199: How to Fly a Fighter Jet
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In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about an unusual event that happened to Steli, but spoke volumes about making that first impression—that is his experience learning how to fly a fighter jet. Steli shares how he ended up flying a fighter jet in Serbia as a way to connect with a conference participant. Steli and Hiten extract the value of this unique experience by discussing the importance of those first impressions while not being too quick to judge.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:05 – Today’s episode is about how to fly a fighter jet
- 00:48 – Steli flew a military fighter jet
- 01:13 – Steli was in Serbia to speak at a startup conference
- 01:35 – One participant wanted feedback on his YC application
- 02:05 – Steli was grabbed by the guy who wanted feedback and the man was quite aggressive
- 03:16 – During the morning of the conference, the organizer told Steli that the guy was waiting for them to fly
- 03:45 – Steli thought that it would just be a small normal plane
- 04:01 – When they arrived at the airport, Steli saw a military plane and was surprised
- 04:22 – Steli admits he misjudged the guy and found out he had big businesses in Serbia, and is actually an interesting and caring person
- 05:56 – The man really wanted Steli to enjoy the ride
- 06:53 – He let Steli fly the plane while he took pictures of him
- 08:20 – Steli felt exhausted by the experience, but was high with adrenaline
- 08:37 – The man then asked Steli about his YC application
- 09:03 – Ever since then, Steli has been trying to get back to Serbia to fly the plane again
- 09:31 – Steli says this particular man took the right approach in getting Steli’s attention by stepping OUT of the box
- 10:10 – Steli thinks he was the first person that this man took on his fighter jet
- 11:16 – Steli thinks he is fairly accurate when it comes to judging people, but when he turns out to be wrong, it gives him the chance to get better at it
- 12:08 – Hiten says he also likes to be pleasantly surprised when judging somebody
- 12:45 – Hiten says to also be open to seeing the person on the inside
- 13:21 – Steli says the pitch in the end was pretty bad, but because they had opportunity to talk, Steli was able to discern that the idea was good but the presentation just needed tweaking
- 14:08 – You won’t always get an hour of somebody’s time, so you have to communicate your pitch properly
- 15:34 – In real life, you only have a snap shot moment to make an impression
- 16:08 – Strive to make the first impression accurate
- 16:27 – Steli advises people to try flying a jet, if they can
- 16:45 – Leave a review and rating on iTunes and recommend the podcast to your friends
- 17:13 – End of today’s episode
3 Key Points:
- If you want something, work hard for it—there’s no other way around hard work.
- You can easily misjudge a person, so choose to be open to those that you meet.
- First impressions do matter when it comes to making that pitch, so be prepared and as clear as you can be when it comes to communicating what you do.
Hey everyone, this is Steli Efti.
And this is Hiten Shah.
And in today’s episode of The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about something unusual: how to fly a fighter jet. I have a weird story to share, I can’t wait to share it with you, and maybe we’ll find some lessons learned here, and some nuggets of wisdom to share with others. At least I can guarantee that it’s going to be curiously interesting along the way. Here’s what happened just a few days ago, Hiten. I actually flew a fighter jet. A real military level, kind of Top Gun shit.
No kidding. I did not know that I would end up flying a jet that day, or this year … A lot of things happened to kind of make that happen, but it was a pretty amazing experience, I have to say. Here’s what happened. I was in Serbia, and I spoke at a startup conference. At the end of my talk there were a lot of people that were asking questions, and there was this older gentleman, he looked very alpha, he was very dominant. He raised his hand and he just asked me if I could give him feedback, he just needed 20 minutes of my time for me to give him feedback on his YC application. I said what I always say in those settings, “Just grab me and find me later on, and hustle me. I don’t know if I can give you feedback, but if you can make me give you feedback, I will. I want to, but I don’t know if I will.” An hour later, I’m in the middle of the conference, I’m talking to all kinds of people, and somebody grabs me. Actually quite strongly, and I turn around and it’s that same guy. He’s very aggressive, he’s pointing his finger in my face and is like, “I am going to fly with you and it’s going to be a once in a lifetime experience, and then you give me feedback. Is that a deal?” And honestly, my snapshot judgment of him was, “Who the fuck is this guy? He’s too aggressive, he’s too dominant, he’s too much in my space. Why is he grabbing me so tight?” It’s slightly uncomfortable, but again, I did what I would always do in this situation, I was just like, “Sure, sure, I’ll fly with you, of course. Let’s just see, I have meetings today and tomorrow, but your people talk to my people and we’ll figure out.” Usually, that’s enough to never hear from people again, right? Just basically me telling him that I’m open to this, but without being committal is usually enough to just never hear from people again. That’s what I told him, and he took this as a promise and was like, “All right, I’ll get back to you,” and he disappeared. The next day, the conference was over, and I was supposed to be driven to another hotel in another city closer to the airport by the owner of the conference and some other people. In the morning, as I was packing up my stuff, the guy that owned the conference basically, and ran the whole conference, was like, “Well, Steli, we’re going to drive an hour to that new city, new hotel, but before we go there this guy that told you he would fly you, he’s waiting at an airport there, airplane is ready, and we’ll make a stop there for you to be able to fly.” And I was like, “Oh, shit. You know the guy? We’re actually doing this?” At that point I was like, “You know what, fuck it, let’s do it. Maybe it’s an adventure, maybe this is going to be a funny story.” The plane I had in mind was a … I don’t know, a regular plane that you can maybe make a loop with or do something, I don’t know. I just imagined a small, normal plane, and we would fly for like 10 minutes, and it would do something funny, and that’s that. So we drove to that airport, and when we arrived it was clear that that was not the case. There was a military plane there, and that’s kind of where things took another turn. Basically, this guy, this older gentleman that offered me to fly me, let me fly, he’s actually awesome, so I totally misjudged him. He’s very dominant and he’s kind of a loud guy, but he’s actually a really great human being, but I couldn’t tell that from my two interactions with him on the conference. He is a business guy that’s been in business for a real long time, he’s done some really big things, including being the first importer of tobacco in Serbia, and do some big deals, and interesting things for all kinds of industries. He was a sports pilot and the only non-military pilot that’s allowed to fly a military plane in that country. He’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff. He’s the president of the airport there, and just a very interesting, and would turned out to be also very caring person. So, they suited me up, they put all the stuff in there, and he basically … They give you anti G pants, because when you get to G level flight speed all the blood apparently leaves your legs and gets up to your upper body and it makes you blind, so basically you can’t see anything anymore, everything goes black. So, those pants prevent that from happening, prevent the blood from leaving your lower body. So, they put the pants on me, I get into the airplane, they tried to connect the pants, they have to lock them in to some other thing in the airplane. They try, they try, the try, and it turns out the connector is broken, and they go, “Ah, fuck it. No anti G pants, then.” I was like, “All right, this is going to be an exciting … I’m going to get blind, or something. This is going to be very interesting flight.” Then we basically flew. It was super exciting, it was exhilarating, I was not necessarily afraid at first. He was very careful, and he kind of eased me into the experience, so he was not uber aggressive. He was telling me, “Listen, if anything, you’re uncomfortable, if you’re afraid, if you don’t feel well, let me know. I want you to love the air, I want you to love this experience. I don’t want this to turn into a story I tell on how I made Steli pass out, or puke, I want this to be your story on how amazing it was.” He was really nice, he was really cool. He was doing loops, we were doing loops to the left, loops to the right, free falling, doing the whole vertical loop, just all kinds of shit, super exciting. Then eventually gave me the chance to fly the thing, and after allowing me to fly for a few seconds, he was like, “You know what, you have a really stable, good hand. I’m just going to let you fly the rest of the time.” He was like, “Just push it to the left,” and we did a loop to the left, and push it to the right, we did a loop to the right. Then he takes out his phone and is trying to take … Basically, both hands up, and he’s in front of the plan, I’m in the back seat, there’s just two seats in that plane, and he’s trying to take a picture of me flying, because I’m flying, with both of his hands. I can see on the screen that he’s just not … I’m not on it, right? So, he’s taking all these pictures where I’m not on it, and he’s like, “Are you on the pictures? Can you see yourself?” I’m like, “No, I’m not.” And I’m flying the plane, and I’m actually, at this point, a little nervous, because he’s really not doing … Like, he’s taking selfies now. He’s like, “All right, if you can’t see yourself, try to grab my phone so you can take a picture of yourself.” I’m trying to grab the phone, as I’m holding the stick and flying, and I can’t, I’m really snug in terms of how tight you are locked into that seat. I’m like, “I can not reach the phone.” He’s like, “Try harder.” I’m like, “I’m not going to fucking die for a selfie on this flight. Jesus.” I’m like, “I don’t care.” He started laughing, he’s like, “Okay, okay, let me try another few times.” And there’s actually a picture of Facebook where you see me in the plane, flying, and that’s when I’m actually flying the fucking thing.
Yes. Then we landed, and we stepped out. It was a beautiful day, we were flying all the way to sunset, and we’re sitting outside, fresh air, I can’t even explain how I felt. It’s like, really exhausted, it kind of is a very physical experience, but also super high, still on adrenaline and kind of on the experience. We open some beers, and he started telling me about his business, and we started talking about his YC application and startup. It’s the weirdest thing anybody’s has ever done to get startup feedback from me. It definitely raises the bar, right? When people now offer me to drive me from the hotel to the airport-
Very high. I’m going to be telling they have to come in a helicopter, or something, to make this interesting. Funny enough, I was talking to a friend today about this, and they said, “How do you feel about this?” Flying a plane was never something that was on my to-do list, in terms of wanting to become a pilot or something like that, it was never something that I’ve been excited about. But now, ever since then, every day I’m trying to come up with a scheme of how to get back to Serbia to fly again, but that plane, because it was very fun. It was a lot of fucking fun to fly the plane.
Wow, that’s pretty awesome.
Yes. So, besides just me sharing a crazy story about an entrepreneur letting me fly a fighter jet, I do honestly think that there’s some lessons that can be learned here. Let’s try to digest these, and then we’ll wrap up this episode, this unusual episode, for people.
Number one, I do think that he took the right approach. This is something we’ve talked about previously, and I’ve been talking about a lot, which is, don’t just … You know how many people at that conference said, “Hey, can I grab a coffee with you, can we have lunch,” and I’d love to do that with everybody, but I can’t do this with hundreds of people. He, again, he stepped out of the box and thought, “What can I do that’s going to be really exciting, and something special for him, and in exchange it’s going to be much easier for him to want to take time and give me the attention I want.” He thought outside the box, and you know what, it turns out, I learned afterwards, I’m probably one of the first, if not the only guy, I’m not sure yet, that he has taken with him on that jet. He’s flown a lot of people, he’s a famous pilot, but he’s never taken people on that fighter jet. Even people that are pilots themselves and are good friends with him have never had the opportunity I had. So, this is not something he’s been doing every single day, but he kind of thought outside the box, “What can I offer Steli that’s going to be really unique, and really amazing?” I think that that’s a lesson. Of course, we can’t all be fighter jet pilots, and all of these kinds of things, but even the, “Hey, can I pick you up from the airport to the hotel,” instead of just, “Hey, when you are at that conference, or when you’re in our city, do you want to grab coffee with me?” It’s a much more valuable trade, and something a lot of people are not going to be competing with you for. It’s a much more creative way to try to spend time with somebody, in exchange for value. For something that has utility and that they don’t have an alternative for. I think that that’s something to take out of it. The other thing, for me, honestly, Hiton, is … I don’t know why, I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I feel like I do have a pretty good sense for judging peoples character fairly quickly. I have a good level of success or accuracy where I turn out to be right with my snapshot judgment of somebody. I feel like you’re the same. But, I’m always happy, I’m always excited when it turns out that I’ve been wrong and I have the chance to figure that out. When I misjudge somebody negatively, and I think, “I don’t like this guy,” or “This guy seems like an asshole,” and then it turns out that I was wrong, and that I really like the person, I don’t know why, but something about that … Maybe because I have the chance to redeem myself. Maybe it’s because it helps me get better at judging people, because I try to analyze why I was wrong, but for some reason, I’m always particularly happy when that happens. When I’m actually wrong about judging peoples character. Does that sound crazy, or do you kind of get what I’m saying?
No, it’s not crazy. I think if you meet a lot of people, which both you and I do, regularly, you end up being able to have a pretty accurate judgment of somebody, and you make those judgements based on what you see in front of you. Like that gentleman was super loud, probably just very Type A, right? Seems like rightfully so, considering his background and his history as a business person as well as, I guess a pilot, right?
I’m with you, I love to be pleasantly surprised when I’m judging somebody and they blow me away. That’s a good reminder that you can judge and have an opinion, but don’t get so far into it that you’re not open to see the person inside. Because really, there’s a lot more inside that person that you probably just couldn’t see at a conference, when you first met him. That being said, it was his job to show you that.
And he did, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s an interesting one, because that gets to the last kind of lesson learned, or thing that I’m taking out of this. Which is that, funny enough, because of this experience and the setting, in that we had a lot of time afterwards to spend together, they did a pretty poor job pitching what the idea was, and what they were working on. But because they had set up this special setting where I gave them much more time than I usually would give somebody, I had the time to discover that what they did was actually much better than what I thought they did. They were just really bad at explaining it, or pitching it, or communicating that. On the one hand, it was great because it was like, “Actually, there’s some interesting things you guys have learned, and some cool things you guys have done that, now that I get what your startup is doing, I’m actually kind of curious about, or intrigued about, that I didn’t get at the conference or even at the beginning of this conversation when we just had five minutes, and I would have never understood it. So, kudos to you for getting so much more time so I can get to the real bottom.” But also, the lesson learned here, is that you won’t get an hour of somebody’s time. You can’t fly everybody around until they understand, so you guys need to get a lot better at explaining what your startup does, and you need to really fully change the priority on how you communicate what, and when. Also, for him, I actually gave him that feedback on, like, “Listen,” … Because he asked … They’re thinking about moving to the Bay area with what they’re trying to do, he was asking me if he’s too old, he was asking me if people will think he’s some kind of a … His background and the things he’s done just doesn’t work for being a founder in technology and startups. I told him all that, I don’t know about, but I wouldn’t care if I was him. He seems a very youthful person at heart, and in his energy, and the way of thinking, so that’s the only thing that matters, and he has somebody that has a track record and success. The thing I was telling him is that, the way he interacts, people might misjudge him, misinterpret him as some kind of a old school, shady business guy that now’s trying to … That’s gotten a few young developers, is now trying to take advantage of them and become a startup guy. So, he might get misjudged and mischaracterized, part of it is because of the way he comes across, but if he learns to communicate who he truly is a little better, and if he’s okay that maybe once in a while somebody’s going to just misjudge him, then I don’t think that that’s going to make or break whatever he does, at the end of the day. It was interesting to see that … I think it was a great reminder for myself, and them, that in real life, without a fucking fighter jet to fly people around, you really only have a snapshot moment to make and impression. And you really only have a few minutes, maybe just a minute, to make somebody either curious to want to know more about what you’re working on, and what your startup is, and what your product is, or to be turned off by it and not pay attention anymore, even if you’re still talking. These first impression matter, and 99% of our lives, we don’t get the second impression, so working on making that first impression accurate and authentic … Holding at its heart what truly lies behind that first impression, is something that we all need to work on. That’s kind of my final summary of what I’ve learned through that crazy experience of fucking flying a jet. Other than it’s a lot of fucking fun to do. I highly advise anybody to take an opportunity, if you’re given one, to do that.
That’s awesome. I like it, makes sense.
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All right, that’s it from us. Bye bye.