Hsieh, who says that Zappos will be highly profitable over the long term, is taking full advantage of a parent company that so far has tolerated his social experiments, and taken on some core areas of the Zappos business such as tech infrastructure and product fulfillment. With the sale, the companies informally agreed upon five tenets to guide their relationship, the first of which was Amazon’s promise to allow Zappos to operate independently. “It doesn’t matter if we’re doing all these experiments as long as we make our financial plan,” Hsieh tells Quartz. “Then they leave us alone.”

Hsieh has long shared his vision for making Zappos an all-encompassing customer service brand. For years, he’s even thrown around the idea of creating a Zappos airline (miniature Zappos airplanes sat on employees’ desks back at the old headquarters). With the move to Holacracy, there is now a circle devoted to exploring the airline concept. “Maybe we would have a couple Zappos employees focusing on the food and drinks, trying to emulate the glory days of Pan Am,” he says, “and let the airline [carrier] worry about safety. That’s just one idea we’re looking at.”

His fascination with self-organization goes back to the 1990s when he and Lin would discuss it at LinkExchange—the internet advertising network they built and sold to Microsoft for $265 million—as an ideal way to run a company without having to manage. In Delivering Happiness, which Hsieh finished writing just before closing with Amazon, he hints at rave culture contributing to his early fascination with self-managed systems, likening the synchronicity of crowds moving to a single beat.

Some critics charge that the shift to Holacracy is more about Zappos marketing itself as an innovative company than fundamentally changing how it is run. “If you look at the system, the lead link is really almost like a manager,” says the former senior-level employee. “There was a disconnect between what was being represented internally and externally. You can say all you want, but within Zappos, if you look deeper, the inner circle still dictates.”

At the very least, the company’s move to Holacracy is great publicity for Zappos. Hsieh, a gifted marketer who is lead link of the “Brand Aura and Storytelling” circle, often says that “a great brand is a story that never stops unfolding.” Telling the world that he’s relinquishing some level of power—no matter if it’s actual or perceived—and pushing employees to operate like entrepreneurs is enough to attract the kind of attention and some of the talent the company is looking for. It remains to be seen whether they’ll stick around long enough to buy into Hsieh’s social experiment and whatever comes next.

Feature image by Flickr user Malone & Company Photography (image has been cropped). 

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