Tony Hsieh, a revered internet entrepreneur who led Zappos and sold the online retailer to Amazon for $1.2 billion, has passed away at the age of 46.
Hsieh died due to injuries sustained in a house fire on Nov. 18 in New London, Conn.
The Zappos.com homepage featured an image of Hsieh on Friday night and a letter posted by Zappos CEO Kedar Deshpande.
“It is with very heavy hearts that we are sharing some very sad news with all of you, as we have learned that Tony passed away earlier today (11-27-20),” Deshpande wrote. “Though Tony retired this past summer, we know what a tremendous impact he has had on both Zappos and on Zapponians, as he has dedicated the past 20 years focusing on the success of both the company and our employees.”
“We are deeply saddened to hear of Tony Hsieh’s untimely passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to GeekWire. “Tony was a visionary leader and innovator who will be greatly missed.”
Here’s a statement from Amazon Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke:
I believe Tony Hsieh would want us all to keep pushing each other to invent, to dream big, and to be kind to each other. Along with so many others, I will treasure the memories he worked so purposefully to create.
— Jeff Wilke (@jeffawilke) November 28, 2020
Hsieh led Zappos since its launch in 1999. The Las Vegas-based company struggled in its early days but Hsieh helped grow the company into an online shoe and apparel giant that sold to Amazon in 2009. Zappos became known for its unique culture, focus on the “science of happiness,” experiments with corporate structure, and customer obsession — something that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos admired.
“The world has lost a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being,” wrote Deshpande, a longtime Zappos employee who took over for Hsieh as CEO. “We recognize that not only have we lost our inspiring former leader, but many of you have also lost a mentor and a friend. Tony played such an integral part in helping create the thriving Zappos business we have today, along with his passion for helping to support and drive our company culture.”
Hsieh stepped down as CEO this past August.
Tony Hsieh might be the most original thinker I’ve ever been friends with. He questioned every assumption and shared everything he learned along the way. He genuinely delighted in making anyone and everyone happy. The earth has lost a beautifully weird and helpful person. RIP
— Chris Sacca 🇺🇸 (@sacca) November 28, 2020
Amazon initially tried to buy Zappos in 2005, as Hsieh detailed in a 2010 article. Bezos and Hsieh started negotiations again in 2009 and agreed to an acquisition that would let Zappos continue operating independently. The acquisition remains one of Amazon’s largest to date, eclipsed only by the tech giant’s purchase of Whole Foods and Ring.
“From our point of view it’s basically as if we swapped our previous board of directors with a new one,” Hsieh said in a 2014 interview. “Then on top of that we get access to all this free technology from Amazon.”
Before launching Zappos, Hsieh co-founded and sold an advertising startup called LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million.
Tony Hsieh, my partner and cofounder of LinkExchange, has died. Tony, I miss you. ❤️ You were among the most creative people I’ve known. I’ll remember your unique combo of genius and mischief, and your infuriating ability to bet against all odds and win. https://t.co/rI9unaHWDW
— Ali Partovi (@apartovi) November 28, 2020
Tony’s first startup, LinkExchange (1996-1999) was where @Alfred_Lin, @apartovi, and Scott Banister all started their tech careers. A young Mike Moritz was their VC. @mlevchin was their intern. LinkExchange was bought by Microsoft and managed by @satyanadella.
— Hadi Partovi (@hadip) November 28, 2020
Hsieh published a book in 2013 titled Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, a New York Times bestseller that detailed lessons learned in life and business during his entrepreneurial journey. Hsieh was of the belief that corporate culture can help promote employee happiness.
“What’s interesting is research has actually shown that if employees are happier and customers are happier and there are strong company cultures, that that actually drives business results and those businesses tend to outperform their peers in the long run,” Hsieh said during an interview on The Colbert Report in 2011.
Hsieh also created a $350 million initiative in 2009 called the Las Vegas Downtown Project to help turn downtown Las Vegas into a hub for entrepreneurs and innovators.
“Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world,” a spokesperson for Downtown Project said in a statement. “Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.
“On behalf of all DTP Companies employees and staff, we would like to express our deepest condolences to Tony’s family and friends who have all lost Tony as a cherished loved one, visionary and friend. Tony was highly regarded by all of his fellow friends and colleagues in the tight-knit family at DTP Companies, so this heartbreaking tragedy is one that affects many involved. We ask that you continue to respect the family’s privacy during this most difficult and challenging time.”
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) November 28, 2020
Here’s the full letter from Deshpande, and more tributes shared online Friday:
It is with very heavy hearts that we are sharing some very sad news with all of you, as we have learned that Tony passed away earlier today (11-27-20). Though Tony retired this past summer, we know what a tremendous impact he has had on both Zappos and on Zapponians, as he has dedicated the past 20 years focusing on the success of both the company and our employees.
The world has lost a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being. We recognize that not only have we lost our inspiring former leader, but many of you have also lost a mentor and a friend. Tony played such an integral part in helping create the thriving Zappos business we have today, along with his passion for helping to support and drive our company culture.
Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, as his mantra was of “Delivering Happiness” to others. His spirit will forever be a part of Zappos, and we will continue to honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he was so passionate about.
We will be working on ways to celebrate Tony’s extraordinary life in the coming days. In the meantime, we invite you to share your memories of the ways he brightened your life – you can send them to CelebratingTony@zappos.com and we will share them with his family.
Our thoughts remain with him and his loved ones. Zappos is a family, and we will continue to hold Tony close in our hearts.
Zappos’s customer service was amazing. Link Exchange had an inspirational business model. Holacracy was a bold experiment. DTP had an ambitious vision. Grateful for Tony Hsieh’s creative leadership
— Ellen K. Pao (@ekp) November 28, 2020
RIP Tony Hsieh
“Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself).” pic.twitter.com/rCIln3OP4h
— Garry Tan (@garrytan) November 28, 2020
was always surprising to hear how well zappos employees were treated — not just financially but creatively — & how that priority was baked into the company’s organization. zappos is/was well-known in SV for reimagining corporate culture.
tony hsieh proved empathy was scaleable. https://t.co/lQpLHrFLvM
— TALIA JANE (@itsa_talia) November 28, 2020
If you don’t know about Hsieh or Zappos, do read Delivering Happiness. It is one of the top business books ever written. Hsieh did not ”revolutionize the shoe business” as being tossed around now. He changed the view of what online shopping and leadership could be altogether.
— Mikael Pawlo 🚩 (@mpawlo) November 28, 2020
Here’s a little Tony Hsieh for you.
First, the customer service email he wrote to my wife (and 13,000 others) after their orders were a day late…and wherein he suggests they call customer service and ask them to sing I’m a Little Teacup… 1/2 pic.twitter.com/ix1Bds1syO
— Jason Rapp (@jasonrapp) November 28, 2020