Margot Hulings: December 2009 Archives

chris-brogan (1).jpg

People need people, and that's a fact. The home you live in, the food you eat, and the money you make are all possible because of other people. Even if you lived on a deserted island and could hunt for food and build a shelter, you would likely go insane because you had no one to connect with, hence Tom Hank's volleyball friend in "Castaway". 

In any startup, your users ultimately determine the profitability of your product. How you form the relationship between your product and other people determines the customer, and without the customer your product would cease to exist. So at the end of the day, a successful business is all about relationships. And all positive relationships are built on the foundation of trust. 

At LeWeb this year, Chris Brogan, author of "Trust Agents", talked about the inherent role of trust in any successful startup. He believes that trust is a currency and that establishing an exchange of trust is ultimately what brings value to your product. This in a way makes the actual product you are selling less relevant than the type of relationship you are creating with your network of users. 

This may seem like an obvious concept: create good relationships with the people you need. But the way you establish and manage these relationships makes the difference between a person who buys your stuff and a person who buys into you. Getting people on board with what you are about, beyond your product of the moment, comes from understanding the principles of relationships based on trust:

Don't Sell:
There is nothing more contagious than passion paired with belief. If you believe in your product and speak about it with genuine passion then you will never need to sell to anyone.

Have integrity: 
Integrity is more than just being truthful and well intentioned. Integrity is about being true to yourself, representing yourself in the world and in business in a way that is a direct reflection of your deep purpose. People are great bullshit detectors, and when who you're not in synch with what you're pitching, then they are going to be turned off by your insincerity.

Give First:
The best way to establish trust when you meet someone is to open yourself up and give something. Say hello and give a compliment, or your help, or give them your ear and actually listen. Don't go around thinking about what you can get from people to make you successful, think about what you can give to make others succeed. 

According to Brogan, you live and die by your network. So honor the relationships you form with everyone and maintain them with meaningful interactions. Be a great connector and people will trust your reputation. Be available and people will trust your loyalty. Be consistent and people will trust your integrity. Keep meeting new people and remember that you never know who could end up being the most valuable connection you have.

Sometimes the most obvious concepts of relationship building get lost when money comes into play. However, the most successful startups keep it real, and understand that it is a people business. It's as simple as people buy from people they like, people invest in people they trust.

employee-happiness.jpgThe Frameworks of Happiness

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, believes the key to maintaining a positive company culture in the workplace is to inspire your employees to be happy. To define what this looks like, Hsieh has divided Happiness into four motivating factors.

  • Perceived Control- Although control may be somewhat of an illusion, the perception of control can make you function better in life. People who 'feel' in control are more confident, calm and effective. When you believe you can make your life better, you will attract positive experiences to confirm that belief.

  • Perceived Progress- People perform better in life and work when they are acknowledged and validated. Zappos used to award promotions every 18 months until they realized that giving employees smaller promotions every 6 months gave them a sense of ongoing success and made them more productive.

  • Connectedness- Humans have the innate need to connect. We feel more secure and more supported when we are part of a community that shares the same values and purpose. Creating a team environment is essential to make employees feel that they belong in this company and can trust the people they are working with.

  • Meaning/Higher Purpose- Nothing makes people feel more valuable than being part of something that matters. Enlisting employees into the company's greater vision and allowing then to make a difference will inspire them to reach their potential. Because at the end of the day, happiness comes from contributing yourself to something that is greater than yourself.

Zappos is about delivering happiness and that's what has made them so successful. Happy employees equal happy customers. So motivate your employees by inspiring them to be better humans and follow your example as a happy person who cares about his team at a core level. This way the boss becomes a mentor, and a job becomes a calling, and a customer becomes loyal.


Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has reinvented the meaning of customer service. Instead of hiring customer service reps and training them off a script, he's made the entire company a customer service ashram. This is not fabricated servitude; Zappos employees have a genuine air of happiness that is almost cultish in its sincerity. 

People are actually pleased to work there and believe in what they're doing. For a company that just sells apparel, this is quite an accomplishment. Hsieh doesn't do this by incentivizing his employees to act caring to customers. He does it by making people happier; by making Zappos a place where people feel inspired to do good.  Which is why Hsieh's biggest priority in running a successful startup is Company Culture.

Everything at Zappos is built on the foundation of its core values around company culture. Employees are hired and fired by whether or not they are a culture fit. Instead of funding a marketing department, Hsieh makes Zappos a place that fosters positivity, meaning and purpose in his employees lives, which customers will naturally be drawn to and talk about. And any good business person knows that viral marketing is the most effective way to increase sales. Hsieh believes in the ripple effect that if employees are happy, customers will be happy, and if customers are happy, your business will profit, and much more than companies where employees just see it as a job.

Creating a company culture based on principles of happiness will organically attract all the things a startup wants: excellent customer service, branding, viral marketing and ultimately revenues. Zappos believes in this so deeply that they've created a company culture book and follow it religiously. And obviously it's working; Zappos was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billon in November of this year.


Stay Tuned  for the Next Post On "The Frameworks of Happiness"

The Heart of the Start

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6b0d7be5e34206e0608b5aaaf6962e17.jpgLeWeb was all about heart this year. Words like 'spirit,' 'caring,' and 'happiness' seemed to be flying out of just about every panelist's mouth. Love was in the air, as it should be in a city like Paris, two weeks before Christmas, amongst a group of some of the most inspiring people in the world of tech.

The question wasn't new: "What makes startups successful"? However, the perspective on how to get there seems to have shifted into a place less about numbers and analytics to a place of feelings, motivations and intentions. "Chase the passion, not the money" as Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, put it. 

Sometimes it takes the passion of Paris with the inspiring words of great leaders to remind us to come back to our core values. 'Tis the season to open our hearts and rekindle our thoughts with what matters in life . . . and ultimately find a way to translate that into business.

Stay tuned to the next post for "Principle I: Company Culture" based on the advice from LeWeb panelist Tony Hsieh.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Margot Hulings in December 2009.

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