Working at the World’s Best Culture Company

A summer of interning with Zappos at 17.

Before we get into it Zappos is an American shoe and clothing retailer.

But that’s not what Zappos is to me or many other zapponians...

For us, it’s a company that makes people happy.

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Zappos makes its customers and employees feel like family.

They do it through culture. Their company values aren’t something they throw up in an employee hallway. These 10 values are the backbones of Zappos:

Deliver WOW Through Service

Embrace and Drive Change

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

Pursue Growth and Learning

Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

Do More With Less

Be Passionate and Determined

Be Humble

They literally hire and fire based on them.

Zapponians embody their values. Despite working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt those values in every conversation I had with zapponians.

This is a reflection and gratitude message for everyone who made my experience awesome. I can’t stress how insane this opportunity was and that I wasn’t entitled to it. Especially given that it was during a time when millions are struggling to keep their jobs. Gratitude is through the roof 💙

Okay here’s how I got to work at Zappos for a month :)

I’m a high school student at a program called The Knowledge Society(TKS) for youth trying to solve the world’s biggest problems. Zappos brought the TKS program to Las Vegas, starting their own city-wide cohort.

Zappos and TKS put together summer internships for students who pitched problems and solutions that Zappos could uniquely solve in the post-pandemic landscape. If accepted we’d build an MVP.

What???

Zappos literally paid us to learn how to build something people want?

Yes!

So, here’s some of my reflections and learnings…

Building a hypothesis -What are you assuming?

It can be easy to fall in love with your idea and get tunnel vision. Sometimes you need a reality check.

Before you get invested in the idea, treat the idea as a science experiment. Build a hypothesis and follow the scientific method.

First, identify a list of assumptions you have and under what conditions the idea would be successful.

Some general assumptions:

  • There are enough people who need this
  • There are enough people who can pay this much for this
  • The market is big enough
  • A solid alternative doesn’t exist

Now, if one of the conditions was removed, would the other conditions be enough to hold the idea up?

If not, those are your critical assumptions,

Test critical assumptions in the cheapest and fastest way possible

Just like an experiment you have to test your hypothesis. Focus on proving or disproving your critical assumptions as cheaply and quickly as possible.

Do NOT try to prove the assumption, it will bias the outcome. This assumption should be able to survive out in the wild(the real world) because it will need to.

You should do this as early and quickly as possible so you can decide how to reduce risks or whether to pivot. this small exercise could save you crazy amounts of time and money. It’s okay to be wrong early, it’s risky to be wrong later on.

Validate with existing(recent) data where you can otherwise conduct experiments, i.e an MVP.

An MVP needs to provide value and return value

Your minimum viable product will be a scrappy way to test some of your major assumptions. It’s the experiment.

“Collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”- Eric Ries

It should also give you some monetary value back. In other words, people willing to pay for it. Build something people want to pay for from day 1.

The people you test the MVP with should want to be your early adopters after testing or else you’re doing something wrong.

The MVP will help you gain data points from your testers on what the product should grow into and whether or not to pivot.

You have to be able to measure success

Your hypothesis has to have measurable outcomes, otherwise, how do you know it worked? Ask your self “What does success look like”.

You need key metrics with benchmark numbers.

TALK TO USERS

Talking to users one on one will tell you more than any survey will. Look at your target market’s initial reaction to the idea. What’s their facial expression and body language? Is it something they instantly say they’d use? Would they tell a friend about it?

Surveys are great for surface level data but most people nowadays are turned off by a survey that takes longer than 3 minutes.

Make sure the people you're talking to are mainly your expected users, some people won’t understand the idea on the other hand some people will but it won’t matter because they won’t be your customers.

People are often the biggest X factor, no matter how good the idea is if people don’t want or understand it, it will fail. Invest in learning from your users.

Be in love with the problem not your solution

The wrong way to start a business is to find a solution and try to fit it into a problem.

The right way is to find a problem that you or many other people have and focus on solving that. That way you have to worry less about finding people to use the product and you know who to target and talk to.

Spend time understanding the problem you're trying to tackle, the economic and human nature of it and what’s been done in the past attempts to solve it.

When you focus on the problem you’ll be less likely to get tunnel vision and be more open to pivot. Pivoting is not bad. Just because your moving doesn’t mean you’re going the right way.

A step back in the right direction>a step forward in the wrong direction.

Poke holes, don’t sell

Unless you're in an investor meeting or talking to your customers, when you tell people about your idea don’t try to convince them that it’s a good idea. Instead, get them to prove why it’s the opposite.

Selling ideas to people will

1) Make them less likely to share their honest feedback with you because you seem invested in it and they don’t want to emotionally hurt you or your relationship.

2) Prevent you from seeing what people’s thoughts are when you aren’t selling it to them. How would someone talk about your idea if you weren’t there explaining it to them? Because majority of the time you won’t be there.

Simply package your idea up

Because you won’t be there to explain it, you need an easy quick explanation that your product can embody.

What’s your 2 liner explanation?

Okay now, what your 2 sentence explanation without all the fluff and big words?

If you can’t explain it simply how are people supposed to tell others about it? How are they supposed to understand it themselves? People like simple ideas and knowing they understand, human nature is fearing what we don’t know.

Also, big buzzwords will make people think your selling them something. People don’t like feeling like you’re selling them something, because it seems manipulative.

Set Team Culture Early

People are everything. No matter how good the idea is if your team isn’t on the same page it won’t work.

Set culture and expectations early. Make a road map(things will get pushed). Set BPM meetings. Connect with your team every day during standup syncs, keep these short ~20minutes, go over what you did the day before, your plans for today and any roadblocks. Set up group work periods for more collaborative work for about an hour.

Make sure you give people ownership and autonomy over their work, check-ins and feedback are important, but micromanaging often isn’t helpful.

Everything Summed Up

  • Talk to people who have the problem you’re tackling, to solve the problem, not to sell an idea.
  • Use simple language.
  • Validate your assumptions with data where you can, otherwise test them with an MVP
  • Idea’s are just ideas, the team determines execution. Set your culture early.
  • If you were to fail, why would that be? If it’s out of your control then it’s a critical assumption and you need to test it early.

Massive thanks to Noel Hurst for organizing this internship and everyone that made this experience amazing!💙

Playing around with blockchain and machine learning. 17. Trying to understand my self and the world.

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