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In 1999, at the age of 24, Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) sold the internet advertising cooperative LinkExchange, which he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined the upstart online shoe and apparel shop Zappos.com—then based in San Francisco—as an advisor and investor, eventually becoming CEO and helping build it into the $1.2 billion company that sold to Amazon.com in 2009.
The company moved its headquarters to Henderson in 2004 and is set to move to downtown Las Vegas’ former city hall next year. With the move, Hsieh takes the same vision that helped build the largest online shoe store to the revitalization of Glitter Gulch. Nevada Magazine recently caught up with Hsieh, now 38, to discuss his impression of Las Vegas and his thoughts on the city’s future.
Q You moved to Henderson with Zappos in 2004. Why?
A Zappos was founded in San Francisco in 1999. In 2003, we decided to build the brand to be about the very best customer service and customer experience, and realized that we needed to move the company to a city that was more service-focused and could support our call center. We considered many cities that had lots of call centers, and ultimately decided that Henderson would make our existing employees the happiest. We also thought the 24/7 nature of (nearby Las Vegas) would be advantageous to us. We officially made the move a year later.
Q What affect did moving to Southern Nevada have on the company and its employees?
A When we first moved in 2004, about 70 of our 90 employees moved with us. At the time, none of our employees knew anyone else in Las Vegas, so we all ended up hanging out with each other after work, which really strengthened our company culture and took it to a whole new level. In 2005, we decided to make company culture a specific part of our business strategy. We decided to make culture our number-one priority, with the belief that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff—like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand or business—would just be natural byproducts.
With our impending move to the old city hall in downtown Vegas, we think it’s an opportunity to take our culture to a whole new level. Our current offices are designed to increase the number of serendipitous interactions among employees in the office. By investing in the community surrounding our future campus, we now have the opportunity to increase such interactions outside the office as well.
Q We understand that you are especially enamored with the downtown arts district and First Friday. What about the city’s art scene do you find so appealing?
A We are currently focused on the Fremont East District as well as the arts district. First Friday is an arts and music festival that we recently took over because it was on the brink of going away. In order to attract the creative class to any city, there needs to be a vibrant arts scene, so we want to help the arts community grow and flourish.
Q A lot of work is going into the old city hall before Zappos moves in. Can you tell us a little about the improvements and what kind of features your new offices will have?
A The building is almost 40 years old, so a lot of the equipment and infrastructure needs to be replaced in order to support up to 2,000 Zappos employees. We plan to knock down most of the walls because of our open office environment.
Q Two thousand employees will be a huge boon to business in the area. What other implications does the move have?
A For the past few years, we’ve been focused on what we call the three Cs: Clothing, Customer Service, and Company Culture. With our move, we’ve added a fourth C: Community. We look forward to helping bring more energy downtown and doing our part to help make downtown Las Vegas the most community-focused large city in the world—in the place you would least expect it.
Hsieh’s commitment to Las Vegas’ arts doesn’t end with downtown and the Fremont East District. Following a summer 2011 visit to Las Vegas Little Theatre, he donated $10,000 to the community theater. “We need more champions like Tony Hsieh in Las Vegas…people who recognize that [the city] is more than gaming,” says Las Vegas Little Theatre president Walter Niejadlik. In addition to his already-substantial gift, Hsieh has pledged to match donations up to $15,000 made to Las Vegas Little Theatre by June 1.
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