In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about a really important piece of career advice, which is, never making compromises when it comes to people.

This comes after a talk Steli gave recently to a bunch of students at a career advice seminar.

Tune in to this week’s episode to hear Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on what kinds of people to surround yourself with, what to do to meet more great people, how to avoid meeting bad people, what to do when you meet amazing people and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:28 Steli introduces today’s episode.

01:33 What kinds of people to surround yourself with.

02:02 How to avoid meeting bad people.

02:44 What to do when you meet amazing people.

05:54 Why you shouldn’t invest in a shitty relationship.

06:24 How to figure out what is important to you.

07:11 Why it’s important for a relationship to be mutually beneficial.

07:38 Why you shouldn’t have shitty relationships.

09:15 A big ‘AHA’ moment of Steli’s.

07:23  Why it’s important to define who is an asshole and who is not.

3 Key Points:

  • When you find somebody that is an amazing person, invest in that relationship for the long term.
  • Do you want to invest in a shitty relationship?
  • Be ruthless in weeding out bad people from your life.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.



HIten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today on The Startup Chat, I don’t know what we’re going to talk about yet. So, Steli, what do you got?



Steli Efti: Those are my favorite ones.



HIten Shah: Me too.



Steli Efti: Here’s what I want us to talk about and what I’m dying to have a conversation with you about and share it with the world. It’s the most important career advice that I have to give, and it’s one of the most important pieces of life advice that I have to give. So, it translates very importantly for startups as well. The reason why I want to talk about this is that recently, I gave talk. It was a talk in front of a fairly mixed group of younger people. Some of them were entrepreneurs. Some of them were still students. Some of them were young professionals. They asked me to give my career hacks or my career advice, and this is very unusual. I never talk about this type of topic. I usually don’t talk in that kind of a mixed crowd. It took me aback, and it took me a few days to think about what fucking career advice do I even have to give? I’ve never thought about my life or my work as a career, and probably nobody else has, so I’m like I don’t even know if I am qualified to talk about a fucking career. I have never had a real job in my life, but ultimately what I settled on and what I talked about … I was really impressed by the response in terms of both how honest the audience was telling me how difficult what I told them seemed to be. My advice was really simple, and it boiled down to this. When it comes to people, you cannot make any compromises. Never, ever, ever, ever make compromises when it comes to people. Only, only surround yourself with amazing people. Do everything you can to meet more great people, and do anything you can to run away and get away from bad people, bad people being assholes, people that are robbing you of energy, people that make your life harder versus making it better. When you find somebody that is an amazing person, invest in that relationship and think about that investment for an investment that you are willing to make for decades until it pays off. Don’t think short term. Don’t think about the next job. Don’t think about your next project, the next week. Can this person help me, yes or no? Is this person going to help me in my career in the next year, yes or no? Don’t make decision on who you invest time and energy in in terms of people based on a very short-term lens. Think about people relationships with a very, very long-term view and be ruthless in weeding out bad people from your life and only surrounding yourself with amazing people. I thought that it’s such broad advice that it’s probably going to be hard for people to grasp the significance of it or to really apply it, but I was surprised how many young people came to me. Basically the summary of their response was, “What you say makes perfect sense, but you would agree that, you know, you can’t quite do this all the time. Like, my boss is an asshole. What am I supposed to do? I can’t fire him.” Or, “Sometimes, there’s somebody that’s can help me with something. I might not like this person, but I want them to help me to accomplish this goal. Surely, you would agree that that’s cool.” People basically agreed with me in principal and argued with me in how radical my advice in execution was. Yeah, a lot of these conversations. That led me to be like, “Okay, we’ve talked about this plenty of times, but let’s talk about it again.” You can’t make compromises with people. I’m dying to hear your response. I know that we are pretty aligned, but I know that you’re going to flip it around in some way, or … I’m dying to hear what your response is to that topic.



HIten Shah: Yeah. Man, people.



Steli Efti: People.



HIten Shah: I was just talking to a friend earlier about people and how he feels like he doesn’t need more relationships in his life, so he’s talking about … He has two kids, and he’s married. He’s has the money to hire a nanny or some help. They don’t have any help today, besides somebody who helps once a week for cleaning and stuff like that. He was telling me his house is a mess. His wife works as well, and he works … He’s a startup founder. Then, he’s like, “You know, I’ve been wondering for like … I want to almost say years. Why don’t I want help at home?” I’ve heard all the typical ones, right, like money, or I can’t find good help, or all that. Those weren’t his issues. His was one that I think it took him a while to get to, and I think it’s very related to this, which is I just don’t want another relationship.



Steli Efti: Huh.



HIten Shah: He’s like, “I just don’t want another relationship I have to worry about.” I’m like, Oh.



Steli Efti: Oh.



HIten Shah: “Interesting.” To me, this has been the theme of the day, and I think what this has to do with is we’re constantly investing a lot in our relationships, whether we realize it or not. All of them, as important as a nanny, potentially, obviously as important as a partner, wife, husband, whatever, as important as a boyfriend, girlfriend, et cetera. We’re constantly investing in these relationships, and they’re investing in them, too. So, when it comes to people, like, let’s go talk about your team members. Yeah, we’re investing in those, too. Do you want to invest in a shitty relationship? That’s the big question to me. You’re saying, “Hey, good people, great people, not asshole,” blah, blah, blah. Totally agree. That being said, if you’re an asshole, you probably have assholes around you, and that’s good people to you.



Steli Efti: Right.



HIten Shah: I just want to point that out, Steli. Just want to point that out.



Steli Efti: That’s very important. I have an anecdote on this very soon, but I agree with you.



HIten Shah: Please. Yeah. That’s important. What is a good person to you is super important. How do you figure that out is you just figure out is this a shitty relationship? Am I willing to invest even more in it to make it great or not? I have a relationship right now on my team that is a team member, not my co-founder, but someone who we consider a partner in the business, and I am willing to invest as much as I can, my mental energy, my emotional energy, into that relationship to make it work. Now I need that other person to meet me there, too. If they don’t meet me there, that is on them now, and that relationship will clearly be over if they don’t do that. To me, it’s such a valuable relationship, such a high potential. Something’s gone wrong. I can just make clear to them I’m willing to invest in it. Here’s how. I’m willing to go the mile to make it work. But I know this person’s not a shitty person. I know this is a person who I want to continue having this work relationship with, and so I’ll do whatever it takes. But it takes them to come back and say, “Hey, yeah.” Because the relationship has gotten shitty, just to be quite frank, and we can’t have shitty relationships, period, because they drain us. They cause us to have so much unclarity, so much bullshit. We don’t have time for bullshit. I hear more and more people who get older and older having this sentiment. My friend is … He’s older than me. He’s 39. He’s about to be 40. I’m 36, and you’re right around there.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



HIten Shah: He’s like, “I don’t know if I feel this way because I’m old or because I live in the Bay Area or what the heck it is, but this is how I feel.” I’m like, “I don’t think it’s any of that.” I don’t even know if it’s age. I just think it’s like at some point … Maybe it’s age that you realize no shitty relationships, so that’s my rule. If I feel like I have a shitty relationship with someone, I’m the first to decide, “Hey.” That’s what I tend to be. “Hey, do we continue, or do we not continue?” All it’s based on is am I willing to invest in that relationship to figure this out or not?



Steli Efti: I love that, and I have a ton of thoughts on that. Let me go back-



HIten Shah: Bring it.



Steli Efti: … And throw in the anecdote first on the asshole versus non-asshole person. My older brothers were both bouncers in popular clubs when I was growing up. I was like 16, 17, and I was getting into all the clubs because I knew all the bouncers.



HIten Shah: That is so cool.



Steli Efti: That was-



HIten Shah: Can I just stop you?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



HIten Shah: That is so cool for a 16-year-old.



Steli Efti: That is very true.



HIten Shah: So cool.



Steli Efti: That is very true.



HIten Shah: Explains a lot.



Steli Efti: No, well. Yes and no, but that’s a different story.



HIten Shah: Just kidding.



Steli Efti: You would think that at 16, to-



HIten Shah: We’re going to talk about clubs.



Steli Efti: We need to talk about clubs.



HIten Shah: We’re going to talk about clubs in our future episodes, yes.



Steli Efti: All right.



HIten Shah: Done.



Steli Efti: I was not really maximizing the potential of that. I was not that confident with 16 as you would imagine, but anyways … Here’s one really big aha moment I had once. There was this person that I thought was a huge asshole. I remember talking to my brother about that person and my brother going, “That guy? No, that guy’s super nice.” I was like, “Really? Every time I interact with him, he’s so arrogant, and he’s really harsh. He did this shitty thing to this person, that shitty thing to that person.” Brother’s like, “No. I mean, every time I meet him, it’s a really good …” da da da. He had lots of good stories to tell. It really confused me. Then, a few months later, we had the same exact conversation about somebody else. In the middle of the conversation, something clicked in me, and it was like, “Of course they’re really nice to you. The only time you interact with them is when they’re trying to get into the club, and you’re the fucking bouncer. Right? Of course they’re like the nicest fucking humans to you. You’re the bouncer.” He’s like, “Yeah, sure.” In that moment, I thought everybody is nice to somebody, and everybody’s an asshole to somebody. Then, I was like, “Are there people that think I’m an asshole?” I was like, “Yeah, there are tons of people that think I’m an asshole.” Are there people that think that I’m a really cool, nice person?



HIten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: That was the moment I realized this definition of bad or good person, asshole or really nice person … It’s a personal definition, and it’s not a static, global experience. Right? Everybody, even the biggest asshole, has friends that think this person’s amazing, and even the sweetest person probably has some person that doesn’t like them. Right?



HIten Shah: I like it.



Steli Efti: So, I’m totally with you on the this is a very personal definition. I think that people need to define what is an asshole to me, and what is somebody that I like? I remember in a very early episode, first 20 episodes of The Startup Chat years ago, where you once gave me the framework, and I never forgot this, of does this person give me energy or does this person cost me energy? I don’t think it’s the only framework, but I think it’s a really good question to ask sometimes. In your case, it seemed like there’s a relationship that for a long time was giving energy, now has turned the page and is costing energy. You’re now doing anything you can to turn it around again, right, make this a positive relationship again, net positive.



HIten Shah: Absolutely. Yeah.



Steli Efti: I couldn’t agree more with you on that. I think the big lesson for me, or the thing that I’m … The lesson that’s getting reinforced more and more every day, every year, the older I get, and I do think that that to me has to do with age, is that the older I get, the more I reap and I experience the benefits of long-term, healthy, good relationships that I’ve invested in, and so-



HIten Shah: Oh my god, I like that.



Steli Efti: Right?



HIten Shah: I like that so much. That is so powerful.



Steli Efti: When I was really young, when I was 14, 16, 18, I didn’t have enough life to experience that. I didn’t have relationships that were long enough around for me to really notice the difference of the significant benefits of a long-term, positive relationship versus not. Today, every day, everything that’s great about my life I can directly attribute to the people in my life. All the opportunities I get, I can attribute to people, and it’s usually and mostly people I’ve known for a long time and people that I’ve invested in and that have invested in me for a really long time.



HIten Shah: You’re right.



Steli Efti: So, the older I get, the more reinforced this belief gets in me and the more … This morning, this is funny … I didn’t realize how big of a … How many anecdotes I would have about this. It’s been a topic for you today. It’s been a topic for me today as well without even realizing it. A big shout-out to who’s like a big man behind the podcast, a person on the team that’s really running The Startup podcast in the background as like a producer, basically. Rameen has been with me for this week. He traveled here from Thailand. He’s staying me and my family for the week, and so my kids have interacted a lot with him this week. This morning, I was driving my two boys to kindergarten, and one of my boys went, “Hey, Dad. Now I know a good friend of you really well as well.” I was like, “Well, you know-



HIten Shah: Aw. Oh, man.



Steli Efti: It was like, “Well, that’s true. But you also know another good friend of mine as well, and that’s .” He’s like, “Ah.” This other friend has kids. We hang out, families hang out, but my kids basically thought that we’re only hanging out because of the other kids, not that I am friends with the dad of those kids. Right? I’ve known the dad since I’m 14 or something, so I’m like, “He’s also a really good friend of mine.” My little one was like, “Wow. Yeah, you’re right. I know two of your friends really well now.”



HIten Shah: Aw.



Steli Efti: My oldest one then said, “You know what, Dad? Your friends are really awesome.”



HIten Shah: Aw, yes.



Steli Efti: They’re really nice people.



HIten Shah: Aw.



Steli Efti: I turned around, and I told him, “You know what? You’re right, and that’s why your dad is really rich.” Then, that sparked another conversation. Then, both of my boys went … Both of my boys in unison went, “What is rich?” I was like, Oh, well we have … That’s true. I’ve never talked about rich with you.



HIten Shah: Oh, no.



Steli Efti: So, I had a little discussion about rich and the different definitions and what I mean by that, and then we went to kindergarten. But it was like this reinforcement, and I was really happy that I had that moment to talk to my kids to talk about this. The people in your life are what makes the quality of your life. Right? That really is it. Not necessarily make how successful you are in your career, though that’s also true. But more important than anything else to me, everything great about my life is directly attributed to the people, so that’s why I’m so … And now I’ve gotten so many benefits from investing in good, long-term relationships that I’m such an extremist on this, where I’m like, “No, I can’t have any relationships that are shitty, and every new relationship that is good is so valuable, is so precious.”



HIten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: It’s impossible to understand when it’s just starting, but if you invest in it, in five, 10, 15 years, it’s going to be compounding so much that it’s going to be amazing.



HIten Shah: Oh, man. I don’t want to say anything else.



Steli Efti: Well, we’re just going to keep it at that.



HIten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: I think for people that have been listening to us for a long time, they know exactly how this topic related to this podcast. Right?



HIten Shah: That’s right.



Steli Efti: And why it’s very directly connected to the very existence of this podcast.



HIten Shah: Oh my god. That’s so true.



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



HIten Shah: Wait, hang on. Hang on.



Steli Efti: Oh, okay.



HIten Shah: Hang on.



Steli Efti: Help me out.



HIten Shah: Thank you for being a friend, Steli.



Steli Efti: Thank you.



HIten Shah: Thank you.



Steli Efti: Thank you, Hiton.



HIten Shah: All right. Later, guys.



Steli Efti: Later, guys.