E-commerce startup Tony Hsieh, former Zappos CEO and 'tremendous visionary,' dies at 46

E-commerce startup Tony Hsieh, former Zappos CEO and 'tremendous visionary,' dies at 46


Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, died peacefully and surrounded by family on Friday, according to a statement emailed to report by Megan Fazio, a spokesperson for DTP Companies, a Las Vegas-based enterprise for which Hsieh served as the visionary.

Tony Hsieh, the former head of Zappos who catapulted the shoe company into the big leagues with a sale to Amazon and then used the proceeds of his success in a huge project kick starting regeneration of a run-down part of Las Vegas, Nevada, with tech and wider business investments, has died at the age of 46.


Hsieh, 46, died from injuries sustained in a house fire that occurred in Connecticut while he was visiting family, according to Fazio.

"Tony's kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world," said a statement from his family that was shared with news by Fazio.

His mantra: delivering happiness, his family says. 

The cause was injuries he sustained from a house fire, a spokesperson for Hsieh confirmed to TechCrunch. He was with his brother in Connecticut at the time of the fire. It’s not clear if anyone else was injured.

The ultimate cause of Hsieh’s death is still under investigation. We will update this as and if we learn more. The full statement from DTP Companies, which ran the Downtown Project (Hsieh’s mammoth initiative to regenerate the very run-down, older part of Las Vegas) is below.

The news has sent shock waves in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and through a community in a city — heavily dependent on tourism — that has been hit extraordinarily hard by the Covid-19 global health pandemic.

"Instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life," their statement added.

Hsieh was well known for his leadership of online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos. He had recently retired after spending 20 years with the company, Zappos CEO Kedar Deshpande wrote in a statement Friday. 

"The world has lost a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being," Deshpande wrote. "We recognize that not only have we lost our inspiring former leader, but many of you have also lost a mentor and a friend."

Hsieh also played a "pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas," Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak wrote on Twitter. 

Hsieh was a brilliant, offbeat, and — to many people, often very directly — kind-hearted person who was regularly described as a visionary.

That was not an overstatement. Growing up in the Bay Area, he sold his first company — a marketing tech firm called LinkExchange — to Microsoft when he was just 24, in 1998.

Using some of the proceeds from that, he formed a venture capital firm called Venture Frog. One of his early investments there was ShoeSite.com, founded in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn at a time when the latter could see a shift happening in how people were shopping for footwear, doing a lot more of it online.

Hsieh was entrepreneurial in his investing instincts and subsequently took a more hands-on role in the startup, which eventually rebranded to Zappos. As Zappos’ CEO, Hsieh moved the company from the Bay Area to the outskirts of Vegas in 2004 to build out a bigger customer service operation, run under a particularly strong ethos of flat management aimed at empowering and inspiring employees. 

His leadership helped catapult it to huge growth: by 2009 he had sold Zappos to Amazon for around $1.2 billion (a truly giant sum for an e-commerce startup at the time).

He then continued to run the company, and used the proceeds of that work to focus on his next big project: urban regeneration.

Las Vegas is a city that leaves little to sentimentality. Situated in the middle of the desert, the city’s relentless focus has long been on growth, breaking new, seemingly limitless, ground to do so.

For years, that meant huge swathes of “older” Vegas enterprises, in the Downtown region, simply sat empty, leading to the larger area eventually becoming a hotbed of crime and poverty. As with many other urban centers, it has been a vicious cycle: people focus on building newer homes and businesses elsewhere, and that makes the older areas even more neglected and vulnerable.

Hsieh saw the charm of Downtown, full of 20th-century modernist flourishes underneath it more obvious signs of decline, and proceed to buy up huge chunks of the area: apartment buildings, houses, small business structures, old casinos and hotels, and empty lots.His vision was not just to be a real estate magnate — although that is clearly something that interested him, too — but to regenerate Vegas in the mold of what he knew best: tech.

He proceeded to invest in a huge run of startups, provided they move to Vegas to build their businesses Downtown, to bring entrepreneurs and jobs to the area.

The effort had a lot of bizarre elements: it wasn't all about hard-business, and some of it was just trying to have fun on a grand scale. For example, inspired by Burning Man, Hsieh paid for the many structures built for the festival in the desert to be transported and permanently established in the downtown area.

"Such a creative & innovative person who positively helped change the landscape of Downtown Las Vegas," he said on Twitter. "We have been working on some cool projects for Downtown. God speed to his family, coworkers and our community."