The rise of the late Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, an Ivy League businessman who graduated to become one of the leading sales and customer service minds in America, is a story of perseverance, resilience, and unfortunately great tragedy.
Over Thanksgiving we learned that Hsieh had perished in a house fire in New London, Connecticut. Reports indicate that Hsieh was on the verge of real danger dealing with drugs and alcohol. NPR spoke to Hsieh in 2017 and re-aired the interview on a bonus edition of the Up First Podcast Sunday.
Host Guy Raz spoke to Hsieh about his background and the ups-and-down of his business dealings during the 30-minute episode. Raz said the interview was one of his most difficult to conduct because he had to beg the millionaire businessman to brag about himself and his achievements.
“As Zappos was growing, we were also losing more money,” recalled Hsieh. “All of this was happening at a bad time in terms of the dot com crash back in 2000. Even if someone wanted to invest in an online company, the last thing they wanted to do was to invest in an online shoe company.”
Hsieh admitted that he was never a big fan of shoes, claiming to only own 3-4 pairs himself. “I’m actually not passionate about shoes at all, I’m passionate about customer service and company culture, so I could talk forever about those two things.”
As a self-described introvert, Hsieh said that his philosophy was to surround himself with people that were more extroverted than himself. Hsieh described his childhood living with his two parents who wanted him to practice the violin and piano. “I would get up super early and I would play back a recording of me practicing those things,” he said. “That was my way around that.”
He would eventually go onto college and graduate from Harvard with a degree in business science. Hsieh did not experience success immediately after graduating. He worked with Oracle as a low-level programmer. “I was there for just five months, right out of college and the actual work I was assigned to do was pretty boring, this was right around when the internet started.”
During his lunch breaks and after work at Oracle, Hsieh and his college roommate decided to work for web hosting companies, designing and setting up websites for small local businesses. “We contacted 100 of the best websites that we thought were interesting. We basically told them that if they put this little piece of code up on their website a little banner would show up on other people’s websites.”
The pair launched a site called LinkExchange which had over 20,000 participating web pages. Two years after its launch, the site had 400,000 members and 5 million ads rotated daily. Hsieh and his partner ended up selling the company to Microsoft for $265 million.
Zappos launched in 1999 with Hsieh coming on two years later as the CEO. In 2004, recorded nearly $200 million in gross sales, that same year the company moved from San Francisco to Las Vegas, Nevada. In the early years, Hsieh was funding the company from the sales of his own loft apartments in San Francisco. “In the early years sometimes, we had to lay people off just to keep the company going.”
Hsieh made another major deal that strengthened his portfolio. In 2009, he sold Zappos to Amazon in a deal worth $1.2 billion. “Amazon allowed us to be our own separate subsidiary, with our own separate culture,” Hsieh said. “We have been able to continue to do our own thing and our culture is very different.”
In the days before his death, Hsieh was reportedly having a difficult time with the isolation of COVID-19 and started using mushrooms and ecstasy. According to the Wall Street Journal he was planning to enter rehab to get treatment for his problems.
The podcast ended eerily with Hsieh talking about a conversation he had with a friend a few years back. “I was having coffee with a friend of mine and we were talking about a quiz or something. The question was, if your house was on fire and you could only save one thing, what would that be?”
PODCAST REVIEW: Millennial Money with Shannah Compton Game
Game spotlights rental evictions and how those evictions are impacting the economy. To discuss this issue Game talks to Shabana Baksh, Real Estate Attorney at K&L Gates LLP, and Tendayi Kapfidze, Chief Economist at LendingTree.
No one could have predicted what the COVID-19 pandemic was going to do to the economy. Some of the unintended consequences from the spread of last year’s virus include millions of people getting behind in either rent or mortgage payments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 10 million people were behind in their rent payments at the beginning of the month.
Recently, President Joe Biden extended the federal eviction moratorium through the end of the month. The Millennial Money podcast withShannah Compton Game spotlights rental evictions and how those evictions are impacting the economy. To discuss this issue Game talks to Shabana Baksh, Real Estate Attorney at K&L Gates LLP, and Tendayi Kapfidze, Chief Economist at LendingTree.
“This temporary moratorium extends some of these vital protections to millions of renters that are at risk of eviction,” said Baksh. “They are also state and local moratoriums that remain in effect who may not qualify for assistance under the federal guidelines.”
Landlords across the country have been put in a tough situation with continuing moratoriums at the federal, state, and local levels. The typical delinquent renter owes nearly $6,000, according to a report published from Moody’s Analytics. The $900 billion relief package passed in December provided $25 billion for both landlords and renters.
“What we have seen happening since the economic crisis related to the coronavirus is that a lot of people who have been affected in terms of the industries that have been adversely affected such as travel, tourism, restaurants, and places where people have to engage directly, a lot of those people happen to be renters,” Kapfidze said, “So obviously if you are not getting paid and not getting income it is a challenge to pay for your rent.”
To qualify for the funds, which are being disbursed by states and can be used for past and present rent, a renter must show that they suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic, have incomes below 80 percent of their median income and are at risk of becoming homeless.
“Right now, renters and owners find themselves in a significant cash crunch,” said Baksh. “We are entering into the second year of this pandemic and many renters are just accruing late fees and debt and so we are seeing a large buildup of these late payments. With that said, there are policies in place to protect renters and homeowners from being evicted and provide them with rental relief.”
Landlords still must pay mortgages on these properties that are not collecting rent. Lenders started the foreclosure process on 5,999 U.S. properties in February 2021, up 15 percent from last month but down 78 percent from a year ago. The highest foreclosure rates in Utah, Delaware, and Florida.
Lenders repossessed 1,545 U.S. properties through completed foreclosures in February 2021, up 8 percent from last month but still down 85 from last year.
“Renters should alert their landlords of their inability to pay their rent,” said Baksh. “Have an honest and open conversation with them about your situation. Try to seek a solution, landlords may be willing to negotiate during this tough time and agree to payment arrangements.”
The one thing that renters should know about eviction moratoriums is that they do not dissolve you of the responsibility of paying your landlord.
“The devil is in the details,” said Kapfidze. “Eviction moratorium, it means that if you are the renters you are accumulating debt, you are still under contract if you are renting, and you still have an obligation to pay your bill. “In terms of the rental relief funds there are different structures of plans, but the money is not always easy to access.”
To learn more about the Millennial Money podcast with Shannah Compton Game click here.
PODCAST REVIEW: Consider This from NPR
Consider This podcast from NPR hosted by Mary Louis Kelly, hosted a conversation with several people from the Asian American community and organizations about steps that are being taken to protect people from becoming victims of senseless violence.
There is a movement to raise awareness about the threat of violence against Asian Americans living in the United States. Last week, a 21-year-old white man murdered six women of Asian descent and two other people at Atlanta area massage businesses. Robert Aaron Long told police that his killing spree was not motivate by race by rather by his sex addiction.
The incident has motivated discussions and rallies over the past several days. Consider This podcast from NPR hosted by Mary Louise Kelly, hosted a conversation with several people from the Asian American community and organizations about steps that are being taken to protect people from becoming victims of senseless violence.
The podcast documents several incidents that did not make national news headlines. In San Francisco, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was out for a morning walk when out of nowhere, a man shoved him violently to the ground. He died two days later. It was not the only attack like that in the region.
A local resident who is sick and tired of seeing violence carried out against his community is getting involved. JoJo Au launched a fundraiser to hire armed private security guards to patrol her own neighborhood, Oakland’s Chinatown. She has raised almost a hundred thousand dollars.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that it was going to spread like wildfire,” said JoJo Au. “And so many people were so concerned about it and wanted to do something, but they didn’t know what. You know, the merchants, they even say they feel safer. Some of the shoppers here, they feel safer. So, you know, I’m glad that I did this.”
Kelly said the pattern is clear – Asian American communities are being terrorized by harassment and violence. “Consider this – all those crimes you just heard about happened this year before a man in Georgia shot and killed eight people, most of whom were women of Asian descent.”
A group called Stop AAPI Hate tracks violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Since the start of the pandemic, they have received reports of nearly 4,000 hate incidents across the United States.
Connie Chung Joe is CEO of a legal aid group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.
“Almost half of them are coming from California,” Chung said. “Another thing is that women are targeted more than twice as often as men. And then we are seeing a spate of hate and violence targeted at our seniors.
Chung said the Asian American that she knows are advising their parents and grandparents to stay in the house. “Even for things like daily walks or trips to the grocery store. So, folks are really worried about this. And there’s also a lot of outrage about why this is still allowed to happen in our society?”
Ben Nguyen is a Georgia state representative. Her district covers part of Atlanta and DeKalb County. She believes that Robert Long killed the women because of hate and nothing else.
“We know that these are three businesses that are Asian-owned,” Nguyen said. “We know that most people who work there are Asian. And I think for anyone who lives in Atlanta and you hear the word massage parlor, that there is an understanding that perhaps there are other sex worker-related things that take place in these massage parlors. And it’s largely accepted.”
Federally, there is an effort to address violence against Asian American communities. One of the leaders of that effort is Congresswoman Grace Meng, Democrat from New York. She’s introduced legislation on the issue. Her district covers parts of New York City and Queens. We spoke this week before the shootings in Georgia.
“People are scared. People are literally telling their elderly parents and grandparents, “do not go out,” said Meng. “You know, we’ll buy groceries for you. I had a mom – that night when I heard about that incident, she had seen it on the news, and she texted me. She said, that’s it; I’m not letting my kids play outside anymore.”
The U.S. Department of Justice could choose to bring federal hate crime charges against Long if they uncover any evidence to prove Long targeted the victims specifically because of their race.
PODCAST REVIEW: Into America: Jury System on Trial
There are some parallels between the 2014 case that she sat through and last summer’s murder allegedly committed by Derek Chauvin.
A former Chicago juror who sat on a panel that ultimately convicted a former police officer of killing a young Black man believes that there is widespread bias during the jury process.
Charlene Cook of Chicago, Illinois, was chosen as a juror for the trial of Jason Van Dyke. She spoke to Trymaine Lee host of the Into America podcast about her experience on a predominately white jury and what she expects from the upcoming trial of a former Minnesota police officer accused of killing George Floyd.
Cook believes there are some parallels between the 2014 case that she sat through and last summer’s murder allegedly committed by Derek Chauvin. Prosecutors in Illinois revealed that Van Dyke got out of his police SUV and fired 16 shots over the course of 15 seconds at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald who autochories say was swinging a knife at officers, a claim that video would later contradict.
Cook said the process to be selected on the Van Dyke jury was tedious. She said lawyers for both sides had clear agendas.
“I was disappointed because I didn’t want to be on the jury,” she said. “For one, I didn’t want no one’s life in my hands, regardless of what I thought of him. I didn’t really want to be involved with it.”
She described being nervous as the trial started, not knowing what to expect and feeling that all eyes were on her. “The audience was full,” Cook recalled. “Even though the people in TV land could not see who I was, the people in the audience knew who we all were. So, I am watching and I’m sitting down trying to observe everything, trying to take notes on everything.”
Cook said that she felt added pressure because of the color of her skin. She said she had to dispel thoughts that she was going to be a problem juror. “I just had to tell them, I’m old. I think I was the second oldest person there. I told the other jurors not to look at my race, we all had a job to do, and we are all going home.”
Jason Van Dyke was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated assault in McDonald’s killing. He was sentenced to nearly seven years in state prison. Cook said she will never forget the reactions from certain people following that verdict.
“This lady walked up behind me and tried to hug me,” Cook said. “I did not know what she was trying to do so I almost pushed her back. She was a Caucasian lady who just wanted to thank me.”
Cook said she learned a lot about the justice system during her time as a juror in Illinois. “They expect us to be a certain way,” she said. “They expect us to think a certain way just because this is what they have in mind. I am glad I was on there; we needed a Black person on that jury. We needed a Black person on that jury. We still have a long way to go. I still did not feel like that trial was fair. If you have 12 jurors, why would one be black?”
Also, on the podcast, Will Snowden, founder of the Juror Project, an advocacy group to teach people why jury services matter and why it is especially important for black people to be on juries.
“Most jurisdictions will use voter registration and DMV records to generate the summons list and that’s the list that identifies people who should be mailed summonses to show up for jury duty,” Snowden said. “The reason why that’s problematic, and the reason why it doesn’t work, is when you use just, say, voter registration and DMV records, you’re effectively excluding everybody who doesn’t own a car and everybody who isn’t registered to vote, but otherwise would be eligible to sit on a jury.”
As for jury selection in the Derek Chauvin trial will likely last about three weeks, and it’s estimated the trial could run through mid-April.