at that moment. I went up to Tony and told him thanks for doing that for him. Tony looked at me and said, I did it for you Mike…Mic drop…

 

I was blown away and to this day I get emotional from the memory of that night. It really draws the perfect picture of who he was. He always took care of us. Made sure he had our back and at the same time moved Zappos a step forward. Not only did he take care of an awkward moment for me but for the rep as well. It probaby was the catalyst for us picking up the tabs as well.

 

Leadership Class

 

One year we all went on an off-site trip to take a leadership class. It went through a lot of leadership fundamentals and exercises to improve our leadership abilities. Some topics were around team work, others communication. Towards the end of the session we had to break into groups of two. I was paired with Tony. So we had to sit in chairs back to back and tell the other person something not many people knew.

 

Tony told me he wasn’t comfortable talking in large groups. Being the smartass that I am I told him we all knew that already. His response, was people didn’t know is how he deals with it. It was the first time he told anyone. He tries to talk about subjects he is passionate about. This way he already has a leg up. Once again he blew me away, another mic drop…I actually try to do the same thing now, even though I’m not that bad at talking in groups, it sure helps.

 

China Girl

 

We were doing a private label program I was involved in between 2004–2009. We would usually bring a group with us and take them to the factories and see how shoes are made. On one memorable trip we had a large dinner event with a factory. Now one thing that Zappos people were good at in those days was drinking. In China it’s part of the culture to honor each other with a shot of Moutai a Chinese distilled liquor. You could compare it to Grappa in Italy.

 

On this particular evening we had some of our heavyweights with us, Fred, Tony, Alfred, Galen and Aaron. I never professed to be able to keep up with those guys but I always did the best I could. This young Chinese girl came around the tables and invited everyone to take a shot with her. it was unbelievable because she was maybe 90 lbs. She drank us all under.

As we were getting into the bus to take us back I asked her how she does it. Her reply, This is nothing you should meet my mother, now she can drink. Mic drop…

 

Another China story

 

On another occasion the same trip we had dinner with another factory and we had an amazing dinner and the hosts were most gracious. Now it came down to Moutai time. Tony came up with this very complicated drinking game where we would have to answer something usually him, Alfred and the factory owner solved. It was another one of those nights. It was a match of wits and came down to the factory owner and Tony and of course Tony prevailed in the end.

 

There are so many more memories and fun times I experienced with Tony and Zappos and I’ll try to capture as much of it as I can in the blogs after 179. All I can say is someone like Tony may, if you are fortunate enough, come into your life once in a lifetime. I am so glad Tony was part of mine, he made me a better person and I’ll always be grateful to him for that

Rest well Tony…

SIZES... SIZES... SIZES... SIZES...

…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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