LOVE Tony Hsieh, Incredible Visionary But What A Wacko!

 

I got involved with Downtown Las Vegas, Zappos and Tony Hsieh at the precise point Aimee Groth started working on this book. And I fell massively in love with the downtown scene. It felt exactly like early Brooklyn/Bushwick: up-and-coming, exciting, totally cool. I actually considered moving there for a short stint to track firsthand the concept of downtown as a start-up city.

I also met Rehan Choudhry at that time and attended the inaugural Life Is Beautiful Festival (and returned for 3 more years). That said, it was clear to me, after that first brilliant year of Life Is Beautiful, that something was amiss in Downtown Las Vegas. Businesses came and went at an alarming rate, crime spiked and rumblings of discontent were evident in many of the blogs and news stories that I tracked.

Aimee Groth lays it all out in her new book – the highs and the lows. Tony Hsieh is as brilliant as he is weird. I can’t say it’s an exceptional book but it does shine a light on the tech world’s “self-actualization set.” I also can’t tell how fascinating the book will be for anybody not connected to downtown Vegas. That said, I learned a lot about tech culture and the Silicon Valley way of doing things.

One last thing: If you read this book let me know what you think of the relationship between the writer and Tony Hsieh. I got the distinct impression by the end of the book that she had a huge, unrequited, crush on him!!

Read on below for more on Tony Hsieh, his way of doing things, his inspirations and his influences.

1. TONY HSIEH IS SO ODD BUT SO FASCINATING:

  • He plays in the world series of poker
  • He’s a major raver, a burning man aficionado and part of Further Future, a more elite group of burners
  • He places a lot of  trust in “process” e.g. holacrocy
  • He is averse to any kind of interpersonal conflict and will avoid it at all cost
  • He has a propensity to hire people for positions for which they have zero experience (his theory: Uber wasn’t created by people who knew the taxi industry)
  • He wants to disrupt education. He believes in training people to think for themselves (to be entrepreneurs) rather than memorizing facts – which makes him part of a much larger movement behind the push for education reform
  • He uses the Myers Briggs personality test as a basis for doing interviews (he’s an INTP)

2. CITY AS A START UP:

  • Downtown Las Vegas was selected by Tony to be an experiment in building a viable city as a start up.
  • Very similar to what Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans is attempting to do with Downtown Detroit.
  • Main difference between them is how much time and money they are willing to pour into these projects. Tony had a strict limit of 5 years and only spent $350 million. The Downtown Project failed as a result.
  • Having been to Detroit recently, it looks like Dan Gilbert’s approach (which is less experimental and more professional), has a much better chance of succeeding.
  • Gilbert has also spent $2 billion or 6 times what Hsieh committed to Vegas.

3. LIVING AMONG TONY’S TRIBE:

  • Hsieh actively recruited people to move to Downtown Vegas to participate in his City as a Start-Up experiment
  • Whether the newcomers lived at the Ogden (where Tony had the penthouse apartment) or at the dorm-like Gold Spike, or at the Airstream Trailer Park with his pet llamas, he wanted to replicate the feeling of living in a college dorm.
  • Having everyone live in such close proximity increases the number of interactions/collisions people have with one another which leads to exponential idea generation
  • Tony doesn’t believe in work-life balance, it’s all about work-life integration
  • The company is a way of life
  • It’s a hard-partying culture with Fernet serving as the tribe’s kool-aid
  • All newcomers are made aware of how important it is to develop ideas and projects that are “story-worthy

4. COMMUNITY + CULTURE FIT:

  • ROC – or Return On Community – was built into every project (initially at least)
  • Community Evangelist is a popular job title in the tech world including at Zappos and Downtown Project
  • Culture Fit was critical, more important than talent or experience.
  • New hires were given the opportunity to quit with a bonus if they believed they were not a good fit

5. HOLACRACY:

  • Although never fully tested, Silicon Valley companies were among the first to express interest in this new way of running businesses
  • Hsieh supposedly got on board so quickly because it gave him an opportunity to eliminate expensive project managers and other poor culture fits
  • Holacracy is all about getting rid of corporate hierarchies and implementing systems that “process tensions”
  • All employees have to read and agree to live by the holacracy constitution
  • Hsieh is a huge believer in companies needing to change to survive. Adapt or Die is his mantra.Darwin said the species that survive are not the strongest or most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change
  • Most fortune 500 companies from the last half century are no longer around today – so altho holacracy seems particularly weird, who knows…..

6. FIND/FOLLOW YOUR NORTH STAR

  • Major mantra of the tech/Silicon Valley set
  • I love the concept of finding your North Star – who doesn’t want to know where they are headed? And with the North Star, you won’t lose your way
  • It keeps you on track – whether it’s your business or your personal compass
  • The North Star is tied to meditation with many believing it will bring you more happiness and allow you to dream bigger dreams and take more chances in life since if you lose your way, you’ve got a beacon to home in on.
  • The North Star is also related to BUDDHISM – which some of the most notable and deep-pocketed leaders of the tech world ascribe to
  • Many in tech believe that spiritual practices calm the mind which leads to greater productivity
  • The concept of North Star is probably the top thing I got out of this book!!

7. FURTHER FUTURE

  • Because BURNING MAN has become so popular, there is now a more exclusive, invite-only micro-burning man event for the elite, called Further Future.
  • Robot Heart puts it on for the 1% of Burning Man
  • Three big topics of conversation among the Further Future set: Post Capitalism, the Post-Democracy Society, Universal Basic Income

8.  SUMMIT SERIES in Eden, Utah – an invite-only group of entrepreneurs

  • Eden has a reputation as being a place were dreamers and doers find refuge
  • For the “luxury self-actualization set”
  • The community includes 10,000 entrepreneurs, artists, and thought leaders from around the world
  • A smaller subset of the community attends its events and an even smaller subset lives in Eden fulltime
  • The 5 co-founders dream of it being an epicenter for commerce, arts and politics
  • Their motto: “make no small plans”
  • The network includes Richard Branson and Eric Schmidt

9. THE BUCKMINSTER FULLER DOME

  • The dome has become a popular symbol for Silicon Valley
  • Initially it represented innovation and potential; now it’s an icon for insularity

10.  “HAPPINESS”

  • The word “Happiness” no longer sits well with companies. It’s been replaced by a focus on authenticity and vulnerability which impacts Tony’s consulting and speaking business.
  • However, maybe there’s hope in Dubai which many consider Vegas on steroids.
  • Dubai just announced the appointment of a Minister of Happiness!!

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