How The Founder Of Zappos Changed My Definition Of Success

~ 7 Minute Read


Success.  It means many things to many different people. In Western culture, and America specifically, it seems that success is tied to financial wealth.  The more money you make, the more “successful” you must be.  But is this the true definition of success, or is it more complex than what appears at the surface?

Recently, I heard a podcast where the guest changed my whole perception of success in a way that blew my mind.  No more was success a black and white object that was tied to wealth or the number of close knit relationships in my life.  Now success meant something much more nuanced and complex.

Tony’s Definition of Success

The podcast I listened to that changed my view of success is called “How I Built This“.  This is a popular NPR podcast that covers the history of startups by those who founded them.  If you are interested in this topic I would certainly give it a listen.

As for the particular episode in question, host Guy Raz was interviewing Zappos founder and all-around fascinating dude Tony Hsieh.

For those unfamiliar with Tony, let me give you a little background on why I find Tony to be such an interesting and inspiring person.  By the time he was 25 he had already become a multi-millionare thanks to the sale of his startup, Link Exchange, which allowed websites to run banner ads (think Google Adsense, before Google Adsense).  Here’s a video that will give you a background:



At this point most of us would have moved to a nice coastal mansion and live out our days living comfortably in the sun.  Tony had other plans.  He started a venture capital firm, which led to him becoming the CEO of Zappos.  Today, Tony has a net worth of $840 million. Safe to say, that’s a bit more than I’ve made in my business, ha!

While Tony does have a coastal home, he lives most of his life in a campground located in downtown Las Vegas with his pet llama.

During the podcast Guy asked about Tony’s definition of success.  Tony responded by defining success this way, “Success is knowing that if you lost everything, you’d truly be okay with it.”

Whoa!? Success isn’t about diving in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck and having a plethora of sexy topless ladies following you around a la Dan Bilzerian?



What Does This Mean?

After getting over my mild depression about not living the fantasy life of Dan B, I started to think more about what Tony was saying and what it meant on a deeper level.

Tony’s definition of success speaks on multiple levels of both business expertise and personal growth.  From a business expertise level, Tony is saying is that if he lost all his wealth it would be okay because he has the skills and knowledge that would allow him to build something new that would create wealth and make the world a better place.

At the end of the day he has confidence in himself that is not tied to his net worth.

On a personal development level, Tony’s definition of success speaks about inner happiness and peace.  His happiness is not derived from money and that he has his priorities in order.  Focusing on your personal and spiritual development allows you to see life’s obstacles as opportunities to go in a new direction and forge a new path.  Tony values his happiness over everything else, and that has worked out quite well for him.



Seeing life as a journey, and not attaching your identity to any one aspect of your life allows you to have the flexibility necessary to succeed in business and life.  A great way to get started on changing your perspective is to incorporate some of these work-life balance habits into your daily life.

Tony’s definition of success is also a good way to measure your confidence level in your entrepreneurial skills.  Be honest with yourself, would you be okay if you lost everything?  I know at this time I would certainly struggle with losing my business, but my outlook has improved and feel that I am closer to making this definition of success a reality.

Applying This Philosophy To Your Life

With the “I got mine” culture that is permeating our daily lives these days, it is important to realize that happiness is driven by serving others.  Zappos built their brand on outstanding customer service, and a unique work culture that allows employees a great deal of autonomy and ownership over their work experience.  Remember this in your businesses and your customers (and employees) will spread the word that you genuinely care allowing you to grow without paying a dollar for marketing.

If you are unhappy in your business or job, then you should move on.  Your life is too short to sit for 30 years in a job or business you hate in the hopes that one day you’ll be able to retire.  Today is the day to start living the life that leads to your happiness.

For those interested I highly recommend Tony’s book, Delivering Happiness.  It goes into detail on Tony’s business and life philosophies and how it has led him to a rich life (and I’m not talking about money).

What’s your definition of success?  Do you agree with Tony Hseigh’s perspective?

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