The Story of Tony Hsieh: Don’t Delay Help

Tony in glowing neon lights

The sad and unexpected demise of Tony Hsieh left many people sad and numb. Not just the close ones who knew him but the millions of others whom he inspired. He was a person full of positivity and wanted to impact as many lives as he could in a positive manner.

The 46-year-old entrepreneur was a co-founder of a billion-dollar firm called Zappos. His untimely demise has left a void that’s certainly not easy at all to fill.

The entire scenario brings into question an issue which is widely known but less talked about- addiction.

Tony Hsieh and many others like him suffer from various type and kinds of addiction. Whether its substance, or alcohol, or any other kind. The irony is that the victims of addiction are much more talked about after their demise rather than before when they can be saved and given a new life.

Keeping that in mind, let’s study the life of Tony Hsieh and how an early intervention into his lifestyle could have saved his life.

Early Life: Humble Beginnings

Tony’s journey to success started at Harvard. He was born to Taiwanese immigrants living in San Francisco.

At Harvard, Tony Hsieh majored in computer science. Adding to that he started selling pizzas to his dorm. This small entrepreneurial venture made him strengthen his problem-solving ability as well as empathy.

It was while he was studying at Harvard that he met Alfred Lin. Tony and Alfred wet on to create LinkExchange in 1996.

LinkExchange was one of the first digital advertising networks. From there onwards, there was no looking back. They went on to sell it to Microsoft for USD 265 million.

With such a large amount in the kitty, Tony and Alfred started investing in ideas. They opened a venture capital firm. It was during this time that his life was about to change.

The Zappos Story

While Tony was busy with his venture capital firm, he got a call from Nick. Nick was the founder of an online shoe retailer called ShoeSite.

Nick brought Tony on board. Tony invested into the company and it was later renamed to Zappos. Tony always reiterated the fact that shoes weren’t the only thing they were selling. He always focused on the customer experience, something he wanted to get right at all times.

From 24-hour customer service to a 365-day return policy, Zappos went on to become an epitome of customer service.

Seeing the positive response on Zappos, Amazon decided to buy Zappos for USD 1.2 billion. However, Tony remained at the helm of the company till August 2020.

The Downtown Project and Beginning of Addiction

Continuing his dream of creating a world full of happiness and positivity he came up with The Downtown Project. He wanted to convert the sin city of Las Vegas into a tech-oriented hub. So much so, that Tony ended up relocating Zappos to Vegas.

Tony sincerely believed that he can impact many lives involving local communities and entrepreneurs from his Downtown Project. He wanted to create a thriving community involving people from all spheres of life.

However, on the other end, it was reported that Tony’s dream project, The Downtown Project witnessed the deaths of three co-founders. He went on to move away from The Downtown Project and started to disassociate himself from his real life.

He started getting involved in recreational drugs. This started to earn him a tag of an eccentric entrepreneurial guru who partied hard. According to some of his friends, he started getting addicted to vodka, Grey Goose to be specific.

The Disassociation Phase

After stepping away from The Downtown Project, Tony lived a life disassociated from his peers.

Many sources reported him to party at The Burning Man and consume substances in unusual quantities. Most of Tony’s old friends went on to reveal that they haven’t heard from Tony in almost a year. Tony went on to ditch plans with his old friends.

Starting 2020, Tony’s addiction and dissociation problems began to rise.

2020: The Year That Could’ve Been Different

In the year 2020, many friends complained about not being able to reach Tony at all. With the pandemic impacting almost everyone around the world, Tony was impacted too.

Before the pandemic spread, Tony decided to invest in another project which involved creating a utopian dance festival space, resembling the Sundance Film Festival. He began hiring people for the same at ridiculously high salaries.

Hsieh went on to try eccentric practices. Biohacking was one of those. Biohacking refers to training your mind into reframing the body’s functionalities. He used to deprive himself of oxygen, used to go for cold baths, tried not to urinate.

Adding to this was his addiction to psychedelic drugs and most importantly, nitrous oxide. Tony got addicted to nitrous oxide, due to which he consumed more than normal amounts of the gas.

Later on, Tony apparently stepped down as the CEO of Zappos.

Unfortunately, on the morning of 18 November at around 3 AM, Tony Hsieh was found at his home in Connecticut. He went on to survive for the next 9 days but couldn’t be saved. The reason for his death was cited to be “complications due to excessive smoke inhalation.”

Conclusion: It’s Never Too Late

Tony’s sad demise seemed to be a case of isolation and addiction. Entrepreneurial isolation is a common phenomenon. According to a study conducted by a psychiatry professor at the University of California, founders are 30 per cent more likely to suffer from depression than non-founders.

According to reports in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, Hsieh was battling depression and substance abuse.

Addiction is considered to be a taboo or a vice in our society.

While many of us consume these substances there are some who get addicted to them. Although, it may seem that it’s a choice, for many it isn’t.

Talking and even acknowledging the fact around addiction can go a long way.

The process of early intervention can save a life.

Talk to someone. It’s the best option out there.