My initial company took rise because other people’s inventions were also taking rise, like the iPhone. That’s something that people forget, that often other companies are essential to your own.

FAVORITE AUTHOR OR BOOK: I love lots of great books of political philosophy, from Plato’s Republic to Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. SOMETHING I’M REALLY PROUD OF: Being a good husband, father, son, and friend. SOMEONE I ADMIRE: James Madison.

George Arison

Traveling the world to make it your own

GOING AWAY TO COME HOME. George Arison reminds people that his first start-up wasn’t a company at all—it was his own life. Arison was born and raised in Georgia, a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia. Throughout his youth, Georgia was part of the USSR, and George moved to the United States at the age of fourteen on his own, allowing him to attend US schools in the mid-1980’s.

“A lot had changed for me in the time I’d spend in America. All my friends were in the US, all my key contacts were in the US, and I was just coming to grips with the idea that I was gay,” George acknowledges. “A life in Georgia for a young, gay man wasn’t viable at the time. And I didn’t want to hide who I was and who I was becoming.”

A SHIFT IN THE ATMOSPHERE. Though he was proud of his work as one of the earliest entrepreneurs in app-driven transportation and technology, George knew he needed more experience, and he decided to take a role at Google. “I’d done so much tech work, but I’d never worked in a really strong technology environment like that. It was humbling but also extremely eye opening.”

“After a few years in Google, I wanted to build a company again, and I discovered the marketplace for buying and selling cars online—and Shift was born,” George says. Though George wasn’t a “car guy,” and by his own admission, he “didn’t even drive that much,” he was attracted to the size of the market and he could “technologically build a standalone business from the ground up—that excited me the most.”

Around this time, George began to discuss his identity more openly. “Once I came back to the US in 2005, I was finally able to slowly come out to both friends and family alike. As an immigrant, being gay didn't simply define me. I came with a wealth of experiences and dreams. So while I came out a bit late in life, it was just another part of me, not my whole story,” George explains, “however, it’s not lost on me how unique I really am.”

George is reminded of the late-1990’s when Ellen DeGeneres came out on television. “I remember when that happened, it was jarring as a closeted gay male. Now look at me: I’m an openly gay entrepreneur, and there are far more of us now than even ten years ago. But,” George pauses again, “From all the research we have done, I may very well be the first openly gay man to be the CEO and Founder to take his company public. So there are still barriers, still hills to climb. I think about this a lot.”

George is quick to point out that mentorship is a critical part of achieving success as an entrepreneur. “I don’t want to generalize younger generations, but I think the power of self-learning online and with video, for example, have dulled the perspective of what mentorship can offer. Being able to call someone, being able to ask direct questions, being able to work through problems together with a mentor who knows more and has been there is powerful. It’s becoming a lost art, I fear.”


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