Adir Shiffman
TECH, BUSINESS, AND DOING WHAT YOU LOVE

Interviewed and written by Avi Bart

Adir Shiffman is serial tech startup founder, investor, and Executive Chairman of Catapult Sports (manufacturer of wearable sports performance technology). He has been rated the World's 10th Most Innovative Person in Sports Business. After completing his medical degree and his internship year, Adir made the switch to the startup world and over the last decade he has launched, built and sold more than a dozen high-growth tech companies. One of his projects is Doctors Club (www.doctorsclub.com.au) providing Australian doctors and dentists with great exclusive offers.

“At the end of my intern year I went full-time at a tech startup which was a very uncool thing to do in 2000. Everyone thought I was nuts, except for doctors. The doctors I knew all thought it was pretty cool to go away and try something different.”

“I never said I was leaving medicine. I always say I’m on a hiatus from medicine. For 20 or so years now, I have been on a hiatus.”

ON TRYING SOMETHING NEW

My doctor friends told me it was a very brave decision to leave medicine and go into business. I thought they were completely wrong. I think the only ridiculous decision is to die wondering. There's not really much of a downside in trying something different in life. What was the downside if it hadn't worked out for me? If I would have left for a couple of years and if it all went to hell I would have just returned to medicine. The bigger risk was staying in medicine all the way through without ever stepping off that conveyor belt to try something different. Maybe when you come back your friends will be “ahead of you” but you can pick it up again and get back into it. When you are 40 there will be no difference. Don’t overthink it. Medicine is a great profession because it is an automatic safety net for anything else that you try.

HOW TO LEAVE

My first piece of advice is don’t be a maniac and leave right after your final year of medical school. Don’t leave before you have done the intern year because being a medical student and being a doctor are two completely different things.

You need to find something that you love. There is no point in doing something just because you think it is going to make you money. If you want to make money, number one you’re dumb and it’s a dumb way to approach life. Number two, stay in medicine: there are not many better ways to reliably make money. Find the thing you’re passionate about and go and meet people. Go talk to people and read everything that you can to so that you can understand how to avoid the obvious mistakes, and ideally find a partner.

WERE THE SKILLS TRANSFERABLE?

Even if there were no transferable skills, I would still answer yes because I couldn’t live with the concept of having wasted six years. Beyond understanding what’s wrong with people, I think medicine teaches you how to approach a problem by asking questions in a systematic fashion to diagnose what is wrong. I think that is super helpful in all facets of life.

The other thing is that once you’ve worked in an emergency department, and have deal with high-pressure life-and-death situations, you realise nothing is all that important, stressful or overwhelming.

Lastly, when you understand medicine you understand how science works. This gives you a robust understanding in any science-based business, and unbelievable credibility with investors and the public.

WHAT DO YOU MISS?

The doctor-patient relationship. It’s like nothing else that I have ever experienced. There is a person with a problem that is causing them a huge amount of anxiety – it is life and death for them – and they're completely putting their trust in you because they have no way of understanding what the problem is, let alone how to go about solving it. They know that you as a doctor are completely committed to solving their life-and-death problem. That is an entirely unique relationship. That I miss. I just can’t replicate it anywhere else.

PROBLEMS WITH MEDICINE

My guiding principle in carving out a life for myself is - “how can I make my Monday mornings feel as good as my Sunday mornings?” I didn't achieve that when I was a medical student or young doctor.

One of the problems with medicine is that we just don't acknowledge the inherent uncertainty, especially not to patients. If you set up a continuum from nothing to everything, in medicine what we know is closer to nothing than everything. You get much smarter after you are prepared to admit that there is a heap of stuff you don’t know.

Work-life balance is another issue but it is getting better. The next generation support one another and acknowledge that they don't have to be superheroes. When I went through medical school there was still an attitude of working 120-hour fortnights with no weekend. Senior doctors would say “we went through it, that's the rite of passage. It's not going to kill you”. The truth is it might.

CLOSING REMARKS

One of the problems with medicine is that everything is about tomorrow. Suffer pain today for happiness tomorrow – but it's easy to never find that happiness. It's easy to say medical school is hell. You go through the hell because you're going to be a junior doctor, then a junior specialist, and then a senior specialist. But a lot of that is hell as well! You can find happiness at all points in the journey if you bother taking the time to look for it, and refuse to do an endless number of things on the sole basis that they will make tomorrow better.

People think it’s a race to the top of the ladder. But what is really at the top of the ladder? You just fall off - there’s nothing special at the top of the ladder. I think the rungs are what’s interesting. There is no race up the rungs. If it doesn’t feel special and that feeling persists, then reappraise your life. You can also get off that ladder and do something else. People say - stop and smell the roses. I thought that was terrible advice because I was the typical type A personality. What I realised much later in life, it was actually pretty good advice.

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