How do you want to be remembered?
On some elemental level, it’s a question I believe most of us consider. To some degree, I think most of us shape our lives around how we’d like to be remembered one day, preferably in the distant future.
That question can also be a challenge, a wake-up call of sorts. That’s certainly how the singer Jewel intended it when she reached out to her friend Tony Hsieh, the visionary entrepreneur who helped bring online shoe retailer Zappos into existence.
“If the world could see how you are living, they would not see you as a tech visionary. They would see you as a drug-addicted man who is a cliche. And that’s not how you should go down or be known,” the show wrote to him weeks before his untimely death at the age of 46.
And now that’s exactly what the world is sorting out. Who was Tony Hsieh, and how should we remember him?
I’ll choose to remember his moxie. Here’s how:
Hsieh was never a traditional company man. From the beginning, he was an innovative thinker who didn’t fit the corporate mold. He landed a gig at Oracle fresh out of Harvard but bounced after less than six months to found LinkExchange with a friend. They sold it to Microsoft two years later for $265 million.
The sale set Hsieh up to become an idea incubator and venture capitalist. That’s how he got involved with perhaps his greatest venture, Zappos. Founder Nick Swinmurn approached him with the idea in 1999, and Hsieh bought in, eventually becoming CEO.
It wasn’t the last time Hsieh launched a big idea. He also turned his energy and resources to rebuilding downtown Las Vegas into a flourishing tech startup community.
Moxie helps others flourish.
Hsieh wasn’t selling ads or shoes or real estate. He was pursuing something much bigger. He was looking for a way to hack happiness.
He built company cultures that were radically focused on people. Zappos is famously customer-centric, and employees are empowered to do pretty much anything to ensure customers are happy with their purchases.
“I’m probably different from a lot of typical CEOs,” Hsieh said. “Imagine a greenhouse, where maybe at a typical company, the CEO might be the strongest and tallest, most charismatic plant that all the other plants strive to one day become. … For me, I really think of my role as more about being the architect of the greenhouse, and then all the plants inside will flourish and thrive on their own.”
Hsieh believed that vision and purpose were key. If vision and purpose were clear and central, profits and success would follow. And they did.
Moxie isn’t enough.
Despite all the accolades and success, Hsieh struggled. He was a heavy drinker and also used drugs. He experimented on his own body, pushing it to extremes in attempts to “hack” himself. He denied himself food and sleep.
In the end, he withdrew from his closest friends and family and surrounded himself with people he paid to “be happy” with him. He purchased a home in Park City, Utah just a few months ago, and was purchasing properties around the area for these new associates. Jewel visited him in his new home and was so alarmed by what she saw that she left almost immediately and wrote him a letter warning him that he was in danger. It’s not clear if her warning had any impact.
He was visiting family in Connecticut when the house he was staying in caught fire. Others escaped, but Hsieh did not! He became trapped or barricaded himself in a storage area and died several days later from complications related to his exposure.
It’s more than a little sad to me that the man who built an empire and a reputation on happiness seemed so profoundly unsuccessful in his own pursuit of it.
DELIVERING HAPPINESS WIKIPEDIA PAGE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delivering_Happiness
ZAPPOS’ WIKIPEDIA PAGE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zappos
TONY HSIEH’S WIKIPEDIA PAGE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Hsieh