Work-Life Mashup in Las Vegas Tech

September 28, 2012

11:00 am

This post is part of Tech Cocktail’s overview of the Downtown Project, a $350 million fund that aims to revitalize downtown Las Vegas by funding new buildings, education, small businesses, and tech startups.

It’s Friday morning in downtown Las Vegas. The neon lights are off and the temperature hasn’t yet climbed above 100 degrees. On Fremont Street, Sarah Nisperos unlocks the door to her fashion boutique Coterie, under a historic Checks Cashed sign. She’s installed plenty of seating in the shop so that, as the temperature climbs later in the day, downtowners will come inside, hang out, and chat.

Part of the ethos of the Downtown Project is the blending of work and life, which is similar to the culture CEO Tony Hsieh nurtured at Zappos. “Rather than focus on work-life separation, we focus on work-life integration,” Hsieh told CNN. 

But integration sounds too orderly. Here in downtown Vegas, amidst all the sparkly lights and shared beers, it’s more of a work-life mashup: a funky blending of two different things.

“I call it a work-life mesh here, not so much balance,” says Andy White, a partner at the VegasTechFund. “Most of the times in the day, I can’t tell you whether I’m working or I’m living or I’m playing. I’m hanging out at a coffeeshop, talking to interesting people, having good conversations. That’s how most people define friendship and hanging out. I get to do that all day long.”

That funky blending of work and life is no more evident than at Zappos, whose culture is sure to spill over into downtown when its new headquarters opens there next year. Inside the current headquarters, personal life is splayed all over walls and cubicles as each employee decorates their space: a big white tent here, some pink streamers there. Employees who need help achieving their personal goals can visit Augusta, the resident goals coach, and get one month of advice. If they succeed – which might mean losing weight or saving up to buy a house – they get a photo on a throne and a celebration ceremony with their coworkers. And company happy hours are de rigeur.

“Zappos works hard, but we play even harder,” says tour guide Renea Witherspoon, whose title is “culture fireball.”

In Zappos’s interim downtown office, work and life also blend in the form of “tons” of inter-office relationships and friendships. “It’s kind of like a professional college atmosphere,” says Seth Auser, a social marketing coordinator.

As lunchtime approaches, downtown Zappos employees head out for a bite. They might stop in at The Beat, the local coffeehouse, which hosts improv and trivia in the evenings. Meanwhile, at the Ogden apartment complex, the TicketCake team is hosting a lunch with other Vegas startups. Back in Salt Lake City, where they’re from, lunch meetings would normally require signing an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). But here, people are more open and friendly.

“You’re kind of still talking business, but you’re having a beer and you’re getting pizza,” says COO Jackie Jensen. “You play by kind of working and you work by kind of playing.”

“Your friends here have a very similar mindset, similar values,” adds CEO Joe Henriod.

Later in the day, it’s time to start the festivities for First Friday, a monthly outdoor celebration. After happy hour – with an open bar – in Tony Hsieh’s twenty-third-floor apartment, Ogden dwellers load onto a bus. It’s a converted schoolbus, painted over in purple and black, with seats along the sides, the requisite cup holders, and music blaring. Upon arrival, attendees are welcomed by food stalls with Thai satay and cheesy pizza slices, artists selling jewelry and paintings, and live music.

With an office in the Arts District steps away from First Friday, the team at EcoMom walks over together around 6 pm. EcoMom is one of the startups funded by the Downtown Project. On other days, you might find them playing paintball together, taking advantage of $5 movie night, or doing yoga in the office.

“We’re teaching people that they’re more important than just the job they do,” says CEO Jody Sherman. “To me, I want to make it abundantly clear that people should do everything they can to take care of themselves.”

“If you don’t like the people you work with enough to hang out with them, then it makes working suck,” says Alana Golob of Digital Royalty, a social media startup funded by the downtown project.

After a few hours in the nighttime heat, many of the downtowners head to the Downtown Cocktail Room for a cool drink. Even though it’s late, and they’ve all put in long hours this week, the party isn’t over. But neither is the work – so tomorrow, it’ll start all over again.

The Digital Royalty team

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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