Innovators: Zappos Director of Engineering, Will Young

Will Young

Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out. 

As the Director of Engineering, Will currently leads the San Francisco team, goaled with developing partnerships and building great products through experimentation, incubation, and off-roadmap projects. Will’s innovative and practical solutions fuel his passion for technology and interest in solving business problems. He is also one of the most prolific donut eaters in Zappos history (23 donuts in 20 minutes).

Prior to joining in 2010, Will gained over ten years of experience in creating great web experiences. He has worked as an independent consultant, as well as for leading organizations including Yodlee Corporation and Sapient Corporation. In these roles, Will played an integral role in designing and implementing large-scale enterprise applications, product management, scalable application development, process definition, direct client engagement, as well as plan and scope management.

Will has a Bachelor of Computer Science from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

What do you enjoy most about your work and why?

I work out of our Zappos IP Inc (part of the Zappos family) San Francisco office. Our office has the very fun but challenging task of trying to figure out the future of online retail. We’re constantly experimenting with different ways people might want to discover products, interact with our brand, and have fun while shopping. I really enjoy being surrounded by a team of extremely talented and creative people who are constantly brainstorming new ideas. It’s inspiring and we all push each other to think beyond today’s current shopping experience.

Where does your entrepreneurial passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?

After living in San Francisco for the last 13 years, it’s impossible not to feel an entrepreneurial passion from the great people in the SF community. It’s one of the main reasons why Zappos wanted to open an office in SF: to get back into that startup vibe and be inspired by the hustle and energy of SF start ups. I’m really driven on trying to create a new shopping experience that makes a difference to our customers and to our company’s bottom line. We’ve been doing lots of experiments and sites in Facebook, Twitter, and on the iPad. We totally geek out about looking at the data and tweaking things to really get things right.

Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?

There is a lot of advice out there to follow your passion. I really believe in that but I think that sometimes discourages some entrepreneurs. I often hear “I don’t have an idea I’m super passionate about”. And I think a lot of the times that’s ok. I often feel the most passionate about just being a part of building anything new with a fun team that I enjoy being with. Sometimes it’s ok to feel more passionate about the act of building than the product itself. For example, people often think about our CEO Tony “Wow, he must really love shoes”. He didn’t when he started with Zappos and still doesn’t! But he was passionate about building a company with an amazing corporate culture that delivered the best possible service. Passion doesn’t always have to be about a specific product your are trying to sell. So if you find yourself at a job/start-up and you aren’t enjoying the product or the process to build it, something should change!

What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?

We’re very fortunate to have some amazing speakers at our Zappos all hands meetings. The two that have me most excited are the Khan academy and Skillshare. I love companies trying to tackle huge issues in society (in this case education) with beautifully simple solutions. I think Khan Academy can really change how we look at education for our kids and Skillshare can change how we look at learning in general. It’s kind of nuts when you think our communities and future can be a brighter place because of the work these great teams are doing.

What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?

My team laughs because I held onto my Palm Pre for 2 years after getting it–I really wanted Palm to be successful! But the apps I can’t live without now to keep my life in order: Google Docs, Evernote and TripIt. I’m inspired by the design, utility and simplicity of the apps and I often wish they were all a single app. In terms of gadgets, I’m actually looking for a new alarm clock now. That sounds extremely boring but I think too many of us use our iPhones as alarm clocks. It creates this really awful of habit of checking your email before you go to bed, set your alarm, wake up to your phone, pick it up and check your email before both eyes are even open. I want an old school alarm clock that doesn’t tell me the weather, the news, tweets, fb updates, emails. I don’t even want it to have a digital face!