If you happen to pass through Vibe on Monday afternoons, you’ve surely met Vibe Host (Space Captain, as we like to call them) holding down the front desk.
Genteel and merry-eyed, with a princely yet professorial demeanor that speaks to his Russian roots, George Sudarkoff radiates story, and speaks softly as he tells it. Except when the conversation turns to Boatzilla, the business he’s been working on at Vibe Coworks through the last 6 Month Startup Kitsap cohort. The animation kicks in, and George’s throttle purrs.
An online showcase similar to Zillow and SchoolDigger, Boatzilla was launched after George and his wife Adrienne settled into their new home in Poulsbo, recently relocating from the Bay Area. Being so close to the water, they were determined to fulfill their life-long dream of buying a sailboat.
“We instantly hit a wall, embarking on an extremely frustrating journey in not only finding the right vessel, but then in obtaining a history of its journey and personality,” George recalls. “The whole process was not transparent, riddled with too many unknowns.”
Then came a fiery spark: How come there was no Zillow for boats? Voila, a star is born.
The 6 Month Startup program, facilitated by Startup Kitsap, was instrumental in bringing Boatzilla to life. “Coming from Silicon Valley, I’ve always leaned towards the sort of environment that guides you through the startup journey, hooking you up with advisors and mentors, several of whom are Vibe members,” adds George. “Focusing on one thing at a time is key, because there’s so much ground cover as a founder. It’s easy to get lost.”
George started looking around Kitsap County for an incubator or accelerator he could join, starting with the obvious sites such as Meetup. His exploration soon led to the Startup Kitsap, which is hosted at Vibe Coworks for entrepreneurs with smart ideas.
“Connecting with such people, having a really well-structured six-month program and assigned homework at every meeting was extremely helpful in my getting Boatzilla off the ground,” George says with a ready smile. Then he takes us on a magic carpet ride, over stormy seas and gentler waters, of his personal and professional life, this man who sails and surmises.
Where are you from?
George: Russia. I was born in Siberia and raised mostly during the Soviet era. Siberia is a very large place, larger than the U.S. land-wise, but only about 30 million people live there. There’s not a lot of life going on; citizens are mostly concentrated along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It’s so big, that it’s difficult to generalize about that part of the world.
The economic collapse of the ‘90s in the Soviet Union felt like the end of the world. It was very educational in hindsight, but I wasn’t thinking that way at the time!
What’s it like being a newcomer to Kitsap from California?
George: Ooh, I love it. I love the nature, love the people. There’s just so much space, and then there’s the water, obviously, since I’m into boats. It’s very diverse socially and economically, such an accepting place. I found that’s only true in the Bay Area if you hold the same political views. I consider myself to be liberal-ish. Our neighbors here are conservative, but we get along great. I don’t see that happening in California often.
Living here also feels more private; people next door don’t assume to know your business. I lived in a large complex for many years and never knew my neighbors. I didn’t even know their names. In Kitsap, we live on a half-acre. People nearby aren’t physically that close to us, but I’ve met them and know all their names. We interact almost daily. I see these same neighbors downtown, and we talk. They notice us, commenting on how our puppy is growing. That friendliness says a lot to me. I think it’s much easier to be seen as a fellow human being in this neck of the woods.
How are you feeling about being a Vibe Space Captain?
George: I’m very excited to contribute to the space and the community I enjoy so much. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I’ve met a lot of incredible folks since I became a member at Vibe. Becoming a Space Captain is the perfect launch pad for connecting with even more people.
But what’s even more exciting than meeting new people is making this space [at Vibe] feel like home for them. I want new and current members feel that Vibe is more than just a place to escape the chaos at home. I want them to experience coworking as a place to nourish their souls, while boosting their creativity and productivity.
How do you find having kids here?
George: We’re still discovering things. There’s a lot to do in the outdoors, play in the mud with sticks and rocks for Max and Sophie. Of course, we all love spending time on the water on our boat. Something that we absolutely appreciate is the school district, especially Poulsbo Elementary. My son has autism, and the school has been so welcoming and accepting of Max. Truly helpful.
Tell us about your love of boating.
George: All things boating really pull me in. I started sailing in San Francisco Bay, and it’s lovely. I got into racing a bit, as there’s always a pretty strong wind. But there’s nowhere to go, actually—a few marinas to check out and that’s about it. Here you can be exploring for the rest of your life. A lot of little towns are centered around water and boats, like Port Townsend and Anacortes.
The Donut App integration at Vibe has been a huge hit, and it was your idea.
George: I discovered Donut at Survey Monkey, where used to work. It’s a bot that monitors the Slack channel to see who is frequently interacting with whom. And then once every couple of weeks, it pairs people who don’t interact a lot to go out for lunch or coffee. Sometimes you’re sitting next to a person, and there’s not necessarily a reason to chat. The bot cuts through the semi-random nature of connection, and you meet very interesting people you may not have gotten to know otherwise.
What are the most frequent questions visitors to Vibe ask you?
George: A lot of people wonder if this place is for real. Alanna, the founder, has done an incredible job of making it an inviting and vibrant environment in Poulsbo and for Kitsap County, creating a community of smart and passionate members and visitors.
You worked at Survey Monkey for five years.
George: Survey Monkey is a platform does online surveys and everything associated with that. They’re now branching out to customer service and marketing. But in essence, it’s really about any kind of survey. I led automation of infrastructure creation for the engineering team, which allowed them to implement, deploy, and operate Survey Monkey features. It’s simple, pretty easy to use, and free to start.
Now, as a 100 percent entrepreneur, I’m on a new adventure. I may be unemployed, but I have a dream.
Who or what is your most treasured thing in the world?
George: My family. They make me happy, the reason I do anything. Aside from family, if the house was on fire, there are a couple of things I would grab. On the one hand, there’s a little item I treasure completely–my passport. I love to travel, to see the world. And if my house burned down, I would take that opportunity to see more of the world while it was being rebuilt.
Also, my sailboat, which is my happy space, taking me to placed that are really difficult to get to any other way.
Name two of your heroes in life and/or work?
George: Brene Brown. Why? Because the world needs more acceptance of vulnerability and less shame.
Also Simon Sinek. He is the motivational speaker and writer, very similar to Brene. He’s written a few books, among them Start with Why and a new one, The Infinite Game. There’s something about his message that really speaks to me.
Simon talks a lot about how businesses need to have a purpose which is not just about shareholder value. They need to know why the exist. He likes to compare Apple to Microsoft. The former’s marketing is the aim to challenge the status quo. Apple focuses on thinking differently. Their products are user=friendly, beautifully designed, and easy for us to navigate. They start with Why and then ask How and What. Apple is not trying to sell a computer. They’re promoting they Why of your wanting their system.
Microsoft is exactly the opposite, wanting consumers to buy their computers, arguing that they’re faster and have more memory than their competitors’. I’m not even sure how much memory my computer has. But I do like to think differently and challenge the status quo. Guess who’s computer I own?
Why do you love your Apple watch so much?
George: You know, everybody stares at their phones nowadays because they want to be connected. You’re always connected and never too far away from any answer you need, like through Siri or Alexa. But when you’re holding the phone in front of you, you’re consumed with the screen, not present to everything around you.
The watch alerts me to things, but I’m not consumed by it. I’m still tuned in to what’s happening here and now. It’s a nice compromise–being connected and still present to the life around me. That’s my warning label for social media, too. You’ve got to make sure it’s not running your life.
What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned in business?
You never stop learning. The goal of any businessperson is to keep making new mistakes.
You can’t do it alone. You need people, advisors, friends, mentors. You can never do it alone
Your favorite fun food?
George: Pelmemi, which are basically dumplings. In Siberia, we mix beef and pork, wrap that in a pastry just like the Chinese do, and then we boil them. In my family, my wife is half Japanese, so we serve the dumplings with a classic sauce called tonkatsu. Traditionally in Russia, you serve them with sour cream. A comfort food, often consumed with vodka!
What does your tattoo mean?
George: One of my many hobbies is rock climbing, and geckos are good climbers. I also like Polynesian culture, and the one on the underside of my right upper arm means protection from evil and illness.
If you could pick a soundtrack for your life, what would it be?
George: I like jazz. Just the improvisational nature of it. Jazz applies to life beautifully, because the first rule of improvisation is just stick with it and something will come of it.
Which talent would you most like to have?
George: Public speaking.
If you could choose what to come back to life as…
George: A dog. They always seem to be happy, no matter what. I have two, a 10-year-old Boston Terrier, Stewie, whose facial features make him seem grumpy but he’s wagging his stubby little tail the whole time. Then Rosie, an eight-month-old Labradoodle, is totally happy, no matter what.
What is your motto for leading a full life?
George: I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Basically, there are two ways to react to the world, either through fear or through love. I prefer to choose love.
How did you meet your wife?
George: Adrienne and I are both rock climbers, and we met at a climbing gym. This sport is such a concentrated metaphor for life. For a lot of people, they just think of the adrenaline angle, but once you climb for a while, you learn to control that. It’s more of a problem-solving hobby. And you have to think fast because you can only hold onto a rock with your fingers in a spot for a few seconds.
My motto in climbing–and in life–is that when in doubt, go up. It’s just fun, a natural thing I like to do. And in the same way that sailing is transformative, it takes you to places that not a lot of people visit.
You’re more of a tea drinker than coffee. What’s your favorite kind?
George: I’ve been drinking Jasmine Pearls almost exclusively for the last 20 years or so. I was first introduced to it in Moscow (of all places) and instantly fell in love. It’s a great tea to enjoy over a long, slow-flowing conversation with a friend.
Which person of history do you most admire, a figure you’d like to have dinner with?
George: I am a huge admirer of the philosopher and statesman Seneca, one of the main contributors to Stoicism. Which is a philosophy of personal ethics that emphasizes being present and intentional as the path to happiness.
Meet the author: Vibist Susan O’Meara is a Poulsbo-based freelance writer, editor and journalist with global experience. Back in the day, Susan did event marketing for the electrified Don King, boxing’s bad-boy biz whiz. Then she got roped into writing and producing TV spots for Love Boat: The Next Wave, the ‘90s reboot, and nonfiction programming for Showtime (e.g., Roswell: The Real Story). She’s not sure which was more surreal—going with the flow of those Hollywood highs, so to speak, or navigating Nairobi’s magazine scene. Susan has worked in the US and abroad for the likes of Bloomberg Media, Deloitte, Discovery Communications, and the United Nations. She’s obsessed with wrangling language and messaging that helps brands, businesses, and individuals to grow and shine. Except when it comes to Don King’s hair.