When news broke of Tony Hsieh’s unexpected passing, leaders in business and tech including Paul Graham, Alexis Ohanian, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Dan Price expressed their fondness for Hsieh and the wisdom he shared. As CEO of online shoe company Zappos, Hsieh prioritized his employees and customers above all else. According to several accounts from friends, Hsieh was nothing if not devoted to two things: his business and the people around him.
Yet what’s surprising is that even those who weren’t in Hsieh’s close inner circle were beneficiaries of his kindness and desire to go above and beyond to help others in the ways he knew best: by providing access to resources and insight into his outlook on life and work.
Brian Solis, author and global innovation evangelist at Salesforce, wrote about Hsieh for Entrepreneur back in 2012. The topic was innovative tech leaders.
“I was asked to interview 3 tech CEOs who would inspire the next generation of #entrepreneurs,” Solis wrote on Twitter. “My 1st choice was Tony, because, beyond vision, he symbolized good in a world that often changes with $.”
In his tweet thread, Solis outlined some of Hsieh’s key business principles, including his 10 core values: “1. Deliver ‘wow’ through service; 2. embrace and drive change; 3. create fun and a little weirdness; 4. be adventurous, creative and open-minded; 5. pursue growth and learning; 6. build open and honest relationships with communication; 7. build a positive team and family spirit; 8. do more with less; 9. be passionate and determined; 10. be humble.”
Solis also wrote about Hsieh’s interest in revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. Hsieh pumped $350 million of his own money into a project to bring housing, retail, and office space into the city in an effort to foster a sense of community. Although the Downtown Project was deemed unsuccessful early on, Hsieh managed to move the Zappos offices to Las Vegas’s old City Hall building and lured in hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to create the next big startup. The Downtown Project wasn’t a runaway success, but it became Hsieh’s lasting mark on the world. Aside from Zappos, of course.
“Tony once told me, ‘Your culture is your brand. Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company.’ These words should live in [the] soul of every organization,” Solis wrote.
The former CEO of Simple, Josh Reich, met Hsieh during the online bank’s early days, while trying to hire Zappos’s head of customer service for his own company. In a tweet, Reich recounted what Hsieh did when he found out about the plan. Instead of ignoring Reich or telling him off, Hsieh invited him to the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas to show him how the company operated.
Hsieh showed Reich around the office, let him observe call center agents, talk to engineers, and spend him with the Zappos executive team. Later on, they even ate pancakes at Hsieh’s apartment.
“He went above and beyond,” Reich wrote. “He liked our mission and wanted to help. He helped us deliver happiness. He left an outsized mark on this world. He will be missed.”
Hsieh was known for his generosity and willingness to help others. Franklin Leonard, TV producer and founder of the Black List, an annual list of unmade screenplays voted on by film executives, was one of many who benefited from Hsieh’s kindness.
In a recent Twitter thread, Leonard wrote about the time he met Hsieh. He told Hsieh about the Black List, which had recently launched, but had few resources to get off the ground. Among the things needed for the site to gain traction was a screenwriters’ lab, which required space. A week after the meeting, Hsieh emailed Leonard with an offer of 15 bedrooms in downtown Las Vegas. Today, the lab is held in Los Angeles, but without Hsieh’s help, it may not have been held at all.
“I can’t claim to have known him well, which is, I think, even greater testament to him: Tony Hsieh was uncommonly generous, often inexplicably,” Leonard wrote. “I’m lucky to have met him early in my time as an entrepreneur, both because of his generosity and because of the example it set for me.”
Leonard added, “He is gone too soon, and I hope that those who knew him can find the joy in his memory that he would have wanted to create in life.”