Zappos, of course, may be your online destination to peruse a plethora of shoes, among other things, but there's a bit more to it than that. At Zappos Labs, a research and development unit in San Francisco, they are exploring the future of online retail.
Will Young is the director of the operation, ferrying along new innovative apps like Ask Zappos, which can find an item simply by submitting a photo, if you — for example — happen to see a shoe you like but don't know what brand it is. We caught up with Will to learn how he splits his time between San Francisco and Las Vegas, where Zappos HQ is located, and how he works.
Location:San Francisco (but I spend a lot of time in Las Vegas) Current Gig:Director of Zappos Labs and General Partner VegasTechFund One word that best describes how you work:Energetic Current mobile device:iPhone 5s Current computer:MacBook Air
What is Zappos Labs, and what are you guys up to?
Zappos Labs is a bit like an R&D group exploring the future of Zappos. That could include crazy retail related experiments or new potential lines of business for us.
What apps, software, or tools can't you live without?
For work — Evernote, Slack, and Livescribe are the top of my list in terms of productivity helpers. Twitter and Instagram for social connectedness. And Clash of Clans for mindless fun.
Out of curiosity, is there any particular reason you use Apple products? (People are always asking me why our interviewees all use Apple!)
I was a Palm Pre user for two years. I loved that thing (except when I hated it because it didn't really work well). But I switched to an Apple iPhone and of course they are great to use, beautiful, and have lots of apps. I really want to get a smart phone with a stylus like the Galaxy Note. One of my favourite devices of all time was my Palm VII in college. I miss that thing.
What's your workspace setup like?
In San Francisco, I work out of our over-sized San Francisco Zappos Labs office. Pretty typical standing desk, theatre in the office, and office corn hole that gets used a freakish amount.
I also spend a lot of time in Las Vegas. While I'm there, I pretty much live and work out of my backpack running between meetings in Downtown Vegas (VegasTechFund) and Zappos HQ.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Using Evernote as my memory and source of quick responses. When I find I have answered a certain question the same way a few times, I'll craft snippets that go in Evernote so I can easily find and use them again.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I think I've tried them all and fail at using any of the consistently. A to-do list app that I stick with is probably my dream/killer app. Most of my to-dos are scattered in Evernote and Livescribe post its and notebooks.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
My Livescribe pen is ALMOST in "can't live without it" status... but not quite yet. It has a few things that annoy me still. But it's probably closest.
How does the Livescribe pen fit into your workflow?
I'm a big note taker in meetings. I have a terrible memory so I need to jot stuff down. I feel rude when I do that on my phone or on my laptop because it looks like I'm distracted (and probably am when they are open… what if my village is being raided in Clash of Clans?). It's why I want a phone with a stylus. Looks less rude when I'm capturing notes in a conversation with someone (maybe).
Will Young and Product Manager Adam Goldstein.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
White-boarding during meetings. My secret is a mix of alternating colours, sprinkled in drop caps, lists with squares to fill out when done, and lots of hand-waving.
What do you listen to while you work?
What are you currently reading?
I've got a looooong list of unread tech and leadership books. Contagious: Why Things Catch On was one I just finished and really enjoyed. And I'm wrapping up a little easy reading fiction with The Fire Seekers. Kind of like Da Vinci Code meets Spy Kids.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Extrovert except I don't love going up to introduce myself to people. That just feels awkward.
What's your sleep routine like?
Early riser. I've tried to stop working and emailing into the night like many of us do. Instead, I try and spend the evenings with my wife and friends. And if there is a lot to do, I wake up at 4AM and start my day catching up on email then.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
My mum. Because she is a loveable hippie luddite and I think it would be hilarious to see her tackle these.
So what do you think your mum's best life hack would be?
Don't give a shit about anything. It works really well for her. Hippies :)
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Work related: The advice to not care about titles. Just find and do what you love and good things will happen.
In general, and I know it's a huge cliché — but life is short don't waste it. As we get older, we hear more and more stories of losing loved ones for various reasons. Don't let that happen with regret.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
You can read a hundred hacks on trying to tame your inbox. Spoiler alert: You probably can't (like me). And that makes me sad.