Michael Arrieta | Meeting Michael Dell, Building DocuSign into a $40B Company, and Helping Service Companies
Michael Arrieta
Smart Business Revolution

Michael Arrieta is the Founder and CEO of Garden City, a purpose-driven buyout holding company that buys, grows, and forever-holds service companies across the Southeast. Once acquired, Garden City seeks to grow them through culture, technology, and sales. Michael was an early employee at DocuSign where he served as Global Vice President, General Manager, and Chief of Staff to the CEO. DocuSign has now achieved a $50B market cap with 5,000 employees. 

In 2016, Michael founded MAV Ventures, a venture capital group that has invested in over 50 companies and multiple funds. He also co-founded New Story, a nonprofit that has built over 2,000 homes in developing countries and is recognized for creating the world’s first-ever 3D home printer. He was recognized by Forbes as “30 Under 30” in 2016 for his social entrepreneurship work. He graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management and now lives in Atlanta with his wife and children.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran is joined by Michael Arrieta, the Founder and CEO of Garden City, to talk about investing in service and technology-based businesses. Michael discusses his career background working at Cutco, Wyse Technology, Dell, and DocuSign — including the lessons learned from Michael Dell. He also shares his hiring strategies and explains how he evaluates the best companies to invest in.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Michael Arrieta’s experience doing sales at Cutco
  • How Michael transitioned to Wyse Technology, how he met Michael Dell, and how Dell ended up acquiring the technology company for over $1B
  • What Michael Arrieta learned from working with Michael Dell
  • Michael talks about joining DocuSign, the hiring systems he used to grow the team, and what he learned while working there
  • The founding of Garden City and how the pandemic affected the start of the business 
  • How Michael evaluates businesses to invest in — and his thoughts on the operations of Berkshire Hathaway
  • Michael talks about the peers he admires and shares his contact details

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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    Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

    Episode Transcript

    Intro 0:14 

    Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

    John Corcoran 0:41 

    All right. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And as you know, every week I get to talk with interesting CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies and organizations, ranging from, I’ve interviewed the Co-founder of Netflix a few weeks ago YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, Ace Software, you’ve heard me say it before so many great people. Go check out the archives because there’s some great content in there. I’m also one of the Co-founders of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. A quick shout out to John Ostenson for recommending our guest here today. 

    His name is Michael Arrieta. He currently serves as the founder and CEO of Garden City, which is a purpose driven buyout, holding company, what is that you’re gonna find out in a second. They raised over 40 million in permanent capital. And they buy and grow and forever hold service companies across the Southeast, US. They actually seek to grow companies through culture, technology and sales. Previously, he was an early employee at DocuSign, where he served as Global VP, General Manager and Chief of Staff to the CEO of DocuSign, which now has a $40 billion market cap and 5,000 employees. So we’ll hear all about that. And in 2016, he also founded MAV Ventures, a venture capital group, which has invested over 20 companies ranging from technology to healthcare to consumer goods. And we’re going to dive into this in a moment. 

    Before we get into that, of course, this is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships, through podcasts and content marketing. If you’re listening to this, and you’ve ever thought, should I start a podcast? I’ve been saying this for 11 years. Absolutely, you should. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. And if you have any questions, you can send us an email at [email protected]. Alright, Michael is such a pleasure to have you here today. I’ve been looking forward to this interview for quite some time. You have such a storied, interesting background, and I want to ask you about all of it. So first of all, let’s start with Cutco. Because, you know, I’ve interviewed a couple of other guests, John Ruhlin. And how l Ron who cut their teeth. I hate to use that phrase at Cutco and work their way up there. What was that experience like for you starting at Cutco at 17 years old in high school and then you became the number one sales rep in the company out of 50,000 sales reps which is insane.

    Michael Arrieta 2:56

    Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me on John. That was awesome. I gave so much credit to Cutco I mean, it really allowed me to exactly as you said, cut my teeth. I look forward to the day that I get to hopefully encourage my sons and daughters to sell Cutco. It allowed me to face rejection head on right many times in life. We do everything that we can to steer away from objections, right, even though we know what our kids will face in the future. Um, so I think what I loved most about the opportunities at a young age, I started selling Cutco at 17. I got to learn how to make cold calls and be hung up on. I got to learn how to sit across from people in their 50s and 60s who started selling a couple $1,000. And you’ll laugh at your face and say there’s no way you know, I will learn how to drop down. So starting at 10,000 walkway to the $1,000 order I would have to have the courage to add ads or recommendations and referrals knowing it’s the lifeline in the blood of continuing to have a business otherwise the well runs dry. Right? Knowing time management and how to set goals. So all but it taught me a ton that still applies today. That’s great.

    John Corcoran 4:06

    And that led somehow to technology companies. So you go from sales to how you ended up getting to Wyse Technology after selling at a knife company.

    Michael Arrieta 4:20

    I sold knives from junior year of high school until I graduated college. The biggest thing on my mind. I mean I was making six figures since I was 17 years old, and making great money in college, same same sort of thing. So I graduated debt free and was helping my family and so forth. But I always knew that I wanted to sit across the table, aka be the person then 2000s of dollars for fine cutlery semi kitchen, I would have to take one step back or two steps back in terms of income to take five or 10 forward in the future. So I basically told myself I need to stop making you know X dollars. make less money with the goal and the hope and potential in the future, I could make a lot more. And so I knew there were two ways you can make the most amount of money when I graduated school. One was to sell private planes, right? So the Commission on selling a Gulfstream or something like that. And the other thing was software, I was getting into software sales. And so I reached out to my father, my father in law, who was in software, and I just asked him, Are there any CEOs I should meet? And so he said, You should meet the CEO of this company called Wyse Technology. He just bought the company to a leveraged buyout. And so I had a meeting with the CEO. And he was like, how old are you? I said I was 21. He goes, Well, Alexander the Great conquered the world. And he was 19. So you have a lot of catching up to do. He gave me a chance, and I joined the software world. And somehow I got in.

    John Corcoran 5:58

    And you have this great story of how Wyse Technology ended up getting acquired by Dell and meeting Michael Dell. Tell us about that.

    Michael Arrieta 6:07

    Yeah, absolutely. So the CEO of Wyse went to the World Economic Forum. And we got a chance to meet Michael Dell there. Well, I sold this hardware device called thin clients. And we also had some other software. The thing about thin clients was, although it was hardware that you could physically touch, it was all powered by software. Basically, it was riding the coattails of this whole virtualization world to be very geeky, this whole cloud world, right of VMware and Citrix and all these things. And so we just had a meeting with Michael Dell saying, hey, you want to migrate and stop being a PC company, or company bias can be the perfect mix, it looks like a hardware acquisition. But really, it gives your foot into this whole virtualization cloud world. And so after only a handful of conversations, it made perfect sense and Dell acquired Wyse for over a billion dollars. And so out of nowhere, I blinked and now we have a seat at the table. So now we’re in the boardroom, Michael Dell every week, right? And, and, and I raised up to somehow find our way to meet a chief of staff of that group at the Dell cloud group. And it was phenomenal, got a lot of experience, got to travel the world, got to see what m&a was truly like at a 40 plus billion dollar revenue company, you know, all that good stuff.

    John Corcoran 7:28

    What was it? What did you learn from Michael Dell himself personally,

    Michael Arrieta 7:33

    a lot, a lot, even through DocuSign, because he was one of the first calls that we made once I left elements of DocuSign, which he ended up putting millions of dollars into DocuSign when I went there, which is probably the coolest story of it all.

    John Corcoran 7:48

    But what I got to ask about that, but continue and then we’ll get to that.

    Michael Arrieta 7:53

    Yeah, probably what I learned most from such an icon like Michael Dell, there’s a lot. One is human, buddy. No one’s ever talked about Michael, is that pompous or arrogant or like that at all, is extremely driven and humble, you know, from everything that he does. MSD capital that a lot of people now know stands for Michael and Susan Dell, right. So he always includes his family and everything. His wife is everything. When they acquired Wyse, he invited us over to his house on Lake Travis right to the celebration. When we would have key Wyse partners come into town, he would clear his calendar and host them right on an acquisition that he made. He would never be the smartest person in the room. That’s a very famous quote that Michael said about never being the smartest person in the room. But he actually believed that he was not the smartest person in the room. Right off the bat. She believed that and really asked good questions and listened well, right. He never made definitive conclusions or answers in the meeting. You know, so we were having a meeting about should we expand into Asia Pacific, for whatever new product line, we would have a whole meeting about it. And many CEOs say, Okay, so we’ve decided we’re going to do this today and make the decision and go, he would not make the decision. And he would continue to collect data and come back to the physician later. He never forgot anything. I mean, anything that I don’t know if he brought everything down or a crazy mind, beautiful mind, but he never brings out a single small detail on anything. A perfect example is after I left Dell. And after I left Dell, and told him and told him I was going to DocuSign and asked him if he wanted to invest. He invested 10s of millions of dollars. And I saw him about a year after that at a conference. And he asked me how myself and my brought my newly bride my wife was doing. I had no clue that he that I remember telling him that I got married, you know. So just amazing things like that to set him really apart.