In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to use inspiration to your advantage in your startup – a topic that is rarely discussed in the business world. They also talk about how “too much inspiration” can be a problem and whether your moments of inspiration should take priority over an existing strategy.  

During a moment of inspiration, you may feel as if you’ve come up with a great idea that could really benefit your startup, and you may feel the urge to share it with as many people as possible.  However, ideas are fragile and although it may feel like an “ah-ha” moment, there might be major pitfalls that can occur if you actually executed the idea.

Steli and Hiten talk about a more deliberate approach to dealing with moments of inspiration. They argue that, at all times, your focus must be on what’s important for your business right now. And only after that should you move on to more creative ideas that can enhance your startup.

Tune into this week’s episode of The Startup Chat to learn what inspiration means for a startup, as well as Steli and Hiten’s top tips for dealing with those unplanned, inspirational moments whenever they occur.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic: how to use inspiration to your advantage.

00:30 Why we’re talking about this topic.

01:14 The dictionary definition of inspiration.

01:56 Typical moments of inspiration in the startup world.

02:17 How to deal with moments of inspiration.

03:26 Some tools you can use for writing down your moments of inspiration.

04:27 Why writing down your moment of inspiration is a good idea.

06:09 How to decide if you should follow up on an inspiring idea or stay committed to a strategy you’re already executing.

15:25 How “too much inspiration” can be a problem.

16:04 How to make sure you keep being inspired at work.

3 Key Points:

  • When inspiration hits, write it down.
  • It’s better to write down your ideas than to just talk about them.
  • When you’re truly inspired, when you have an “ah-ha moment”, it’s an awesome feeling


Steli Efti: Hey everybody this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah, and today on the Startup Chat, we’re gonna talk about how to use inspiration to your advantage. We like to talk about more than just sales and marketing.



Steli Efti: We just wanna bullshit and chat about business and life, and hopefully while we’re doing that, provide a lot of value to people.



Hiten Shah: The world’s best business podcast.



Steli Efti: Oh, shit, we got it.



Hiten Shah: For people trying to get shit done.



Steli Efti: Done. Yeah. We don’t wanna give you feedback that’s bullshit.



Hiten Shah: We want you to do your best. And it’s a topic that I think is never really talked about because everyone has ideas and usually they jump right into doing something about it. But, really, an idea or inspiration for anything, even if it’s: “I wanna eat Mexican food today,” or whatever that is, it just comes onto you and then most of us are not thinking a lot about it, and we go act on it. I thought this would be just an interesting topic to explore because you can’t run a business, you can’t work in a business, do a startup, cause this is a startup chat so we’re supposed to talk about startups, right, Steli?



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: Without some level of inspiration. I think there’s so many aspects to this so, just a topic that I felt like would be great to explore with you.



Steli Efti: Yeah, I love that. Alright, so first I’m gonna do the most Hiten thing ever, I’m so glad I’m beating you to the punch of this, what do you think I’m doing right now? I’m gonna read the dictionary definition of “inspiration.”



Hiten Shah: Yes! Perfect!



Steli Efti: For long time listeners, you might know that Hiten loves words and communication almost as much as I do and loves to pick up and actually read the definitions of words at times. So, here’s the definition of inspiration: “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” Inspiration. So, let’s talk about, maybe a little bit like what our typical moments of inspiration in startups and then what do a lot of founders and startup people do right after or at the moment of inspiration, sometimes to their disadvantage; and what are some ways to take advantage of those inspiring moments.



Hiten Shah: Oh, man. I mean, you can get inspired any time. This also is the whole idea of in the shower, you get an idea, right? And inspired. For me it’s like: be open to those moments of inspiration. That’s like, step one. And step two is:before you do anything, write it down. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve done in my life, which is, write shit down, or start writing shit down, or remember to write shit down. I have right now, I might’ve done this before Steli, I don’t remember, but I keep going through different notes apps, right? And this notes app I have right now, I don’t even know, I’m still scrolling and finding newer and newer notes. I just restarted it literally about a year ago, and it has countless notes. I get inspired, I put it in there, I can search through it and find some things. Sometimes it’s about a product I’m working on, or a business, or something I wanna tell a friend. I think when inspiration hits, write it down. That my first advice for people and I know they’re not doing it.



Steli Efti: Yeah. I love that. And I know that people are gonna be dying to hear this, so let’s get that nugget of information out for people; what app do you use to write down your notes, or your thoughts, or your moments of inspiration?



Hiten Shah: My favorite app that has stood the test of time as I’ve flirted with other apps, is called Simple Note.



Steli Efti: Okay.



Hiten Shah: Because I can use it across desktop, and web, and all my devices. At the same time, a lot of the features that they have are now also in the Notes app by Apple. I’m an Apple user, I use Mac’s, I use iPhones, and iPads and all that. Actually, I don’t use an iPad. Honestly, I’ve been using Simple Note, I use the Notes app. Probably my all-time favorite, it doesn’t exist anymore, is an app called Vesper, v-e-s-p-e-r, and it’s by, his name’s John Gerber, who runs Daring Fireball and he actually created the app. There’s just something about the smoothness of it. That being said, it doesn’t exist anymore and you can’t download it. So, that’s my list.



Steli Efti: Cool. So, your do when you have moments of inspiration, is write down your thoughts, your ideas, your feelings, whatever it is. Just write it down, put it on paper, put it in writing. This is kind of the smallest step often times, or one of the smallest steps, to move something from thought or emotions into manifesting into reality, right? Even just writing it down makes it real now, makes it permanent, if you use an app it makes it searchable, it can be there forever. So, you take something that was just a fleeting thought and you turn it into something real that can be shared with others, that can be found, that can be read. I think that that’s a super powerful tip. And I would say that as a do or a don’t, I’d rather have people, or I think it’s usually more valuable and advantageous for people to write down their thoughts, their ideas in moments of inspiration, than to necessarily instantly talk about it. Would you agree with that?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think Steve Jobs has a line where he would call ideas fragile. And I think inspiration is usually just a form of an idea and it’s fragile in the beginning. Writing it down helps you really put it into, like you said, manifest it, start thinking through it instead of just running with it. Which is really important, cause some of these ideas, they are fragile and they’re very delicate in the beginning. Talking to people, telling other people might not be the best strategy in the beginning.



Steli Efti: Yeah. What do we tell people about, how do I decide when I should follow inspiration versus when I should follow, let me use the word, commitment? So, to paint a picture of a scenario; we’ve set certain goals with a startup, communicated with a team, everybody is heads down and executing. And now, I had a moment of clarity or of inspiration in the shower, or a walk in the park, or wherever; and I have what I feel in that moment to be a brilliant idea or creative idea of something that could change everything, or something that could have a massive impact. Now, I might have a dilemma, even if I write things down let’s say that that fragile idea of moment of inspiration survives, which is kind of one of my first tips often times, it just doesn’t, right? Often times you’ll feel very strongly about an idea in its inception, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel as strongly about it an hour later, a day later, a month later. And that’s fine. You wanna have lots and lots of ideas, lots and lots of moments, inspiring moments hopefully all your life; to be able to let go of a bunch of them cause they’re not always gonna be great. For many people there’s a dilemma where they have this idea, they feel so passionate about it that they’re now wondering: “okay, what do I do? Do I go and tell my team about this and change our plans, and try to sell everybody on this new inspiring idea, vision that I had? Or do I let everybody just continue with their work because we committed to this goal, but now I feel super bummed because I know we could be doing something much greater.” How do you decide? One key part of inspiration is that it’s usually not scheduled, right? You’re not planning a 5 AM being inspired meeting, you know, where you all sit there, you all have inspiring ideas and thoughts. So, it happens in the shower, on a walk, it happens at random times a day, you can’t really plan for it necessarily. So, what do you do as a founder when you have that? Do you give that priority over all your other ideas and plans? Or do you run it through some kind of a test before deciding if you want to share it with the team, or if you want to sell the team on this new vision, goal, idea, thought that you had?



Hiten Shah: I think this is why you write it down. You write it down because you might not know when it should be brought up again, or useful to you. One of the things, and I think, we’ve got some episodes on this, maybe we’ll do more but – is deciding what to work on. For your team, for yourself, and for everybody. To me, the inspiration might be about something that’s important a year from now, or six months from now, or hopefully not that far out, but something that might not be important right now. A lot of these things when you’re inspired, you wanna think through them. Cause thinking through them helps you actually develop them and then bring them back up in a timely manner. So, to me, just from all the mistakes I’ve made, I think it’s really important to not distract your team and instead, write it down and bring it up when it makes sense. It’s like there’s a whole art to this. My advice for anybody that’s thinking through something, or gets inspired on a regular basis, is more so: think about when it’s timely to go execute on the idea that you’ve just had or what you got inspired on. A better approach is: make your brain think about the things that are important to your business right now, and focus your thoughts and your ideas around that. Get inspired for that. That’s, sort of, the way I think about it. Cause a lot of times an idea will strike and it has nothing to do with what’s important right now. And this is why I said write it down, take it slow because you could go distract your team really easily. We have a whole episode on founder bombs that we recorded awhile ago related to a story that really changed the way I do things with my team once I realized the impact I was having that wasn’t positive. You don’t wanna drop founder bombs, you want to be a lot more deliberate than that. You want to do things at the right time.



Steli Efti: I couldn’t agree more with you, but there’s one thought that I have as I’m thinking about this, which is when you have moments of inspiration one of the awesome things about it is that you usually feel above average emotions, you know? Much more emotional state than usual. It’s a very positive emotional state. When you’re truly inspired or when you have an a-ha moment where you think, wow, you just had a brilliant idea – it’s a fucking awesome feeling, right? It charges you up, it gives you energy, it ignites your passion. It’s typically when we feel the strongest that we wanna share that with others, right? We don’t wanna just sit down and write it down and deliberate, and think about it logically, and meditate on it. We wanna scream and we wanna interrupt people, go over and go “hey, dude! Listen, I just had a brilliant idea!” Which, you know, it’s the worst thing to say ever, it’s like saying, “I’m just about to say something really funny guys.” It’s the best way to ensure that it’s not gonna be funny or brilliant. But anyways, you wanna interrupt somebody and share that with people because you feel really strongly. I’ve learned this as well, a.k.a, founder drive-bys or bombs where if you interrupt people at any time when you have a random idea, you’re making your team unproductive, you’re slowing things down. And you also don’t realize or learn, it took me a while to learn the difference between urgent and important. And even if an idea I think is really, really brilliant, could change everything, it probably can wait a few hours or a few days, right? If it’s that big of an idea it can wait a day or two. So, taking the time to really sleep on it, think on it, write on it, deliberate on it, and then start sharing it mindfully, I think, is the right way to go. But one thing that bums me out about this is that there’s the fun part of just sharing a moment of inspiration, even if it’s dumb, that you might lose if you write it down and you wait before you share with people. How do you think about that?



Hiten Shah: There’s always someone on your team that can handle the energy that you’re bringing at that time and won’t be distracted. That’s what I’ve learned. Sometimes they’re the people that will show you your own patterns with the inspiration, so it can be a little painful. So, that’s one way. Another way is I go to people and say, “hey, this is kind of a weird idea, it’s a crazy idea. I don’t know if it matters right now, I already wrote it down, but I need someone to talk to about it cause maybe there’s something to it right now. Cause obviously I got it right now. I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff.” So, I think a lot of it is just communication.



Steli Efti: I agree. Being mindful about the people in your life and who is the right person to talk about what, or to work with on what at what time, I think is really, really important. Yeah, you’re right. There are people that you can be really raw with your moments of inspiration. Some you might even have different flavors. You might pick one person; I know I have a friend of mine where if I just wanna have somebody that’s gonna instantly jump into the inspiration and be just with it and go crazy with me, I know a few people that I’ll call because I know right now what I want is just somebody to be like: “that’s awesome! And you know what else you could do…?” And I just wanna go crazy with somebody. And I want somebody to really be like a sounding board, I know I can call that person go: “you know what? I just had this idea, and yada, yada, yada.” The person says: “yeah, but what about this?” And just kills a lot of it, or points out the flaws in my thinking. And I’ll use both, right? It’s important to just know who the people are that you need for a certain situation. And also think about them, like, who am I either helping sharing my moment of inspiration? Or who am I not helping, slowing down or making unproductive? Just being mindful instead of just having it blow out of your mouth in front of whoever is in front of you and not thinking about the context of what they need to accomplish, what they’re working on, what their relationship is with you, how helpful or unhelpful they can be in this moment. It’s a lot of times when people are inspired and they wanna communicate, it’s a very impulsive and very selfish moment, right? They just feel amazing and they just need to blow it out to whoever is in front of them versus being considerate, mindful, and going: “okay, who do I wanna talk with about this? And who will also have a good time talking to me about this, or productive time?” I think that that’s really, really crucial. A lot of startups in the early days they might have too much inspiration because it’s all fresh, it’s all new, it’s exciting, there’s more possibilities than problems, probably, that exist, right? Since you don’t have anything or you just launched a landing page, how many problems can you have at this point, on day one? So, inspiration is really abundant often times in the early days, but I do see that over time, especially I know that a lot of our listeners are self-funded entrepreneurs that have been working on a side project for a year or two and are now doing it full time, now thinking about growing their team, but they’ve been at it for a minute. Often times I see that people struggle having as much fun and having as many moments of inspiration down the line. You’ve been an entrepreneur your entire fucking life almost. You’ve been doing this for a really, really long time. How do you make sure that you keep being inspired at work? Let me ask that question. And maybe that also can be the tip to wrap up the episode.



Hiten Shah: When you read the definition, the definition had a lot to do with creativity, when you read the definition of inspiration. Focusing on being creative and letting your creativity out is what keeps me going, personally. I think that can apply to any kind of founder, any kind of entrapreneur. Doesn’t matter if they’re really into sales, or really into marketing, it’s often easy to think that what we’re doing in business is not creative. Yeah, we’re not making art in most cases, but there’s an art to it. This inspiration concept and idea of being inspired, and what to do about it, even the idea of having lots of ideas, really, like if we have a foundation of – this is what’s important in our business today, then we get that out of the way and we can throw our creativity at that most important aspect of our business. So, this is what I’ve learned to develop over the years. Often times I’ll have an idea and be like: “it doesn’t matter right now, I’m gonna write it down in my … You know, for this idea, this product down the line.” And it usually comes up again, right? So, for me it’s just about knowing that I’m focused on the most important problems in the business today, so is the team, and we’re throwing all of our creative energy at that problem, not at these problems that don’t exist or don’t matter yet.



Steli Efti: I love that. I think for me, the tip I’ll throw in there and the way that I’ve been able to continuously be inspired … I mean, one is obviously, I think we’re very similar in this, surrounding myself with just inspiring people, creative people, people that are different from me, people that have lives that are very different from mine, that have backgrounds that are very different from mine. It’s inspiring to be with people that can teach you things, that can show you a different perspective on life. The other thing is that I’m always seeking a fairly diverse diet in terms of the content I read, the books I read, the podcasts I listen to, the movies I watch, the stuff that I consume. I always try to be very, very diverse and mostly out of the bubble that I’m operating in. So, these days I read very little sass content myself, but I’ll read tons of content about martial arts, I read tons of content about the military although I’m not a military dude, but I just got fascinated for a minute and started reading all this stuff about Navy Seals and their training regiment and all that. I’ll get fascinated about something weird. Or I’ll listen to stand up comedy shows for like hours on end at times, and I’ll be at awe and inspired by other people’s art forms and creativity, or commitment, or life. Usually that helps me come back to what I do and look at it from a different more creative perspective, or have new ideas around it and be inspired, and refreshed, and energized at work. So, having kind of a diverse content diet that’s outside the bubble that you work in has always been super helpful for me to be inspired on a consistent basis. Alright, I think that’s it for us for this episode.



Hiten Shah: Yup. See ya.