Online retailer Zappos is known for its zany, zealous corporate culture. But one stunt seems to bridge the gap from “culture” to “cult”: For CEO Tony Hsieh’s 40th birthday party, his inner circle of friends — apparently calling themselves “Zapponians” — all got the same tattoo.
The story of the tattoo party opens a long feature in the Las Vegas Sun profiling Hsieh’s revitalisation of downtown Las Vegas:
They call themselves Zapponians, a close-knit group connected to Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and the bold leader of a major transformation of downtown Las Vegas. Friends, co-workers and colleagues, they’re all here for a show of allegiance to tony and the group before his 40th birthday party.
On the afternoon before Hsieh’s 40th birthday party, the group received small, circular tattoos on their fingers, feet, hips, elbows or lips. The marks represent pixels, the digital dots that form the resolution of a computer screen.
“What are we doing? Getting tattoos to go to a party,” said Steve “Steve-O” Moroney, Hsieh’s 40-something personal driver who has tattoos running up both arms. “How epic is that, right? What do you do? You get a tattoo.”
A blonde woman got a black pixel tatted next to a black heart on her forearm: “I hope you have a very happy birthday, Tony, because we’re doing this all for you,” she told the camera.
After my trip to visit the Downtown Project earlier this year, I mentioned that the society which has sprung up around Hsieh’s initiatives “can feel cultish“. In fact, I’m actually quoted in the Sun story, saying that the co’s culture isn’t very welcoming to outsiders. But other quotes in the article are a little more troubling, with references to “drinking the Kool-Aid” and “kissing the ring” when it comes to ingratiating one’s self with the Zappos or Downtown Project groups. Now a leader and his followers all bearing the same “mark”?
Perhaps the most telling quote — and one of the only non-anonymous ones — comes from auto repairman Hassan “Gino” Massoumi, whose shop went out of business when the building was purchased by the Downtown Project: “It’s like a religion you can’t stop.” [Las Vegas Sun]