Tony.

I heard the news about Tony Hsieh last night by text message. The latest in a years-long string of texts about Tony, sent by various mutual friends in Las Vegas.

Tony just bought the Ferguson Hotel.

Tony is turning Zappos into a Holacracy.

Tony is starting an airline.

Tony just turned Ferguson into a Airstream trailer park.

Tony is leaving the Ogden.

Tony just invested in the Las Vegas Knights.

Tony has a pet alpaca now.

Tony is moving into his trailer park.

Zappos is abandoning Holacracy.

I think Tony just bought a mountain.

Tony just quit Zappos!

Tony is apparently buying up half of Park City.

And then last night…

Tony Hsieh is dead.

I went straight to Twitter. Of course I did. And already my feed was packed with tributes to Tony. Everyone – everyone – had a Tony story to share. How he’d backed their company when no-one else would, how he’d helped them find a vegan restaurant during a trip to Vegas, or stayed up all night to give them a ride to the airport, or sent a delightful email about some missing shoes.

Even people who never met Tony had a Tony story – how his book had changed their life, or a chance encounter with the man had inspired them to build a better company. A wonderful reaction to a clumsy attempt to poach a Zappos executive..

My own Tony story is complicated. I first got to know him in 2011 when I wrote about Las Vegas for the Huffington Post. Like so many journalists before and since, I spent a night touring his then nascent Downtown Project as Tony gave me his standard pitch about how he was building the city of the future.

“So, how are you going to write sarcastically about all of this?” he asked me at the end of the tour. As I admitted to readers, I couldn’t find a way.

A few months later, during yet another trip to Vegas, I appeared on CNN to talk about why I had decided to quit TechCrunch. While I was still in the car back from the studio, my phone beeped with a message from Tony, inviting me to meet him at the Downtown Cocktail Room for drinks.

Over Fernet (him) and Diet Coke (me), Tony – who I’d met perhaps twice before – asked me what I wanted to do next.

“I have no idea,” I replied, honestly.

“I didn’t ask what you’re going to do,” said Tony with that smirk that always pressaged his springing of a trap. “I asked what you want to do.” He took a sip from his shot. “Like, if you could do anything in the world, professionally, what would it be?”

I shrugged and repeated a jokey idea I’d mentioned to a British writer friend earlier that week. “I’d start a wildly unprofitable print magazine. Something like Private Eye or Spy. Or maybe like the Economist with jokes. Burn a pile of money, and make a lot of rich people angry in the process.”  

I expected Tony to laugh. But instead he responded with a slow nod, like I’d just reached the final slide of a lengthy powerpoint. Then he drained his glass and waved towards the bartender for another. “Could you do that from Vegas?”

And so was born NSFWCORP, and so began my complicated relationship with a man who started out as my journalistic subject, then became my lead investor, then my friend, then the subject of some of the harshest and most relentless criticism I’ve ever written, then… Well. Like I say, it’s a complicated story.

I always warned Tony that if we took his money then NSFWCORP’s reporting on him – and the Downtown Project – would have to be much fiercer than our coverage of other tech moguls. Brutal even. He said he understood, and even agreed to my demand that he would never express an opinion – good or bad, public or private – about stories we published.

The first test of that promise came when we published a series of stories revealing that the Downtown Project had unwittingly hired a former cop turned pick-up artist as their head of security. We were fucking relentless, with headlines like “Skeeving Las Vegas,” “To Protect and Perv,” and “Copping a Feel.” Day after day, after day.

In hindsight, I was practically goading Tony to react. But he never once took the bait. In fact, he continued to introduce us to new investors, and send our reporters invitations to his events.

Unlike Tony’s other portfolio companies, though, the NSFWCORP team never went to the meet-ups, the parties or the music festivals. On the rare occasions we accidentally collided with a member of Tony’s ever-growing entourage, we snarked about it on our podcast. Then, after we sold the company to Pando, I continued to write relentlessly about the struggles of the Downtown Project: The exodus of entrepreneurs, the failed ventures, and most horrifying of all, a string of deaths by suicide amongst members of the DTP “community.”  

It was that last story that finally got a reaction from Tony, but not the one I expected. In response to my request for comment, he sent me a long list of suicide statistics of a number of major cities and towns, in particular those of comparable size to Vegas. Was it possible, he asked at the end of the list, that what I described as a ‘rash’ of tragic deaths was in fact statistically perfectly average?

It’s easy to imagine that question coming from the lips of Peter Thiel or Mark Zuckerberg or any number of other tech monsters. In those cases it’d be yet more proof of Silicon Valley’s sociopathic indifference to the human cost of ‘disruption.’

But anyone who has ever had a disagreement with Tony will immediately recognize his peculiar way of defusing conflict. His almost Socratic method of debate that could at times border on the callous. It was also, I came to realize later, his way of processing failure: You can’t solve a problem with emotion or anger, went his logic, only with data or process.  

Because for all of his faults – real and perceived – you can never accuse Tony of not caring about people. And, unlike most tech oligarchs, his generosity and kindness wasn’t limited to his friends and peers.

Even a short walk along Fremont street with Tony would become a three hour expedition as strangers interrupted to thank him for his kindness – for giving them a job when nobody would, for helping pay for a wedding, for a thoughtful birthday gift or a pair of plane tickets to celebrate a mother’s birthday.

A simple pause at a hot dog stand might devolve into a thirty minute interview as Tony peppered the poor vendor with questions about his business, about what toppings people liked most, about foot traffic, or the optimum size of a bun. Such moments might end with Tony pulling out his wallet and buying up the entire night’s dogs to take home to his guests at the Airstream park. Or, almost as likely, with Tony buying the chef his own restaurant.

Tony’s willingness to make spontaneous investments was legendary and borderline comedic. On Monday he’d invest in a bookshop, promising that Vegas would soon be the literary capital of the world. On Tuesday, after an investment in a 3d printing company, Vegas would be destined to become the globe’s micro manufacturing capital. On Wednesday it was baked potatoes for which the city would soon be legendary.

Perhaps it was that same constant search for the next obsession that made Tony seemingly unable to hold a grudge. Why no matter how many negative headlines or snark I would throw his way, he would only respond with more kindness and love. With another party invitation, or investor introduction.

My most vivid memory of his infuriating lack of malice was right after I published a long take-down of yet another zany business scheme: Tony’s plan to remove all management structure from Zappos and leave employees to fend largely for themselves. Or as I headlined it: A Holacracy of Dunces.  

Shortly after the piece went live, I saw Tony at a conference. My natural instinct was to run in the opposite direction, to spare us both from the awkwardness. But I was too late. A half second later Tony bounded over and pulled me into a deep hug.

Any journalist reading this knows what happens next – a faux friendly barrage of corrections, clarifications and protestations. Appeals to friendship. We’ve all experienced it from the Shervin Pishevars of the world: The grotesque belief that one can simply bro a critic into submission.

But not Tony. Instead Tony asked quietly whether I had time to go for a walk. He didn’t want to talk about my story, he said. He had, after all, promised never to do that. If I wanted to share more about why I thought Holacracy was so damaging he’d be glad to listen, or introduce me to people inside Zappos who could talk about their own experiences. But otherwise, he understood that I had a job to do.

But, he explained, there was a line in the Holacracy piece that had upset him deeply – a line that still haunts me as I write this.

In it, while giving context to my involvement with the Downtown Project, I described the ‘Skeeving Las Vegas’ scandal as “the story that ended my friendship with Tony Hsieh.”

Of course that wasn’t true. Or at least it wasn’t fair. Friendships are complicated, and mine with Tony had always been tumultuous.

As we walked around the hotel grounds, Tony switched to Socratic mode – gently interrogating me on the meaning of friendship and how it is nurtured and maintained. Hadn’t the deal we’d made – for him never to comment on my stories – been as much about maintaining our friendship as about keeping an investor at arms length? So how could I say that the story had ended our friendship when the terms of our friendship had rendered him unable to respond? He seemed genuinely confused, and hurt.

This time it was me who couldn’t respond.

The true test of friendship in the tech industry, I think, is if someone still acts like a friend when they don’t need anything from you. When, in fact, there’s nothing you can give them.

By that metric, Tony Hsieh was a true friend. Not just to me, but to countless others to whom he gave his time, energy, hospitality, support and – yeah – sometimes money without ever expecting a return.

In 2017 I wrote a blog post about how I was quitting journalism, and Silicon Valley. Not long afterwards, Tony texted me and invited me to come to Vegas and see the new village of tiny houses he’d built at the Ferguson. There over Fernet (him) and Diet coke (me) he again asked me what I planned to do next. I told him I trying to write a novel about Silicon Valley, but joked I was finding it hard to write a likeable, redeemable tech CEO.

I meant it as a joke, but again Tony took me seriously. “Do you think you’re struggling because you find it hard to empathize with people like that?” he asked.

He said he had recently spent a lot of time thinking about success, and money, and friendship. He had come to the conclusion, he said, that the latter was the only thing that mattered a damn. Now that I wasn’t a journalist, might it make our friendship less complicated, he asked. I told him I hoped it would. He said he hoped so too.

And so it did. I started to visit him regularly in Vegas again, and was happy to see the Downtown Project find its natural level – not as the city of the future, or even the baked potato capital of the world, but certainly as a neighborhood infinitively more bustling and vibrant than when Tony had found it. Rumor had it Tony had made a killing on his real estate investments too – certainly enough to make up for all his lost bets on art galleries, yoga studios, and snarky news magazines.

In late November of last year – before the pandemic sent us all to our bunkers – I went with Tony to a Las Vegas Knights game. It was a very typical, almost old-school Tony Experience – a huge mix of friends and hangers on, a ride to the stadium on the Delivering Happiness tour bus, rinkside seats, and a visit to the merchandise shop where Tony insisted on buying gifts for everyone. It was also typically Tonyesque in that he stopped to say hello to every security guard, every bartender, every ticket taker, and shelf-stocker we passed. Most knew him by sight and greeted him on first name terms.

I had to leave the game early – I’d misjudged the length of American sporting events and was in danger of missing the last flight back to San Francisco. Tony insisted on walking me out, and on summoning his gigantic bus to take me the half mile journey to the airport. Suddenly, away from the spectacle and hangers on, Tony seemed reflective again. He asked about Sarah and the children, and whether everyone was healthy and happy. Then he asked about my plans for 2020. Might I have time in the New Year to go on a vacation with him? He wanted to get away from everything and thought it might be fun to hang out one-on-one, to work on our friendship.

I told him I’d love that, and I meant it. We parted with a long hug.

Then came COVID. Earlier this year, a couple of months into the lockdown, I sent Tony a text to ask how he was holding up. For all his talk of a one-on-one trip, I don’t think I’d ever seen Tony outside of a crowd – surely the isolation must be hard for him. His was a life filled with people – and Tony was never more Tony than at the center of a packed room.

He didn’t reply, either to my text or to the email I sent a couple of weeks later. And I, to what will now be my eternal regret, didn’t force the issue. A few weeks later I heard that he’d ‘retired’ from Zappos and then came the rumors that he was buying up property in Utah. All was well. Even in a pandemic, Tony was on to the next thing.

It’s a cliché to say that one is “stunned” or “shocked” to hear about the death of a friend, especially when that friend is only 46 years old, and the news of their passing arrives by text.

But in this case, it’s literally true. I stared at the text message. Tried to re-process it, and re-interpret the words – Tony Hsieh is dead – in a way that made sense.

Because there is no way those words can be literally true. No way that someone as brilliant, and bold, and ridiculous as Tony Hsieh could ever not be extremely, frustratingly, joyfully, eternally alive.

There must be something next.

..

Photo: Christopher Michel


That’s better


“They’re never going to call the train to take us to the bad place because we’re already here.”

9:30am in San Francisco. Smoke has blotted out the sun. Month six of the plague. Locusts scheduled for noon. Maybe a frog blizzard.


Hello again world

This is Tom Coates’ fault.

A few weeks ago, Tom’s blog – Plasticbag.org – suddenly reappeared on my RSS reader. In that moment, I was whisked a dozen years back in time.

Back to 2008 when Tom’s blog, along with Zoe’s and Ruth’s and Tim’s and Markos’ and scores more I’ve forgotten, was on my list of essential daily reads.

2008, the year I sold all my possessions and moved full-time into hotels and began blogging in earnest to an audience of many six friends and twelve enemies and a dog. About my travels, the writing of my first real book, my various hirings and firings at the Guardian and the Telegraph and my eventual arrival at TechCrunch. 2008 was the year I first met Sarah.

Seeing Tom’s blog suddenly reawaken prompted me to dig out all those old posts, which for some reason I’d kept, archived in a big xml file on a plastic USB stick. I expected to find all of it very embarrassing, and I wasn’t disappointed. 2008 was still two years before I got sober and in the gaps between posts I got flashbacks of two day hangovers and police cells and beastly behavior towards good people who didn’t deserve any of it.

Still, for all my youthful awfulness there was something therapeutic about reading back all those old posts. The me of 2008 was dirt poor and desperate to scramble out of obscurity. You could feel it back then in every post – in every mention of a new book I was pitching, or a column I’d just written for some obscure German magazine. But what I didn’t know at the time was that eventually the desperation would paid off. The blog would become a book, then another book, then that job at TechCrunch, and a very public resignation live on CNN, followed by a trip to Vegas…

Fast forward >>>

Twelve years later, I’m more than a decade sober and by any measure you care to use I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined back in my blogging days. Today I have money in the bank, a Green Card in my wallet, and a house with a pool, and a fancy car parked in the garage. All of which came from my own writing, or from founding companies that paid other people to write.

My friends – the ones I used to write about back in 2008 – have fast forwarded too. Michael and Alex are now paper billionaires thanks to Calm. Basti is about to take Postmates public. Others are venture capitalists or media moguls or million-selling diarists or, in one unfortunate edge case, a celebrity Nazi.

I don’t say any of this to sound smug (not just to sound smug) and I certainly don’t say it blind to the role that privilege played in allowing me to fail so sharply upwards. But rather in some weird hope that, just as the new me read through all those old posts and felt like I was back in the room with the old me, somehow the old me can look forward in time and have his mind blown.

Your friends are right, old Paul: If you just put the fucking bottle down you could actually achieve something. It’s not too late. You don’t die at 30. Also, please start going to the gym. And floss.

I also bring all of this up because I think it explains why I stopped blogging. That hunger – that need for someone – anyone – to listen. That idea that some of the famous tech people I threw rocks at might read the blog and know my name. That need to posture that I was doing exciting, important, successful things – as if posturing could bring them into being. All of that is why I wrote those hundreds of posts. Look at me! Hire me! Love me!

Now I’m 40, not 28, and I’m not hungry any more. I’m full. I’m one of the people at whom others (often deservedly) throw rocks. And when occasionally I do throw them, the people they hit threaten to spend a million dollars to attack my girlfriend’s family. That’s a whole different ballgame. A much less fun ballgame. Writing is work. Unpaid writing is masochism. Did I mention I have a pool? I could be swimming right now.

But then I dug out the blog archive and started reading and I remembered how much fun it was to write knowing almost nobody was reading, and not knowing what adventure the next post might trigger. What was that George Bernard Shaw quote Michael used as the slogan for Firebox? “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.”

Maybe it’s the same with blogging.

In which case, what better kind of midlife crisis than to make a fresh WordPress install, upload the old archives and start throwing shit at the wall again? Worst case it’ll remind me why I stopped.

And what better timing? For the past few months, I’ve been working on a book. It’s a different genre to anything I’ve written before so, just like in the old days, I’ve virtually no chance of finding a publisher. I also have no editor breathing down my neck, or readers pleading for me to finish. That was another great thing about blogging: It’s both a great motivator to keep writing and an excellent way to distract from the actual word count. Watch this space!

So yes. Welcome back to the blog. I don’t expect anyone is reading this but, if you are, hello again world.

And do say hello back: paul@paulbradleycarr.com

(PS I’m going to go back through my various harddrives and add in posts and other detritus I find to fill in some gaps between then and now.)


Excited by these new Tesla color options


“What’s your problem?”

A crazy couple of days, but wanted to take a few minutes to shout out our incredible team at NeedHop.

A few months ago we had an idea for a platform to help people connect one-on-one to solve their shared problems.

A week ago we submitted our app to the App Store. We imagined folks would use it to help each other through chronic health problems, addiction, relationship and work challenges etc etc.

Fast forward just seven days later and we’re living in a different world. A world in which the cutesy question we put at the top of the NeedHop app – “What’s your problem?” – seems faintly ridiculous.

Today we all have the same problem, and it’s a pretty fucking scary one.

A better question is “What do you need right now?”

To that end, yesterday I had a call with the team to figure out how NeedHop should react to the current crisis. Specifically how we can apply all the incredible engineering, product, design talent we have in house (and the venture capital money we have in the bank) to helping people get through this crisis.

A few minutes into the call it was clear we were all on the same page: Now and for the foreseeable future NeedHop needs to shift from being an app that helps people connect over shared experience to one that says “NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY NEED RIGHT THIS MOMENT?” And then makes it as easy as possible for you to find someone who has that thing.

Now, bear in mind, this is a team that had spent months building version one of our app. Painstakingly engineering, designing, researching – figuring out all the various use cases. We had a road map of features planned for each of the next six months. We were going to start on iOS in the US only and then roll out to other platforms and countries over time.

People plan and God laughs, as the saying goes.

By the end of yesterday’s call, that entire roadmap was in pieces, replaced by an insane plan to rebuild our entire front end, re-engineer the back end, rapidly add in geolocation for people who need help locally, and prepare to roll out this new version of NeedHop to as many people as possible on whatever platform they prefer, in whatever country they find themselves. (It turns out viruses really are platform agnostic.) (Sorry.)

By 3pm we had confirmed the new roadmap. At 5pm our UX lead called me with the first wireframes (our engineers were already building), and by 6pm I was looking at the first fully designed screens on Figma. All day today my phone has been buzzing with new TestFlights from our CTO and Lead Product Engineer. At this rate we should have the completely revised NeedHop ready for initial release in the next two or three days.

The team has planned and is implementing a total product refocus just one week after launch. They’re not thinking about long term revenue, or whether any of this is exactly what they signed up for. Rather they’re all focussed on the same question: Will this new feature, or this tweak, mean we can help more people, more quickly?

And that’s not even the most remarkable part. The most remarkable part is that our team is all based in LA and the Bay Area so they’re doing all of this remotely, with a virus spreading, and their cities on near total lock-down.

As one of the team put it to me last night: “Thank god this is the product we’re building right now. Because if we weren’t I’d probably have to quit and build it myself.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I also couldn’t be more blown away by the amazing group of human beings who a few months ago agreed to take the leap of faith to build NeedHop and who are now doubling down amid the chaos.

But here’s the thing. Across SF and LA and the world there are thousands of teams like ours. Teams who showed up yesterday and today – remotely or in person – and did their job, despite the craziness and panic going on around them. Often while trying to homeschool their kids and make sure they have enough food in the freezer. Not just engineers, but grocery store workers and chefs and teachers and doctors and trash collectors and doctors. And doctors. Did I mention doctors?

My point is this: If you’re a CEO or (co-)founder or any other kind of boss and your team showed up or logged on or dialed in to do their job *at all* this week then they are fucking amazing. Period.

As CEOs and founders we owe them our gratitude, but we also owe them some other things. We owe them good (ideally fully paid) healthcare, flexible hours, and a promise that they’ll get their full salaries regardless of whether we have customers or not.

We owe contractors a promise that they can rely on our income in the coming months. That we’ll pay them even faster than usual by whatever method is easiest for them. In a lockdown, a same-day bank transfer or Venmo beats a paper check in the mail every time.

Not every business can survive this downturn, but those of us with money in the bank have a moral obligation to match the resilience and professionalism of our teams with every last thing we have to give.

Because it’s never been more true. We’re in this together.

PS

Thanks for all the kind responses to this post. Of course I’m passing them all along to the team.

If there’s anything you need right now, or have something you can offer to a stranger in need, please do post it on the current version of NeedHop.

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/needhop/id1499743694

It’ll update automatically to the new version as soon as we release it. I’ll also update this post with Android, web, etc links as we have them. (International versions coming VERY soon.)Updated Mar 18, 2020, 9:11 AM


NeedHop

Hi all,

*Gestures at people chugging Purell smoothies and buying hazmat suits for their dogs as the markets slide into the sea*

Well, this seems like a good time to share something I’ve been stealthily working on for the past few months!

TL;DR: NeedHop is an app to help grown-ups connect one-on-one to solve their biggest problems. Built by our badass all-female dev team, v1 just went live on the App Store and I’m hoping you’ll download it, create a free profile and possibly change a stranger’s life.

Link: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/needhop/id1499743694

Longer version…

Even before the Coronavirus forced us even further apart, technology and social media had already driven us into bunkers. We distrust and fear strangers, and talking to them online rarely ends well. That’s sad, but it’s also dangerous.

Whatever you’re struggling with right now – health, addiction, money, work, divorce, a big scary virus – you can be sure somebody out there has been through it too. I know from dark, personal experience that finding that person can change your life, and theirs.

In 2009 I quit drinking without AA. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and there were many times when I could have fallen off the wagon. But I was lucky: My job as a columnist gave me access to literally millions of readers, some of whom had been on the same journey and were willing to share their own hard-won advice. Those incredibly kind people, and my ability to find and learn from them, literally saved my life.

A couple of years later, after I wrote an essay about my sobriety for the Wall Street Journal, I started to get emails from newly sober people asking for *my* advice and support. I still get them today, and I always drop everything and reply immediately. I know what it’s like to feel alone in your problems and how powerful it is to hear the words “I’ve been there!”

Last year, while helping Sarah build Chairman Mom, I started thinking seriously about the power of shared life experience, and also how connecting with strangers online doesn’t have to be toxic.

Specifically I thought about the app I wish I had when I was trying to get sober, or panicking about getting my Green Card, or suddenly being co-responsible for raising two children. Something that fills the yawning gap between group therapy apps and paid expert networks – and is designed specifically to help grown-ups quickly find someone who can give them real, practical advice and support, via some kind of online chat/messaging, over the phone or even in person.

Eventually it would also have a way to fairly and easily $$$ compensate the people who help you, or to make a donation to charity on their behalf. (If it could end the tyranny of “can I pick your brains over coffee?,” so much the better.)

After I was done thinking, I decided to raise some money and actually build it.

Today, after a lot of hard work, mostly by my amazing technical co-founders Shea Ryan and Monica Engel, we’re ready to share v1 of NeedHop with the world.

That link again.

(Android coming very soon!)

“How can I be helpful?”

Gosh, thanks for asking!

The biggest, easiest thing you could do is download the app and create an account. The whole process takes maybe 45 seconds and it’ll allow us to suggest people who might need your help. (It’s up to you if you actually connect with them, of course.) Soon you’ll be able to make $$ for yourself or charity in return for helping others.

It would also make a huge difference if you’d share NeedHop with you friends and followers, particularly those who you think could use a little help. It’s a noisy world out there.

And, of course, if you have a problem of your own that’s keeping you awake at night, please do share it anonymously on NeedHop so we can find someone to change your life.

One more thing: NeedHop only became real thanks to a few amazing investors who believed in the idea – in particular Tim Connors (Pivot North) and Andy Dunn (Red Swan). (Yes, the round is still open!) It also wouldn’t have been possible to do any of this without Sarah Lacy help and her letting me spin the initial work out of Chairman Mom. Naturally she’s also a co-founder of NeedHop.

Thanks finally to everyone who gave advice/suggestions for the minimum viable product – especially Sarah Kunst , Gregg Spiridellis, Marco Zappacosta, Bastian Lehmann, Sarah Tavel, Tony Hsieh, Alfred Lin, Shane Steele, Eris Stassi, and JR Johnson.

Ok! Please, please do download the app and create a profile. I’d love to hear your feedback, feature suggestions, bug reports etc. It’s very much a minimum viable product and there’s a LOT of exciting stuff still to come.

Now wash your hands.


“How can I be helpful?”


We sold Pando

Hello from Hawaii. With a shout out to every billionaire who tried to put us out of business over the years.


Fuck it, France

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