Ex-Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has died at 46. Here's how the iconic entrepreneur went from selling pizzas from his Harvard dorm to leading the shoe company he sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion

  • Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has died at the age of 46.
  • Hsieh, a Harvard grad, went from selling pizza out of his dorm room to establishing himself as an eccentric and well-liked entrepreneur.
  • In his first year at Zappos, the company went from almost nothing in sales to $US1.6 million.
  • Hsieh moved Zappos headquarters to Las Vegas, Nevada, and began an initiative to make the city another Silicon Valley.
  • He announced in August he was retiring after more than 20 years at the company, which is owned by Amazon.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) has died at the age of 46. His death was due to injuries he sustained from a house fire while he was with his brother in Connecticut over Thanksgiving, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“The world has lost a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being,” Zappos CEO Kedar Deshpande said in a statement. “We recognise that not only have we lost our inspiring former leader, but many of you have also lost a mentor and a friend.”

Hsieh in August announced his retirement from the company after 20 years, marking the end of a chapter for the eccentric but widely admired entrepreneur.

During his tenure leading the company, Hsieh moved the company’s headquarters from San Francisco to Las Vegas as part of a larger effort to make Vegas the new Silicon Valley. While the full scope of his vision hasn’t panned out, he made a name for himself in the business community and brought noteworthy attractions to the city, including Container Park and the “Life is Beautiful” music festival.

The former CEO also made headlines when he created “Llamapolis,” a mini community where Hsieh lived with his two alpacas.

From selling pizza in his dorm room to seeing Zappos acquired by Amazon, here’s what you need to know about Hsieh’s career rise.


While little is known about Hsieh’s early life, he was born in 1973 and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times/Getty ImagesSan Francisco, CA, where Hsieh was raised.

Source: CNBC


Hsieh attended Harvard, where he sold pizza out of his dorm room with some friends.

Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty ImagesThe campus of Harvard Business School and Harvard University, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Source: CNBC


His first business venture after graduating was LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $US265 million.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Inc.com


After the sale, Hsieh and his friend Alfred Lin were investing money into “20 or so” companies, including one company that would eventually become Zappos.

Andy Cross / The Denver Post via Getty ImagesHsieh speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative America at the Sheridan Downtown Denver, June 25, 2014

A year later, another entrepreneur by the name of Nick Swinmurn left Hsieh a voicemail telling him about ShoeSite.com (which would later be renamed Zappos.) Hsieh, still uncertain about the venture, joined the company and invested $US500,000.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for CinemaConHsieh speaks onstage at CinemaCon’s final day luncheon and special presentation.

Source: Inc.com


As an investor and advisor for Zappos, Hsieh was able to help the company go from almost no sales in 1999 to $US1.6 million in sales by 2000. In 2011, the company passed the threshold of $US1 billion in sales.

Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesHsieh delivers a keynote presentation at the MAGIC clothing industry convention at the Las Vegas Convention Centre February 17, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada

Source: Inc.com


In January of 2004, Hsieh and his team decided to move the company’s headquarters from San Francisco to Henderson, Nevada. Hsieh said the move was based on the lack of people who want to work in customer service in San Francisco.

Thomas SAMSON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesTony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com in Paris, France on December 10, 2009.

Source: CNBC


In 2006, Swinmurn left Zappos, and Hsieh became CEO, placing emphasis on employee satisfaction.

Charley Gallay/ Getty Images for CinemaConHsieh speaks at Cinema Con 2014.

Source: Inc.com


Hsieh moved the company toward Holacracy, meaning employees work in task-specific teams instead of each employee working on their own and then reporting to a manager.

Danny Moloshok/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


One of Hsieh’s most talked about employee perks is the “Pay to Quit” program, which gives employees a $US2,000 quitting bonus if they feel like the company isn’t the right fit after their first 4 months.

Ethan Miller/Getty

Source: Inc.com


In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos for $US1.2 billion, after Hsieh said no in 2005.

ReutersAmazon logistics centre in Lauwin-Planque

Source: Inc.com


In 2013, Zappos bought the old Las Vegas City Hall and Hsieh moved his team to this new location. The new location is about 30 minutes from the new strip and just a stone’s throw away from Fremont Street.

Jason Ogulnik/For The Washington Post via Getty ImagesZappos headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Source: CNBC


This move was a part of a bigger initiative, Downtown Project, to make Las Vegas another Silicon Valley. Hsieh put $US350 million into the project, which included real estate, restaurants, and other ventures.

Jason Ogulnik/For The Washington Post via Getty ImagesThe Treehouse play area at Downtown Container Park on Saturday, January 14, 2017

Source: Las Vegas Review Journal


While the initiative garnered mixed results, it did bring some noteworthy attractions to the area, including the “Life is Beautiful” music festival and the Downtown Container Park.

Jason Ogulnik/For The Washington Post via Getty ImagesAt the entrance to Downtown Container Park a praying mantis structure by artist Kirk Jellum shoots fireballs from its antennason Saturday, January 14, 2017.

Source: Washington Post


Hsieh also lived in the area, in a micro community called “Llamapolis,” which is comprised of tiny houses and Airstream trailers.

Jason Ogulnik/For The Washington Post via Getty ImagesA Llama crossing sign at The Container Park Las Vegas.

Source: Business Insider


Inspired by the artsy community found at Burning Man, Llamapolis is also home to Hsieh’s two alpacas, Marley and Triton.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The retiring CEO had a net worth of about $US840 million, but he previously told Business Insider that he lived in the tiny community because “[he] wanted to maximise serendipity and randomness in [his] life.”

Richard Feloni/Business InsiderZappos CEO Tony Hsieh sits at his desk in the company’s Las Vegas headquarters.

Source: Business Insider


On November 28, TechCrunch reported the CEO had died at the age of 46 after sustaining injuries from a house fire while he was with his brother in Connecticut.

Chris Farina/Corbis via Getty ImagesCEO of Zappos Tony Hsieh speaks at Startup America presentation during the 2013 International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

Source: TechCrunch


Investors, journalists, politicians, and tech heavyweights spoke out online to mourn the iconic entrepreneur with memories and wisdom from his career.

FilmMagic via Getty ImagesTony Hsieh speaks onstage during day 1 of the 2015 Life is Beautiful festival on September 25, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.