3 Lessons from the Life of Tony Hsieh (Zappos)

Last week, the world lost a visionary founder. Tony Hsieh succumbed to the injuries from a house fire at the age of 46. Many people know that he built the shoe shopping company, Zappos. He later sold it to Amazon for $1.2 billion.

What most people do not know is that his success did not come from his passion for shoes. “I’m actually not passionate about shoes at all,” Hsieh told NPR’s How I Built This in 2017.

Passion is not found. It is built

How did he translate his passion into success? How did he manage to sell shoes online in the mid-1990s and build a $1 Billion company? What were the factors that played a part in his success? I analyzed and reflected on some of these questions to find what truly mattered to him.

Let us analyze, trace his career pathways, and learn how he continuously developed his passion.

Hsieh realized the tremendous business power of the internet early on. He realized that it could be a powerful force for people to shop securely from the comfort of their homes.

Mobility Matters

His parents, Richard and Judy Hsieh, were immigrants from Taiwan who truly understood the power of mobility. His family moved from Illinois to California when he was five, where he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

They understood the importance of education and an environment of professional learning. Hsieh graduated from Harvard after studying Computer Science.

But he had an entrepreneur in him long before that. In his book “ Delivering Happiness,” he describes the early signs. At the age of 9, he started an earthworm breeding project, a mail-order button business in middle school, and managed a pizza grill at Harvard.

At this time, he became friends with Alfred Lin, who later joined Zappos as a CFO and CEO.

After graduating from college, Hsieh accepted an offer to work for Oracle Corporation. But after five months, he found that the big-company culture was not for him. He left to satisfy his entrepreneurial and co-founded LinkExchange, an internet advertising network, which he later sold to Microsoft at the height of the internet boom for $265 Million.

Shortly after, Tony discovered a company called Zappos, an online shoe and clothing store. He joined the company as an advisor and investor and eventually became CEO.

Create Options for Others

Hsieh understood the importance of creating options for a better life for others. He understood that profits and passion are not enough. He worked to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, pledging $350 million in 2013 for the redevelopment of Las Vegas, Nevada.

What can we learn from Hseih’s life? Passion is not something that comes to you by chance or that you have to find. Passion needs to be harnessed. You should look for people who are passionate about similar things as you are. Passion is built up brick-by-brick and step by step. Hsieh dabbled with several ventures in his life. He found that he is not singularly passionate about shoes or selling online.

He was passionate about customers and delighting them. He was passionate about building companies that scale and deliver an unorthodox company culture. This Harvard Business Review article sums up brilliantly.

Hseih aligned his passion with a sense of purpose. He focused on creating joy and invested in people who did the same for the customers.

Tony Hsieh is not with us anymore, but his legacy and vision on building his professional path will live with us forever.


This article is part of a personal project I am working on called “What Matters.” It is a series of four YoutTube videos about career, passion, options and success that aim to help young professionals and those facing unprecedented professional challenges during the current times. You can access the series here.

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Passionate about transforming ideas into action ◆Principal — Macrosolutions ◆ Board Member ◆ Author ◆ Venture Capitalist #projectmanagement #transformation

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Ricardo Viana Vargas

Passionate about transforming ideas into action ◆Principal — Macrosolutions ◆ Board Member ◆ Author ◆ Venture Capitalist #projectmanagement #transformation