George Arison

George Arison

Jeff Hunter: Hi and welcome. I'm Jeff Hunter and you are listening to coaching in the clear, a podcast committed to help you learn about coaching. Coaching is more popular than ever, and we believe that sharing in-depth personal conversations about coaching experiences is the best way for you to learn whether coaching is for you and how you can get the most out of your coaching practice. We are especially interested in how people use coaching to unleash their potential while creating market leading big change businesses. Coaching in the Clear is a production of talentism, a business dedicated to helping the world's most ambitious leaders achieve their ultimate goals by systematically turning confusion into clarity. We send out a weekly newsletter called the Sensemaker where we offer our latest thinking about issues affecting big change companies and their leaders, as well as provide other helpful content to enable you to unleash your potential. Learn more and sign up at Talentism.com. Today I am speaking with George Arison. Talentisms’ been working with George and Shift, the company he co-founded with Toby Russell for over three years. I've come to know him as a hard-driving entrepreneur who has worked with the team at Shift, overcoming incredible obstacles. The results of all that hard work paid off this past October when he and the team at shift went public. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know George as a person over that time and I'm excited to have him share that story with you. It's pretty extraordinary. In our session today, I'm going to ask him about how a kid growing up in the former U.S.S.R. dreams of moving to America and becoming a successful business person. I'm going to ask him about the inspiration for those dreams, his plans for the future, what it takes to become incredibly successful by overcoming even more incredible obstacles. And finally, we're going to talk about how he's tried to stay humble in the face of that success and as he's learned from his many, many mistakes. George, thank you so much for being a guest on Coaching in the Clear just as background for everybody George and I met about three and a half years ago. I've had the great privilege of being able to work with him. His co-founder Toby Russell and the team at Shift over the last three and a half years, and have learned a ton from George. And George, I'm just really grateful to have you on the show and to learn from you and be able to tell your story to the audience, so thank you so much for joining. George Arison: Thanks for having me. And likewise, it's been awesome to be working with you for all these many months now. And you've been really instrumental in helping shift get to where it is. So we are super appreciative of that as well. Jeff Hunter: Thanks, George. I appreciate that. All right, so for the audience that has listened to our last nine, 10 episodes or so they may hear something a little different. I'm always in the process of experimenting and learning. I'm going to try a little bit of a different approach now. And so rather than having a back and forth about coaching, I actually just want to learn about you and I want to learn about your story and where I'd love to start is actually with your professional career. If you could just take the audience through your career, where did you start? What was your first job and take us up to being, you know, founder and Co-CEO of Shift. George Arison: Totally. So I think to answer that I need to just start a little bit, even more back, which is that I'm originally from Georgia, the country. I was born in the Soviet Union when it was still very much the Soviet Union and then grew up while, you know, Soviet Union is going through a lot of transition. I had the, I guess, big fortune of learning English when I was quite young and we can talk later about how that happened, but that allowed me to get out. And I ended up leaving Georgia when I was 14 in 1992 to come to the U.S. to go to high school. I was the first Soviet kid they allowed to leave to go to a private U.S. prep school. And you know, my life kind of took off from there. I, in some ways you know, joke that I was reborn once I came to the U.S. cause a lot of what I probably would become would not have been possible had that not happened. And obviously it was a very fortunate event for me. I always thought that my life would take kind of the shape of; Hey, I'm going to learn, then I'm going to earn some money and eventually go back to Georgia and run for office and be in politics there. That was kind of always my aspiration for a long, long time. And being in business for the long term was never the plan. I thought I would start a company, but I never thought that I would start a company in technology, kind of the things I always thought about had to do with government relations. Cause that's pretty much what I knew. I actually thought I was going to become a lawyer first, because that's the logical kind of path you choose if you want to be in politics most of the time, right? So I got your technology a little bit, a roundabout way, and I'll talk about how that happened. So after college I moved to DC and I took a job at a small consulting firm locally which mostly did consulting without traveling. So that pitch was; Hey, you do the same work that you might do at McKinsey or BCG, but you don't have to be on the road. That sounded intriguing to me. And I liked the idea of living in Washington because it was so close to the types of things I'm really passionate about in politics, but obviously getting a job in politics was not an option because I was not a U.S. citizen. So I had to do it more of a businessy style job. So that's how I started my career. The first job I had was quite frankly, a horrible experience. I really hated it. It seemed super rudimentary and basic, and I really didn't like it, but I started to get to know more and more Georgian politicians and people in DC who were working on Georgia. And I was this kind of really unique animal who knew a lot of what was happening in Georgia and spoke Georgian really well obviously, and understood what was happening there, but also knew a lot about U.S. politics as well because I had always followed U.S. politics so closely, so had an opportunity to switch within about nine months to a job at a think tank with me, myself, having raised the money to fund my presence at that think tank to work on Georgia. And so then I spent the next couple of years writing and presenting a lot of information to you as policymakers on what was happening there and why it was really critical for the U.S. to stay very actively engaged on promoting democratic change. Georgia had a government that needed to be transitioned out. The president was very old and was ready for the new younger folks to take over. And there was later, two backups of people who could take over the country. A set of very socialist and ultimately not very democratic folks, and then a set of more pro-business and more democratic set of folks and the goal was to try to push the ladder, contra the former. So eventually in 2003 that many of the people I was working with asked me to come back to Georgia and help run them, their political campaign for parliament. Obviously I said, I don't really know anything about how to run political campaigns, but perhaps we could hire somebody from the U.S. who knows a lot when it comes to what to do. And that's when I came in contact with a guy named Mike Murphy, he's a political consultant who had run Jeb Bush’s campaigns and Mitt Romney’s campaigns. He's really amazing actually. And so I convinced him to come to Georgia with me and run this political parties’ campaign for parliament which was really an incredible experience for me because I probably learned more from Mike in that time span of like five or six months when we were working together than I ever have in that short of a time period in my life. You know, politics is very different from business, but there's also so much connectivity and so much of what I do in business today inter-relates to what I learned then. It was just this incredible thing of, he came to Georgia for a week, spent a week talking to, you know, politicians, journalists, analysts, and had the clearest articulation of what was happening, what needed to be fixed and how to win than I could have ever imagined anyone being able to do. And that really just kind of gave me a lot of passion of; Hey, you can take a lot of data and then apply it to knowledge and to driving decisions in a way that I didn't really know you could do before. And that was really, really intriguing to me. So we spent about a year on this political campaign. I didn't really run as good of a race as I think we should have. Frankly, our candidate didn't really follow my instructions as well as I wish she had. Oftentimes we'd see the opposition following Mike's directions better than we did in terms of staying on message and repeating the things that we needed to say all the time. And so when you couple that with the fact that being a pro kind of business group in a former Soviet Republic is not easy. We did okay, but we didn't do that great. And so, that was kind of my first, you know, really professional experience and learned a ton from it, but also realized that being in Georgia longterm was not for me. I had just changed too much during the time when I had been in the U.S., excuse me, and needed to kind of be back in the U.S. cause that's what my life was. Being gay in Georgia was not easy and I didn't think it was going to become any easier. And so that was a factor obviously, but not the only one. And the biggest thing was that I ultimately loved America a lot more than I loved Georgia. And this is not to be crude about it, but like if Georgia and America went to war in my mind, there was no question which side I was going to be on, and so it made no sense to be living in a country where you kind of didn't feel like you would be on their side if a war happened and suddenly it made no sense to live in that country and try to be in politics if that's how you felt. So Toby, my best friend from college who is the co-CEO of Shift now, and a person who, with whom I've shared pretty much my entire career since that time period, had just joined BCG. And so he really urged me to come into BCG as well and thought it would be really good for me to learn what it was like to be a business consultant. And so I had no clue what BCG or McKinsey really did, and obviously I had heard about them, but didn't really understand the job and knew very, very little about business, but I'm like okay, sure, let's try, you know, created my resume that I hadn't updated in a couple of years and submitted it. And they called me in for interviews. It was an unusual interview process as people who have done those know, they're very case focused. And most of the time I didn't really know what I was talking about, but I think what people found intriguing about me was that I answered questions very differently from what people with business training answer. And I kind of pushed them on things that they normally don't get pushed on. And so they offered me a job and that was really awesome. You know, the first six months in BCG was completely drinking out of the fire hose in terms of learning what to do, you know, a lot of us springing at the computer being unhappy with the Excel spreadsheets that I had to help build out but I learned a ton. I had a really good mentor there named Neil Howden who taught me a lot about how to kind of apply the data that I had become so interested in to actual business problems and how to use data to get to business answers. So, spent about 18 months at BCG and about halfway through, started to think about; Hey, what's next for me? This was really good learning initially, but ultimately being a consultant was not my cup of tea. I'm not as focused on detail as a lot of the consultants have to be. And that was becoming very, very obvious. So I was really good at like client relations, for example, but not as good at writing the ideal PowerPoints that people were looking for. And, you know, that's when I really started to think about; Hey, what happens next? I had a mentor in Washington named Tom DePasquale, who is a really great founder, has started a bunch of great companies and has done very well with them. And we had initially met through politics, but, you know, over time turned more and more of our thinking towards business. And so we started to think about ideas and that's how the idea for a company called Taxi Magic came about and how I got involved with that. This is when I did not have a driver's license and so I would book a taxi to go everywhere. I would get a taxi to go everywhere. And obviously in DC booking a cab was next to impossible, yet to really flag it on the street, no matter what the weather was, so oftentimes in massive rain or snow, I would be waiting out in the street trying to get a cab to get to the airport, to go to my BCG location. And then vice versa when I was in the middle of nowhere in Rhode Island, for example, or whatnot for a client, I'd have to have like the phone number for every single tap company locally to try to get somebody to pick me up, to take me back to the hotel. So that world was obviously so different from the one we live in today. And my thinking was like; Hey, why can't we use the black boot to book a taxi? And Tom really focused on that as well because he had built a company called Click Book, which was a way to book airline tickets and hotels for business travelers, and then tied that to a system called Concur, which is an expense management tool all fully integrated in terms of how you do booking and expense management. But in that entire ecosystem, ground travel was all cash and was a huge source of fraud and also unhappiness of consumers. And so he's like, you know, if we could figure out how to manage expenses for ground travel, that would be a huge win for expense management and a huge win for the consumer experience. And so that gave birth to this idea of Taxi Magic of using a mobile device to book and pay for taxi services, you know, the existing tech centers that were in place back then. And so eventually Toby and I left BCG in 20.. 06, 07, and started Taxi Magic with Tom and a few other founders which was the first time I really kind of started something completely from scratch, totally insane experience frankly, and a massive, like, I have no idea what I'm doing. I knew very little about tech if anything at all, and then you need to learn how technology works. So, I think we built a really cool app, made a ton of mistakes along the way. And obviously, you know it was a great technology, but it got over and left. And so that speaks a little bit for itself in terms of how well we did it versus how well we could have done. Eventually my green card was rejected in 2009. And I needed to figure out what to do about that, because I couldn't stay in the country without a green card. And it was rejected because I owned so much equity in Taxi Magic. The government did not believe it was a real job. And so they were like, you have to go get a job somewhere else, basically. And so the lawyers are like, look, we can try again while you are here, but most likely the outcome will be the same and that's still risky. And so they encouraged me to get a job at a bigger company. And so then my next job search was focused on; Hey, what are the best companies for getting your visa situation taken care of? And also places that I might enjoy working at. And that's how I ended up at Google, which was a really fantastic learning experience for me, allowed me to move out to the west coast because Taxi Magic was based in Virginia as well as to, you know, be in a very different kind of technology setting where you work with really great people and you know, figure out what you can actually do that's amazing in tech while at the same time having my immigration stuff taken care of. So spent three years at Google and, you know, knew that I was going to start another company and eventually Tony and I came up with the idea for Shift and I left Google in 2013 and have spent pretty much my entire time working on this. It's been a crazy journey and in many ways, not what I had expected, it would be. But now we are public and here we are. So it's really awesome to be here. Jeff Hunter: That's amazing. I love stories like that. I love stories where, you know, somebody dreams a big dream and they take a lot of different paths in order to achieve it. And I think for anybody listening, you have to recognize that a lot of the people who achieve big things, they take different routes in order to achieve those things. So of all those things of Taxi Magic and politics and Shift and everything, what is the accomplishment you're most proud of? What's the thing that well, let's say, I know you've got two kids, you and your husband have two kids and someday you're going to tell them your story and what's the thing you're going to tell them you're most proud of. George Arison: So I think I have to say two, because it's really hard to just talk about one. And then one is professional and one's less professional. So I mean, no doubt kind of getting to America and building a life here, is the biggest and the most challenging thing I've ever done, right? In my life. And frankly, I don't think anything else is going to equal that, at least I sincerely doubt it. Because, you know, I don't even know if I wanted to do that. It was kind of mostly beaten into my head by my dad who had these crazy ideas that Soviet Union would fall apart and so his children had to learn how to speak English to be able to have a life after the Soviet Union fell apart, which it wasn't a totally insane notion to have, say in 1981, which he very much believed. And so this idea of coming to the U.S. was not my idea. It was more his idea. I was just executing on it. And I got a lot, a lot of help along the way. Like there's no palms about it, that none of this would have been possible without a lot of people who helped me make happen especially this family in Vermont that I got to know while they came to visit and lived in Georgia, they really made it possible for me to come to the U.S. and go to school and obviously you know, have had an incredible impact on my life, but the fact that I was able to kind of do it and got through it and manage through the challenges of, you know, being completely away from my family and not really being able to communicate with them, because this is all pre the days of internet and video connectivity I think was a pretty big deal. And being able to build a life here is something I'm very, very proud of. You know, when you couple that with the fact that, you know, today I'm sitting in Palo Alto, and yes, my kids are sleeping downstairs and my husband is here with me. And like, I have probably the most amazing life you could have. But, you know, 10 years ago, the idea of getting married was not even close to something you could consider, is also pretty incredible. And it speaks to how amazing our country is that these types of things are very much possible here. So that's probably one. And then secondly, you know, I think the Shift story to me is a really awesome story and something I am very, very proud of. It has not been, you know, when you look at companies from the outside, the successful ones you oftentimes think about; Hey, oh, it must have been an easy ride, the along the way, cause it was always kind of up and up and up and things always were going great, which is obviously not true of any company, but in our case in particular that was very much natural. We've had more than one, you know, near death experience whether it was, you know, in 2017, when we were weeks away from running out of money to, you know, the incredible challenges that happened when COVID hit and us having to run a business in a completely like unknown environment, not knowing what was going to happen and not really knowing how to, what to expect from consumer behavior, from the government, etcetera. And by the way, that was all happening while we're planning on our next capital raise and how to pursue that at the same time. So it has not been the easiest journey and no company really is easy, but Shift has been hard and, you know, it has been a huge work of perseverance to try to get it here. And that is something I'm also obviously incredibly proud of. And from the professional standpoint is the biggest thing I've done. And within that kind of mode, you know, I think still raising the series A. was the single biggest moment for me in my life. Because once we did that in 2014, you kind of felt like you went from like, just an idea that, you know, maybe could happen maybe could not to actually being a real company. I still feel completely amazing about that moment. Like I remember, you know, checking, clicking refresh on our savings account every three minutes to watch the money come in and as the $20 million or so kinda arrived, it was like really incredible to watch. And you know, I think going public was kind of the closest that I've come to feeling the same way in the seven years I've been working on Shift.Jeff Hunter: So, you talked a little bit about near death experiences and of course you have a lot of experience in the startup world, not just with Taxi Magic and Shift, but also I know that you've invested in other companies, you work with other companies. And so, you know how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and how hard it is to be a founder and to start something from nothing. I certainly have experienced that as well, I'm sure a number of the listeners have. Take us through what it takes to get through one of these near death experiences when everything seems to be going wrong and you're on the verge of not being able to make your dream a reality, take us through that and how do you work through that and how do you process it and how have you been successful in spite of those odds?George Arison: So I think the single most important thing is a ton of grit and never giving up. There's a lot of moments when it's really easy to say, okay, I'm kind of done. I can't do it anymore. Let's move on. It's not worth it. And you know, for me, that was frankly, never an option. And having people around you who think the same way is also really critical because I don't think you can do that alone. And so in all the moments of kind of; Hey, we might actually die. We might not survive. Toby and I have been at it together. And I don't think it would have been possible for me to do it on my own. And obviously he should speak for himself, but I think he might say the same thing as far as him. And so that's definitely then the number one most important thing is kind of this belief that no, I'm not going to fail. I'm going to do whatever it takes to make it succeed. And, you know, you'll run for the cliff and hopefully you can stop before you quite fall down or fall into the cliff. Which, you know, we've generally been able to do, but having this view that like I'm going to focus on making it work no matter what rather than focusing on, you know, how do I shut down? How do I do something opposite? Is really critical. You know, in our own kind of experiences at Shift in 2017, like, I remember my team sat me down and said, okay, we have this much money. And if we want to have an orderly kind of shutdown here are the things that we need to do and when we need to start to make decisions and I'm like, okay, that's all great. I don't ever want to have this meeting again because I'm going to focus on ensuring that we raise capital and survive. And frankly, if I had spent any energy and time focusing on an orderly shutdown, that would have been time, I didn't spend on raising money and might very well not have been able to execute on that. So that's number one. Number two is I think, understanding where things have gone wrong and then applying, you know; Hey, I learned these things from this. This is what I'm going to do differently is also really critical. I don't think that our series C., which was kind of the lifesaver around for us in terms of; Hey, we might not succeed and then we were able to get that round done. For that round, that learning of like, where did we make mistakes and how are we going to do things differently? Was really, really critical and having to be, both have a clear articulation there is instrumental. You know, I think obviously having the right audience, having the right investors, being able to listen to you is also really crucial. And Christian Muskie who led our series C, you know, played that role for us where a lot of people, I think, ignored the opportunity because it was complicated and having complicated restructurings. That's not something that a lot of investors in here are doing versus he was very willing to get his hands dirty and make things work. So that's number two. Number three, I think having a really supportive board is really, really critical. I've said this publicly many times, and I'm kind of very happy to say it again, like Shift would not exist today had I not had the series of investors that I did have which were Emily Melton and Maneesh Patel and, you know, each one played a unique and critical role in helping us get through some of the tough times that we've had. Emily in terms of structuring and figuring out how to get the capital that we needed to get from here to there. And how to tell our story and also kind of keeping me going right, because she's the person I would always call whenever I had a massive problem I had to deal with. And Maneesh in ensuring that we could all work together to get our team to be aligned and to be in the right place and executing against the right goal and keeping people, you know, happier during tough times and engaged during tough times, which is also really tough to do. And also along with that, without helping me keep my head straight. So having, you know, with the right board I think is, is really, really critical. There've been, you know, other investors whom I've described what we had to go through in 20, late 2016 and early 2017. And you know, the comments I've gotten back like; Hey, you have a really enlightened board. And I'm like, well, I have two really enlightened board members who made that happen. And I think I owe them an incredible debt of gratitude. It's really easy for investors to be your friends when things are going great, it’s really tough for investors to be your friends when things are not well, but those are the investors you want to have with you are the ones who are going to be with you along the way, when things are going really, really tough. And that's something, obviously again, something I'm super, super grateful for. So I think that's kind of a combination of points, right? A ton of grit and perseverance having the right people along with you, along the journey, and then having the right investors who can, you know, encourage you to ensure that you don't fail out of the ways in which, you know, we were able to succeed. Coupled with; Hey, let's learn from the mistakes we made and try to do things differently in the future.Jeff Hunter: So I wanna pick up on two themes in there. So again, you know, I've worked with you over the last three and a half years. I think I've gotten to know you pretty well. And when you say grit and I see that in you, I've seen you be incredibly, persevere through incredibly difficult circumstances. There is another word for that and that’s stubborn, and you are a very stubborn guy. Like, you know, people come to you and say; Hey, why don’t you give up, why don’t you do this, and you're like, no, forget it. Like we're going to keep going. And most of the great entrepreneurs I've worked with in Talentisms worked with, have that attribute. They're like, they're not going to give up. And usually that can exhibit sort of in a close-minded sort of way, right? Like, so someone comes to you and says, Hey, what if we tried this? You're like, no, I'm going to keep going. But at the same time, you're talking about being able to learn from your mistakes, which frankly is really crucial. And because, you know, your life history and your career history, it shows that you're going to take, you're going to try a lot of things. Not everything's gonna work out. You gotta be able to bounce back from that, learn from it and keep going. And so there's this thing about entrepreneurs where they're both very stubborn and have a lot of grit and won't give up, and also they learn really well because they try different things and some work and some don't, and then they adjust. How do you bring those two things together? How do you bring those two concepts together? Being the stubborn guy who learns really well?George Arison: So I don't know how I do them, but it's something you have to do. I think I'll answer that question in two parts. When it comes to like business knowledge and business problems, product problems, that's always been easier for me, like, see what you did wrong. Look at the data, try to analyze as much information as possible and come to a conclusion; Hey, what, what went wrong and what went right. And how are we going to do things differently? And that's always been kind of my core way of learning and doing, you know, from college onward, like in terms of feedback, I would get on papers, right? Like you don't want to make the same mistakes again and you want to do that better. So that's something that, I think, always been a part of me. On my own personal thing of like, how do I change and how do I behave, that's definitely been a newer phenomenon for me. I have definitely gone through change. I was a lot more aggressive and pushy and stubborn in terms of my political use, for example, when I was younger, and I'm a lot more accepting of alternate points of view today. And I think that was true, you know, even 10 years ago, in many ways my Georgia experience really taught me how to manage people a lot better. And so I realized that being very stubborn on that, could be really bad in terms of people engagement. And so I became less kind of pushy in terms of my own political views, as an example, when I came back to the U S after my Georgia experience, and I remember Toby hearing kind of feedback about me and what my personality was like from some of the other folks at BCG, and he’s like, wow, that's a very different George than what I would have expected him to be in terms of how he engages with clients. And I think that was all kind of what I learned in Georgia, but the piece that I didn't really have much experience with prior to Shift and really has been a massive journey over the last, you know, four or so years has been around self-reflection and knowing what I'm good and what I'm bad at. And frankly, like I would probably have been a much better founder for Shift and Shift would be a stronger company and would have a better product if I knew all the things about myself when I started it versus what I know today and, you know, let's kind of call a spade, a spade, like you have been a huge part of that journey for me in terms of me learning through my own self-reflection what I do well and what I do badly, I think the point that you just said of like; Hey you know, grit and perseverance, the kind of other side of that is being stubborn. Like that’s logical then when you think about it, okay, that makes sense. But that's not something I would have thought about you know, four or five years ago and what kind of impact that might have on people. And yes, I can be very stubborn. I think one of the other big learnings for me has been is, what my actual communication style is and how I engage in discussions with people. I'm very active in asking questions, which can be coming off as being confrontational or disagreeable in terms of what a person is making a case for, but then I'll come back the next day and oftentimes be on the side that I was arguing against. Which I think kind of makes people feel a little bit ​Whack-A-Mole​ because they don't know what just hit them. Like how did that happen? But turns out that's actually, that's just the way I think. I tend to prefer to think through a very kind of open dialogue way. And having someone be peppered with questions is a way of me testing them in terms of what it is that they are making a case for. And if they can continue to make the case and they can actually convince me, and then it takes me, you know, 12 hours to absorb it and come back with; Hey, okay, that made a lot of sense. And so that's something that took me a long time to realize that I was actually doing and now when I started working with new people, I tell them; Hey, just so you know, this is going to happen and you need to be comfortable with that. And that's not George kind of being stubborn. That's just George's way of communicating. But there's no question that I have a stubborn streak in me. And if I really, really strongly feel like this is something I really care about, it's really tough to change my mind on that. And you know, sometimes it's good and sometimes it's really bad. And unfortunately, you know, founders a lot oftentimes have that and you kind of have to take the good with the bad. And I think there, you know, big learning for me over the last three years in terms of working with you has been to have the right people around me, ones who can handle that type of behavior. I think if I was a stronger founder or if I had more time, I would say; Hey, can I become better at actually changing that stubbornness without losing the grit? And maybe there's a way to do that. I haven't had a chance to think through that. I actually am, fortunately I haven't even had time to think about like; Hey, can I do that or not given how complex the heavy lift of it has been to get shipped to where it is today, but you know, probably somebody like Jess Bezos actually has that, right? Like he probably has incredible grit and also belief to change himself, more than I do. Versus, you know, Apple founders, say Steve Jobs, on the extreme side probably has incredible grit, but also would never change himself. And kind of, and that was well-known right? So they're probably two types of founders and I'm guessing the Jeff Bezos one’s probably stronger and, you know, let's see over the next decade, you and I working together, I can figure out how to do that.Jeff Hunter: That's very nice, George. I look forward to working with you over the next decade. I'm not sure I'll survive it, but yeah, so I want to pick up on a theme that came up earlier and something I think is really important and maybe is part of the link of this. So you've mentioned through the course of this conversation, a lot of interesting people who helped you along the way. You talked about Neil and Tom, the family in Vermont, you've talked about Maneesh and Emily, and you talked a lot about Toby and of course I know Toby well, and I know how critical he's been to you achieving what you wanted to achieve and unleashing your potential. What is it that keeps bringing people into your life who want to help you? Because what, because listen, you can be a tough customer and you're also somebody I love dearly, but you can be a tough customer and sometimes tough customers have a hard time getting help and you don't. People seem to really want to help you and have wanted to help you for a long time. And you're, you know, part of the reason you're here by your own admission is that those people stepped forward and gave you the support you needed at the time you needed so that you could succeed. What do you think it takes to be somebody who can be helped?George Arison: Well, I think you will need to want to have help, right? First and foremost, you have to acknowledge that you need support from people and you need to be able to go in and ask for it. And I think generally speaking, I have been willing and able to do that. And people have normally kind of come to me in terms of being there for me. Secondly, I mean, I think I have a lot of energy and I deploy that energy towards the things I'm really passionate about. And I think that helps as well. I think people get excited when they see people or when they engage with people who have a lot of passion, a lot of very strong belief about what they wanna do. Again, there is a limit to that, right? Like if you go to the extreme that's a bad thing, but if you do it in a way that like is accepting to people that usually ends up working. So that's probably point number two there. And then, you know, for me, point number three is around just mentorship in general. I actually, someday I want to write a piece on this because I think it's a really interesting phenomenon. You know, for me, like almost everything I've learned, I’ve learned through amazing mentors. Now obviously I'm learning things from books as well, but even accessing those books has been through mentors. On the flip side, you know, if you look at our youngest generation, right? Like the ones that are in the workforce today, because they grew up in the age of Google, their view is; Hey, I go to Google, I ask a question, Google comes back to me with an answer, I can learn from that. Mentors are a lot less critical. And so I think that one of the big distinctions between kinda, I know gen Y, gen Z and early generations, is how critical we view mentorship. And I think that's something that the younger people in the professional world are actually missing. How important mentors are. And for me, mentors have always been super, super crucial, and I've always really appreciated people's willingness to actually spend time helping me be better and helping me kind of improve in what I'm trying to do. And, you know, I think the best way to respond to that is to try to do the same thing for others today, right? Paid for or in a way that makes sense where you are doing the same thing for others, and that people were willing to do for you oftentimes without asking anything back. And that's a big learning for me and kind of moving forward, right? It's like; Hey, now that I've actually done a ton of stuff that I'm really proud of, it's time for me to give back to others in the same way that people have given to me over the last 20, 30 years.Jeff Hunter: That's great. That's really cool. Okay. This is really apropos of nothing, but it's just something that I'm currently fascinated by. And I think you're a great example of this. So I just, I want to ask you these questions and pursue it. So again, you and I have had this great relationship for three and a half years, and I would say something that's given what I'm like and given, you know, the work I do that for someone to be in a good relationship with me, they have to want to hear the truth, at least the truth, as I perceive it, I'm always learning. And I miss a lot of things, but at least the truth is I perceive it. And I work with a lot of amazing people, but they all have the sort of quality of, I'm going to say sort of unpleasant things to them about them, what they've done, how they've affected others how they've, you know, failed to live to their own standards, etcetera. And that can feel like a very conflicted conversation. It's not pleasant. It can be pretty pointed and sharp. And I've experienced you as being extremely good at receiving that kind of feedback. I say very tough things to you and you listen. And a lot of times you fight back to me you’re a fighter, but we have really good engaged discussions, but you're never defensive. You're not dismissive, etcetera. At the same time, I think you struggled to initiate conflict. I think it's very tough for you to actually go to somebody and initiate very difficult conversations.George Arison: It's one of my biggest flaws. Jeff Hunter: Yeah. Well, I mean, it's something that, frankly of all the many, many, many people I've worked with, including a lot of, I think very iconic founders, it's a pretty typical trait. They're way better at taking conflict than they are initiating it. And I'm curious cause I'm in the process of learning about this. Why do you think that is? What is it about going and telling someone; Hey, listen, I don't think this is going well and I think that you're not doing a good job on this. Why is that tough? But someone coming to you and saying, I don't think you did a good job at that is easier?George Arison: Yeah. I think I have two parts to that. And I think it's a really good question cause I do struggle with this, right? Like giving feedback for me is really tough to do, especially if it's quote unquote negative or developmental feedback. And the result oftentimes is like, I won't give it, I won't give it, I won’t give it, and then blow up like; Oh, this is not working for me. And it's kind of a huge surprise for somebody because I've not told them this for six months, even though I probably should have. And it's a very, very challenging thing for me to do. The only time it's not challenging is if someone really pushes me into the corner, like if there's some demands that have been made on me and I get really upset because I'm like, come on, like I've already given so much and you're still pushing. Then I can like easily initiate conflict. But that moment has to happen of like; Hey, I've already tried to get a deal done so many times. Why are you still asking for more? But, so I think there's two kind of two things that caused that. Number one is that I am a pleaser. Emily Melton, one of my board members, says this a lot. Like, you know, I like to please people. And so coming to people with bad news or negative feedback, or; Hey, this is, what's not working for me is tough because it kind of goes contrary to me being a pleaser. And I think I am a pleaser. I like to try to make people really happy. And number two is that when I come to people and say; Hey, this X or Y is not working for me, or this is what I would like you to do differently. Oftentimes it makes me feel like I'm letting them down and I've kind of failed them which is really, really contrary to what I like to do, right? Like I don't like to fail people. I want to do the opposite. I want to help them succeed. So those are the two things that are really tough for me. The result is that I don't want to make people feel bad and not wanting to make people feel bad, actually results in even bigger, making them feel bad later, which is a huge problem and something that I need to become a lot better at. And, you know, obviously kind of like the first thing of improvement is to realize you need help. And so I think it's taken us a long time to come to that realization, right? The result is, I work a lot better with people who don't apply feedback as much or who can kind of figure out what I mean on their own by just kind of how I might message things, but not spared directly. Versus people who want very, very direct feedback, which is also kind of not ideal, but the really big problem from us has been that it then perpetuates into the entire company. And so I think when you go back to Shift, you know, four years ago, nobody was giving feedback to each other in the way that was necessary because George was not giving feedback to people who work for George and then kind of comes down across the entire org, which is really, really not helpful. And you can’t really improve as an organization when that happens, even if everyone wants to improve. Now to go back to your second part of the question, like, why are you, why is it okay for you to receive kind of feedback? Well, it's because I always want to be better, right? Like my entire focus is on how can I succeed and how can I make sure that I achieve the goals that I have and part of doing that is to become better at what you're doing wrong. And so when I have people come to me very directly and provide feedback, that's very operational like; Hey George, this is what you're doing and this is what's not working, you should do it differently. I actually really like that and that's been helpful, and that's something that you do really, really well. I think one of the reasons I really like working with you is that not only do you come and tell me very directly what you think I'm doing or is happening that I'm missing, but actually you're able to put a different picture on it that results in me understanding the issue a lot better than how I would understand it on my own or how the opposing person, the person I'm engaged with the conversation on at Shift or elsewhere might be putting on that. And so you do that really, really well. And I actually really appreciate that and it really helps me be a better leader for this organization in a massive way. I mean, frankly, my husband does that to me a lot too, which is also one of the reasons why we get along so well, and it works really effectively and it's really important.Jeff Hunter: So those themes of, and thank you for the compliment, but those themes of pursuing your dream, asking for help, that help coming in many forms, coming in the form of mentorship, coming in the form of feedback and then not giving up and then keeping going and going, even as you're making lots of mistakes and taking lots of different paths and trying things that don't work out, but learning from that, as opposed to let it discourage you, seem to be common themes that are coming out from what you're saying. And that makes a ton of sense, a ton of sense to me. So what do you want to accomplish in the future? What's next for you?George Arison: Well, first and foremost, you know, now that we are a public company, we have huge obligations to our shareholders. I mean, in some ways you're like; Oh, wow, okay. It took us so long to get here. And this has been a goal for so long. Awesome. But it's just the beginning, right? Like you know, Jeff Bezos is the one who said it was like day one and going public was like day one. Now we have years and years of work to do and a ton to accomplish. So focusing on that, we've put out a pretty clear plan in terms of what we want to do, you know, grow our market share, grow our new markets or launch new markets or grow where we are available and then offer additional products to our customers, is something that's going to be a really big focus. That's very, it comes off as very tactical, but like it's a really, a really big thing to do as a company. And that's what we're going to be really focused on. It's really nice to be in an environment where you're like not focused on, hey, I need to raise money again in six months, which has been my life for the last seven years. And so I'm really happy about that. And I can actually focus a little bit more long-term and more strategically on what we want to accomplish over the next, you know, 12, 18 months. And talk about things in that type of horizon, which I think is really great. So that's number one. Number two is, you know, just kind of purely in my own personal development. There's been a lot of stuff that I've not been able to focus on and which I hope we can in the coming months and quarters, things that we know we've talked a lot about in this call, but we need to be, you know, improving on to be a more you know, successful company and where I want to be paying attention to it. So that's, that's the number two thing. And then number three is, you know, I'm really hoping that as we scale, as we've attracted, you know, stronger and more senior leadership to the team, you know, we just hired a CRO a few weeks ago. And in general have been kind of on a spree of hiring really strong leaders, you know, find a little bit more balance between the work and the rest of my life. It's been very much like work, work, work only. And you kind of have to in the early days of the startup, but that's not sustainable forever. And I think I need to do a better job at finding a balance between work and then not work. It's been a little better than last year in some ways. And as much as COVID has been horrible, there have been positive things that have come out of that. And the fact that people are more comfortable working from home, I think is one of those, at least in my particular case, because it has done better for my family, right? Because I've been able to work really, really hard, probably harder than I have, but at the same time, see my kids more, but finding that balance between kind of life and work is something that, you know, is more important to me now than it's ever been. Because now my life is not just about work. And now that I have kids, it's also a little bit about them as well.Jeff Hunter: So you have the people of Shift hopefully are listening to this, you've got potential future employees listening to this, I'm here as your coach, you got a lot of people care about you and want you to succeed. How can we help you accomplish those things?George Arison: I think keeping me honest is the, is the single most important thing, right? Number one. And that's kind of on you and on Toby and on other senior executives at the company. Number two, is I think we just need to hit our goals. We have very audacious and big goals and we need to do what it takes to hit them. I think it's really awesome to be doing that and we'll continue to but I think that's the biggest thing that the team can do is kind of, hey, keep those goals in mind and then focus on what do I need to do in my day-to-day to ensure that we hit those goals. I think those are the things where you know, Shift really comes into that. And then, you know, thirdly I think as a company for us, this transition comes with some challenges, right? Like one of them is around transparency. It's still taking me, it's going to take me a lot of getting used to, to not be as transparent as you know, I normally would like to be because when you're private, you can be a lot more transparent. We had a question the other day around earnings and somebody asked like; Hey could, you know, George and Toby talk about kind of, what are they thinking about the earnings and, you know, what they expect from the process, etcetera. And I'm like, well, we can, except it's going to all have to happen after we do the earnings rather than before because it's totally not okay for us to talk to, you know, 150 people about earnings before we actually announced them. That's just a tough process to go through, to get used to kind of having less transparency, but I hope people at the company are appreciative of the fact that that's just a kind of a thing that comes along with being a public company.Jeff Hunter: Great. Well, at least from my part I commit to keeping you honest. George, thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciate it. As I said, I've enjoyed working with you immensely. I'm looking forward to the next decade. I'm looking forward to Shift going through the roof and just accomplishing everything that you hope. And I'm hoping that I can work with you in other ways and that we can mentor people and help them achieve their potential. So thank you so much, George. It's been a real honor.George Arison: Thank you very much for having me.Jeff Hunter: Coaching in the Clear has been a production of Talentism. It was recorded, mixed and edited by 46 ad studios, original music by John Hunter. If you found this podcast valuable, please share on social media and make sure to leave a review. To support this podcast please sign up at Talentism.com there you will find important content and up-to-date insights about how to unleash your potential. Thank you so much for listening. 

Duration: 50 min

Release Date:

Share part or all of the audio of this episode