The first quarter of the book about Tony Hsieh's childhood and the lessons he learned feels a bit forced (my button business taught me the lesson of ______). But, my doubts were quickly dispelled with the story of Zappos. I loved how Tony focused on one thing, the best customer service, and did it really well. To have the best customer service, they focused on company culture through a system of hiring (it's easier to hire people who fit the culture than try to change people) and through employee advancement opportunities through their "pipeline," giving employees perceived control of their careers. I can't think of any other large company that has been able to sustain a culture (Starbucks had a unique culture, but in recent years they've become too big to sustain it). Tony says that the Zappos company culture is their one sustainable competitive advantage. Will company culture work for your company? It's hard to say, but there probably is one thing that your company could do better than any other company...and it is probably worthwhile to develop that.
The argument was made about Tony "getting lucky." I have to agree, but I'd add that any business success is 80% luck and 20% planning, tenacity, insight, and work ethic. The 20% is critical to making success, but it's not sufficient. Even the most brilliant people will fail more often than they succeed, but you don't often see the entire journey of failures before success. You could use the "luck" argument for any success (Thomas Edison just got lucky, after all, he was wrong 999 times before he was right).
I thought that Tony did an excellent job of narrating his book. This isn't the case with many authors turned narrators (i.e. Beer School), but with several authors like Malcom Gladwell and Bill Bryson, hearing the book in the author's voice puts you into the story better than with a professional narrator. I'd put Tony's narration squarely in this category.
Now that you read the generic description the publisher wrote to get you to buy the book, I will give you an accurate depiction of Reality Check.
The subtitle focuses on the competition, but I felt that that this is misleading. This is really a book about how to launch a startup. So, in that context the title could make sense. Some of the content could apply to an established business, but this is not the focus. The book doesn't intend to be a how-to guide, but instead provides a smattering of frank do's and don'ts that touch on issues ranging from writing a business plan (or not), hiring lawyers, presenting, budgeting, forecasting, and even mingling. It details common pitfalls (if you can avoid even one of the pitfalls mentioned, it would be work the price of the book). I found the section on forecasting the first year's sales to be particularly useful. As a writer, Guy is no Malcom Gladwell, and some of his quips can be irritating (see bullshittake), but I would still recommend this book to anyone who is looking to start a business (especially with VC money).
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