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Zappos' multimillionaire CEO explains why he lives in a trailer park with his two pet llamas

tony hsieh
tony hsieh

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and a llama buddy stand in front of Zappos' downtown Las Vegas headquarters.

About 12 years ago, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh created a set of principles for the multibillion-dollar online shoe and apparel retailer that included "Create fun and a little weirdness."

He's truly led by example, and that's one of the reasons why he lives in a 240-square-foot trailer with a couple of alpacas despite having a net worth of "at least $780 million," according to Wealth-X.

When Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009, Hsieh made Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explicitly agree to let him continue his management and cultural experiments, as long as he continued to deliver financially.

Both parties have held up their side of the bargain, and one of Hsieh's unusual pursuits has been rebuilding Zappos' Las Vegas neighborhood through the independent entity the Downtown Project (DTP), which he started with $350 million of his own money in 2010.

And while it's separate from Zappos, his two businesses are unavoidably related, since Zappos employees work, live, and play downtown. In fall 2014, Hsieh decided to move out of his luxury condo and into a DTP-owned trailer park a short walk from Zappos HQ.

We recently interviewed Hsieh in Vegas, and he explained why his minimalist lifestyle has enhanced his creativity. "I did it because I wanted to maximize serendipity and randomness in my life," he said.

He was inspired by the minimalism and creativity of Burning Man, the annual event where people from around the world gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert for a week to work together to create a bizarre, artsy community.

Since he's moved into the park, he's been embedded in the neighborhood he is helping rebuild, and can more easily develop relationships with its entrepreneurs.

Airstream Park zappos
Airstream Park zappos

(Downtown Project)
The Downtown Project's Airstream Village, not long after it was built.

A Downtown Project representative told us that Airstream Village monthly rent is $1,200, including utilities and Wi-Fi. Residents can choose to live in an Airstream trailer or a 130-square-foot Tumbleweed Tiny House.

None of its 24 residents are part of the DTP management team, but several work in DTP-funded businesses in the neighborhood, and a few are Zappos employees.

As for the alpacas (often referred to as llamas by Hsieh and his friends) — well, they just happen to be Hsieh's favorite animal, and they make for a great conversation starter with neighbors and visitors.

Hsieh's alpacas Marley and Triton have a pen near Hsieh's trailer, and he regularly lets them roam around the park due to their generally calm nature.

Sometimes he'll even let them into his trailer:

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Hsieh said that his favorite aspect of living in the park is the way that all of its residents are comfortable interacting with each other and often have interesting guests.

"For example, two nights ago we had a bunch of musicians stop by, and Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, starts a rap battle with another performer," Hsieh said, smiling. "That's the type of situation you can't plan for, but it happens all the time at the Airstream Park and generally happens a lot more in downtown Vegas than any other city I've been in."

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