Ario Keshani is CEO and co-founder of Split Technology, Inc., a technology startup working to revolutionize transportation. Split delivers smarter shared rides that utilize advanced technology to instantly connect people traveling in the same direction. Prior to Split, Ario was Vice President of Business Development at Transdev On Demand, responsible for building Transdev’s business in North America. Earlier in his career, Ario launched a ready-to-cook food delivery startup, souschef meals, and spent time as a Business Designer at IDEO and as a consultant and Capgemini. Ario received a B.S. from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Services, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In his spare time, he likes skiing, football (Washington Redskins), football (Paris Saint-Germain), and windsurfing.
Where did the idea for Split come from?
Working in transportation for a few years before founding Split definitely helped with the idea generation. It was while watching Uber and Lyft cause significant disruption and bring about a lot of innovation that we started thinking about the next step in transportation. We realized that Uber and Lyft were focusing on making it easier to book a taxicab, but the true innovation was in getting all these people who were going the same direction into vehicles together!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day usually consists of meeting with various team members to help set our direction and make key decisions about how to move forward. I also spend more time than I’d like reading and answering emails. I try to make my days productive by reminding myself of our big goals, and moving through the small things as quickly as possible.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a 3-step process for bringing ideas to life:
1. Research the idea by talking to potential users of the service/product being created to learn their needs, how they might interact with the new idea
2. Testing the new idea/product by creating a minimum viable version of it (MVP) and testing that with the potential users. The MVP could be something as simple as mockups on an ipad that people can “interact” with.
3. Build the prototype in workable form and see if people will pay!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m really excited about the globalization of media. I’ve always found it confusing that people in Europe or Asia got completely different perspectives on the news, pop culture, etc. And though that continues today, the availability of foreign channels, tv shows, and sports all around the world is bridging that gap, which is very exciting for me!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One specific habit I have to keep myself productive is that I take 10 minutes in the middle of every day to meditate. It re-energizes me to go back out and finish the day off in full strength.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Two times in my career, I have worked in consulting firms. Both times, I didn’t like it because I didn’t feel like my work mattered. But I learned a tremendous amount, especially in my second tour of duty, as I was working at a design consulting firm. There, I learned how important it is to think from the standpoint of the customer, and remind yourself, as a product/service designer, that you aren’t designing for yourself, but rather for your users.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d spend even more time trying to recruit the best talent. I can’t emphasize how important it is to have the best talent on a team, and we’re lucky to have an extremely talented team.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I read the news every day from a few different news sources. It reminds me that there are things happening in the world other than just the startup I work at.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
One of the things we’ve done well is to encourage our users to be our biggest evangelists. The biggest source of growth for us is our own user base, who refer their friends to register for our service.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure I had as an entrepreneur is during my first startup, sous chef meals. We were building a ready-to-cook meal delivery service, and after we realized that delivery costs were going to be too high, we weren’t flexible enough. As a result, we didn’t change our delivery model and failed to overcome that obstacle. We didn’t overcome that challenge, but my key learning was that I need to be more flexible, less committed to a strict vision without any modifications when building a business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One idea I’ve had for a long time is to create an app to allow people to directly order and purchase food from the many food trucks that are driving around our city. I haven’t had a chance to substantially work on it yet, but it’s one of my ideas!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent $100 on a lift pass when I went skiing with my best friends a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I love the most is to get off the gondola at the top of the mountain, look out over the vast space in front, and breathe in the fresh air, and it only cost me $100 to do that, with all of my best friends in tow. I can’t think of a better way to spend $100.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
One app that I really love is Bleacher Report. The main reason is that it is clear that a tremendous amount of thought has gone into the UI/UX of the app, and the product design and development is a key priority of that company. One example of that is that, when you are watching a video, you can continue scrolling down to read other sports articles, and the video will minimize to the bottom right of your screen, allowing you to continue watching the video while seeing what other interesting articles there may be to read.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of my favorite books is The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. It’s a book that simplifies the incredibly complex universe and its eleven dimensions. The reason I love it is that it puts everything in perspective.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who stand for something more than just profit. It is easy to chase the almighty dollar; what is harder is to chase an ideal, a principle, with the goal of helping to improve the world. I think that too few leaders hold themselves personally accountable for anything more than quarterly profits, and I respect the few that hold themselves to a higher standard.
For that reason, three people, in particular, stand out as influencers: Elon Musk, Craig Jelinek, and Arthur T. Demoulas.
Elon Musk because he has relentlessly chased two insane dreams (carbon-free vehicles and putting humans on Mars) at his own risk, to the point of nearly bankrupting himself. After selling Paypal, instead of taking the easy way out (i.e. becoming an angel investor or a VC), Musk chose to think bigger and chase two dreams.
Costco CEO Craig Jelinek because he continues to take a $53,000 salary even as he leads a multi-billion dollar business which thrived as other retailers were cutting costs. He typifies the great leader: someone who puts his people above himself. He pays his people an average hourly wage of $20.89 (as compared to $12.67 at Walmart), and he does so not for the media attention, but because he believes that valuing his people is the right thing to do and will result in better quality service for his customers.
Arthur T. Demoulas, CEO of Market Basket, because he stood up to his board and family, who wanted to take a business built around the employees and strip it of its values by cutting costs. His employees, renowned in New England as some of the friendliest and most helpful grocery store employees, stood up for him by striking without pay until he was able to wrest control back. What’s more impressive, his customers also stood up to the new owners by refusing to shop at Market Basket until Demoulas was back in charge.