Zappos' pioneering ex-CEO Tony Hsieh dies at 46

He helped transform online shopping.

Internet shopping just lost one of its most influential figures. TechCrunch has confirmed that Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of online shoe giant Zappos, died on November 27th at the age of 46 from injuries sustained in a house fire. He’s best known for helping to bring online apparel shopping into the mainstream, although he’s also known for championing tech in Las Vegas and escaping the industry’s focus on Silicon Valley.

Hsieh was first involved with Zappos in 1999, when he helped invest in the company under its original ShoeSite name. He became CEO in 2001 quickly grew Zappos into a behemoth, helped in part by his emphases on customer service and “flat” management structure. Amazon bought Zappos in 2009 for a whopping $1.2 billion, a huge amount at the time and a reflection of how important internet shopping had become. Hsieh kept running his company until 2020, when he resigned without explaining why.

While he wasn’t alone in aiding this shift, his impact was clear. It’s no longer strange to buy apparel online instead of a retail store. Many sneaker enthusiasts wait for drops on websites and apps, for instance. Amazon gave Zappos a boost, but it was already an influence on the industry by then.

In some ways, Hsieh’s efforts in Las Vegas may represent an equally lasting legacy. He moved Zappos to the Vegas area in 2004 to boost customer service, and in subsequent years invested a large amount into local startups to help them revitalize the city’s neglected core through the Downtown Project. The initiative didn’t always pan out, but it helped the tech industry shift away from the San Francisco Bay Area while helping to modernize Las Vegas beyond its casinos and hotels. However Vegas changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech presence is likely to endure.