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Delivering Happiness: Tony Hsieh’s Legacy of Drugs, Suicides, Scams and the Cult of Zappos

zappos cult

Since the death of the so-called visionary Tony Hsieh, the City of Las Vegas, local politicians, and local “journalists” have all went into overdrive trying to craft an imaginary legacy and coverup the diabolical truth.

The CEO of Zappos, and author of Delivering Happiness, was anything but a visionary leader. As stories start to leak out, the public is starting to learn what Tony Hsieh really was, a drug-addicted, psychotic cult leader that left a trail of deaths, ruined lives, bankruptcies, and chaos behind. A man — enabled by the media and a tech industry that covered up the story so they could stay inside his psychotic orbit — that used his money to build a cult of followers.

Delivering Happiness: While Trying to Escape Your Body and Life?

As the bizarre stories start to leak out, the media is still attempting to run damage control, claiming the pandemic pushed the Zappos cult leader over the edge. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. The odd behaviors have been known to city leaders and journalists for over a decade, and the multiple suicides inside of his Downtown Project in Las Vegas, suicides that were never talked about, should have been a huge wake-up call.

The sad thing about all of this, is his book, Delivering Happiness, is often used in high schools, colleges, and business board rooms as a blueprint for running a successful business or being happy in life. But the book is nothing but an advertisement for escaping life through drugs, alcohol, and psychotic behavior.

The makings of a madman…

Hsieh and Clinton

Hsieh, like many tech industry “leaders”, hated life. He was fixated on escaping his existence, and like the psychotic founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, he was obsessed with figuring out how to separate his body from the world around him. Friends describe bizarre rituals like trying to figure out how his body could live without the basic necessities of life; food, water, air, and sleep.

Hsieh would go on bizarre 26-day alphabet diets, in which he would only eat foods starting with a single letter each day, such as “a’’ the first 24 hours, “b’’ the second, and so on, nearly fasting by the letter “z,” a friend told the Wall Street Journal.

He starved himself of food and water, trying to eliminate the need to urinate or use the bathroom; in the end, friends say he had whittled his body down to well under 100 pounds. He slowly killed himself, ingesting enormous amounts of ecstasy, whippets, magic mushrooms, and according to local sources decades of substantial ketamine use.

Reports of Hsieh wandering around, shoeless and high out of his mind on whippets were well known to his inner circle; he would try to deprive his body of oxygen, turning toward nitrous oxide, which can induce hypoxia.

While most enabled his behavior, including Las Vegas media and politicians who were obsessed with turning the drug addict into a local legend, one-time friend and singer Jewel cut ties with Hsieh, warning him in a letter, “I am going to be blunt,” read Jewel’s letter, which was obtained by Forbes. “I need to tell you that I don’t think you are well and in your right mind. I think you are taking too many drugs that cause you to disassociate.”

“When you look around and realize that every single person around you is on your payroll, then you are in trouble.” … “You are in trouble, Tony.” “If the world could see how you are living, they would not see you as a tech visionary, they would see you as a drug addicted man who is a cliché,” she wrote.

The Zappos Cult, and a Trail of Destruction

To pretend this is a shock, would be to join the cult of Zappos. The fact is, everyone knew what Hsieh was, and the media who now pretend to be shocked by his death, blaming the pandemic for his drug use, are the same people who enabled, joined in on, and even celebrated the toxic behavior for decades.

In fact, Vegas was not the first time he attempted to build his ultimate drugged out fantasyland. Pre-Vegas Zappos cult, In San Francisco, he wanted to create something similar to his Harvard dorm, so he bought up conjoining condos and hosted an almost constant party space in the enormous 1000 Van Ness Avenue building, which also became the office of his venture firm, Venture Frogs.

Even before setting foot in Las Vegas, Hsieh made it known that his move to the desert was not about starting a successful business but he was going to build what he called “a really big party.”

“The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh’s Zapponian Utopia”

Zappos Offices

Back in 2017, a book called The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh’s Zapponian Utopia, which was largely ignored by the media, tried to expose the troubling behavior inside of Zappos and the Downtown Project in Las Vegas. It touched on the raves, the drug use, and the fact that the Zappos CEO didn’t just want a company — he wanted a cult.

His quest to start his cult, included The Downtown Project (DTP), as he called it — a Utopia of drugs and partying in the desert, a sort of Disney World for adult entrepreneurs, small-business owners, and Zappos employees. According to Aimee Groth, author of The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh’s Zapponian Utopia, the Downtown Project functioned like the “front groups” you’ll find in some cults.

Anyone who joined the Zappos cult, or was unlucky enough to be swindled into uprooting their lives and moving into the Downtown Project Scam, would be 100% in it. Their entire lives would be Zappos and DTP – from the moment you woke to the few hours you were allowed to sleep at night, you lived and breathed by the rules of Hsieh.

His cult would run on on the “3 C” approach he uses at Zappos — connectedness, co-learning and “collisions” — i.e., the “serendipitous” encounters one might have on, say, a walk to the coffee shop or the grocery store — that Hsieh claimed would lead to greater innovation and better business all around. The problem was, it was all part of the plan to control everyone around him.

From making his followers all bear the same “mark” — he literally made them tattoo a pixel dot on their bodies for his birthday– to making them call themselves the Zapponians, as Hassan “Gino” Massoumi, whose shop went out of business when the building was purchased by the Downtown Project, put it: “It’s like a religion you can’t stop.

You could not live outside of DTP and be part of Zappos or one of the DTP startup businesses. Your life was his; you were required to party (work) 24/7/365. Everything down to how the Zappos cult entertained themselves was carefully crafted by Hsieh and people like Loren Becker, The Zappos Experience & Community Team Manager aka “Culture Commando”.

They even brought in a semi-pro soccer team – the Las Vegas Lights FC, an elaborate ruse to gain even more control over the Zapponians. It was required as part of your job to attend, drink, and party at the games – a prelude to the night ahead once the game ended.

Vegas Lights

But behind the endless partying and control, was an unmentioned dark side – rumors of suicides, drug overdoses, bankruptcies, and a trail of discarded lives.

Tony Hsieh himself said, “Good employees” were required to put the company ahead of their own incomes.

David Gould, a former professor and associate director at the University of Iowa, bought into the hype. He arrived in Las Vegas and was given the title of “Director of Imagination.” During the first year, you can find all sorts of interviews where just like most good Zapponians, Gould repeated the happiness mantra.

That all came to an end when he realized he was helping sucker unsuspecting victims into Tony’s web of deceit. He later resigned from DTP and wrote a letter to people who fell victim to the scam saying:

Many of the people who merged their voices with yours will find themselves without a job. While their names have yet to be revealed, the disillusioned expressions I conjure up are keeping me awake tonight. This group will undoubtedly include numerous young adults, who have not yet found your good fortune. As they have naively purchased homes and started families, this decision will impact them greatly.

“Business is business” will be the defense from those you have charged with delivering the sad news. But we have not experienced a string of tough breaks or bad luck. Rather, this is a collage of decadence, greed, and missing leadership. While some squandered the opportunity to “dent the universe,”others never cared about doing so in the first place. There were heroes among us, however, and it is for them that my soul weeps.

While the scumbags in the Las Vegas Media helped coverup what was going on, just a couple of years into the overhyped Downtown Project (DTP) it was clear that not only had the DTP’s success bubble burst, it was doomed from the start.

Building a Cult Compound in the Center of Downtown Las Vegas

What was sold to gullible startups as the new “co-learning and co-working capital of the world”, was nothing but an excuse to party, do drugs, and grow the Zappos cult.

People with no experience or hopes of ever running a successful business were lured to Las Vegas, and given small-business loans to start the kinds of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and stores that would make living in the middle of the Zappos cult appealing. His “small business founders” were given a small salary and then 50 percent of the profit after paying their loans back to him. But as Gawker put it, well-funded arrogance isn’t enough to maintain a fantasy.

The Show Must Go On….

“People say Tony has this magic about him,” said Jennifer Chin, who is Hsieh’s first cousin, and whose startup Hsieh invested in. “And yeah, I’m in, where’s the Kool-Aid? What we do, we could go anywhere, but we chose Vegas.”

“Crashpad” apartments were available for people to stay in, free of charge.

DTP recruits who had experience running businesses and Zappos employees who aced the job knowledge screening, but did not measure up on the “weirdness scale” were passed over for lack of “culture fit.” In reality, it looks like they were screening out those who would question the cult!

“If you ask people why Tony employs people who have no experience, many will say that he wants to give them a chance,” writes author Aimee Groth. “But the closer you go into his inner circle, the answer to that question changes. These people talk about how he hires neophytes he can influence. Most of them use the word control.”

Hsieh was trying to build a year-round Burning Man festival in the middle of Downtown Las Vegas.

The city was willing to look the other way, as Hsieh ignored building codes and set up an Airstream trailer park in the middle of downtown Las Vegas and filled it llamas. Yes, llamas! The place wreaked of livestock; some of them slept in the trailer with Hsieh.


The billionaire named the compound, Llamapolis, moved in his inner circle, and took up full-time residence in an airstream trailer.

He then flew in an artist from Burning Man to build his own Golden Calf for the world to see, a 55-foot-tall praying mantis sculpture that shoots fire out of its antennae at night.


The city of Las Vegas yet again made excuses, called it the “revitalization” of downtown Las Vegas, ignoring the bankruptcies and multiple failed businesses that were starting to grow under Hsieh’s management of the Downtown Project.

Then came the deaths.

The forced socializations began to take its toll. Many of the social introverts who were flown in from Silicon Valley began to break down because of the required “after-hours socializing” and the forced interactions – you could not walk into a coffee house without seeing your co-workers and being forced into another social hour.

As the New York Post put it, “You’d work your eight hours (or more), then go home and see your co-workers at an impromptu cookout or bar-hopping session. There was no Off button. Home was work, and work was home. You were free to opt out of all the socializing, but that might leave others wondering how committed you were to your work.”

Then the rails came off. Three prominent entrepreneurs involved with Hsieh’s Downtown Project commit suicide.

DTP Suicides
Suicides: In January 2013, Jody Sherman (left), 48, founder of Econom, shot himself in a car as his start-up company headed toward bankruptcy. One year later, Ovik Banerjee (center), 24, committed suicide; then in May 2014, Matt Berman (right), founder of Bolt Barber, was found hanged at his home.

In January 2013, Jody Sherman, the 48-year-old founder of Ecomom, one of the most prominent Vegas tech-funded startups, shot himself while in his car. His company had been going south.

In January 2014, 24-year-old Ovik Banerjee, who was part of the first Venture for America group in Vegas and an integral member of the Downtown Project team, leapt from his Town Terrace apartment in downtown.

Banerjee was moved to the Downtown construction zone and the “Learning Village”, where his friends say he was asked to mislead city officials about the nature of the project, skirting zoning codes and the permit process by claiming a permanent structure was temporary. Doing this upset him deeply.

Banerjee struggled. “He was really principled, and it tore him up,” one source said. “He never had a clear job. No one had a clear job. It was Tony leading people saying, ‘Come out and do things, come out and have fun,’ and then you get here, and there’s no structure, and that’s what they did to Ovik.”

In May 2014, Matt Berman, the 50-year-old founder of Bolt Barber, the flagship shop at the center of the Container Park, was found in his home in an apparent suicide by hanging, though it’s still unclear. People familiar with the Downtown Project say many of its small businesses have been struggling.

The coverup begins…

But instead of changing the culture, or exposing Hsieh as a drug-addicted cult leader preying on the innocent, Hsieh with help from the city and the local media worked hard to keep each suicide quiet.

When interviewed at the time by Re/code, Hsieh coldly commented “Suicides happen anywhere. Look at the stats,” Hsieh said, sounding agitated, “It’s harder for people who are really good students in school. Then they move in to this, where there is no instruction manual, and you have to be MacGyver on your own.”

Sources told Re/code that new businesses brought in by Downtown Project were “bleeding money” from the start and that the revitalization “seems like it’s being run by kids.” One source criticized Hsieh for hiring family members and “drinking buddies.”

If there’s a dark side of techtopia—of the arrogant-bordering-on-delusional notion that a multimillion-dollar investment and a happiness manifesto can remake a struggling city—this is it. “There is a danger of happiness as a goal,” one anonymous entrepreneur told Re/code. “It’s lonely. There’s a pressure to socialize and go out. There’s a pressure to party.”

The Third Cult: Park City Utah and the End of Delivering Happiness

In August, Tony tried to flee Las Vegas and setup yet another enclave of drugs and cultists in Park City, Utah. He abruptly resigned from Zappos, some say he was forced out by Amazon after they could no longer coverup his bizarre behavior.

In Utah, he went on a house buying frenzy, buying up land, purchasing the mansion he lived in, and adding more than a dozen nearby multi-million dollar properties in an attempt to build the ultimate party land. Police were regularly called to his home for “illegal burns” and all-hours, extravagant parties that drew large crowds of techie drug users.

His new core community of cultists was reported to be around 30 to 40 hand-picked people, mostly newer Hsieh contacts – flown in, and paid to be their by Hsieh. The new cult had a daily community schedule, with a heavy doses of drugs, drinking and bizarre fire rituals.

He had no concern for anyone but himself…

The town he invaded was not happy with his antics, the drug-fueled parties, or the fact that the COVID-19 rules apparently didn’t apply to the drugged-out billionaire.

Our sources in Park City, say there were almost nightly complaints from residents. Everyone in town knew what was happening, but just like Las Vegas, Park City government officials looked the other way.

The city ignored gigantic hot air balloon propane blowers shooting fire hundreds of feet into the air, they ignored dozens of buses that were parked throughout town that were being used to shuttle in hundreds upon hundreds of people to his parties that flaunted the COVID restrictions, they ignored the drug use and reports of bizarre fire rituals that threatened neighboring properties. To the residents of Park City, it seemed that another tech billionaire was above the law.

Then it all went quiet. Tony had disappeared again.

In the pre-dawn hours of November 18, the New London, Connecticut Police Department were dispatched on a call about a man barricaded in a shed. It was Hsieh, sources say he was high on drugs when a fire erupted around him inside of a shed behind his girlfriend’s home in Connecticut. In the end, he died high, alone and yet again putting innocent people (in the neighboring houses) at risk.

The Delivering Happiness Manifesto

The book that started it all should have been the first warning sign. Delivering Happiness isn’t the revolutionary business model that Silicon Valley promotes it to be; in fact, it’s nothing but a cult leaders’ Manifesto.

He outlines how his mission is not to make money but to hack the lifestyles of those around him. In other words, he was trying to enact control; shape the lives of those around him as he saw fit in order to deliver happiness to only one person – Tony Hsieh.