In this episode, Steli and Hiten spend some time discussing the overused art of the “lazy hustle.” Steli talks in-detail about an annoying email he received from a lazy hustler, and Hiten shares why he never likes to use the word hustle. Listen to learn how Steli and Hiten differentiate between what it means to have hustle versus lazy hustle, and why it’s imperative to avoid being a “yes-man” or “yes-woman.”

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:45 – Steli shares the background story of today’s topic
    • 00:50 – Someone sent Steli an aggressive, strong email pitch
    • 02:50 – Steli’s reply to the email
      • 03:34 – “I can’t say Yes to everything”
  • 03:59 – The email sender replied again asking Steli for advice
    • 04:46 – The email sender was probably having second thoughts about his pitch
  • 06:18 – Hiten shares why the email sender’s action is a lazy hustle
  • 07:11 – Hiten doesn’t get emails like the one Steli got because he doesn’t use the word hustle
  • 07:32 – The one thing that pisses Steli off in this email
    • 08:00 – The email sender is not a real hard-working person
  • 08:54 – Hiten shares why he doesn’t use hustle
  • 09:34 – Steli’s definition of lazy hustle
  • 10:25 – You don’t want to do the necessary work
  • 12:27 – Maybe one of the definitions of lazy hustle is when you have nothing to hustle
    • 14:20 – When you haven’t done any real work to prove yourself and you’re trying to find shortcuts to success by leveraging what other people have is the definition is lazy hustle
  • 15:40 – Steli sent Seth Godin a cold email to ask feedback for his first e-book
    • 17:20 – Seth Godin’s reply to Steli
    • 18:02 – Steli thinks what he did is also lazy but he still did a real work in creating his first e-book
  • 18:50 – Steli gives another example of a hustle and a lazy hustle
  • 20:06 – You should reach out to people outside your network but you also have to have something to offer
  • 21:03 – “Don’t be a lazy hustler”
  • 21:07 – That’s it for today’s episode!

3 Key Points:

  1. Asking bold questions or giving bold answers doesn’t equate to success—it takes a hell of a lot more than that.
  2. Don’t be a lazy hustler.
  3. Do the real work to prove yourself first—don’t try to shortcut success.


Hiten Shah: Hi this is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: And this is Steli Efti and in today’s episode of The Startup Chat I want to talk to you about the lazy hustle. Hiten, you have no idea what this topic is about. We didn’t discuss this in too much detail, other than I told Hiten I have a rant and I think you’re gonna enjoy and probably we’re gonna come up with something useful and valuable to the listeners. Let me give you the background story here.



Hiten Shah: Okay.



Steli Efti: I recently got an email from somebody that was basically, he sent me a cold email, and he basically made a very aggressive, very hard pitch that, listen Steli, you don’t know me, I’m a huge fan. I’m the absolute super ninja hustler. I’ve been hustling since I’ve been a baby. I’m incredible. I’m so hard working. I’m gonna make magic happen. I’m a diamond in the rough and I’m gonna become this super famous, super wealthy entrepreneur and you’re getting a chance to get started with me kind of in the early stages when people don’t even realize it. I want to co-found a company with you. Then he gave me his idea. Here’s my idea, and it’s an idea … I don’t know. It’s in a market I know nothing about. It didn’t sound or was … it didn’t sound very sophisticated at all … that exciting to me. Maybe he didn’t describe it that well. But it was totally random and it had nothing to do with anything I have ever done or know anything about. So he gives me this pitch, this spiel about the business idea that he has and he’s like; this is your chance Steli, hit reply, say yes, and we’ll start this together. I’m gonna make you even richer than you are and this is gonna be amazing. Right? So, I read that and I have a small … still have somewhat of a smirk or smile on my face because I think, okay, I get it. Here’s somebody with a lot of ambition, and passion, and … obviously he put his heart on the line and he took the risk to propose something really aggressive to me. So, I get it man. I don’t want to be a dick to this person, so I reply, but it’s obviously not appealing to me at all. I don’t know you. I can’t … like I clicked a little bit around on some social links and from what I can tell this person’s not really done anything yet that is public or of notice. It’s an area I’m not interested in. I’m not interested in starting another business right now with anybody, any stranger. I hit reply and I try to be really kind and polite and I tell him, hey I’m really flattered. I appreciate offer. You seem like somebody that is really ambitious. I wish you best of luck with your business but this is really not for me. Thank you. Right? Thanks, but no thanks. Then he hits … he replies to that email and he basically makes another strong pitch that, dude … to summarize it he was saying man, in 10 years Steli, you’re gonna look back at this moment and you’re gonna fucking punch yourself in the face. You’re gonna have to tell everybody that you lost on this once in a lifetime opportunity because you didn’t even spend a little more time investigating into this. Now I’m getting a little annoyed. Again, I get it. This person is hustling and is passionately trying to convince me, but this is also very short-sighted. So I hit reply and I tell the person, listen, I’m totally fine with missing on some multi-billion dollar opportunities. I’ve been offered opportunities, hundreds of opportunities every day. I can’t say yes to everything, so I’m okay with being wrong. I hope I’m gonna be wrong. I’m not gonna delete this email. I’m archiving it so if I’m wrong I have a story to tell forever and you have a story to tell forever. Best of luck. Go get ’em. Right? Thanks, but no thanks. And then, a day passes by and this morning he sends me another email. He replies to this and he basically tells me, hey all right, I’m gonna accept this, but I have a question I need your advice on Steli. The other person that I really admire and would love to start this business with is Gary Vaynerchuk. I’m just about to buy a ticket to New York and I’m thinking about standing in front of Gary V’s office for 24 hours for the next few days until I see him walk in or walk out of the building, and then I’m going to go and approach him in person and try to pitch him. What do you think? Will he be impressed by my hustle and my passion? Is this a bad idea? What do you think? My reply to that was that I can’t speak for anybody else. This might be a brilliant idea so, if it’s in his heart he should do what he wants, but I feel like since he failed the urge to ask for advice before taking this risk he might have some second thoughts on this, and yeah, I don’t think this is a great idea. I don’t think that it’s a useful spent of his passion and energy. It’s like buying lottery tickets. It’s not the way to get rich or to build a business, and flying to New York and standing in front of a building. I could imagine Gary V appreciating the hustle but also hating the wastefulness of it. All this time, all this energy, all this money wasted, where you could have done something much more productive with that. So that was my last email to him, but I have a lot to say about this. Probably, because I am called, because I use the word hustle a lot and people describe me in those terms. I get a bunch … every … I don’t know, once a month at least there’s somebody that interacts with me that is so aggressive and thinks of themselves as this alpha super type hustler, but all I can think is, here’s somebody that’s incredibly lazy and wasteful with all their energy. I wanted to talk about it. It’s theraputic, theraputic. I can’t even say the word right now. Therapeutic. I wanted to hear your thoughts. If you had gotten these emails. I’m sure you had, you would have replied in a much more thoughtful Jedi way, but what’s your … have you encountered this when people think they’re hustling and making things happen, but in your opinion they might be very wasteful in the way they do it. I’ll explain maybe even later why I think it’s lazy and not just wasteful.



Hiten Shah: I think it’s a great moment to educate somebody on it. If you … if we had this episode already, it’s the perfect one to send the guy. Right? Be like, yo dude, what you’re doing is what we would call lazy hustle. You’re just basically shooting blind arrows into the air and hoping when they fall down they land on something good. That’s the analogy I would use because everyone can appreciate that analogy. It doesn’t work. Right? You just end up with … honestly, probably a lot of arrows all over the place and people being like, who is this guy, he’s so weird. I think this aggressiveness of, oh I just want to start a business with these people and they say I need to hustle so they’re going to appreciate me just hitting them up and basically trying to, whatever, trying to get to third base, or hit a home run on the first date, or whatever you want to call it. I could be more crude, but that’s basically what he’s trying to do. I mean, to me, I don’t, honestly, I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t get emails like this. You know why Steli? I don’t use the word hustle.



Steli Efti: Hustle. Yeah.



Hiten Shah: I don’t use the word because I don’t want any of this riff raff. I don’t want someone to think they’re going to hustle their way into my life.



Steli Efti: You know what pissed me off about it? There was one thing, and now that I talk about to you I can identify it. Just talking about it makes me realize that the one thing that pissed me off is that in one point in his email he said something about he’s like the hardest working person I’ll ever know. I literally outwardly screamed, no mother fucker you’re not the hardest working person I know. You’re not. You’re a lazy fuck. That’s what you are. You’re not hard working. Right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. What are you doing dude? You think this is hard working? Go do some real work.



Steli Efti: Show me your hard work. You know what this is? This is trying to find a shortcut. Hey, let me call Bill Gates and ask him if he wants to start a software company with me. Well, I’ve never started a software company. I’m not a developer. I have no capital. I have nothing to offer to Bill Gates, but I sure am hard working. I’m sure Bill Gates has never seen somebody who works as hard as me, and that’s what I bring to the table. Fuck you. Like, honestly, with love. This is truly with love.



Hiten Shah: With love.



Steli Efti: This is with love, because I care about you. If it wasn’t with love I would never, I would have zero emotions about this, but with love, fuck you. You’re not the hardest working person out there.



Hiten Shah: I’ll tell you the truth Steli; this is why I don’t use that word. When you use a word like hustle, you get people thinking what that gentleman just did, is hustle. He thinks that’s hustle. He thinks that’s what Steli is going to appreciate it. He thinks that’s what Gary V is going to appreciate, because both you guys use hustle. I know what you mean by it. I know what Gary V means by it. Honestly, you two mean different things by it. So that’s a whole nother story. Already, it’s like, dude, hustle isn’t balls to go email whoever you want and say I’m gonna start a business. I want your crisp definition of lazy hustle since you use the word so much. What is your definition of lazy hustle?



Steli Efti: I think my definition is when you’re attempting to find a shortcut because you don’t want to do the work that’s truly necessary. You don’t want to do the work that’s necessary because it’s not glamorous, because it’s gonna take too much time, because it’s too much effort, because it’s too painful, because you’re too afraid of it. So what you’re looking for is a shortcut and you think that if you take a shortcut that might appear as bold as others, that’s what hustling means. So you’re gonna cold email Bill Gates. That is hustling because you’ve done something bold, but it’s lazy because your chances are zero that this is gonna succeed, so it’s wasteful. All your energy, all your time writing that email is wasted. It’s also lazy because you don’t want to do the work that’s necessary. Go out there and fucking get a customer. Build a business. Help somebody that has a business succeed. Do the work. Do the work. Do something. Create something, and then when you have something, yeah, hustle. In the sense of like try to make it successful. Go out there, go out of your comfort zone, take risks to make the thing you’re investing in more valuable and more successful. Don’t just sit there on your couch in your pajamas and say what’s a famous person I can email; I’m such a crazy hustler. Because you read five videos on like how to make your heroes your peers and you thought, you know what? Fuck it. Why should I co-found something with some idiot like myself? I’m gonna co-found something with Gary Vaynerchuk. Right? That surely is going to be more successful and me being bold and flying over there and standing in front of his building, although I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be the first person who’s done this, there’s been a bunch of people.



Hiten Shah: Totally.



Steli Efti: That’s not necessarily … I’m not saying that that’s never the right thing to do, it’s just context matters. I’ve talked about this many times where I’ve many examples of founders that had a big deal that fell through at the last minute and they needed that deal to happen, and they literally took a ticket, flew to where ever the customer was headquartered and sent the bullshit email of, hey we’re in a meeting in the area. We just dropped by today, or we want to drop by for coffee today, and there’s examples of where this succeeded. Where the customer said no on the phone and the next day you were in the area, you drop by their office and you turn it around. It’s very rare. One out of a hundred times this is going to work, and 99 of the hundred times it won’t. But what it won’t, we won’t write about it in blog posts. We won’t talk about it on keynote, and we won’t put this in movies. When it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. Everybody just tries to forget about it. It can work and sometimes if your back is against the wall you’ll take desperate measures, but you have something to hustle. This person … maybe this is the definition of lazy hustle, when you have nothing to hustle. This person has nothing to offer, so what is he hustling exactly? His hard work ethic? That’s not worth much. What is he-



Hiten Shah: No, no, no. Everyone has that. That’s not gonna get you very far.



Steli Efti: Everyone has that. Assume that everybody has that. What have you done? Have you written a book? Have you built software? Have you built a little business? What do you have to hustle? You have nothing. You know what you have to hustle? You are hustling your dreams. You want to become a billionaire entrepreneur, so you’re now sending cold emails to people to have them make you a successful entrepreneur. That’s not hustling. That’s why I’m saying, it’s lazy, because you’re not doing the work. You’re trying to avoid doing the difficult, unglamorous work of going out there and starting a small business and trying to get one customer. That’s not as cool as co-founding, flying to New York and standing in front of the building of Gary V’s office and then shaking his hand and Gary V looks at you and goes, I’m gonna change your life, let’s start together. Your hustle has impressed me, and then you’re on this YouTube video. Next thing you know you’re this successful millionaire, founder. That’s an illusion. I get that that’s super glamorous and exciting. Much more exciting than you starting a small shitty business from your living room, or going out there and trying to get one customer to give you 10 bucks for something you’ve just created. But that’s to me, the real hustle, is doing the unglamorous, necessary, important, real work to move things forward in the world versus trying to find shortcuts and not even having anything to offer. You have nothing to hustle, what are you doing there?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I mean, yeah. So what is the definition of lazy hustle?



Steli Efti: Definition of lazy hustle is …



Hiten Shah: Sorry, I just want a crisp definition. I want to understand it.



Steli Efti: Yeah, no I like it. I think the definition of lazy hustle or, as we’re defining it is when you haven’t created anything, haven’t done any real work or proven yourself in any way and you’re trying to find shortcuts to success by trying to leverage what other people have. Asking other people to make bets on you. It doesn’t matter if it’s invest money in you or, I don’t know, co-author a book with you, or start a business with you. You have not done any real work and you’re trying to find a shortcut to millions by asking … you think asking people for their money is hustling, but you need to have something to offer in return. Something real and something that’s valuable in return, and when you don’t you’re not really hustling, you’re just delusional.



Hiten Shah: Wow. There you go. Are we done with this?



Steli Efti: I don’t know. Let me … yes.



Hiten Shah: What do you got? What more do you got?



Steli Efti: Nothing. Nothing. That’s it. That’s it. All right.



Hiten Shah: It’s not my word. It’s not my word. It’s your word.



Steli Efti: I wanna round this up on a positive note. Right? I’m sure some people appreciate me ranting. Some people … and this is why I want to finish this up this way. Some people might now be confused. Wait. Steli telling me I should never cold email somebody, or is Steli telling me not to ask this thing and I had second thoughts anyways?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah, that.



Steli Efti: It’s not that. I’ll give you an example. I cold emailed, many years ago, when was this; this was 10, 11 years ago. This was … well 11 years ago. One year before I moved to the Valley. I have zero credibility. I have not done anything online. Nobody knows me. I’m a nobody. I cold emailed Seth Godin. Once.



Hiten Shah: Okay.



Steli Efti: But, I didn’t just cold email Seth Godin and said hey, I want to write a book with you. What do you think? I’m so hard working. I had written a mini eBook, like a 10 pager around the 10 reasons why the education system is fucked and how to change it. It was really aggressively written, if you can imagine, by my energy level today, and I thought it was good. I don’t know, I was excited about it. He had written about the education system and how it was fucked during that time on his blog a number of times. So I was like, fuck it, I’ll cold email Seth Godin and ask him for feedback about the book, if he has any advice for me as I’m trying to promote this. I emailed him. I attached the little eBook. I said hey dude I’m a huge fan. This is my first eBook. It’s just 10 pages about something really important, the education system, what’s really fucked about it and how to fix it. If you have any feedback, really appreciate it. Otherwise, big thank you. Do what you do. He replied, and



Steli Efti: he-



Steli Efti: I called Seth Godin 11 years ago before anybody knew anything about me, but I had actually something to hustle. I had written a little e-book, 10 pages, 10 reasons why the education system is fucked and how to fix it. I thought it was really good. He was writing about the education system being fucked during that time. I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll send him an email and ask for his feedback.” I shoot him a quick email. I said, “Hey, I attached 10 page, my first e-book. It’s about this topic that you’ve written about. I’d appreciate your feedback or any kind of advice. Huge fan. Thank you.” Right? Something super short. He replied within just a few minutes. Every page had a headliner and one page headliner was “Thinking without Thinking”, which was all about teaching intuitiveness and teaching how the subconscious mind works, and teaching kids how to think better without just thinking in certain ways that we teach them to think. Whatever. Whatever the topic was. He just quoted that. He was like, “Thinking without thinking.” Then, he said, “Genius headline” or it was something like that. Something really nice. With a smiley. That was it. I got overly excited at that point, right? I jump up and down. I replied and I asked him, “Can I quote you? Can I use this?” As a testimonial or something. He replied really briefly after that and said, “Sorry, too many people ask me for this. No, no testimonial.” I was like, “All right. I get it. It’s a little bit like making out with a supermodel and not being able to tell your friends, but I still appreciate the time you took to give the feedback. Thank you so much.” Right? That was it. That was our interaction. That was me being somewhat lazy because I didn’t really have anything to offer to him. I didn’t have any specific call to action, but I created work, I created a little e-book. I was relevant to what he was writing about. I asked for advice. He took a brief look at it. He liked one little part of it and he shared some words of encouragement. That was it, right? I then tried to run with that. That’s where I got lazy. He stopped me. That was that. I’ve called, emailed Sad Golden to get feedback about an e-book 11 years ago. That was my experience with it. I still had something to send. I didn’t just send Sad Golden an email saying, “I’m thinking about writing an e-book. Would you write a testimonial if I do?” That’s, to me, lazy. That means you’ve created zero, you’ve not done the work. You have nothing to hustle. I’ll give another example, just again, to give people an example of what is lazy and also what isn’t, in my definition at least. When was this? Six years ago. When we just started this business, it was a completely different thing back in the day, but we had started the business. We’d launched with a growing number of users and revenue, just within a short period of time. We got the first few checks from angel investors. We are in the middle of raising money. I called, emailed Mark Cuban. Just emailed him and said, “Hey, here’s the start-up. Here’s the full bullet points of what we’ve accomplished in the last four weeks. Attach more information. I think this is interesting. Let me know if this is interesting to you. We can give you more information.” He did respond. He was like, “This is kind of a cool idea. How are you going to fix this and this problem?” Over the next five, six days, we had an email fit going on back and forth, back and forth. He had questions, I had answers. He was critical of those answers, I’d give him more data. We went back and forth. Eventually, turned out, it didn’t work out, right? It was not the right fit or he didn’t want to invest. Again, I had something to offer. I had built the team, we had launched the product, we had raised some money, we had gotten press, we had users, we had revenue, we had growth, we had something. Right? We had something to hustle. I called, emailed a celebrity investor-type dude and he replied. I don’t want to say that you should never reach out to people that are beyond your network. You should, but you need to have something to offer. You need to have done the work already. It’s very different. Me calling millionaire Mark Cuban and telling him, here’s all the stuff that’s happened. There’s a real start-up. There’s real growth. There’s real money being invested. Are you interested in this deal? Is very different from me calling, emailing Mark Cuban and saying, “Hey, I have not done anything yet, but I want to be a founder. Here’s your chance to be my co-founder.” It’s very different, right? In one scenario, I am actually doing the work. He can be part of that or not. In the other scenario, I’m just fucking lazy and I’m just trying to get somebody that’s already accomplished everything and has everything to offer, to give me everything they have because I’m so hard-working in my own mind. Because I think asking this very bold question is somehow qualifying me to receive riches in life. It’s not. All right. That’s it.


Hiten Shah: Yep.


Steli Efti: That’s all I got on this.


Hiten Shah: I got you. Yeah. Yeah. Don’t be a lazy hustler.


Steli Efti: Don’t be a lazy hustler. That’s it from us for this episode everybody. Bye-bye.


Hiten Shah: Bye.