Almost exactly a year ago I moved to Las Vegas to join Zappos as a product manager. Over last year I’ve had the chance to build some really cool things with a lot of really smart technologists. I’ve had the chance to build a product team and be challenged more than I ever imagined. I’ve been humbled and honored to be a part of the Zappos Family.
In December 2010 Zappos announced our 2013 move to Downtown Las Vegas and I was excited. I had just moved from San Francisco where the serendipity and connectedness of urban life makes people more productive, creative and entrepreneurial. Las Vegas lacked that sense of connectivity and our move would play a part in changing that. And I lived on a cul-de-sac.
I started spending time downtown and grew to love the place, the people and the culture it added to my life. As I got to know Tony (our CEO for those of you under a rock) I realized we saw downtown the same way. In March while at SXSW Tony and I started talking about the opportunity to catalyze growth in Downtown Las Vegas. The conversations centered around the relationship between population density and economic output, the concept of serendipity and more. He had been thinking about it for years.
In May I moved Downtown along with Tony, Fred and a few other folks from Zappos. In June he asked me to head up development of our Downtown Las Vegas Campus and be a part of what would become the Downtown Project. I hesitated at first, said no at least once, then accepted. In hindsight I don’t know why I hesitated.
So in August I officially left our tech team to lead development of our Downtown Campus, reporting to Tony. I will have the opportunity to lead development of the most serendipitous, fun and creative corporate campus in the world. But our campus will be but one part of a vibrant, growing Downtown Las Vegas.
Along with the campus development I’m working with an amazing network of people to launch a host of ventures like a bike sharing program with Patrick, a coworking community space with Dylan and possibly a hotel. Along with others we’re building affordable housing, a technology center and creating green space. Our network is reinvigorating First Friday, building music festivals and investing in improving education. We’re partnering with the City of Las Vegas to build bike lanes, fill vacant properties and create a “City of Possibilities” for entrepreneurs from Las Vegas and around the world.
In just the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to learn from people like Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, the R&D Team at Herman Miller and visionary City leaders like the Mayors Goodman and Betsy Fretwell. I’ve shared our vision with a US Senator and our Lt. Governor. And I’ve met some of the coolest and most passionate people I’ve ever met, most of them randomly at our corner coffee shop, The Beat.
Along the way I’ve changed. I’ve starting thinking of this place as my long-term home and the people I’ve met as lifelong friends. That doesn’t sound abnormal to most people but for a guy who’s lived in five cities in six years, it’s a weird feeling. We are all part of a community of passionate creatives, technologists and entrepreneurs dedicated to catalyzing organic, sustainable growth in a place we’ve grown to love.
What’s so interesting and challenging about our vision is that it’s not part of a master plan. Disney World is easy to build. An organic community of entrepreneurs, not tied to a master plan but to a shared community vision is infinitely harder.
And The There’s Tech
I have to mention #VegasTech (vegastech.com coming soon). When we started down this path we wanted to help inspire a community. Along with education, art, food and music we had a feeling there was a vibrant technology scene that didn’t have a place or a reason to assemble. We were right.
The #VegasTech community is growing fast. People like Dylan, Crystal, Jimmy, Shavonah and Will have thrown amazing events like the first Startup Weekend in LV, a regular Jelly, our first Ignite and ReCommerce Hack Day (a Vegas Original). People like Stewart have thrown LaunchUp, Rick and Jeff are working on an incubator and a few startups are kicking ass. Startups like Rumgr, Ayloo, Wedgi.es and Lystee. Pawel is building /usr/lib tech library, Brian is building a hackerspace and Jeff is helping UNLV students discover entrepreneurship. The list goes on and there’s more in-store.
Everyday is terrifying and exhilarating. It’s been three months which is about two years in Zappos time. We move fast and we’re just getting started. I want to share more but this post is already long enough and I’m not so talented at prose. So I’ll save that for another day.
Check out downtownproject.com for more (just a collection of links right now, more to come).
To quote one of Zappos’ Core Values: “So there are no experts in what we’re doing. Except for us: we are becoming experts as we do this. And for anyone we bring on board, the best expertise they can bring is expertise at learning and adapting and figuring new things out….” Come join us, Paul Carr did.
(Update: Check out http://www.vegasstartups.com and VegasTechEvents.com for more on the tech scene. Thanks for the reminder John! VegasTech.com is en route…we just picked up the domain for the community. Woot!)