In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how founders can stay humble once they’ve made it.

After years of grinding and building your startup, it’s common for some founders to become arrogant once they’ve “made it”. Unfortunately, this can cut short all the payoff or success that you’ve worked so hard to attain.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts staying humble once you’ve made it, how they react to their own success, tip on how to stay humble and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:37 Why this topic was chosen.

01:18 Why this is all about personality types.

02:31 Why feeling successful has never been a thing for Steli.

03:23 Why staying humble is important.

03:37 One thing Steli does at events he speaks at.

04:27 Why making fun of yourself is a good thing.

05:11 Why you should remind yourself to stay humble.

05:25 Steli on getting an insane amount of praise in his inbox.

06:29 What to do to help you stay humble.

08:05 What being humble is all about.

3 Key Points:

  • For me, I don’t think I ever will make it.
  • What drives me is that there are still problems to solve.
  • What matters is that I’m doing my best.


Steli: Hey everybody this is Steli Efti.



Hiten: And this is Hiten Shah and I think today, on The Startup Chat, we’re gonna talk about something we consider fun, although we have fun doing this so I think it’s all fun. That being said, I think this is important in a topic that is kinda fun, and the reason it’s fun is because we’re talking about people’s personalities at the end of the day. So Steli, you started it by saying, let’s talk about how to be humble once you’ve, I guess made it, right?



Steli: Yeah, stay humble as your succeeding, that’s the way I phrased it.



Hiten: Ah succeeding, okay so, this is why it’s about personalities right. For me, I’m never succeeding, other people might think that, but I don’t. For me, I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I don’t think I ever will make it. And so that already, makes me feel like crap every day, I’m kidding, I’m really kidding but at the end of the day, if you feel like you’ve made it, if you feel like you’re a success, for my personality type, that would make me retire. And so, I can’t do that to myself. I can’t feel successful in the way other people might need to, it doesn’t drive me. What drives me is the fact that there’s still problems to solve, whether it’s in my life, in my work, in the world, whatever. And if there’s problems, great, but if I think I’m successful that means I’ve solved all the problems I wanna solve, and then I’m done, I’m good, I’ll chill out. So, this is why I’m saying it’s personality based because to me, what keeps me humble, if I were to just look at myself and self reflect is the fact that I think there is an infinite amount of self improvement I would like to achieve for myself. There is an infinite amount of problems in the world, in my life, with the people I know, and really it’s problems for me, this is what drives me. That I feel like I can have a more than marginal impact on, I can have a tremendous impact on. That’s what drives me and that’s what keeps me honest with myself, that’s what keeps reminding me that I suck. But not in a way that’s unproductive or demotivating, in a way where I’m like, crap I can do so much more, I can solve so many more problems, I can help so many more people, I can help myself so much more. And that’s what drives me, just to give you a personal anecdote. I am sure it’s a little different for you, if not a lot different so I’d love to hear your take and then I’m sure we can get into some deeper stuff.



Steli: Yeah so, everything you said makes perfect sense to me right. And I don’t disagree with it, I feel like yeah, feeling successful is something that I’m not sure I ever felt. I might have had moments, very fleeting moments, but I’ve never felt successful in the sense of it’s a destination that I’ve arrived at, here’s where I live my home is now feeling successful. I don’t have that. I think, the thing that I really wanted to zero in on, that I think is interesting, I wanted to dissect a little but with you is, maybe it’s not even staying humble as you’re succeeding. Although that’s one part of it, the other part of it is maybe, staying humble as your ego is being targeted or as you’re getting public recognition or praise. I posted this recently where, one thing I do before every keynote that I give is I always ask people to raise their hand if they have no fucking idea who I am. And it usually is the majority of the room that raises their hand, even in rooms or conferences or places where I’m … Some people will tell me I’m quite well known and before I get on stage, I have to take selfies with people and people want me to sign a book and people tell me how amazing I am. I’m being showered all day long with how famous I am and I get on stage and I ask this question and they’re like, 70% of the room raises their hand and they’re like, we don’t fucking know who you are. And I always make this joke that, I always thank the audience and look a little defeated and go, this is really important for my ego so thank you for raising your hand. But to me it’s a good reminder … A, it’s a little bit of a joke to make people. B, if you make fun of yourself that’s typically a good intro to make people feel like, all right maybe this dude is all right. But it’s also a good reminder for myself of like, yeah nobody fucking knows who you are, nobody cares and that’s totally cool. And I’ve been in some rooms sometimes where I’ll also do this with you right, so I’ll show a screen with a startup chat I’ll be like, talk a little bit about and I’m like, I also have a podcast with Hiten Shah and da, da, da. And then sometimes if it’s in a room where I’m like convinced more people should know you than know me I go, who knows this handsome fella, just raise your hand, if you don’t know him and then I’ll make some fun around that. I posted that, that that’s the way I started my keynote and one of the reasons is to stay humble, keep your ego in check, and I really like this quote or this saying of like “You’re never as good as people say you are, you’re never as bad as people say you are.” And I know-



Hiten: Me too.



Steli: I know I get an insane amount of praise every day in my inbox. People send my really nice things daily and if I’m out and about, once in a while, I’ll get a lot of praise in person as well, so I’m being quite frequently showered with compliments. I know it’s the same thing for you. I know I don’t feel a thing when I read these things. I really appreciate that people feel like they learned something, I really try to take time to answer, be helpful and useful. But I don’t feel a dopamine rush, I don’t feel great about myself. I literally feel pretty numb reading these things, It’s like, oh Steli, you’re the greatest person ever. Like I feel zero, I just keep reading try to understand what to respond or how to help here and how to move on. And I know that a lot of people, as they are getting more successful or as they get more public recognition and praise, that the targeting of their ego, maybe their defense mechanism is not as good as ours so their egos grow, and that then leads to a lot of I think, negative effects. So I really wanted to just talk about would you and I, I mean maybe we’re not even humble but, what we do to try to practice staying humble, I try to be humble, I try to practice it, I don’t really think about it too much. But it’s just an interesting topic to me of like, some people as they succeed they become this huge head, they’re really full of themselves, and many people don’t and what’s the difference?



Hiten: So I think staying humble, when I hear that it always reminds me of stay humble, stay foolish.



Steli: Foolish, yeah.



Hiten: Yeah from Steve Jobs. And I couldn’t agree more, he had another thing that I heard from a friend of mine who worked with him where, he would say what’s next. And really emphasize like whatever we’re doing today, there’s more we can do, there’s more we will do, what’s the next thing we’re gonna do? So I’m sure after the iPhone launch he’s like what’s next, right? After the iPad launch, what’s next? And that drive, that insistence, that ability, that motivation comes from being humble. Being able to be humbled, being able to look at the world in such a way where like yeah, it doesn’t matter if I’m the best today or not, what matters is I’m doing my best, what matters is that I can learn from everybody and everything around me. So I think the whole idea of why we in startup land or in the business world, really worry about being humble and all that, it isn’t about like, all of a sudden you have money and you buy 10 cars, no it’s not about that. Fine, if you’re into cars, go buy 10 cars, have fun just don’t speed like me. But it’s not about that, it’s not about even honestly, it’s truly not even about people changing when they make money or get successful or anything. Although sometimes it’s a shame to see that if your friend changes for the worst in your opinion, when they make money or get successful or whatever because that can happen, it actually just brings out their personality more, to be honest. It’s really about this idea of like, if you’re humble, then you will be willing to learn. If you stop being humble, or feel like you’re a success or whatever, your ability to learn is completely hampered because you think you know it all. So I guess for me, when I think about this, it’s really about making sure that I don’t have that mentality of being a know it all. I don’t shut down myself from learning from others, or learning from my mistakes, or being open to looking at something great someone else did and learning from it, instead of ignoring it, or thinking they’re wrong, or having this allergic reaction to it like, oh I didn’t come up with it so it must be wrong. Those are the kind of things that I think about when I think about this topic of being humble and what it means to me.



Steli: Yeah, I love that. I think this is one of the topics, that’s why we said … That’s why we had a funny and funky intro. It’s not a resolution, there’s not like a 10 step tip program, or template, or strategy. It’s just interesting to me, to see how I respond to some of those things, and some friends of mine, certainly you, and to see then other people that seem to respond or react very differently to success or praise or public recognition and I count what’s the difference here and why? And I completely agree with you on the, if you’re not humble it’s very hard to learn and grow right? Because you feel like you are a finished product or you have arrived somewhere, or even if you feel super successful and like you’re amazing, that feels like a state of attachment. That’s something I assume you would want to hold on to or you wouldn’t want anything to change anymore. And then if you can change or if you don’t want things to change, now again you’re in a troubled place, because the world is changing, you are changing, things will be changing, you can’t hold on to anything. So I don’t know, for me, I’m not even sure if it comes from this place of like I always wanna keep learning, although that’s definitely true. I think for me it just comes from a place of like, I don’t know, I think I’ve eaten too much shit, I’ve had too much failure and success. I had success very early and then a lot of failure right after, I think that was a very healthy thing for my ego and my mind and spirit. So, it’s very hard for me to be full of myself and I’m just like, no matter who it is, we’re all full of shit, and we all should be trying to do better every day than we did the last one. And it’s like this, success or fame or any of the stuff, all this stuff can be fun but it’s fundamentally, it doesn’t have substance. I don’t know, I don’t believe that those words about myself because I know who I am, so it’s hard for me to take them seriously or attach to them and feel any way of getting a big head around that, at least that’s what I think. Yeah, stay humble, it’s an interesting topic, I think we’ll gonna wrap that up and we’ll just gonna tag this episode as a ramble on humbleness. But I’d love to hear people’s opinion on it as well so, we always love to hear from you. I’ve noticed a little bit of an increase lately and I think we both appreciate it and are excited about it. So please, if you have a question, a story, an anecdote, a tip, a thought to share-



Hiten: Anything.



Steli: Anything, send us an e-mail, We always love to listen hear from our listeners, and I think that’s it from us for this episode, we’ll wrap it up and hear you very soon.



Hiten: See ya.