Monday, September 29, 2014

Big Money Moron Plans to Make Downtown Las Vegas Into Techtopia

He's a moron because, no matter how fancy the tech, it's still a desert.
From recode:
Downtown Las Vegas Is the Great American Techtopia
Tony Hsieh, the charismatic founder of, invested $350 million into turning Las Vegas into a startup. Buying 30 acres, setting up his own school, his own hospital, his own venture fund and restaurants, Hsieh is creating an innovation city in his own image. It is strange. And it is struggling. But it's the most ambitious experiment in building a 21st century utopian city in the U.S. In this Re/code special series, we explore what it means to live there -- and why its startups could flourish, or fail.
In the new downtown Las Vegas, the hospital is also a co-working space. The church knows to step in when founders lose funding. A men’s hotel is now offices, a Bikram yoga studio and an artisanal donut bakery. The rundown casino with seedy upstairs rooms is reborn as an entrepreneur dorm.
And in the new preschool, which took over a church that had been a senior service center, entrepreneurship training begins at 6 weeks old.

How does that work?
“It’s mostly about teaching them that it’s okay to fail,” said Connie Yeh, a former derivatives trader at Citibank, and now the founder of the 9th Bridge School in downtown Las Vegas. Yeh said that one of her preschoolers already has a website.

If all that seems strange — if it comes across as a startup fantasia straight out of science fiction — that’s because it is.

Tony Hsieh — the enigmatic, shy, but hard-partying 40-year-old founder of Vegas-based shoe-sales site Zappos, which he sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion — could have a lot of toys. He chose a city.

Since buying 28 acres and promising a $350 million investment in 2009, Hsieh has turned the downtrodden, recession-hit heart of Las Vegas, the 109-year-old town that is 10 minutes off the more-famous Strip, into an experimental startup city, where residents — from the school teachers to the startup founders — are venture-funded entrepreneurs.

In a mix of franchising and entrepreneurship, Hsieh’s Downtown Project has 300 projects going on simultaneously, from new restaurants to tech startups to social science experiments — his founders make a salary and then 50 percent of the profit after paying their loans back to him. He said his inspiration was, in part, the immersive computer game Second Life.

In 2012, Hsieh bought City Hall to headquarter Zappos.

There’s a whimsy but also a danger to the charismatic-leader-driven development that could fall anywhere between Google-ish playfulness to Howard Hughesian eccentricity — Hsieh bought the swath of land in the shape of a llama — at first accidentally, and then intentionally, because, hey, he likes llamas. But there’s been trouble. There’s been disappointment. And there have even been suicides....MORE
More on (see what I did there?) the desert thing:

UPDATED--"Las Vegas about to run out of water, go ‘out of business’"
Las Vegas Running Out of Water Means Dimming Los Angeles Lights
Clock is Ticking on Las Vegas' Water Supply and The Elvis Portfolio
Markets, Risk and Gambler's Ruin