Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has gotten a lot of attention for his plans to move his online retail company into the former City Hall and change downtown culture in the process. But the success of his nonprofit Downtown Project may hinge on all the people behind the grassroots projects within it. Many of those projects will take time to show results, but a few have already made visible changes.
Take Vegas Jelly, for example. Started in April by former Zappos Web developer Dylan Bathurst, it’s a casual co-working group where like-minded techies can get together and share ideas. Soon after, Bathurst teamed up with Startup Foundation Las Vegas co-founder Shavonnah Tièra to organize Startup Weekend, a semi-annual event in which participants compete to create a new business in less than three days. The first Startup Weekend, in June, was so successful that Bathurst quit Zappos to become full-time CEO of his new company, Rumgr. Since leaving Zappos, he spends nearly all of his time downtown and remains more involved than ever in the community there.
Meanwhile, Zappos social engagement scientist Graham Kahr decided to help the local music scene and teamed up with Neon Reverb organizers to help grow and promote the local music festival and stage more concerts downtown. And another Zappos Web developer, Pawel Szymczykowski, oversaw the recent creation of /usr/lib, a technical library and meeting place on the second floor of the Emergency Arts building where downtowners can learn about technology and meet like-minded people.
Hoping to breed more of this “organized chaos” is Zach Ware, head of Zappos’ downtown campus development, whose ultimate goal is to “create the most community-focused city in the world, in the city you’d least expect to see it.” To achieve this, he emphasizes that the company is not trying to dictate what happens downtown, but rather provide support for the people and projects that can contribute the most to the community. Ware recently announced that Vegas Tech—part of Hsieh’s Downtown Project—has leased the second floor of a building at 302 E. Carson Ave. to create a full-time co-working space that will open in the spring. He envisions the site as a central location for young companies to grow and help each other.
“Inspiring a network of people to follow their passions and empowering them is more effective than doing it ourselves,” Ware says.