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“Peter Pan Meets COVID” RIP Tony Hsieh

by | In the Magazine, Karl Bryan

“Peter Pan Meets COVID” RIP Tony Hsieh

A modern day COVID tragedy, about addiction, isolation, and mandatory lockdowns.

The reaction, curiosity, and outpouring of grief for Tony Hsieh within the business world can almost be compared to Steve Jobs’ passing in 2011.

This one hit me similar to Kobe Bryant’s death…

My Reaction


My big brother committed suicide when I was 16 years old over a business failing. I know a thing or two about being part of a family that doesn’t want to talk about an accident.

I knew the secrecy behind Hsieh’s death, and the lack of details meant there was far more to this story to follow.

Not to mention when he abruptly stepped down in late August as CEO of Zappos, after 20 years at the helm, there was no public statement by him or by Zappos.

That’s not the way it normally would work…

Tony Hsieh

He was in New London, Connecticut for Thanksgiving with his brother and personal assistant Anthony Herbert. They were staying with his girlfriend Racheal Brown at her waterfront home which he had purchased for her.

Rachael was a long time Zappos employee and a popular Vegas cellist.

At the time of the accident, he was locked in a basement shed attached to the $1.35 million dollar home when firefighters arrived at a small blaze at 3.34 am on Nov 18th.

He was either trapped or ‘barricaded’ in the shed and there was little, to no, damage to the rest of the house.

I often talk about how the ultimate competitive advantage is to be able to ‘view the entire playing field’.

When I view the entire playing field, I notice a ton of secrecy, silence and deflection from those closest to him.

If there wasn’t anything untoward… that wouldn’t be the case.

I feel for every one of them and this is clearly a tragic loss.

I know Tony Hsieh’s story well, and Peter Pan meets COVID is an accurate way to describe it… I just didn’t expect it to end in a shed and then succumbing to ‘complications from smoke inhalation’ 9 days later.

Kobe Bryant and Tony Hsieh were Uber successful and both had recently retired.

Ironically, they both had similar philosophy’s on success…

“Know exactly what you want, communicate it consistently, and the rest will look after itself.”

I don’t want to riff into a scenario on how COVID kills more people and destroys more lives via the “solution” of lock downs and isolation, etc.

Apart from stating it’s categorically true.

Of which Tony, a business Evangelist, will go down as a victim.

I don’t think we should all be running around licking one another and we need to respect the very real dangers of COVID.

The dangers should be respected

But I can only imagine the damage we’re doing to our youth.

Reality is that Tony, whose been a heavy drinker and partyer for a long time, became addicted to nitrous oxide, a drug that provides an intense but short lived high when inhaled directly and he became distant from friends willing to challenge him and his drug use over the past couple years as it spiralled out of control.

Like so many others that struggle with mental illness, he hated being alone, struggled to sleep and thrived on non-stop action happening around him.

Hence why he moved Zappos to Las Vegas and loved the go go go nature of the city that never sleeps.

The isolation of COVID tormented him, accelerated his mental challenges and caused what appears to be a death spiral according to those closest to him.

Not that long ago, a close friend of his and superstar recording artist Jewel, visited him for a week in Utah, left within 48 hours of arriving and penned a blunt letter delivered via FedEx stating:

Tony, you are not well, the ‘yes men’ you’re surrounding yourself with are either stupid or complicit in your slow, drug induced, public suicide.

The lack of sleep and a constant stream of drugs you’re taking will kill you, she told him.

UGGG…… my goodness, that’s tough to read just weeks after his death.

I’ll never forget, in the early days, being given an intimate tour of and seeing Tony Hsieh’s desk in the middle of the office with everyone else.

Looking back, there was an admirable element of humility in that, but hindsight can also see a guy that needed to be surrounded by people and action.

With a net worth of just under $900 Million…

The 46-year old famed co-founder of the online shoe and clothing retailer will be sorely missed.

His book ‘Delivering Happiness’ is iconic amongst those passionate about culture and wanting to live a unique ‘purpose-driven life’.

He stood out for his attitude, incredible business values, and the way he treated his customers and employees.

“The biggest and hardest lesson I’ve learned in life is that the external world is just a reflection of the world within.”

Tony Hsieh

Those closest to him will tell you Tony has been dying on the inside for a long time.

Here are my top 6 business lessons from the late Tony Hsieh… a businessman I’ve admired for a long time.

Your One True Passion

By creating your ‘ultimate goal’… further decisions for the company become easy and obvious.

His business partner Alfred Lin and Hsieh had a successful $265 million dollar exit to Microsoft with LinkExchange and were struggling to get Zappos off the ground.

As in running out of money, and at one point they were down to a couple months of cash on hand.

Rather than do the Silicon Valley norm, Hsieh decided to take a different approach to ‘raising more capital’…

They went to their staff and explained the company’s current reality and financial situation.

They laid off staff, cut salaries, and with the remaining streamlined team, fought to find solutions and create a workable model.

With everyone sacrificing and working as a team, they built the company better and faster than ever.

The Triple Bottom Line: Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Under Hsieh, the company was about so much more than profit.

He was always focused on what he refers to as his triple bottom line of Passion, Profit and Purpose.

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes” Tony Hsieh

Zappos created a global culture shift around customer service that other Founders resonated with and successfully followed.

Staff were known to spend 8 hours on the phone helping a customer, and service reps are known to send flowers to clients who have had a loved one pass away.

After reading that, it’s likely not a surprise that over 70% of Zappos’ orders come from past customers.

I often say ‘repeat business equals profit’ and Zappos get that in spades.

“Surprise your customers and tell them how much you care.”

Culture is Everything

Without having the right company culture, Zappos would not succeed.

Their belief is that if you get company culture right most of the foundational stuff like looking after customers, then building your brand will happen organically.

A great example is that they actually pay their staff to quit.

Customer service can be hard, and clients can be difficult. After going through a grueling four-week training program, Zappos would make “the offer”.

‘If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked with us plus a $1000 bonus.’

They offered a bribe to quit!

A monster lesson in attracting and retaining staff that are as passionate and committed as the others they’d be working alongside.

Trust Your Employees

You likely realize getting an online business on the phone can be challenging… if not impossible.

Trailblazing Zappos posted their 1-800 phone number everywhere and encouraged customers to call.

To further reinforce this attitude, Zappos empowers their well-trained staff to do whatever’s required to keep the customer happy.

No time limits and no call scripts… just the higher-level value of doing whatever it takes to keep the customer happy. This attitude is what led to Zappos unique culture and to become the online Unicorn it is today.


Like most Uber successful business people, Tony described himself as an “avid book reader” and encouraged the same.

Continual growth is a constant at Zappos; they have a library with thousands and thousands of books and a mandatory book list that his staff had to read.

They even offered courses on the best books.

Safe to say they take their staff’s personal and professional development seriously, and this is credited with the company’s impressive track record of moving lower-end staff into successful management positions.

Zappos takes the development of its staff seriously.


Sadly, a vacation took Tony’s life, but that wouldn’t deter him from giving this advice.

Successful CEO’s, especially in Silicon Valley, are famed for always working, but in Delivering Happiness, he said vacations were an instrumental part of his incredible success.

Work is not the most important part of life.

Regular time away gave him renewed energy to use at Zappos and the exciting projects he and his company were undertaking.

We know too well that life can be short and taken away at any time.

Take time to enjoy it.

Tony Hsieh’s business life was about Purpose, Passion, and treating people well.

He really was a modern-day Peter Pan. 

I think if he could speak to us now, he’d repeat something that Tony Robbins has been saying for years…

“Success Without Fulfillment is the Ultimate Failure.”

Take time to step back and enjoy the smell of the flowers.

Rest in Peace Tony, you will be sorely missed by me and so many others.

Obsessed with your business coaching success,

Karl Bryan

Karl Bryan gets clients for Business Coaches...period. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Six-Figure Coach Magazine and Chairman of Leader Publishing Worldwide, home of the largest private community of Business Coaches (24 countries and counting) in the world.
His goal is straight forward… to help serious coaches/consultants get more clients.

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