Talking happiness with Zappos' Jenn Lim

Whose ultimate goal is to really spread and inspire happiness in the world


developerWorks: This is a developerWorks podcast. I'm Scott Laningham. My guest is Jenn Lim, CEO and chief happiness officer of delivering happiness, a company that she and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, co-created in 2010. They say it is to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life. Jenn, welcome to the podcast.

Lim: Thanks, Scott. Nice to be here.

developerWorks: I heard you and Tony at the Social Business Summit in Austin that took place earlier this month, and it was a great message that the two of you delivered, and was hoping I'd get a chance to speak with you. I just want to quickly give a little context here. There's a lot to this story with the success of Zappos, and for those who don't know out there, Zappos, an online shoe and apparel shop that was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for over a billion dollars.

And Tony wrote a book about the cultural path to that success, Delivering Happiness. Right? Wasn't that really the intent there, to kind of document what happened?

Lim: Yes, yes, pretty much just to, really I think it was started because he wanted to show that it was all, it wasn't just, you know, success, it was a lot of ups and downs and a lot of failures along the way.

developerWorks: Right. And so that book became a number one bestseller, New York Times, Wall Street Journal. And out of that, you all now have, I guess sort of a parallel mission, I presume, with the Delivering Happiness movement. Is it proper for me to call it that?

Lim: Yes, definitely, in the sense that Zappos is still an online retailer. They're going to continue doing what they're doing. But the fact that Tony and I created Delivering Happiness parallel to that is just an indicator of us really representing what Zappos created for them as a retailer.

And for us, it's now as Delivering Happiness, spreading that message on a wider scale of calling it "the movement" because of all the feedback we got from the people that read the book, and they got inspired to make changes in their lives.

developerWorks: I was thinking, I can't imagine a better job than yours, or at least, the title is one of the coolest job titles out there, Chief Happiness Officer. Could you talk a little bit about that job and how you arrived at this point, what it means to you?

Lim: So yes. For me, just Chief Happiness Officer is the equivalent of the CEO role, but for Delivering Happiness is just trying to tell the world that our metrics and our purpose is not about the traditional business profitability and margins and bottom line, but that our ultimate goal is to really spread and inspire happiness in the world. So that was kind of just a fun way to represent that.

developerWorks: Sure. And I know there are the traditional metrics for plotting the success of a company, and then there are more untraditional metrics. And I know both are important to you. And how do you keep track of whether you're being successful in this area that you're talking about now? I guess you can feel it, right?

Lim: Yes, and it's sometimes an intangible thing, but for us it's really important to track those things on a tangible level. So for us, we're actually developing a whole different, we're calling it a happy business index. So, a set of metrics that will really give an indication of where we are.

And number one for us as a company is community. So, the sense that if we grow our number of community members and we grow in meaningful interactions between them, then that to us is a successful metric, and that's what we want to hit.

developerWorks: Do you have any favorite stories? I'm sure with your travels and all the conversations you have, I mean, you guys were all over the place at South by Southwest Interactive recently in Austin, and you have a bus tour and all of that cool stuff that you've done. You know, any favorite stories?

Lim: Ah, there's just so many. I guess from a high level what really struck us was that Delivering Happiness was basically marketed as a business book, and so we sort of expected businesses and entrepreneurs to respond in the way they did in the sense that some people said, now I'm going to quit my job and follow my passion. Or, you know, now I'm going to do the thing that I always left on the back burner.

But what we didn't expect was all those stories that came from the non business sector, because people were coming to us and saying, you know, this is great, I'm actually going to develop my own personal core values. Or we heard from students and professors saying, how do we integrate this into our curriculum?

And now some schools actually have Delivering Happiness as required reading in their class. I even had a mom e-mail me and said, now, I'm going to be the CMP of my household. I'm going to be the Chief Managing Parent and implement core values. She said, I'm a good mother, but I know I can be better.

So, it's just really spans into the level of actually someone e-mailing us and saying, I was on the verge of committing suicide, and after I read your book I actually have a little bit more hope to do things.

And so this, that's a spattering of them, and one of the stories that I actually really felt for when we were on the tour, was in Chicago when we went to a music festival, and we pulled up with the bus and with our team, and there was this woman here dancing to this eighties band. And she was just dancing her heart out, and she just asked us for one of our signs. We have a winky sign and we gave it to her.

And a couple hours later, she came on the bus and she was actually teary-eyed, and we could tell she was really emotional. So we asked her what was going on, and she said, you guys don't know how timely it is, because I'm here in Chicago because my sister and best friend just committed suicide last week. So I'm here for her funeral.

And she said, I made a choice to come out and celebrate her life, and all my best friends are with me right now. And just seeing you guys here just kind of really cemented that in place.

And for me, our theme of the tour was Inspire and Be Inspired, in the sense of, with every story we get, we're inspired to do more. So, with her telling me that story, of you know, her being really probably at one of the lowest of her life but able to make a choice to actually celebrate it and be joyful of what's ... be appreciative of what she had versus going on the other side, that has inspired me.

developerWorks: What wonderful stories. Wonderful stories. Jenn, before you go, you know, I have to ask you, your Delivering Happiness Web site is such a ... it's a tour de force, really, in social media implementation. Is that what you all set out to do with it? And what is your team like, to make all that work?

Lim: What we set out to do was, like I mentioned at the beginning, is really about growing this community. So, it's definitely been an organic process for just figuring out how to best do it, and just using the resources that we have from....

Most of the team has a technology background, but as we build our team it's really about connections and people that we want to be around and how we want to nurture that environment. So, it's been an organic process, and we're still working on it. Hopefully it will get better.

developerWorks: Well, it's pretty awesome right now. And I really appreciate you making time for this, Jenn.

Lim: Oh, thank you, Scott.

developerWorks: Jenn Lim, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness. And you can read all about it at Follow Jenn Lim on Twitter @dhmovementceo. This has been the developerWorks podcast. Follow us on iTunes and in the developerWorks blog at bitly/scottdw. I'm Scott Laningham. Talk to you next time.

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ArticleTitle=Talking happiness with Zappos' Jenn Lim