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Joe Downtown: In keynote speech to techies, Hsieh touts value of serving a greater good


Steve Marcus

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, gives a keynote address at the South By Southwest V2V tech conference for entrepreneurs at the Cosmopolitan Monday, Aug. 12, 2013.

Tony Hsieh Speaks at South By Southwest

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, gives a keynote address at the South By Southwest V2V tech conference for entrepreneurs at the Cosmopolitan Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Tony Hsieh’s mantra is unwavering, especially when he’s addressing some 1,000 techsters who would like to do nothing more than to do what he did, and turn their app and website ideas into millions.

Forget about return on investment, Hsieh told a standing-room-only crowd as the first keynote speaker at the inaugural South By Southwest tech convention at the Cosmopolitan today.

“Instead of return on investment, think about return on community,” Hsieh said.

Even better, make it return on luck, which Hsieh described as creating an environment that increases the chance of serendipitous interactions.

“We’re thinking about it seriously,” he said, referring to his online retail giant,, and his urban renewal investment, Downtown Project.

Those were a few of the ideas Hsieh shared during a one-hour speech, which was followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session to a few hundred people in a separate ballroom.

Hsieh’s 2 p.m. presentation came about midway through the first day of the conference, which will have featured dozens of speakers and more mentoring sessions for Internet entrepreneurs and startup founders by the time it wraps up late Wednesday.

• • •

Earlier in the day, Rep. Joe Heck and founder Andrew Crump, who moved to Las Vegas from England, talked about the need for immigration reform to ensure more efficient gateways for tech workers and startups.

Mark Daniel titled his talk “Silicon Valley: The New Hollywood.” Having been to Silicon Valley for about a year, he likened Silicon Valley to Hollywood not because it’s becoming a movie studio haven. Hollywood, though, draws people who think they’re going to get there and make it big in the movies. The same is true in Silicon Valley in relation to startup founders.

“Retweets, launch parties …  private events press, invites, connections” are what many newbies think are necessity for making it, he said. “What I found is, nothing of this matters … What I found is, there are so many people with this idea that the next day you’ll wake up leading this great company and being a multibillionaire, and that’s probably the furthest thing from the truth.”

It’s not just being smart, having integrity and resiliency that helps people make it, Daniel added. “It’s (still) difficult to build something decent that people want to use every day.”

He didn’t have to say what many in the audience already knew: 90 percent or more of all startups fail.

Hsieh was introduced by Hugh Forrest, director of the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, who said after Hsieh’s talk that he never would have considered having a conference in Las Vegas had it not been for Hsieh’s Downtown Project.

In many ways, Hsieh’s talk mirrored his book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” which came out in 2010.

Having invested in Zappos nine years ago, then moving it to Henderson, Hsieh said the company decided that their No. 1 priority, even over customer service, was company culture because “if we get the culture right, the rest … will be a natural byproduct of that.”

Having announced almost three years ago Zappos’ move into City Hall downtown, Hsieh said the company added “community” to its list of necessary ingredients.

“We want to be the most community-focused company in the world,” he said. “We want to integrate community into everything we do.”

“If we can make downtown Las Vegas, probably voted by many as the place least likely to succeed,” he said, and do so using principles “that don’t rely on expensive stadiums or sports teams, then there’s really no excuse for other communities or cities.”

Hsieh said the Downtown Project has a five-year timetable, but it will continually to evolve.

“I’m so excited and proud to be a downtown Las Vegas resident,” he concluded, “because I can’t wait to see what unfolds next.”

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