Alfred Lin from Zappos is with us for this interview. Alfred is the Zappos Chairman and COO – he’s Tony Hsieh, the CEO’s right hand man when it comes to handling finance and operations for Zappos. We’ve previously published an interview with Tony.
I wanted to interview Alfred to get his perspective as being the key guy working with Tony. I wanted to understand how they met and how they’re building Zappos. Most successful technology companies were built by two guys working together (Google, HP, Microsoft, etc) and I thought this would be a good opportunity to understand this kind of relationship better.
I didn’t expect Alfred to focus so strongly on the importance of the entire team being strong, not just the Tony/Alfred relationship. In his mind they’re successful because of the entire team, not just the two guys in the spotlight.
On a side note, Alfred talks about how he and Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos started working together. Tony sold pizza by the whole pie. Alfred sold pizza by the slice. Who do you think was the most profitable?
Adrian: I am talking with Alfred Lin, who is the COO of Zappos. Alfred thanks for joining us. You want to tell us a little bit about who you are, your background and where you’ve come from?
Alfred: Sure. As you mentioned, I’m currently COO of Zappos.com. We are one of the largest, if not the largest, retailer of shoes, handbags and apparel on the Thomas Alvec Internet. We really think of ourselves first and foremost as a service company, and then a service company that just happens to sell these products.
I was born in Taiwan and lived there until I was about six or seven. I was old enough to remember that I was not born in this country but not old enough to really get a good sense of where I lived. I was raised mostly in New York City, went to college in the Boston area and then came out to the Bay Area for graduate school. Over time, I got sucked into a bunch of Internet companies.
I first met our CEO, Tony Hsieh in college. He was running a pizza business in our dormitory. I used to go down to his pizzeria and buy lots of pies, take them upstairs and sell them by the slice. He made $2 or $3 an hour, and I made $2 or $3 in a minute, but he spent more time at it so he ended up making more money then I did.
After we left college, Tony came out to the Bay Area and started the company Link Exchange. I joined about a year later when he needed someone to look after the books and create financial models. I was an Applied Math major in college and in the process of getting a PhD in Statistics at the time. I agreed to work part-time as the VP of Finance & Administration while going to classes part-time. Gradually I got sucked in and believed in the business of Link Exchange. As a result I started to do less school and more full-time work.
Seventeen months after I joined, we sold the company to Microsoft for $265 million. Through Link Exchange, Tony and I discovered that we worked well together. After Microsoft bought the company, we started Venture Frogs where we raised a small fund from friends and family of Link Exchange; we used it to start investing in a bunch of Internet start-ups.