In this episode, Steli and Hiten may hate this particular question but are deciding to tackle it today: what are the things they wish they knew when starting their companies? Steli and Hiten give their candid responses which includes a discussion of how hard it actually is, what it means to put people first, and how to build a company with long-term objectives in mind. Listen in as they discuss how the answer actually does NOT lie in Steli and Hiten, but in you.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:05 – Today’s episode is about the things Hiten and Steli wish they knew when they started their first companies
    • 00:34 – This is one of the questions that Hiten and Steli get asked a lot
  • 01:18 – For Hiten, he would start by kicking his younger self in the groin
    • 01:31 – “It’s going to hurt more than that so get used to that”
    • 01:42 – Hiten realized that at times, he did not appreciate the pain
  • 02:14 – The second thing for Hiten is knowing that it really is about working with people
    • 03:09 – For Hiten, people are the number one thing regardless of what you want to accomplish
  • 04:07 – Steli says he would not kick himself in the groin
    • 04:17 – Steli agrees with Hiten that it was hard and painful
    • 04:46 – Steli knows someone who has a luxury furniture business
    • 05:32 – The guy had a friend who bought furniture overseas and was having problems with how to transport it
    • 06:03 – The guy asked himself, “How hard can this be?”, and it turned out to be really hard
    • 06:22 – The guy wanted to do it again so he could make money, not lose it
    • 07:03 – Steli would have told himself it is easier than you think
  • 07:29 – Steli would have told himself to think in the longer term
    • 08:40 – Build your company in a way that will build your career, reputation and brand for the decades to come
  • 09:31 – When working with people, Steli says he would nurture his relationship with people
  • 10:42 – Steli says he would have told himself to not be too focused on audacious short-term goals
    • 11:01 – It is about having the discipline to accomplish something worthwhile
  • 12:31 – To be honest, Hiten hates this question
    • 13:05 – It is a personal question and the one asking would not get much value from it because it varies from person to person
  • 13:55 – Hiten’s tip: For anyone asking this question, think about what it means to you and why you care
    • 14:14 – It is about learning about yourself
  • 14:25 – Steli also hates this question and he says his answers depend on the context
  • 15:06 – Steli was asked the question in an email and thought it would be an interesting topic for the podcast
  • 15:55 – Steli knew Hiten did not like the question as much as he did
  • 16:36 – Steli’s tip: Ask yourself that question and really think it through
  • 17:29 – End of today’s episode

3 Key Points:

  1. Starting a business can be hard OR easy depending on how you look at it.
  2. People are always the #1 priority to focus on—build those relationships.
  3. When you build your business, think long-term; how can I build my name, brand, and company in a way that will last?


Steli: Hey, everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten: And this is Hiten Shah.



Steli: In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the lessons learned, the things we wished we had known when we first started our first company. This is a super common question if you are interviewed often, if you are invited on podcasts, if you are on stage just like you’ve been on off, this is a question that people ask a lot. It seems to be something that people are interested in, “Hey, I’m wondering what is the one thing or what are some of the things that you wish you had known before you started your first company?” So I thought it might make a … And we’ve never talked about this, so I thought it might make a fun episode for us to share these and then discuss them. How do we want to do this, Hiten? Should I go first or you want to go first?



Hiten: I’ll go and just throw, probably, a really important lesson for me out there.



Steli: Sweet.



Hiten: This is when I first started, and I don’t know what started means so I’m just going to go all the way on it. When I first started, if I were to go back and say, “Hey, younger Hiten, one … ” and probably this is going to be a little crude, but I’d kick him in the groins and say, “It’s going to hurt more than that so just get used to that.” That’s probably the first thing I would say because … Yes, whatever I go through, I almost feel like it’s that painful sometimes, and I don’t either appreciate the pain or realize what I’m getting myself into, depending on the scenario. Because I’m looking back these days a lot more at things and I’m realizing that, so that was the thing I would say .. Is the first thing I’d do … And that’s not really a I tell. It’s more of a how would I make that person feel first before I said anything else. Then, I would say something probably a little common, and you might hear this quite a bit, but it really means a lot to me, which is it really is all about the people and their potential and what you can do together with other people because you don’t really accomplish anything on your own, especially in business, even in life. It doesn’t matter how introverted you are, you’re still doing things with other people. It doesn’t matter what people you surround yourself with, I know a lot of people have ideas around surrounding yourself with people that are better than you and all this stuff, I don’t even mean that. I literally mean if I were just more aware that there are people around me, there are people I’m working with, people who are my friends that matter a lot, then I think a lot of things that I would’ve done, a lot of things I would’ve said, a lot of things I would’ve been conscious of, or a lot of things I would imagine for the future would have been quite a bit different. So, it’s the kick in the groins and then the, hey, the people matter. I’ll say the cliché and be like, people are the number one thing regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish.



Steli: Yeah, the people on … It’s such an important lesson but it’s so hard to communicate it without having it fly over the heads of the people that are listening because they heard it so many times and it makes such simple good sense that people go, “Sure people are very important, but then acting in a way day-in-day-out that puts people first and actually living life in a way that prioritizes the people in your life and the people you work with, that’s a different story.” It’s like saying, eat healthy and be active if you want to be a healthy human being. For sure, yeah, yes, motherfucker, yeah, I’m going to move my body and eat healthy. But then doing it is the harder part than the understanding it. I love that. I love the kick in the groin one, but that’s one thing I would definitely not have told myself. Absolutely not because, although I could not agree more with you that this shit is hard and it’s painful, and most of the things that I’ve done were much harder than I thought they would be and much more painful, part of the magic of me wanting to do it and going at it with such aggression and bravado was that I was completely oblivious to the fact how painful this would be. I don’t know, I was meeting a founder the other day who started a luxury furniture … Not started. He has a luxury furniture company and they do … they’re a massive business by now and they will do the custom-made furniture piece, outdoorsy, peaceful like Floyd Mayweather’s house in Las Vegas, and it’s like a $90,000 piece of furniture. They only do crazy shit like that and they get all their customers through Instagram. I mean, it’s a crazy business. It’s a really cool guy, and I asked him, “How the … ” and this is a really young guy as well, I don’t know how old he is but he’s fairly young to be in the furniture business. I don’t know. I was like, “How did you get into the furniture business? I don’t get to meet that many people in the furniture business, this is interesting to me.” He said, “You know what? I don’t know. I had nothing to do, I was a student, and a friend of mine had ordered this massive amount of furniture from overseas and the container shipment from the harbor to … ” wherever he wanted it to be, “they quoted him an insanely expensive price and then he called me and he said, ‘Hey, dude, I have this amount of furniture that needs to go from point A to point B, how much money would it take me to pay you for you to figure this out for me?'” His answer was, literally, “I thought about it for a second and then I thought how hard could this be?” Then, he started laughing and he said, “Turned out really fucking hard. It was very, very hard to move the furniture from point A to point B, and I lost money on the whole thing. It was a catastrophe. But then I got so pissed that I was like, “Well, I need to do this again and get back into making money and not losing money.” He’s just like, “And that was the beginning of the company. I never intended to start a furniture business, a luxury furniture business, but I love the how hard could this be.” I think that’s the beginning of a lot of things is some human going, “How hard could this really be? I think I could do this better.” Then, you find out that it’s very fucking hard. But I think if I had known how … I’m not sure if I had known how hard all this would be … I don’t know. I think I might have still doe it but I wouldn’t have done it with the amount of passion and energy and just youthful ignorance that I needed to really start it with a boom. I would’ve definitely … I would’ve told myself, “It’s going to be easier than you think. This is going to be so easy just go-ahead. You’re going to rule the world. This is all waiting for you for the taking.” So, what would I have told myself? I don’t know. I think that two things that I would’ve told myself about, and they are very related … I wanted to go originally in the direction of the people thing but I don’t want to repeat the point that you made, but one thing that I would have told myself is that … I would’ve taught myself to oil and told myself to think much longer term. I would’ve told myself, “Listen, dude, this is about the next 50 years of your life, not about the next five months.” So no matter what the ideas that you’re trying to bring to life, no matter what the company is that you’re working on right now, no matter what the team is you’re trying to assemble, all these things … Yeah, do them with a high urgency, do them with a sense of the power of right, just do them. But as you’re doing them, think about the next 50 years of your life and think about how … Do everything with a longevity approach, with a long-term approach, and do it with principles and ask yourself, “Is this somebody that I want to work with?” Take the people example, “Is this somebody I want to work with for the next 20 years?” Because if not, let’s not work with that person for the next two hours. Let’s not make compromises on people. No matter how you build the company, try to build it in a way that will build your career, that will build your reputation that will build your brand for decades to come. Independently if the company succeeds or not, do it in a way that has longevity versus trying to find shortcuts to some quick wins or some quick overnight success that you’re chasing. Because I was definitely … In the early day, I was definitely trying to get to success as quickly as possible, I was not super unethical about those shortcuts, but I didn’t think as longterm as I do now, and it makes a big difference on the … It’s much easier for me to say no to things today, it’s much easier for me to really say yes and fully lean in on things, especially with people. This is how this relates to your point, Hiten, especially with people, this is a beautiful quote, when I talk to somebody today and I think they’re amazing and I want to work with them, I’m not even interested … You have a job right now, you have your own company, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m like, “All right, I just decided I want to be in business with you and that means to me, I might try to get in business with you for the next 5, 10, 15 years.” We just had to hire somebody a few months ago that I was recruiting for four and a half years, I don’t care. Once I believe that you’re an amazing person, in my mind we’re going to work together. One way or another, I’m going to work for you, you’re going to work for me, I’m going to invest in your ventures, you’re going to invest in mine. I’m going to want to be in business with you one way or another for the long-term. The amount of energy and time I spent into these relationships, the amount of follow-up, I have the amount of … The way I think about them just changes, and it makes such a massive difference. That’s one point. Then, think longer-term and think how the things you do and the way you work, how that’s going to impact your life over the next decade, not just the next months. Then, the second point would’ve been to … I don’t know, not to worry as much on setting massive, audacious, exciting, crazy short-term goals, not always just chasing … Accomplishing something that’s amazing in the short term but being a lot more consistent day-in-day-out, just being a lot more disciplined day-in-and-day-out about accomplishing something worthwhile. Just making sure no day passes without me pushing the project forward in some significant way and not worrying that much about the big crazy, “Let’s reach 100 million in 100 days of revenue,” not setting stupid goals that just sound crazy and exciting, but I’ve no way of accomplishing them, versus worrying about the goals and the long-term outcomes or the big outcomes, worrying about my input a lot more day-in-day-out and being a lot more careful about my day. I’ve wasted so many days not accomplishing anything but dreaming about some crazy goals versus accomplishing something worthwhile every single day without exception and then letting these crazy things happen as an end result of it. Yeah, those would probably be my two pieces of advice, plus, obviously, it’s going to be easier than you thought it was going to be.



Hiten: Yeah. If anyone told me it’s going to be easier than you thought, I’d be like, “You know what? I don’t believe you. Things have already been very super hard, and I don’t even use the word .” For me it was like, “You know that painting right there? Just get used to that. You’ll be okay. You don’t need an aspirin, just get used to the pain, it’s constant.” But I totally get what you’re saying. That’s probably the big difference between you and I. Cool. Thanks for sharing. That was great. That was great. I’m going to give quick grant, real quick. I hate this question.



Steli: Nice.



Hiten: I just hate this questions. I hate generic questions to the honest, and I hate this question. I only wanted to entertain it because I want to answer it with you and I wanted to think about it in an environment where I’m cool with it. But, usually I get on an interview or somebody asks me in a meeting, and I’m like, “Oh my God, are you really asking me this question? You have my attention, you have my time, I have yours too,” it’s not just about me, it’s actually about them, “and you’re going to ask me this stupid question?” That is so personal to be honest. Any answer that someone gives, you’re going to have to get 100 people’s answers to even come to any idea of what it should be or you without really thinking through it for yourself. For me, it’s people all the way, and it’s not generic. I know that if I … And we talked about this a little bit, but I get energy by working with other people, doing things with other people, it brings me the greatest joy. Even building teams and working with the people on the team, seeing them do great work, helping them do great work, doing great work together, those things matter to me. Telling myself that, I would have unlocked my potential for understanding what makes me tick. The way I think, if anyone that’s listening wants the answer to this question, this would be my tip I guess, think about what it means to you. Don’t worry about what anyone else’s answer is because, honestly, it should be very contextual. It’s not just generic things like, “Oh, it’s all about the people.” It’s, why do you care to tell you younger self that? Why does that matter to you? Because that’s what this is about. It’s about what have you learned that you wish you knew before, and it’s not learned about the world, it’s learned about yourself.



Steli: Yeah, that’s powerful. My man, I couldn’t agree with you more. The funny thing is, we dint talk about this, but I also hate getting this question. I’m not going to lie. Every time somebody asks me this question, it’s always, “It depends. Here’s my answer.” But with a lot of answers that we give, I think we give this disclosure a lot that it depends and context matters and people are so different, there’s such different ways of thinking and of accomplishing the same thing. There’s not a generic answer that applies to everybody. The reason why I brought this up for this very podcast, again, it’s amazing how different we are but how similar we are in many ways as well, was that I just recently got asked … I just got asked this question recently in an email and I didn’t want to answer it in the email. I literally was like, “I don’t want to write this out in an email. This is too much work. This is kind of painful right now.” But then as I was thinking about the next day of topics to discuss I was like, “I could probably easily talk to Hiten about this and it’s going to be interesting. This is going to be a format that’s going to be interesting.” This is how the question made its way on the podcast, but I-



Hiten: Yeah, no criticism.



Steli: No, no, no, no. Yeah, I-



Hiten: Never in anything. It’s just like-



Steli: I didn’t take it that way. I didn’t take it that way. I was just smiling because when I asked you … This is one of these things that was unspoken until you brought it up because when I asked you, “Hey, do we want to talk about this?” I instantly on your reaction could tell how you feel because that’s my reaction to that question typically, but then you were like, “If you want to talk about, , sure. Let’s go.” The entire episode I had this not-verbalized “I know you probably don’t like this question, I don’t like it,” and then when you said it I was like, “Boom! Nice. This is why I love you. This is why I love you.”



Hiten: There you go. This is why we want to talk about this.



Steli: This is why I love you. All right, I don’t even know if I have a tip. I think that-



Hiten: Cool.



Steli: No, I think this episode, I don’t have one. I think might be interesting, curious and entertaining to listen to our answer to this question, but here’s my tip maybe, I can’t help it but I have one. For the people that are listening, ask yourself that question, ask yourself … Even if you started a month ago or you’ve never started anything before in your life yet but you could still ask yourself, “What would I wish I had known when I was 12 or when I was younger?” But ask yourself, “What do I wish I had known a few months ago?” If that’s the timeline that you have, but I’m pretty sure many of you have been starting things or have started things a while back. Ask yourself that question and actually take a few minutes in silence and think it through and go home with this. I mean, there’s many things, but what are some really important things that I wish I’d known? Which means those are the things that I’ve truly learned, and I’ve grown hopefully in that way. Question to ask yourself but never ask it to Hiten or me anymore. I think that’s it.



Hiten: Yeah, I’ll just point you to this episode and be like, “Just wait till the end.”



Steli: There you go, which is they’ll wait to the end. Make sure to listen to all the episodes. All right, I think this is it from us … Well, for this episode.



Hiten: Later.