Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about discipline in startups.

Running a startup literally means taking a journey into the unknown and founders need to be comfortable with taking on uncertainty and the multiple challenges that are sure to arise.

One thing that can help you achieve your goals on this journey is discipline.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten the importance of disciple in and why it’s important for founders to be disciplined if they are going to be successful and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 – About today’s topic.

00:33 – Steli talks about why he chose today’s topic.

02:57 – Hiten’s relationship with discipline.

05:39 – Steli points out his challenge with being disciplined.

08:46 – Steli talks about what discipline means to him today.

10:49 – The relationship between being disciplined and being emotional.

13:22 – Hiten discusses a quote from Mahatma Gandhi.

13:12 – Why being obsessed with people’s opinion is not a good thing.

17:44 – Steli gives some tips on how and when to be disciplined.

19:33 – How being disciplined can help your mood.


  • Discipline has been the single most impactful change that has contributed to my success as a entrepreneur.
  • Discipline is key to success.
  • Always do the things that need to be done.


Steli Efti: Hey, everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: And in today’s episode of the Startup Chat, we wanna talk about discipline in startup, so discipline in general as a personality trait but also in extension as a quality of teams in company cultures and individual contributors. So discipline. Discipline has actually been something that we’ve brought up and has been a consistent theme in many, many of our episodes. For people that have been long time listeners, you’ve heard us talk about it directly or indirectly many, many times, but we realize we have never talked about the subject specifically, and it’s something that I’ve been kind of curious about, it’s something that has become a bigger and bigger theme in my life, and discipline, I’ll lead the discussion with this statement, discipline has been the single most impactful change that I made that contributed the most to my success as an entrepreneur in my companies. Because discipline was the thing that was lacking for most of my entrepreneur career, most of my life, and it’s something I cultivated very late in life, just in the last I don’t know, maybe seven years, six, seven years. So I’ve now become very obsessed about the topic. I’m a huge fan of people like Jocko Willink. I don’t know if you know him with discipline equals freedom, and his books.



Hiten Shah: I have his latest book. It’s like all black, right?



Steli Efti: Yes. Yes.



Hiten Shah: Yeah, I have it. Yes.



Steli Efti: And but also people like Jordan Peterson. I don’t know if you know him with like the 12 rules for life or whatever it is, that talks a lot about like a lot of the themes come back to like discipline being the key to having control over yourself, to being able to accomplish the things you really want to accomplish, and discipline is a lot of times the reason when I meet entrepreneurs, especially the ones that are incredibly gifted, that are talented in many ways, it’s the one ingredient that most consistently is the one that stands out to me as the missing piece to their missing success. Like I’m like this person is everything. Why they’re struggling so much, it’s usually discipline is the one thing that I can point to that’s lacking. So first let me ask you because I’m curious, would you call yourself a disciplined person? I’m pretty sure you would, but I’m curious if you would use that term to describe yourself. And did you if you have it today, did you always have it, did you grow up with it? Let’s talk a little personal first here. What’s your relationship with discipline?



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I find discipline and maturity kind of related, not because I think you have to be mature to be disciplined, or you have to be disciplined, discipline is like a sign of maturity. It’s more so like when you ask me that I would say that for a number of reasons I probably matured really early, and at some point in my life earlier on, like whether it’s in high school, even to some extent in college I’d hang out with people who are older than me, just it just happened, it wasn’t necessarily anything I consciously thought about, and I also get along with people that are older than me, and the reason I mention that is because discipline tends to be something that most people believe comes with age. As you grow older, you kind of get more disciplined, and discipline is also generally a negative word because when I think about discipline I’m like oh, you know, I’ve never been hit in school by a teacher because I wasn’t disciplined, but I’ve definitely been the one that got in trouble a lot for a lack of discipline. In an equivalent of like Sunday school I went to or even in class, like I didn’t mind cracking a joke at the teacher. I wasn’t the class clown or anything by far, but I wouldn’t mind doing that. I would say that I probably had a lack of, in my case, a lack of discipline was not necessarily in my actions but was much more in my words, historically. I can have a lack of discipline with my words much easier than my actions. My actions have been pretty consistent, and I have pretty good discipline with my actions, and I’m very like on top of things when it comes to that, not necessarily with my words. So my relationship with that word and the idea of being disciplined is that in my actions and my behavior I’ve been consistent since a very young age about kind of being disciplined, consistent, having a pattern or structure in a lot of things, but when it comes to my language and my words, I can be sloppy. Meaning I can say one thing … That it depends is definitely something that I know that this podcast gets from me more than you probably, because I’m of the mindset that like there’s multiple points of view out there in the world on anything, and there’s many different ways to do even the same thing like eat a cake, right, or whatever. And some people will do it with their hands, some people will use spoons, some people prefer a fork, and yeah there might be a popular way, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. To me like I think with the words I’m definitely much less disciplined, and have been historically, where I need to work more to be disciplined with my words than I do with my behavior.



Steli Efti: That’s interesting. For me, I think that my challenge with being disciplined growing up is, A, I grew up in a household where my mom was a single mom with three boys, having a factory worker job, and she’s just an incredibly sweet person, so she was never the type of person to be very hard on us or to enforce rules, and to one degree we obviously as children were using that softness of my mom to basically not take responsibility for almost anything. But at the same time we respected her enough because of the way she lived her life to never really get into any serious, serious trouble. She was always at the edge of it, but never really got into big trouble. I personally like a lot of things came easy to me when I was young, and so very … And then I got a lot of positive reinforcement growing up from my, especially from my family, my mother and my grandfather and bunch of people that it was like so smart and like smart was a word that was thrown around a lot in relation to me, so I think very early on I kind of developed this mind frame of when something doesn’t come easy to me I’m not interested, so I would pick up things, and if I wasn’t instantly obviously gifted in that thing I’d just drop it instantly. I’d be like up, not interested, I’m obviously not gonna be like the best in this, so then I don’t wanna participate at all. That led to me living life or growing up in a way where I would just always choose the thing I was interested, really good at, and that came easy to me, and kind of avoid all the things I didn’t want to do. Because I was, you know, I had a natural ability to problem solve, when I went back the habit got me into any kind of trouble, and because I was always very charming especially as a young kid, I always found my way out of problems, I always knew, and that developed a certain level of self confidence, but then again it reinforced me not having to be disciplined because I kind of like I was living in a framework of I’m not gonna do this because I don’t wanna do it, and even if there’s trouble in sight, I kind of know that I’ll find a way around it, I’ll find a way out of it, it’s not gonna be that bad. That really informed most of my decision making all the way til me being 23 and deciding to sell everything I had and come to San Francisco to build a startup. And the first five years of that startup and all the failures involved with it with very much in form with me always siding on the doing what I feel like doing right now, but not doing necessarily in a lot of times the things that needed to get done, and thinking I can get away with it. But it also comes with a feeling of dissatisfaction, and a feeling of knowing that I’m not living up to my full potential, so that’s kind of my history of like growing up, and so discipline really I was always hardworking, I was always very ambitious, but I always tended towards looking for ways to do the things I liked doing and I was good at doing, and always avoided everything, no matter how small it was … If I didn’t wanna like small things like paying a fine for parking, a parking fine would always escalate to like instead of paying the 25 bucks right now, it would escalate to becoming a $500 bill after the thirtieth warning because I didn’t enjoy having to white a check and pay for this. Like little things would escalate to big, unnecessary problems because I never really cared, I didn’t wanna do it. And to me learning to become consistent and discipline was really the big key that allowed me to take control over myself. And so discipline I think is a really negative word because it always sounds like externally enforced, right, being disciplined somebody is forcing you to do things, it sounds very rigid, it sounds very like bleak, it’s very military, it’s very old school, it’s not creative, it’s not colorful, it’s not inspirational, it’s not fun, but I think that discipline is the personality trait that really empowers personal freedom in the sense of like if you want to do something or if you think something needs to get done you know you’re going to do it because you have control over your own emotions. To me discipline today really just means the control you have over your own emotional household and over your own mental household. Your willpower and your will is dictating what you’re working on and what you’re doing next, and not your mood. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs that I meet, they always they don’t do what needs to get done. A lot of times the reason why they get in trouble because they skew towards wanting to work on the things that are a little bit more fun.



Hiten Shah: I really like that. I think that that’s a really good way to think about discipline, and it actually makes sense even in my world where I can talk very emotionally but my behavior is unemotional. And that’s where the discipline kind of comes in, right? If I’m more thoughtful before I speak, I tend to have better results, and my discipline, everything just gets better that way. So I like that. I think you know that being disciplined, you’re almost implying this, and I’m curious what you think, but you might even just have said it, but it’s like what you’re telling me is that being disciplined means being unemotional. Is that correct?



Steli Efti: That is a good question. So I haven’t said that. I’m emotional. I’m not, no. I actually, no, I will actually completely disagree with this because being disciplined to me means actually being very emotional, but being able to override emotions because if I don’t feel anything, maybe if I have a regimen and I just do things everyday, and there’s not a question of if I feel like it or not, maybe that’s the type of discipline that a lot of people, that some people have. To me, discipline means to me discipline is the most valuable, it is the most valuable at times where when I am emotional, at times where I am in a mood that doesn’t lend itself to … Like when I don’t wanna do something, when I feel lethargic or depressed, or tired or moody, or angry, when my emotions with led me to do things that are self destructing or not productive, and my mind in this case, and my commitment to certain things is overriding that emotion, and I go well, I know I feel like not doing anything right now, but I’m gonna go over and fill out this paperwork and get it done because it needs to get done and I said I would do it. It’s overriding that emotion, to me. Discipline is most useful and valuable when I’m the most irrational and emotional, or when I’m in the most moody sense. When I don’t feel any emotion, when I just go through like habitual things that I do every single day because I’m committed to it, I mean it’s valuable there as well, but the most valuable to me is when I am emotional. That’s when discipline is the most valuable tool in my toolbox.



Hiten Shah: Okay. I’m gonna read something I wrote based on a quote, and how I was feeling about a week ago. So I wrote this on a Saturday, I think.



Steli Efti: Okay.



Hiten Shah: And it was on Instagram, and I put it on Facebook too. So the quote is from Mahatma Gandhi, and the quote is a man is but a product of his thoughts, what he thinks he becomes. I rephrased that a little bit and said a person is but a product of their thoughts, what they think they become, just because I actually believe we should be more gender neutral in our quotes. Mahatma Gandhi didn’t know any better at the time, but I feel that is just that’s how I would rephrase it, so I did that. Then I said I was pondering this quote today as I reflect on my own thoughts over the past week, and realize how much of at impact they have on me and those who are around me. My thoughts this week were coming from a place of anxiety and doubt, not typical of my mindset, so I took some time and went for a walk. Then I meditated in silence for an hour. I actually did this because I just had to, because again, my thoughts were full of anxiety and doubt and that’s not me. Then what I wrote after that was what came to me was a reminder to respect my own thoughts, and countless memories and feelings of what happens when I take thoughts full of anxiety and doubt and turn them into actions for positive change. So for me, the reason I shared that is because when you were talking I was like oh, yeah, so what Steli is saying is no, discipline is actually about emotion, but discipline is more about getting through emotion in a productive way, and making sure you’re able to do that consistently. Because that’s the problem I had that week. The whole week was full of this doubt that I didn’t really recognize, and I had to go spend time with it by going for a walk and then coming back, and still not feeling the best but better, and realizing I just needed to be quiet, and just meditate, and it helps me because I actually don’t have a hard time shutting off my brain when I’m meditating, unlike I think a lot of people I’ve met. I can also sit here and think about nothing and not really like … You know, it’s just okay. But when I’m not in that mode, that’s not my best self. So I think this discipline, this idea of discipline being able to move through emotion that are holding you back, it seems to be kind of what I think you’re getting at. So it’s not that like being disciplined means you’re unemotional. It’s that being disciplined means you’re working through your emotions in a disciplined way. Right? You’re recognizing them and you’re working through them, and I think that this has something a lot to do with our mindfulness episode as well where we talk a lot about things like this. So to me it comes full circle, where we did this episode because you and I talk about discipline and things like that a lot. We’ve also done a lot of episodes like it, like 286. Episode 286 was a mindfulness one, and it really just boils down to how are you able to control your emotion and be disciplined about it, because everything starts and ends there because what I noticed is I was impacting the people around me with this doubt and anxiety that I normally don’t feel, and I haven’t felt like that in a long time in that way for such a prolonged period of time, and it was just a good reminder and recognition that like I know how to manage that. I can be disciplined about my emotions because for me, again, as I said before when you asked the question, I can spill that emotion into my words and my language really easily. Most people who know me know this like really well. But people who don’t know me very well probably can’t guess that, and that’s because I’m able to manage my emotions very well even in times of crisis, partly because of just childhood upbringing as well as like starting so many companies. It’s like eh, you know, like whatever. Like bring the next thing, it’s okay. Whatever it is, good, bad, ugly, we get through it all every time, right? So it really, really inspired me to share that because I think that’s what you’re trying to say. I wouldn’t want anyone to leave this podcast today and think that we’re telling you to be unemotional. We’re actually probably telling you the opposite. Be more emotional, but figure out what the emotions are and get through them in a disciplined way.



Steli Efti: Yeah, using like whenever your emotions are, you know, whenever your emotions are pointing you in a productive place, in a positive place, you use them as fuel, but when they are not you don’t use them as excuse, you don’t use them as a wall, or as a prison just because you don’t feel like doing something you’re not doing it, or just because you’re insecure you’re lashing out, or just because you’re angry you’re acting irrational, or just because you’re feeling a little depressed and sad you just let yourself go and don’t do the work and don’t show up, and don’t honor your word or your commitments to your team mates, your company, your customers, whatever it is. I think that the message really is that discipline can be a way to again not be like some kind of a robotic soldier archetype that doesn’t feel anything, and just existing with everyday in and out regardless of what the world looks like. No, the idea is to be a passionate emotional creative human being, but use like be in control of your emotions in a sense that when you have inevitable human negative emotions, these are not, your emotions don’t become a tyrant that are pushing you around and get the worst out of you, but you can overcome or control or push through your emotions to always be your best self, and always do the things that you know are important to do, and that’s gonna make you feel amazing, like that’s gonna instantly take a negative emotion and turn it into a massive positive one. There’s nothing, there’s very few things in life that make me feel as proud and as excited as when I really didn’t feel like doing something and I did it and still kept my word, and then instantly the emotion changes and that negativity turns around to feeling proud of myself and feeling happy that I went through it, and although I didn’t want to, I’m at a much better place when I take an action although I didn’t feel like it than when I take an action when I feel like it, right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: This sounds bizarre, but you know I know that I overcame that inner tyrant of emotion, I know that I pushed through it, and that makes me feel a little better about myself. And then I think what else can I do that I didn’t feel like doing recently, what else is difficult. Like I’m on a roll here, let’s go. Let’s go at it.



Hiten Shah: Get to it, yeah.



Steli Efti: Yeah, let’s get to it. And so some of my best days where I create the most value start not in a positive place emotionally but in a negative place emotionally, funny enough, and that was something that was completely lacking in my life for most of it. So I think many startup teams, many founders, many entrepreneurs because the trade, you have to be creative, but because you do a lot of creative problem solving, because you are tackling and creating new solutions, new products and new services, a lot of the creativity, a lot of that ingenuity is an incredibly powerful thing. And a lot of startups are born out of positive emotions, an emotion of inspiration, having big goals and visions, and being motivated and wanting to accomplish things, and all that stuff is fucking beautiful, but the one that if you have all of that and you’re consistently struggling, maybe you’ve gone many, many years as an entrepreneurial career, I would take a hard look today in the mirror and ask myself could it be that I’m lacking discipline. Could it be that discipline is the missing piece of the puzzle that if I could push through my emotions especially when I don’t feel like doing things or when I am afraid of doing things, could if I just changed that, if I worked on that personal habit, could that make all the difference, or is that the thing that’s holding me back? And in many cases, not all, but in many cases, that’s something I point to entrepreneurs, I push that button, I have them look at that, and then when they start working with it, it makes a massive difference.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.



Steli Efti: All right. That’s it from us for this episode.



Hiten Shah: Get discipline.



Steli Efti: Get discipline. We’ll hear you soon. Bye bye.