In this episode, Steli and Hiten discuss the reasons why startups shouldn’t be treated like a baby. People tend to treat their startup or business as their baby and end up growing an unhealthy attachment to it. According to Steli and Hiten, going down this “emotional path” results in poor decision making and an inability to act when it’s time to end the business. Listen to find out the dangers of growing too attached to your startup and some alternative ways to think of your business that can result in a healthier mindset.  

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:30 – Steli introduces today’s topic: the reasons why your startup isn’t your baby and why you shouldn’t say or think it is
  • 00:44 – Hiten shares about an engineer who treated his startup like his own baby
  • 01:32 – Startups die and it’s YOUR fault; babies die and it’s NOT your fault
  • 01:58 – People create a false sense of attachment to their startups
  • 02:14 – Steli somehow disagrees with Hiten
  • 03:05 – Starting a business is a commercial creation for a human
  • 04:00 – Raising a child around its family is similar to growing your business
  • 04:33 – Hiten reiterates that starting a business is not a creation
  • 05:09 – “I don’t have ownership over my kids, but I definitely have ownership over my companies”
  • 05:56 – “I don’t want to feel like my startup is so precious, I can’t kill it”
  • 06:15 – A startup can die, it’s a reality people need to accept
  • 07:47 – Hiten is worried about people who get too attached to their startups
  • 08:20 – Steli and Hiten agree that there are too many startups not being killed early enough
  • 09:08 – Steli discusses what he thinks about other founders
  • 09:45 – There are negative effects that from startups not being ended when they should be
  • 10:19 – Startups are part of their founder’s identity
  • 10:57 – Think of your startup as an achievement, rather than a baby
  • 11:50 – Attachment, in general, can make someone effective or less effective
  • 12:28 – Refer to the Attachment vs. Commitment episode of Startup Chat
  • 12:40 – “Don’t do things to yourself that make it harder for you to make business decisions”
  • 13:00 – The unhealthy attachment with startups thinking that it’s something you’ve birthed makes it difficult to make decisions—especially the hard ones
  • 14:20 – The necessary requirements of success explained
  • 14:46 – Look for examples of people that are dedicated, but are not attached to their companies and follow them
  • 15:56 – That’s it for today’s episode!

3 Key Points:

  1. People create a false sense of attachment to their startups, clouding their ability to make sound judgments calls.
  2. A startup that is not being killed early enough is costly—don’t ignore the glaring signs that it’s time to end it.
  3. Check your level of attachment—consider your startup as your ACHIEVEMENT, and never your baby.

Resources Mentioned:


Steli Efti: Everybody. Cool. Okay, so. Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah



Steli Efti: I mean today’s episode we’re gonna talk about all the reasons why your startup isn’t your baby and why you shouldn’t say your startup is your baby or a big kid. Now this is something that’s kind of one of your pet peeves, right. If you talk to a founder and they think or say that their startup is like their baby, it usually pisses you off.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, I mean the other day I’m working with an engineer, a new engineer, and he was like I’m birthing this thing. And that also pissed me off even more. But you know this engineer doesn’t have any kids so, I don’t think he really understands what that looks like or feels or whatever you want to call it both times. And, yeah I have a visceral reaction. One of them is like with your kids. You have no choice. Like unless you’re a really really unreal human being, you have no choice but to deal with them. They’re your kids. There’s exceptions but they’re very rare, where someone will not deal with a kid. Obviously, if you give your kid away for adoption, all that, whole different story. In the context of this, it’s like, startups die. They just die. They die and it’s your fault. Kids generally die and things like that happen, but it’s not your fault. Also, with the kids, you have an attachment. It is part of you. I mean you … It’s your DNA to a great extent. This kid would not exist without you. A startup is much different. It’s a business. It’s not anything else at the end of the day. And I feel like people create a false sense of attachment when they say, this is my baby.



Steli Efti: Alright, so I’ll play devil’s advocate here go for it. Not because I disagree with just because it’s going to be fun, so don’t you think that or I would argue that a lot of people think about a startup as like a baby because it is a potentially useful metaphor right, you ok up with the idea of the company you probably didn’t do it by yourself. There were other people involved in creating it and that’s why the co-founders are thoughts of as the parents and we often talk about them as being something that culturally you can sense and feel in the company. In the beginning, obviously it is… All there is, but even later as the company scales and grows and many, many other humans work on it the starting DNA point made a huge imprint that probably will stay with the company forever. So that, you know, you’re starting something from nothing. Today there was no name, no product, no service, no customers, no nothing. And tomorrow you have created something. And it’s humans, the first thing we ever created and creating businesses is a much more modern form of creation, commercial form of creation, but it is a form of creation. And then I do think that even with a baby I mean you could say that when its your child you have to deal with it um…and you’ll have to deal with it for your whole life but you know a child (inaudible) its yours and it has your DNA and you are really responsible for it like your company but it eventually grows up and becomes it’s own human being with it’s own needs, and it becomes more of just a copy of you. And, you know, there are more people involved in they say it takes a village to raise a child. There are more people involved than just you to influence who that child becomes. And that’s again a very similar metaphor to how a lot of people would think about a business. Don’t you think that as a metaphor it kind of fits really well and that’s probably why people use it



Hiten Shah: Look how long it took you to explain it. He he he. Like it took you forever to explain that and you know, I know you were doing it to play Devil’s Advocate and that’s great (S1)I just don’t agree, its not biological, its not, its mechanical (S2)Its true … Right, it’s mechanical. Majority of business is not created. I don’t mean to say it can’t be created. I don’t mean to say it shouldn’t be created. But it’s not creative, but none of that still goes to biology right, and this living, breathing, speaking, opinionated thing that is not a combination of a lot of other things. So a child is not a combination of multiple people’s work and then they get to have ownership over that. I don’t have ownership over my kids. But I definitely have ownership over my company. I have equity in them; it is an embodiment of me just like the child within me, but it is not something I can’t change. You know, like a child is hard to change. A child’s personality for example. It takes a lot of work to change a child’s personality. I don’t recommend people try do that. Right? And with a startup, it’s like you’re actually trying to kill it all the time, realistically … Because there are a lot of these other startups that are out there that are trying to kill you too or take away your customers. Or be better than you at something. And that to me, I don’t want to feel like, here’s what it boils down to me, I don’t want to feel like my startup is so precious I can’t kill it. And if I think of it as a child or a baby I am gonna think its so precious I can’t kill it. And thats that’s really what it boils down to. And thank you for the devil’s advocate because that was really helpful in getting to that precise like thing. Dude, the startup can die. The startup will die. The startup should be treated as if it’s going to die. Is that all they know? Because that’s when you really have to break through. Yeah and



Steli Efti: It’s not just it might die, I think the money code is you might have to kill it. Right right. Yeah. Where is the money? You might have to take the responsibility to kill it. If you think about it like a child you will never, you will it’ll be that much harder. You would never want to take that responsibility if you think about that option, because you are so attached to it.



Hiten Shah: No you’re not killing your child, so you’re not ever gonna kill your child. Not on purpose, this is very rare. Right? Yep. While startup gets killed by the founders, by the CEOs, by the executives, everyday. This is startup dying right now. There’s probably dozens of startups right now there are start-ups that, by the end of next week, will be dead. And the year is over. And they’re done. And that and someone did it. And like it was done on purpose. So yeah I yeah, not sitting in there trying to kill your (inaudible). You are sitting there constantly trying to kill your start up. I actually do believe that like, even if you look at like, a lot of the values that Facebook has, they have a great value. I’m gunna paraphrase it but, it has something like, if we don’t invent the thing that kills Facebook someone else will so, you know, this attitude, it’s a attitudeship, it’s a mindsetship, and it’s one were like I really get worried, honestly, when people think about their companies as babies, I get worried for them and the amount of emotion they’re attaching to their business



Steli Efti: So I was, you know, just before you gave us kind of the essence of why this is harmful, I I was just about to ask you, what are all the bad things that have come as a result of people thinking that they’re birthing their companies and that they’re the parents of them and that their startups are their babies. And then you gave me the answer before I was able to ask a question. And this relates to the practice we talked about which is the that I I think that one thing we can agree on is that too many startups are not being killed early enough and it’s a tough balance to decide when you need to persevere and when you need to call it quits, but I think knowing and having the mind frame that at any time you have the responsibility to ask the question. Is this still a good business? Do we need to shut this down? Like, that being a real option, although you’re really dedicated and passionate, like you can be dedicated and passionate about your company and still always feel the ability to ask the logical question. Is this still a good business? Do we need to shut this down? Or are there good reasons to continue? I think that that’s a balance that is very, very rare to find with founders. Most founders are either too … Flipfloppy and they are very opportunistic and they don’t care. They just want to make all the money and if today’s craze is about a (inaudible) there they are finding some people that work on an AI startup and they join as a co-founder. But then, if they don’t raise money, they move on to the next thing. They don’t really care about anything, they just like leaching onto opportunity. And then there’s the other excuse these people that truly believe that they’re birth testing and it’s their child and they will never let go of it. No matter what world tells them, no matter what the markets tell them, and a lot of times, lives have been ruin that way, like they get into debt, they’re emotionally physically destroying their body, they’re harming their family because they’re not letting go when … The time has been overdue with this company should be shutdown and that doesn’t mean that you can’t start another company. Why not do something else. So I do think that it’s tough for people to find that balance to being dedicated without being attached. Truly feeling passion about that company and feeling ownership without feeling like it’s part of the identity and they can not let go of that.



Hiten Shah: Yeah I think that’s a really good point around identity. I mean the startups are a part of your identity, that is what you’re doing, that’s the business you’re working on. I mean there’s countless examples of that, like (inaudible) are synonymous with Mark Zackerburg, Virgin is synonymous with Richard Bronson. And So I think that when I think about but when I think about that, when I think of it that way, the identity connections are always going to be there. Especially with the founder when you know, they have been successful to some extent. Grown their business, but the problem still lies in the fact that, like, it’s still not your baby. Just because you identify it with – in that way it doesn’t mean that you should think of it like your baby. You should definitely think of it like you’re a team man, or something you’re working on and you care a lot (inaudible), of course. I wouldn’t want people to think that I think you shouldn’t care about your start-up. I just don’t think you should care about it in a way that gets you so attached to it. That like it makes it harder to make hard decisions.



Steli Efti: Yeah, that’s really it. Like when you lose yourself in the startup and it makes it harder to make hard decisions, you’re going to make you’re going to make really bad decisions for yourself and that company. Really, so ultimately, you’re harming, you’re harming them. Okay, I hate, I could draw the metaphor back to the child but in this case it’s actually you know, it’s actually not that crazy to say that sometimes parents are also so attached and so overly protective that they’re doing things that in the long term are really harming their children. They’re not empowering them, right? So I think attachment in general, and that’s a topic that we talked a lot about, but attachment in general is just something that that will turn you into a founder that’s less successful, less effective. And so, thinking about your startup as a baby will make you inevitably more attached to it and then will make it harder to make hard decisions. We had an episode I want to highlight to the people who are listening that want to learn more about this, about (inaudible) versus dedication. It was episode number twenty-nine. So you wanna hear about heading my framework on attachment versus education as an entrepreneur you could check that episode out. Do you want to wrap this up with (inaudible) (inaudible)



Hiten Shah: Yeah, absolutely. What’s your tip? What’s my tip? My tip is don’t do things to yourself that make it harder for you to make business decisions and sometimes its hard to see those but when you’re thinking about just an example here this whole episode, but when you’re thinking about your startup birthing it. Or like its your baby you end up getting this sense of attachment like it is your baby or like your are birthing it and that sense of attachment can make it very very difficult to make hard decisions. It can even make it difficult to make seemingly easy decisions like we are going to change the market we are in and that’s what people don’t realise when they use this language with themselves. So watch this language we are using when you speak of your startup and especially in the sense of the level of attachment to it. Obviously you care a lot about it. It takes up probably most of your life. So again. It’s not to say that it’s not important. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t have some level of, you know, conviction and emotion about it. But that level can be really dangerous. It’s actually where most founders go wrong on.



Steli Efti: I love it. So my tip is going to be to find, find some… Examples of the type of founder that we’ve talked about. In the days I think there’s so many stories out there that create this false sense of these founder heroes that went through hell and went through all this suffererin, and everything was stacked against them and everything was pointed like this is going to be a failure and they should stop and its just never stopped because they loved their company like a baby and a lot of people think of people like Steve Jobs was incredibly attached to his company and all that. So I think there is a lot of stories about these type of founders and how perseverance and attachment and looking into a company like your baby, like that is a necessary requirement for success. So I think if that’s most of the content you’ve consumed, most of the stories you’ve consumed about heroic entrepreneurship the its going to be really hard to you to act differently. It’s going to feel like you are going to feel like its going to not lead you to success so my advise would be look for counter examples, look for people like Heaton. Heaton can be one really great example, you see a farmer that’s very dedicated, very passionate, but not attached, not talking that his company is his babies. But Heaton is not alone, look for other examples of people that are incredibly dedicated, incredibly hardworking. Incredibly passion about their company but would never say it’s my baby. But would never say, I could never kill this company or never shut it down. That can able to make really tough decisions and tough choices in tough situations. And sometimes it’s to keep going with it, and sometimes it’s to shut it down. Look for these examples, because the more of these examples you consume the easiest it is for you, the easiest it’s gonna be for many of you to follow that example without creating anxiety that you’re doing something wrong, alright, look for the top entrepreneurial stories out there that prove that there is more than just one way to go and that this, you know my company is my everything in life is not the only way to create massive success and be very successful. And hopefully also happier entrepreneur. So look for some of these examples and stories out there



Hiten Shah: Never say never



Steli Efti: … Or say never. All right that’s it from us, we’ll hear you very, very soon. Bye.