Tony Hsieh, the 46-year-old tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist who built Zappos into a $ 1 billion online footwear and clothing company, passed away on Friday. He was 46 years old.
The cause was the injuries he suffered in a house fire on November 18 in New London, Connecticut, according to Megan Fazio, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Project in Las Vegas, a revitalization effort overseen by Mr. Hsieh.
It seems that Mister Hsieh (known as Shai) was visiting the family at that time. Zappos confirmed his death in a statement issued by the company’s CEO, Kedar Deshpande. More details were not immediately available.
Mr. Hsieh resigned from his position as CEO in August after 21 years with the company that started selling shoes online in 1999.
After selling his first company LinkExchange, an online advertising network, to Microsoft in 1998 for $ 265 million, Mr. Hsieh became a venture capitalist and invested in a footwear retailer in San Francisco, then named ShoeSite.com. He soon took over the CEO position and focused his efforts on building the company into a giant of the internet. (The name changed to Zappos.com, which is a modification of “zapatos,” the Spanish word for footwear, according to the company’s website.)
In the emerging era of online commerce, Mr. Hsieh was a visionary who realized that making customers feel comfortable and safe to buy online was the key to success and growth.
To do this, the call center staff had to engage customers as if they were talking to an old friend, with an authentic, welcoming banter.
Mr. Hsieh surprised the Silicon Valley scientist by moving the company from San Francisco to a Las Vegas suburb, where he built a culture of “fun and little weirdness” that led to explosive growth.
Of $ 1.6 million in 2000 sales, Zappos surpassed $ 1 billion in revenue by 2009. In July 2009, Mr. Hsieh sold the company for $ 1.2 billion to Amazon.
Mr. Hsieh, a soft-spoken and introspective executive, has developed a business philosophy based on the idea that happy employees are the conduit for satisfying customers who will return again and again.
He was an avid reader and wrote a popular book, Delivering Happiness in 2010, describing his philosophy of customer service.
During his tenure at Zappos, Mr. Hsieh launched the Downtown Project, which aims to revitalize the previously neglected downtown section of Las Vegas and turn it into a vibrant area where Zappos employees live. The effort has grown beyond Mr. Hsieh’s original concept, and the area has attracted thousands of tech workers and entrepreneurs.
“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping to transform downtown Las Vegas,” Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak wrote on Twitter.
Christina Morales contributed to the report.
A full obituary will follow.