Alison Arnoff Unstoppable


Allison Arnoff is a remarkable woman who never let any brick stop her. She had a successful tech career with 5 startups she worked for being acquired and two getting IPOs. She was one of the only women in her position in tech. She left her career to follow her dreams and start a coaching business for leaders in tech. She was a Division one swimmer and a triathlete. In 2020 she was on an easy bike ride and felt chest pains. She had to have open-heart surgery there were complications, she was in a coma for 6 days and had to learn how to walk again. She overcame those bricks and has started her business again. She shares her story and how she listened to the whispers to overcome all the bricks. She shares tips on how to make it through even the toughest bricks. It is remarkable and truly inspiring story you don’t want to miss!

Episode Transcription:

Intro plays

Ari: Welcome to Whispers and Bricks My name is Ari Schonbrun, and I’m your host. My guest today is Allison Arnoff. Very, very special lady. Let me tell you, Allison left a career of several decades in tech, including seven startups resulting in five acquisitions and two IPOs to create dare to be coaching and live her passion enabling tech leaders, especially women to accelerate their careers and improve the company’s bottom line through confident and effective communication. Allison is a former nationally ranked Division One swimmer and triathlete and has always broken barriers as a female in tech, often being the first woman in many roles over a career, as well as getting a master’s in engineering. Alison also has a habit of taking her backpack and getting lost in the jungles of emerging nations have chumming up sharks to dive with them. In 2020, on an easy bike ride, Alison had an unexpected chest pains and ended up having surgery having open heart surgery. Complications arose and Allison ended up unconscious for six days almost dying several times, and ending up having to learn to walk again, regain body strength, overcome a drop foot and had more surgeries and hospitalizations. Today, Allison is back. Living life hiking, biking, paddling and back to serving others. She restarted a business with renewed focus and commitment to dare others to be the best version of themselves. Please help me welcome Allison arnoff.

Allison, how are you? 

Allison: I am wonderful, how are you? I’m terrific. 

Ari: Wow, let me tell you, that is some some bio you’ve got there. That’s amazing.

So as you know, the name of the podcast is whispers and bricks, the whispers are those voices telling us what the right thing to do is and represents the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things we go through in life. And let’s be honest, everybody has a brick thrown at them once in a while throughout their lives, sometimes even more, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, but everybody gets hit.

Now in your life, you’ve had many bricks thrown at you. The biggest one, obviously, in 2020. When you have the chest pains, I have an easy bike ride. But before we even get into that, being a woman in tech, when that wasn’t common, you had to fight every step of the way. Can you take us back to the beginning when you first got into tech, and then left a very successful tech career?

Allison: Well, you know, it started early on, I had an affinity to math and as a young age, in fact, when I was five, when I was in fifth grade by my teacher called my mom and said the boys don’t like that your daughter raises her hand before them with the answers. And my mom said, and I just learned this a couple of years ago, my mom never told me that she never discouraged me from being the girl who raises her hand first. And just at a young age, I guess I was kind of making waves to people who didn’t, didn’t didn’t understand that a woman couldn’t raise their hand first. And I just when I was in high school, my my physics and chemistry teachers told me about engineering and I loved it. And just went forward. So throughout my career, I never thought it was strange, that anything I was doing was unique. For me. It was unique. I was just doing what I love doing it was really others. Not all obviously, but that really felt somehow threatened that I loved all this geeky stuff.

Ari: Wow. Yeah. So tell us about, you know, tell us a little bit. I mean, you talked about five.

Allison: You took two there were two IPOs five companies did to public. And, you know, tell us about that. What was going on there? Well, you know, I worked for a couple big companies. And then I wanted to move in technical roles. And I wanted to move into sales. And a startup saw me do a pitch and offered me to move into the sales. So I walked away from the big company and everything associated with it. And we became the first salesperson at a small startup. And it was great. I mean, I just I got to go in there and I don’t consider it sales. I got to go solve problems for companies and it turned out I had an affinity for it and really mastered the art of getting new technologies adopted by people and I got hooked and so I I went from startup to startup that one that was funny that one one of my customers bought the product and then ended up buying

Allison: The company. And throughout my career, I just I worked for a couple of big companies in there, but mostly focused on startups. And the smaller the better. Because you really, you know, you’re creating everything, you’re creating strategy and messaging, and you’re creating a market, and you’re shifting the industry. And it was, it was just great. So of those seven companies, there were six exits is what they’re called. One of them was the double hit. Five of them got acquired. And one of them went public, and then got acquired, and one just went public. And so it was a great, it was a great run. And it was really fun. I moved around different technologies and kept learning and growing. And I don’t know, there’s something about knowing you’re part of putting something on the map. That’s pretty exhilarating. Wow. Yeah, it absolutely is. So did you have any

issues we like, we like the only woman in the involved in the upper echelon, were there other women in the upper echelon? Was it you and a bunch of guys? It was It depends on the company. But usually, if it was often just me in that role, at least in the regions or in the country, in one company, it was in the world. I was the only woman in that role. But you know, again, I It’s funny, I never made it an issue. I remember one of the guys said to me, once Allison, you need to stop making this woman thing and issue and I know I didn’t do that. I said, Well, I’ll disguise the name. Frank, can you give me an example of how I do that? And you know, crickets? And I said, Well, when you come up with one, I’d love to hear you love you to share with me so I can learn and grow from the opportunity.

Ari: Wow, you didn’t pull any punches? Did you know 

Allison: you know, I was drinking from Chicago. I’m known for being very direct. And I don’t know if I’m any more direct than the guys. I think they were shocked to have a woman be so direct. And I’ve always kind and compassionate, but also direct if you ask me what one plus one is, I will always tell you, it’s two.

Allison: Okay, so let me ask you this. So after all that success, the IPOs the, the, you know, the buyout the you know, everything? Why did you leave PTAC? Well, you know, as early as my 30s, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the end game, I knew that my next role in life was going to be in some sort of service role. I thought first there was going to be a teacher. And then I thought it was going to be a psychologist. And then I heard about this coaching thing. So long before I left, I knew coaching was the next step in my journey, I just didn’t know when to pull the plug. And at my last company, unfortunately, my dad was sick and dying and died. And I missed a lot of time at work. And I really wasn’t showing up for them the way they needed me to. And I really needed to take some time off. And so it was just a good time to take off. So I took my backpack, and I went down to the jungles of Belize and Guatemala for a month to clear my head and came back and said, I’m done. This isn’t me anymore. And I started a small consulting practice got to be an analyst for a VC while I went back to school to become an executive coach, and I haven’t looked back since. Wow, that’s amazing. It’s, it’s truly amazing. How did you enjoy the jungles? Oh, I love Guatemala. In fact, I hope to be able to bring people down there one day, it’s a country a lot of Americans don’t go to and if you don’t even know where to go safe, whether it’s absolutely beautiful, and the people are wonderful. I’ve done a lot of place, things like that. I’ve stayed in tree houses and Thailand and quit my job one year to go hike to great walks of New Zealand by myself. So that’s been my, my norm is to go seeking adventures. Wow. Okay, so now take us to 2020 a leisurely bike ride, all of a sudden ends up as a major brick being thrown at you. You know, tell us about that. Like what was going on? What happened? Well, you know, in January of 2020, I had to have some surgery, I had to have a hysterectomy and everything was fine. But I couldn’t work out for a while. So I finally get back on my bicycle and I’m going for an easy ride. And though I’m not in triathlete shape anymore, an easy ride for is an easy ride, and I started getting some chest pain. And I’ll fast forward but you know, I ended up finding out I had to have open heart surgery. We knew that I had a defective heart valve, but it’s checked every August every August they go there’s mild, there’s moderate, severe, you’re barely mild. See you next year probably won’t be an issue until you’re 80. And somehow between that checkup in August and April, my Valve had hardened and was stopping working and they needed to go in and operate. Now all this is doing during COVID. So you get a blindside that you’re having open heart surgery and you’re basically getting dropped off at the curb at the hospital.

I have an amazing surgeon but somehow when they got in there, the right side of my heart, unbeknownst to all of us was weak probably I am also an asthmatic even though I do all this stuff and I think my asthma had weakened that heart and they couldn’t get me off bypass. So they had to put me in this state of like suspended animation

For six days to let my heart rest and heal, and woke up, and you know, it was it was crazy, I mean, hallucinations, Vision trouble, and I couldn’t even remember I was so weak, I couldn’t even lift my phone and I couldn’t remember how to unlock my phone to call anybody. And I was in intensive care for a couple weeks. And when you don’t move for a few weeks, everything atrophies, I couldn’t really feed myself and had to get like stretchy bands to build some arm strength. And then when they started to get me ready to use a walker, we found out that my right foot had dropped, which means it’s just hanging there. Because the device that kept me alive was on my right grind and had to compress the nerves. And we didn’t know at this point, whether that was temporary or permanent. So when I left the hospital, I left it using a walker, trying to learn the walk without tripping over my foot.

Ari: You know, it’s it’s interesting, because I interviewed a friend of mine, who was a 911 survivor, who had been severely burned. And he wound up in an induced coma for seven weeks.

Because he was his lungs were burned them and he was in very, very bad shape. And his story was exactly the same. He had to learn all over again, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t lift, they couldn’t lift his phone, he could nothing, you know, when I guess when, when you’re just bedridden, and you’re not moving and you know, obviously in a state of instead of a coma.

Allison: you know, when you when you do come out of it, it’s starting like a baby, you got to start all over again. And let me ask you this, did you ever get to a point like you were so low where you said, You know what? I’m giving up? I’m not, you know, I can’t handle this, you know, this is not for me, this is not my life? And if you did, if you did reach that that level, which I’m pretty sure it like most people in that position probably would have. How did you get yourself out of it? You I mean, you’re I know you’re a fighter? I really do. I figured that one out. Okay. But even the best fighters go through those situations. So can you tell me anything about that brick? Yeah, you know, first off, your healing isn’t a linear journey, right? It’s, it’s for every step for those steps back in the first week, I was home, I didn’t see me being this person again, you know, this person that was literally climbing down rockbank. Last week fishing, you know, on a river, I didn’t see me being that person again. And so there were a couple times I went through my head, why did they save me? Definitely, definitely had those moments. I’m very fortunate to have an amazing man in my life that, you know, even when I didn’t want to get up and go walking, or do things made sure I did. And we had only been together for five months when all this happened. And I finally found this amazing person. And so I think part of my incentive was, I want to get back my life back. So we can, you know, we can start doing all the things we planned. But it was tough. I mean, the second day with the walker, I just decided I’m not Walker girl. And I told him, I’m not using the walker anymore. And I held his arm, you know, he held it at 90 degrees, and I held his arm until I can hold his hand. And until I can do it now, some days, we just walked two houses, and it’s three houses, and then it’s to the end of the block until we can get me around the block. And then on my own, you know, veering like a you know, look like a drunken sailor look like I had a DUI probably, because and, and you know, and I didn’t go to rehab, because it’s just COVID I didn’t feel safe going, going someplace. But I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I know my body better than anybody else does. So I rehab my foot and learn to walk again with with great help. But yeah, there were days. I mean, it’s and then I ended up back in the hospital two more times. The third time was for 10 days. Turned out I had a collapsed lung and three liters of fluid on my heart and lungs, and they had to drain my lung and slice me open and drain my heart and inflating along was probably one of the most painful things. So and then during that time, you have to you know, I’m all tied up on tubes, and you have to make sure I don’t lose my ability to walk again. So there’s setbacks there. So there were definitely setbacks and there’s definitely angry moments. And, you know, fortunately, my partner stayed with me because he got he got the brunt of some of it. I mean, I’m not terrible, but I wasn’t always, you know, it was tough. And it took a it took until about September, we’re till I started realizing, actually got on my bike ride and did you know a 20 mile bike ride and realized, okay, I’m slow, but I can see the path forward now. I can see I can see this happening, but it was Yeah, I think you know, when you talk about the success of your healing, I don’t want people to think that was all it was all okay, next step, next step. I mean, it’s, it’s days you don’t want to get out of bed and you know, when my lungs were collapsed, I thought I had COVID and I didn’t want to go to the hospital because I didn’t know how well the ER had separated things and you know, you’re scared so it was and then you know, three times I had to go to the hospital and dropped at the curb because of COVID and go and you know, nobody could be there with me when you wake up. So it was it was tough, but I think you just you

Can I the way I describe it is you can, you can have all those emotions, but you don’t get to be friends with them and stay there. You can have the emotions of wanting to give up. You can have the emotions of anger of the situation. You’re the why me, but you don’t you can’t live in them. You have to just let them say them and just keep stepping forward despite them. And that’s the biggest thing. I think when people give up is they make they make those those bricks their home. And I was not building a home with those bricks. Wow, very well said I like the analogy.

But you say everything so nonchalantly, like, Yeah, but the hospital three times, you know, I almost died. I mean, it’s so nonchalant that, you know, it’s just

well, I’ve had I’ve had a little I mean, it’s been a little bit of time now. And I’ve had some clarity. And I’ve told the story a lot. So I think there’s a part of me that is

healing emotionally and healing from it that I can tell the story without all of that, you know, if I told you this story six months ago, it’d be different. But I’ve been using been trying to use my story to inspire others, to see that bad things can happen. And so I but no, it’s not nonchalant. I mean, my my though I heal the drop foot, I still have vibrations throughout my leg. And sometimes my right leg feels like it has a mind of its own. I still have vision trouble that hopefully they’ll be able to correct in two to three years. I just had a recent medication problem that was making me dizzy, and we had to readjust things again. So it’s not nonchalant, I just, I am focused on all the good things. I mean, I literally just spent a week hiking and kayaking and fishing and I’m biking again. I’m standing paddleboarding, I got to get my vaccine, I got to go hug my mom recently, after all this going through all of this. So you know, I’m focused on those moments. And so it’s not nonchalant, it’s they choose not to sit in the in the muck of it anymore. 

YAri: You are truly an inspiration. Truly, I don’t think anybody in my audience would deny that. I mean, it’s amazing. So after all of that, and everything you’ve been through, tell us what you doing now?

Allison: Well, you know, the name of my company, which came about before, before all this happened is dare to be right. It’s daring to be the greatest version of yourself. But I had to really rethink things. I had to restart things. And what’s my focus? What’s my purpose? You know, I was given the second chance, you know, what, what am I doing, and it’s funny, I was thinking about it this morning, since knowing we’re going to talk is I help people remove the bricks from their life, I really help people as a coach get out of their own way. And, and sometimes it’s external things that could be biased and are now having skills to do things. And sometimes it’s internal. And we create our own bricks. And I as a coach, I work with people who are successful, but want to find what the bricks are, that are preventing them from living their fullest lives. And so I get to do that now. And you know, after what I went through, I’m more passionate about it. My career, he said, I had a good career, but I had some challenges. And some were again, the people not wanting me there and others were me not knowing not knowing that there were these bricks in my path. And so I try to now I’m committed to making the path easier for others than it was for me. Do you feel that telling your story is therapeutic for you? Yeah, it’s funny. You mentioned that I decided that this is actually the last time I’m gonna publicly tell my story. I feel healed it. I feel. I feel so honored that I’m the last one. Wow, thank you so much for agreeing to this then. Yeah, I feel like I feel like I can do I hope I’ve inspired people. I feel like I don’t want that to be my my prominent story anymore. When I see people I know that they haven’t seen me now that they can hug me. You know, it’s part of it. But I’m ready to, to say that that chapter is closed, and I’m moving forward, moving time to move forward. It’s time to, to not not look in the rearview mirror as much anymore. Wow, okay.

I, I’m going to, you know, I’m going to disagree with you. I don’t often disagree with my guests, but I’m going to disagree with you. I think your story is very very important.

Ari: Not only because you’re a woman but because you know the trials and tribulations the bricks that you were hit with that, trust me. I know there are many, many people in my audience that were hit with the same type of bricks, and they need that inspiration that you provide. So I’m going to ask you as a favor to me. Please don’t please don’t stop telling your story is really really important. People need to hear they need to know I mean, how many people especially during COVID Alright, who who actually made it out alive Alright, caught COVID were in hospitals for months on end and then came out. I know there’s a rabbi in my neighborhood who literally got hit with COVID He was in the hospital and the doctors called the families and they said your you know, your your husband, your father has about an hour to live I recommend you get down

right away. And he survived. It was a, it was the most amazing thing. They were a lot of prayers going on. And we, you know, we attribute his recovery to the prayers that the entire community was praying for him. And he actually survived. Now, once he got home, he had to relearn how to walk and how to, you know, the whole thing all over again, like, like everybody else. But his story is also very inspirational. So people that have gone through these things, all right, have, you know, have the ability to inspire others? And it’s so so important. So I’m hoping that maybe not as often as you do. But every so often, you should, you know, consider about, you know, consider telling your story. Now, so you’re doing a dare to be, which is a whole coaching?

program, I guess? 

Allison: Well, yeah, I work with primarily in the tech industry, I do one on one and group coaching and corporate coaching, too. I do coach men and women, but I do a lot specially for women, because I understand the unique challenges of being a woman in tech. And so I’m there thinking partner on their co pilot on the journey, someone that’s not emotionally attached to the situation, and maybe not, you know, outside looking in without an agenda, I can really help them find their blind spots in their biases and their areas to grow and expand, to take up the space that they deserve to take up in the room. 

Ari: Wow. So before we go to things, one, can you give us any words of wisdom to my audience, you know, something that they can take away with them?

Allison: Well, you know, there’s so much that goes on in our head, you know, we all have the bricks of the external world. But when we start making up stories, in our head, we I call them inherited beliefs, we believe the stories of others, someone that says, You’re not going to make it, you’re not good enough. You don’t belong here. And we make those are stories. So when those those happened, my advice is to pause and take a minute and say, Wait a minute, is that true? And Whose voice is that? And then think of someone that thinks the world of you until you can become your own champion, who is your biggest champion, and think of what they would say to the situation. So remember, you just thought you can control? Who what the author of the stories in your brain don’t give power to other people to write your story for you. 

Ari: Wow. And who’s your champion?

Allison: Ah, I have so many. I mean, I am the most amazing partner. I have so many great, great friends and family. I mean, I am, I am blessed with a lot of champions in my life and people that remind me what I give to the world and what I can give to the world. So I wouldn’t you know, but my partner is probably my biggest one. Wow, that’s great. Well, I’m honored and proud to call you my friend. I’m so glad that we met.


Ari: Now last but not least, that people want to get a hold of you. How would they do that? 

Yeah, you have a website, you have an email address? 

Allison: Well, yeah, actually, it’s, it’s I just set it up today. So all the pretty graphics and all that aren’t there yet, but I have a new a new way to get on my mailing list. So my brand is there to be there. Maybe.

But if you go to I dare to be more calm with the number two, you’ll get on my mailing list. So I dare to be more I dare to be more so I dare to be is my website. I dare to be more is my mailing list. Okay, so it’s I D A R E, number two, B E. M O R And they can get on my mailing. That’s how they get on the mailing list. Okay, great. And dare I dare to be? Is is the website. Yes. Awesome. And you’re taking on? Are you taking on new new clients as we speak?

Okay, so I have a handful of slots left available. Okay, so women, men and women, I’m gonna say if you’re out there and you need some help, and you’re in the tech industry, Allison arnoff is the place to be she is the one that you need to talk to. So once again, it is I dare to be or it to 

Ari: Allison, thanks so much for for being my guest on the show and for sharing your story. I know that you’ve touched many hearts in my audience. Good luck going forward. Keep up the good work. You’ve been listening to whispers and bricks and I’m your host Ari Schoenbrunn. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.