Adir Shiffman knew he was taking a risk when he left his career as a medical doctor to enter the world of start-ups. He was involved in the founding of start-ups including Global Reviews and PricePal – but when the GFC came, finance dried up and many of his start-ups collapsed in a heap.
It was the trigger for a period of deep introspection that focused his thoughts on one fundamental realisation. “I realised there are an awful lot of things that I am terrible at,” he said.
“I sat on the beach and realised that all of the things that my personal sense of self-worth is based on, I am pretty hopeless at. And all the things that I thought were going to make me rich, were all dead. So, I realised I had better re-appraise my sense of self-worth.”
Shiffman’s big epiphany led him to concede that he “should not be the CEO of a business” – which sent him looking for subject-matter experts with whom he could work. A personal introduction led him to Catapult Sports, his 10th start-up – and by far his most successful.
The company’s wearable athletics sensors are being used by 1,500 sports teams around the world, providing unprecedented insight into player performance for coaches, trainers, and fans. Built-in GPS and body monitors track over 100 parameters in real time, transmitting data wirelessly to a device on the sidelines.
Based in Melbourne, the company now has more than 300 staff across ten locations around the world, and is listed on the ASX.
Broad uptake and a high profile have given the company a $331m market cap and a diversified global business with 92 percent of its revenues coming from overseas – including investment from the likes of Dallas Mavericks’ team owner Mark Cuban, who helped it to a strong position amongst NBA basketball teams.
“What brought me to Catapult was realising how hopeless I was at a large number of different things,” Shiffman laughed. “During the GFC, I learned good lessons in bad ways – like that finance is quite important, and cash is quite important.”
“Because the economy was so good leading up to the GFC, you just didn’t need to know what cash was because it always went up. And you didn’t need to know what accounting was, because you always made profits.”
As he pivoted on his new self-awareness, Shiffman met a team of people who “basically were as crazy as I am” and joined forces in an effort that would eventually become Catapult.
“We realised a lot of the things I am good at, they were exactly as good,” he said, “and all the things they are good at, I am terrible at. And if I hadn’t had those disasters and self-reflection, I wouldn’t have been prepared to admit to myself that I should not be the CEO of a business.”
As executive chairman of Catapult Group International, Shiffman has helped propel the company to ever greater heights, despite inevitable setbacks such as a potentially catastrophic misunderstanding – since amicably resolved – with the AFL.
And while he readily admits he lacks many business skills, he makes up for it through “relentlessness, pressure, ambition, and knowing what not to do. I wake up every morning and think ‘what are today’s catastrophes that I’m going to have to fight?’”
Among the biggest challenges he faces every day are the need to deal with problems that have been escalated to him only because they have become so large that other workers can’t address them.
He also created challenges for himself by “not hiring enough good staff early,” although there is a reason for that: “you can never afford to employ the person that you would need,” he said. “They have made 20 years’ more mistakes than you and can give you the benefits of those mistakes – but you risk the balance sheet because if they aren’t as good as you think, they suck the cash out.”
And his biggest mistake? “Thinking that I was good at a lot of things,” he laughed, “and feeling that too many of the things that worked out were due to good decisions I had made.”
“Now I would never do something alone,” he continued, “where I am the guy that needs to be the day-to-day person running the business. But the best thing I can do with bad decisions in the past is try to figure out why they turned out badly, and make different bad decisions in the future.”
“You do your best trying to take care of the people that work for you. You brace yourself for the daily catastrophe, and get on with it.”