Tony Hsieh is a serial entrepreneurco-founded Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer he now runs. He's also co-founder of the Downtown Project, which is seeking to revitalize Las Vegas's downtown. He spoke with Inc. reporter Issie Lapowsky.
My fascination with serendipity started in college. I think for most people, college was the last time it was normal to just randomly run into people all the time. As you get older, you drive to work, see the same people every day, then go home. But the best things happen when people are running into each other and sharing ideas.
At Zappos, we do a lot to get people running into each other. At our office, for example, there are exits on all four sides of the building. We've locked them all except one. It's more inconvenient, but we prioritize collisions over convenience. The Downtown Project, our drive to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, does the same thing, but on a much bigger scale. We thought, How can we get people in the city to run into each other more often? So we're moving our office into the old city-hall building, and we've already got 10 tech start-ups to set up nearby. It's all about maximizing collisions and accelerating serendipity.
Even the idea of starting the Downtown Project came from luck. It happened at a bar. I just happened to become friendly with the owner of the place, and he'd been in Vegas for much longer than I had. I randomly mentioned that we might buy a plot of land and build our own Zappos campus, like Google or Apple.
He was the one who said, "No, you guys should think about moving downtown and working with the community here." It was something we hadn't even considered before, but that one conversation in a bar changed everything.
I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them. If you're in an environment where you're always running into people, the chances of one of those collisions being meaningful is maybe 1 in 1,000. But if you do it 100 times more, your odds go up.
My advice is: Meet lots of different people without trying to extract value from them. You don't need to connect the dots right away. But if you think about each person as a new dot on your canvas, over time, you'll see the full picture.