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Tony Hsieh: I Was Never Downtown Project's Leader

Downtown Project laid off 30 people in an effort to "restructure and refocus" its support staff, but Tony Hsieh, widely considered the mastermind of the $350 million urban renewal effort, attested that it is still growing.

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Reacting to stories about the layoffs, Hsieh issued a statement late Tuesday that also clarified that he never was the CEO or leader of Downtown Project.

“I’ve never referred to myself as the CEO of Downtown Project, and I’ve never considered myself as being in ‘day-to-day management’ of Downtown Project,” Hsieh wrote. “My role continues to be as an investor, advisor and equivalent of a board member that sets high-level general direction and strategy but is not involved in day-to-day management of people or projects. My level of involvement at Downtown Project is the same as it was six months ago.”

He was responding to a story broken by Re/, that quoted sources Tuesday who said Hsieh had changed his leadership role at Downtown Project. As far as the company itself, Hsieh also wrote, it laid off 30 but expects to add hire about 30 more soon to work at The Market, a grocery store expected to open on Fremont Street within the next few weeks. Hsieh said Downtown Project 300 people.

A company spokesperson would not specify how many of those were full- and part-time employees.

Hsieh wrote that the company is indirectly responsible for the creation of more than 800 jobs. He also outlined a five-year plan for Downtown Project, saying it began in January 2012; Downtown Project has stories on its website about its activities, including one about earmarking $50 million for education, that appeared in 2011.

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Here is the five-year plan he said was outlined at the start of The Project:

• 2012: acquire/assemble land and start making tech, small business and other investments.

• 2013: fund/experiment – fire a lot of “bullets” (make a lot of investments) in a lot of different areas and see which ones hit.

• 2014: focus on optimizing core while finding the top winners to pick as “cannonballs” to double down our bets on (in terms of additional follow-on investments, resources and time) while streamlining our other operations.

• 2015: continue to streamline and scale operations.

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• 2016: Get cash-flow positive/sustainability. “Now that we are in year three of Downtown Project,” Hsieh wrote, “we are owners and/or investors in over 300 businesses and legal entities which collective employ more than 800 people.”

The layoffs announced Tuesday followed the early-August shuttering of the Project’s venture, Factorli, a small manufacturing plant that was to cost $10 million.

In his statement, Hsieh reiterated that he never considered himself Downtown Project’s founder.

“I’ve never even used the term ‘founder’,” he wrote, “partly because there were so many people involved from day 1, and partly because as mentioned earlier I think of Downtown Project as a collection of several hundred businesses and legal entities, not a single company.”

Today on KNPR's State of Nevada, we look at the future of downtown Las Vegas.


Derrick Harris, GigaOm

Sarah Lacy, tech columnist

Joe Schoenmann, KNPR
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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.