In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about their reading habits and they read books.

Reading is one of the most fundamental skills an entrepreneur needs to succeed in the startup world. It’s common for a lot of successful people to credit reading in some way as a factor to their success.

Tune in to this week’s episode to hear Steli and Hiten talk about their own reading habits, what kind of books they read and they share tips that can help you develop a healthy reading habit.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:22 Why this topic was chosen.

01:19 A look at Steli’s reading habit.

02:20 How a book is not really a constant experience.

02:31 One thing Steli does when he reads.

02:42 Why you should give a book a second try.

05:06 Hiten’s thoughts on how the book doesn’t change but you do.

05:40 The importance of reading books purposefully.

06:23 The different types of books that Hiten reads.

07:28 A really good book on culture.

07:49 How reading purposefully makes your reading experience enjoyable.

3 Key Points:

  • A book is not really a constant experience in most cases.
  • Go back and re-read a book that you read a long time ago, that you really didn’t like.
  • Reading a book is an experience in time that can’t be replicated.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: This is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: In today’s episode of The Startup Chat I want to talk … This is going to be a mini episode about our reading habits. How we read and how especially we read books. People ask us this all the time. I know you are a massive lover of content and reading is a real main skill that you are honing a bit, that is adding quality to your life, everything else you do, same thing for me. So I thought, let’s attack this from a little bit of a different angle of just sharing, maybe some hacks, maybe some unique learnings, or habits, or ways that we attack like reading a lot of stuff. Maybe that’s going to give one or the other person out there an idea, an insider spark of their love for reading again. Given that we both absolutely love books and absolutely love reading, I’m just going to throw out some things that I do when it comes to my reading habits that I found to be unusual, at least when I share these things with people, they always seem to be surprised and then it seems to be valuable. I’ll throw out one weird thing I do about reading books and then we can ping pong back and forth and see if we can people some really cool new ideas on how to attack the topic of reading.



Hiten Shah: Rock and roll.



Steli Efti: One thing that I do, that I find incredibly valuable when it comes to reading books is … There is one thing that I get all the time which is, people as you for reading recommendations. It’s like, what’s your favorite book on sales, what’s your favorite books on business, what’s your favorite book of all types, what’s the book that’s changed your life most. I really hate that question to a certain degree because I always feel like what’s been impactful for me is constantly changing and the book that changed my life most is a book that’s totally useless to most people today, right? And would be a useless book to me today, but when I was 14 or 16, it was an incredible book to read, right? With my mindset and my knowledge back then. One thing that I found is that a book is not really a constant experience. It’s not a common experience in most cases. One thing I really love to do is … And the book recommendation I give most often is telling people, go back and read a book … Try to reread a book that you tried reading a long time ago and you really didn’t like. Just give a book a second try basically. Additionally, go back to a book you’ve read a long time ago that you really fucking loved and give that book a try again. My experience has been that reading a book is an experience in time that can’t be replicated because the book might be constant, but I am changing and I am a big part of the reading experience. The way I consume the book, the way I read the book, the way I understand, the book will change as I am changing and as my environment is changing. When reading a book somewhere on vacation it’s going to be a different experience than reading the same at the office or reading in the morning can be a very different experience from reading the same book at night, right? I pick up on totally different things … I might feel totally different reading through the book and so I love going back and rereading certain books and I found that I’m amazed … There’s books that I’ve read 3 or 4 times and every time I’m like, there’s no fucking way this was in the book the last time I read it. As I read it, a few pages and I’ll be, I could swear these pages didn’t exist before because I can’t believe that I’ve never picked up on this, right? That these pages, this strategy, this story, I can’t remember at all, right? That they didn’t stand out to me at all. What happened between the last time reading it and this time reading is I changed so much so now reading the book, something else stands out to me. Something else impacts me, something else is relevant to me right now. The biggest tip that I have to give … One of the weird things that I do is reading books again, books I love and books I could not read. Sometimes I’ll start a book and I’m like I just can’t do this right now. This is too hard, I’m not inspired, this is not fun, fuck this. Then, if it’s a book that a lot of people really love, maybe a year, maybe 2 years later, I’ll give it another try. Again, sometimes I’ve had the same experience but many times I’m like, holy shit this is an incredible book, I’m having so much fun. I can’t even relate to the person that was struggling reading this. A book is not an experience you can only have once, it’s not a constant experience, you can go back and read books again and again and again. Read them differently in different contexts in your life and they are going to give you different insights and a very different experience.



Hiten Shah: Wow. I didn’t get a statement in there, something like the book doesn’t change but you do?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: That is so powerful. I have never had anyone say it that crisply or say it at all really about reading books. That really made me think of something really powerful that I have gotten much better at which is picking the right book at the right time. To me I went from reading just books, whatever someone recommended or just whatever I fancy just based on a recommendation or something I have on my shelf or something like that to reading books really purposefully. Purposefully meaning, it could be as simple as I need some entertainment. I’m going to read a fiction book, right? I just need something entertaining, I don’t want to watch TV or a movie. I actually don’t do that very often anymore, I really don’t at all. I want to be entertained, so I’m going to read a story and go read the story. It’s mainly because it’s purposeful, I need to get out of my head or I don’t want to read yet another business book, I’ll do that. That’s very purposeful. When it comes to business books these days, for me it’s really, really purposeful. It could be reading an old book that I hadn’t before … Then there’s different types of books too. There’s books like many of the Eric Reese books a new one, The High growth Handbook, I believe it’s what it’s called, by Elad Gil, that you’ll pick up and find a chapter and section and be like, “Oh yeah, I need that right now.” You’ll read it and you are like, “Cool, I got it.” Moving on. Then you’ll pick it up again so it’s more of a referenceable book, a book you can keep referencing over and over again, you don’t read it cover to cover, that’s not the purpose of it. Many of these books are like that. I actually think Eric Reese’s books are more like that than less like that. I think there is a book by Steve Plank and I’m talking about very startupy books specifically on customer development, Four Steps To The Epiphany and then he had another one on customer development. Those are great books but those are books where I don’t read it cover to cover, I don’t want to. I want to read it when I have a purposeful thing, something that I’m going through in my business, something I’m going through in my mind and I read the book. The best book on the topic of hiring, right? If I were hiring a lot and wanted to level up on it and wanted to have a book help me, give me a different perspective, I’d go find one. Or the best book on culture. Honestly still, the best book on culture I’ve ever read is tribal leadership and I’d go pick it up again. If I’m scaling my business from the size it is right now and I know I’m going to have to 10x the team size, then, I’d go read that book. Right now I don’t need to, I’m good. A lot of the ideas are in my head but I’d go read it again. I think this whole idea of reading purposefully, and I just don’t mean tactically like business stuff but even personal, is really what I think makes it so that your reading experience is good. It’s enjoyable. You don’t have that, fuck this book moment like you described, you know. It might be to say you read an irrelevant book more so right now more so than a bad book. I never start reading … I’m like you I don’t start reading and then just could be committed to finishing it. I don’t want everyone to feel bad that I started and didn’t finish. I commit starting and then seeing if I want to continue. My commitment is to starting, my commitment is not to finishing a book which I know sounds weird because a lot of people like to finish books but for me books are references. Even books that you should be reading cover to cover supposedly, they are references. I like flipping through the book. I want to look at the chapter titles, I want to read the first paragraph of a bunch of chapters, I rally want to understand what this book is going to mean to me right now or in the future because to me I might take it up later and not right now even though I’m looking at it right now. Right now it is not purposeful even though I might have thought it is. That’s I think a ref on what you’re saying, which is, how do you make reading a proactive activity where you’re able to actually get value out of these books that you read.



Steli Efti: I think one of the biggest thing that we are both hinting on and I want to highlight is that most of us have learned reading through school, through the school system and there is a very strong kind of ingrained way of thinking of what reading a book is and what it isn’t. I think most humans, they learn to read the book sequentially from cover to cover, beginning to end. If you didn’t finish the book, if you read like 95%, you just didn’t finish the last chapter, the feeling is incomplete, as if you’ve never read the fucking thing. People have very strong habits when it comes to reading and they are very inflexible. I find people, if you tell them, “Just don’t read the first 3 chapters, just read chapter 4, that’s all you need from the book.” It blows their mind, they are like, “No. No. I read the whole book just to be safe.” “You didn’t need to.” “I know but I just had to.” We are so rational people-



Hiten Shah: Like why? It’s like why? Like why? Don’t waste your time.



Steli Efti: I think our programming when it comes to reading is so strong that most of us have kind of become a prisoner to that, “I have to read this way. I can’t read any other way.”



Hiten Shah: I love that. Then they feel bad if they don’t finish the book or start 5 then stop. I don’t feel bad, I feel great. I’m like, “Great. I read some shit. Great. I read some of it and then I didn’t need more of it, I’m good. I saved myself the trouble, right?”



Steli Efti: Yeah. I think-



Hiten Shah: I like that.



Steli Efti: Breaking through that prison and realizing that you read one chapter, you read the book. Not the whole book that you read was relevant. You started and you’ve decided this is not for you right now. That’s cool. You read it cover to cover, that’s awesome, you read half of it and stopped … There is no right way or wrong way to read. You just have to get out of … It’s and experience and the question is, “What kind of an experience you need right now, and what do you not need?” There’s speed reading techniques, there’s techniques of reading a book and taking very specific notes in certain areas. There’s all kinds of techniques or reading and I think all of them are fair game including the one of not reading the fucking thing, right? If you’re done with it in the beginning, or just reading one chapter or a few pages. If you get one idea out of it, it’s really amazing, if you can’t get anything out of it, deciding to let go and go use that energy and attempt another book or something else and maybe come back to it later, is a much healthier approach than going, which most people will do, “Shit, I’ve started so I feel the urge to finish this, to suffer through all the pages.” You know how many times you talk to people who are like, “I read it, but I really hated it.” “In the beginning or or just the last few chapters?” “No. From the first page. I hated this book.” “Why did you read it then?” “Well, I don’t know. I felt like I need to read like-” I think we have this very strong programming and I think the main message that we both have is, there’s many ways to read a book, there’s many ways to go back to books, don’t feel constrained to whatever your habit of reading is. You are going to get a ton more of value to enjoy out of the experience of reading books if you approach it with a more light hearted, more flexible way than if you feel like, “If I don’t start to finish, that cover to that cover, if I don’t do that, I failed in reading a book.”



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I’d say you failed in managing your time. You didn’t fail in reading a book. You failed in managing your time. It’s time management. Don’t waste your fucking time. Don’t read the book if it’s not good for you. Don’t read the book if you read the first few pages and you are like, “I’m not into this.” Right? If you feel like you could get into it then read one chapter. If you’re still not into it, stop. Please. For the love of God as they say. Stop. Because, I think we are trying to … Look we read books to relax or level up. Just two reasons. There’s no other reason to read a book, right. Relax or level up. You first pick, am I relaxing here to read this? Some people relax by reading business books, sometimes I do. That’s totally cool. No judgment because I’m one of those people. Are you doing it for that or are you trying to level up? If you are trying to level up, don’t waste your time. If you’re trying to relax, don’t waste your time, right? I think people don’t talk about books in this way. They talk about books like, recommended books. Okay. Great. I know I gave some recommendations earlier because I just had to but that’s not what books are about. Books are not … You are not just looking at recommendations and things like that. You are trying to get value from these books . That has everything to do with how you manage your time. I have a whole on managing time that we are going to save for some other time for sure. I think that’s what it’s about. It’s about really figuring out how not to waste your time and not resisting that conditioning that we all have from school. That’s so big.



Steli Efti: I love it. All right. That’s it from us on this episode on reading books. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve some interesting, funny experiences, unique point of views when it comes to reading books, just shoot us an email,,, always love to hear from you. If you’ve not done it yet, go give us a 5 star rating, I think 5 are the maximum stars you can give, if you can give more give us more. Give us a little review on iTunes, we’ll always appreciate it and until then, let’s go and get them.