Earlier this week, BetaKit broke the news that Ariel Garten, founder of InteraXon, had stepped down as CEO, replaced by the company’s former COO, Derek Luke.
While Garten will remain at InteraXon as its Board Chairman and in other roles, the swap was quite a shock, as the founder has long been the very public face of the company and its Muse headband. Below you’ll find our exclusive interview with Garten, which took place after being told by the former CEO that the change is due to her recent pregnancy.
I’m guessing the organization swap is directly attributed to your pregnancy, correct?
Yes. This was in the plans for when I was going to transition to mat leave. We received the news of a new little being coming into being while I was in China, speaking at the World Economic Forum in September.
What is the decision-making process that goes into this sort of organizational change?
“Derek and I work closely together and I trust him completely.”
It is a carefully considered decision. Most importantly, I knew there was someone who could seamlessly take on the role as CEO. Someone I trust, who the team trusts, and who is a steady hand at the till, with the right drive and insight to continue our rapid growth.
What made Derek Luke the right choice to take over as CEO?
Derek and I work closely together and I trust him completely. He understands the culture and he is able to drive sales and profits. Derek has embraced the principals of mindfulness, and established a cultural space for communication for people to be heard, cared for and appreciated within the company.
At RIM, he ran a $1.5 billion business. At SDTC, he evaluated companies for their merits. He knows how to achieve success and scale. He is also very wise in his understanding and reactions. I have learned much from him, and he much from me.
So I noticed that you’ve swapped one CEO title for another (Chief Evangelist Officer). What level of involvement do you see yourself having in the day-to-day of the company during your pregnancy? What does a Chief Evangelist Officer do?
My main drive is to inspire people to be their best selves. To give the world tools that help to look inwards, decrease the voices that drive us to believe we can’t do it or we’re not capable. To show people you can accomplish anything you want in life. That’s still my job. For the first seven years, I did that along with my co-founders, building a company, team and product, Muse, to deliver that.
“I love what I’m doing and have not at all slowed down. I can move away from PnLs and focus on expanding on the science.”
I love what I’m doing and have not at all slowed down. This little baby has been on 40 plane flights already, accompanied me in my belly while I’ve addressed thousands of people on stage, and been through big negotiations and meetings with our partners like Deepak Chopra and Ashton Kutcher (who, with a 14-month-old, was super thrilled for me and my husband and had some great daddy tips).
Moving forward, I can move away from PnLs and focus on inspiring, communicating, ensuring the product is really helping, and of course, expanding on the science and neuroscience, which I love. I won’t stop working to further InteraXon. I’m still inspiring what we do on massive platforms, still inspiring people to live the best lives, and I will continue bringing amazing people like our new advisory board members Patrick Kennedy, Joi Ito, and Dean Ornish into the mission, and working with them regularly to build the company. I’ll continue leading Muse meditation sessions around the world and teaching healthcare that meditation is an extraordinary tool.
Do you plan to return as Chief Executive Officer post-pregnancy? If so, is there a timeline for that?
Derek is the CEO. He has the full power and authority. I will plan to return in my new role as Chief Evangelist Officer.
With your pregnancy prompting the organizational changes, I’m surprised to be hearing you won’t be returning as CEO. Luke’s comments yesterday (which are detailed, and can be found here, – ed.) indicated that this move away from CEO was something you had considered previously, so I’m wondering if it would have happened eventually regardless of your pregnancy?
Having kids has been in the plan for years. Once I’m back from mat leave, I’ll still have a very young child and I want to make sure I have the opportunity to choose the lifestyle I want, while continuing to bring value to the company.
We noted in our story yesterday that you are the third Canadian founder of a hardware startup that has stepped aside this year as CEO (after Bubl and Nymi). Do you think that is indicative of something particular to hardware startups or part of a natural company evolution? Why don’t you founders want to stay CEOs?
I’m not in a position to comment on what happened at other companies. My own situation is unique. With a child on the way, I’m at a unique stage in my life and have laid the foundation at InteraXon to embrace this in a way that matters most to me.
This article has been modified slightly to clarify the context in which the interview took place.