Do You Need a Classroom to Succeed?

Most of us grow up, plow through grammar school, high school and  then hit the college scene.  We spend hours sitting in a classroom soaking up “knowledge” like sponge and hoping that someday some of it will sink in far enough to put you on the right track to land a good job that will earn you enough money to at least be comfortable.  Tony Hsieh took a bit of an unconventional approach to education.

Dialing for dollars.

Hsieh decided to take a computer science class in high school and realized they could hook up the telephone line into the computer and make unlimited phone calls.  His “computer lunch group” were making calls to all types of interesting places but were eventually called on it.  Tony pleaded with teachers to allow him to skip classes so long as he did well in school.  He learned to take risks and think outside the box.  His biggest focus though during high school was how he could make money.  By his senior year at high school, he worked his way up to a computer programming job at GDI which paid $15 per hour.


Hsieh applied at several colleges including Brown, Berkeley, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, Yale, and Harvard and was accepted at all.  His parents wanted him to go to Harvard and that’s where he went.  He had a strange sleeping schedule of staying up for days and then sleeping for days and skipping classes and hardly went to any classes his freshman year.  He took a religion class thinking not much to do in this class and never attended class.  End of the class rolls around and he needed to figure out how to pass.  He created a study group which required participants to prepare written proposed questions/answers which might be on the final exam.  Without ever attending the class, he successfully completed the class.  He held various jobs during college.  He managed a restaurant selling pizza to college students in the dorms.  One of his best pizza customers was Alfred Lin, who would later join him at Zappos as CFO and COO.  At the end of his senior year, he was introduced to the web.

You win some; you lose some – out in the real world.

Hsieh’s first job after college was at Oracle Corporation.  He had an easy schedule at work and wanted to do something on the side with his roommate, Sanjay Mandan.  On their time off, they started to design and maintain websites for companies from their home.  They wanted to run their own business and not be bored and unfulfilled.  The adventure didn’t start up immediately and they realized they didn’t like web designing.  They questioned if they had made the right decision to leave Oracle.  They started programming LinkExchange, which allowed members to advertise their site over LinkExchange’s network by displaying banner ads on their websites.  They didn’t focus on making money and wanted to grow the company over time and eventually sell.  They sent emails to websites to see if they wanted to help out testing their website for free.  Over half said yes and they decided to focus on making LinkExchange a business.  They were working around the clock spending time doing computer programming and answering customer emails.  They were diligent about responding to all the emails.  They soon knew they were onto something big, but they had no idea how it was going to turn out.


Tony’s story is amazing.  Imagine being able to have the foresight and drive to start your own business just because you did not want to be bored.  Like a lot of us Tony found out that what makes money might not give you an adventure, But he kept moving forward and taking friends along with him.  I could use a friend like Tony.