Hoya Highlight: Ario Keshani (SFS'05)

Ario Keshani

CEO, Split Technology, Inc.

Describe your current profession.

I am the CEO at Split (split.us), a shared ride startup based in DC. Split is a convenient, sustainable and affordable way to get around town. Our real-time routing technology instantly connects people traveling in the same direction. We launched Split in May 2015, and we plan to quickly expand our service throughout the DC area.

Tell us about the inspiration behind Split and how it plans to disrupt the travel marketplace.

Our mission is to improve our cities and communities with smarter shared rides. There is a gap in the transportation industry between taxis and public transit, and Split aims to fill it. Split offers the convenience of on-demand transportation with a price close to that of Metro. We’re putting more people into fewer vehicles, which leads to less traffic, lower emissions and safer streets. With Split, everybody wins – our riders, our drivers and our communities. This matters to me personally because I care very deeply about making our cities better places to live, and providing access to all people, no matter where they live, to the entire city at an affordable price.

What have been the most challenging and rewarding moments in the startup process?

The biggest challenge in our startup has been our branding process. Our goal has been to create a brand that represents who we are, resonates with people and explains in a clear and succinct way what we do, something which is not easy to explain. I believe we have succeeded in this endeavor by creating a brand that is true to our values, but it has taken a lot of work!

The most rewarding moment, for me, was the moment that our app officially went live in the app store. Seeing our app on my iPhone represented many hours of hard work and dedication by our entire team, and I felt great pride in that moment because I knew I was working with a fantastic team of people who helped make our launch a reality!

Who do you consider to be your influencers?

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 to 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.

What do you consider to be the most useful piece of career advice you ever received?

A professor once told me “A people hire A people, B people hire C people. Remember to hire people that are better than yourself, and encourage them to prove you wrong.” I try to live by that every day, though sometimes it’s hard to admit that I might be wrong!

What skills are necessary, or how do you think the requirements for your industry are changing?

As has happened with many industries, transportation has seen a dramatic shift with the advent of mobile technology. For many years, transportation was an exercise in blocking and tackling, where the job was to manage operations to keep the wheels turning. Now, it has become a technology business more than anything else, and having a deep understanding of how technology can help (and hurt) the transportation business is critical to being successful.

How do you think your time at Georgetown affected your professional decisions?

Georgetown is an incredible place that teaches not only what you learn in class, but how to deal with diversity and different points of view. Being in an industry where the people come from such diverse backgrounds has allowed me to use my experiences meeting and becoming friends with people of different backgrounds. That’s one of the things I love most about Georgetown!

What websites/social media pages do you read the most, and why?

I read The Washington Post, The Economist, and a blog called Wait But Why (www.waitbutwhy.com). The Washington Post because I think it’s a great source of balanced reporting, and I like to support an organization which still believes in reporting in the classic way, by doing the legwork to find real stories (the New York Times is also very good at this, but I’m in DC so am partial to the Post!). I love The Economist for its international viewpoint and its focus on topics that are often ignored in the US. And I love Wait But Why because of the detail with which the author dives into each topic he covers, which can vary from the AI singularity to procrastination.

Anything else you would like to add?

Hoya Saxa!