In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten address the whole idea of benefiting from what you’ve done in the past.

Sometimes an entrepreneur will do something significant or valuable and then go on to benefit from that thing a couple years down the line. This could be from being invited to speak at conferences or be advisors to startups and so on.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on this idea and what they think should be the right way to go about it.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:28 About today’s topic

01:16 Steli’s thought on benefiting from cool things you did in the past.

01:38 Why Steli sometimes looks down on some of these people.

02:08 An example of Steli’s previous work benefitting him in Greece

03:13 If it’s cool to live off a solid brand.

03:51 Professions where it’s common to live of past glory.

04:11 Why it may not be a good idea to be judgemental.

04:59 The only time to judge people with a glorious past.

06:00 A pattern Hiten has seen.

06:41 Why it can be difficult to repeat a successful feat.

3 Key Points:

  • If anything, judge them by the value that they’re adding to the audience at that point in time
  • If you got lucky, good for you.
  • If you’ve done something great and it came relatively easy, it’s much harder to do something great again.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, I want to unpack a topic with you Hiten. I don’t know how to brand this, how to word this but the basic gist of it is the thought that inspired me wanting to talk to you about this is the whole idea of benefiting from old shit that you’ve done. The whole idea is that what I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs go through that are well known is that sometimes, what will happen is that an entrepreneur or start-up founder will do something cool or something significant or meaningful or valuable or prominent and then, they will eat off that shit for a really long time. Eating off that shit means that they got famous, or somehow they got a spotlight on them and 5 years, 10 years later when you ask yourself why these people are still invited to, I don’t know, speak at conferences or be advisors for startups or be … Why are they still getting opportunities? It’s because they did something really cool 10 years ago. They haven’t really created any value recently. They’re still eating off their moment of fame and there’s probably people in Hollywood, people in music or business or other areas where this culture is easier to understand. Somebody’s done something really cool a long time ago, they’re still eating off of that. I’ve always looked down on these people to be honest and frankly it’s like, “People still ask for this person’s advice? This person hasn’t done anything relevant three years or helped somebody in some relevant way recently as far as I can tell. Then recently, I was on vacation in Greece and during that vacation, a bunch of people reaching out to me and basically offering me really amazing opportunities. I was like, “Ha, it’s interesting. I’m on vacation. I’m not doing anything and all of this stuff is coming inbound, my way.” Then, because of the type of opportunities they were approaching me with, I don’t know, I had a moment where I was like, “Shit, this still the fruits of the labor of a bunch of really amazing shit that I did a few years ago.” Then, I asked myself, “This year, did I do the best work I’ve ever done? Did create the best content? Did I come up with the best stories, did I create the best products? Did I teach the best things?” In some ways, I have done really awesome work and in other ways, I didn’t feel like it. It started this, you know, dialogue of, “Am I now in this position where I’m slowly but surely just benefiting for cool shit that I did a long time ago and I’m not really creating new ideas and creating new things anymore as much as I used to or not?” I don’t know. I don’t have any aim with this episode but I want to unpack this a little bit of, “Are you still doing the best work you’ve ever done? Are you still creating new legacy and new reputation, new branding or is it cool to do something really awesome and kind of live up that brand for a really long time?” How do you think about that? I just wanted to chat with you about that. Whole topic of creating new valuable things or getting to a point and maintaining and eating off of something cool you’ve done for a long time.



Hiten Shah: Oh, man. It’s a very complex thing because you’re already lucky if you do something and become some level of famous. You know what I mean? It’s already some level of luck that you became famous but when you talk about that, what comes to mind is actually actors and actresses and how some performances we’ll never forget but they might’ve been 20, 30 years ago. Right?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: We’ll never forget. I think that’s important to keep in mind when you think about this topic because on one hand I’m like, “Come on, Steli, let’s not be judgmental,” on the other hand, I’m like, “If that person did something awesome many years ago and they’re not doing anything awesome anymore, aren’t they awesome anymore?” I totally get it. I think it has a lot to do with your own point of view. If this person did something so great and they either are retired or can’t come up with anything else, who are we to judge them? I think the judgment should come from or the opinion should come from the quality of what they’re doing now.



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: If that person did something great 10 years ago and they’re up on stage at a conference, because of that thing they did 10 years ago, I would just judge them by, if anything, judge them by the value they’re adding to the audience that day in that presentation. I judge anybody regardless of what they’ve done in that specific scenario based on what they’re doing today. I think it’s important to see what they’re doing today and if it’s valuable or not. Right?



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: Is it okay if people write that? Well, it’s a perception that got created so many years ago and not everyone has it in them to keep doing that over and over again. It’s hard work. If you got lucky once and you never knew what hard work was to get there for whatever reason and I’m not judging you for getting lucky, like, “More power to you. That’s not me. But if you got lucky, great. Good for you.” You know what, empathizing with that person, they might know they got lucky. They might know how easy it was for them to get to where they were then and they haven’t been able to do it again because they didn’t take any work. They didn’t take any real work like it does for most other people. You know, the pattern I’ve seen is if you’ve done something great and it came relatively easy, it’s much harder to do something great again because you might not know what it really takes to do something great on average. Sometimes, people don’t know why that great thing happened. If you start a business and within 12 months, you sell it for $50 million, you think that’s great. You did something great. You probably don’t know why it got sold so fast for such a large amount of money and then you might go do it again or try to do it again and you might fail, but then, you’re really known for the first thing you did because the second thing you did failed. Now what? Are you going to something again? Well, you probably made some money with that $50. If you don’t want anymore money, there’s nothing more for you to do in that construct. I think this an interesting one but really, do we need to judge people. That’s what it boils down to and what value are they adding today.



Steli Efti: I love that. I think the people that I’m most critical off are the ones that I think are using their old successes. They’re overusing that because they figured out that it’s an easy way for them to make money or to get things and they found an audience that’s maybe naïve enough to still be wowed by that. I think when I see laziness and when I don’t see that these people really give now advice or create things today that are so valuable, they’re actually destroying value but they’re still benefiting from that lottery ticket that they won and that they keep finding new audiences of inexperienced, easy to impress people that want to give them more money or give them more attention. I think that that’s the one where I get really judgmental. I think from a self-reflecting perspective, I think I’m really panicked about the idea. I know founders that had that really big success and now, they’ve done three more companies after the really massive success and all three failed and I think that there are awesome people that still try to create value and do things and I think they taught me that, and I’ve taught this to other people, that even people that have had incredible successes doesn’t mean that the next time around is going to be easier or faster. The solution that next time you’re doing it, it’s going to be super easy and quick to be successful. Nothing is guaranteed no matter how much success you had prior and you’re still going to fail. Look at the amount of successful entrepreneurs that started new ventures that failed. It’s a massive amount of them. But I think, this idea of years passing and being … Not doing my best work today, I think that’s, maybe there’s a self-consciousness that I have about that that’s like I never want to have to think that my best work or my best days are attributed to the value that I create are past and I’ll just do the best I can but the best work, I always want to do the best work that I’ve ever done right now and I want more of that to be in my future. I think that I’m self-conscious about it.



Hiten Shah: But that’s you. That’s you.



Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s me. Yeah.



Hiten Shah: That’s your bias. Right?



Steli Efti: Yup. Yeah.



Hiten Shah: I feel the same way. I think that’s why we’re friends. One of the reasons out of many. But not everyone’s like that. Not everyone is a self improvement junkie. Not everyone wants to develop themselves in that way. Some people are not like that. Some people are just doing the best they can by, I did that great thing many years ago, so now, I’m going to milk it because I got to make money.



Steli Efti: You know-



Hiten Shah: Maybe it’s that simple.



Steli Efti: You know-



Hiten Shah: Maybe it’s that simple. Personalities are different, people are different and you know, again, I go back to the judgment. Let’s not judge those people. What we can do is we can do better than them, so if you’re in the same place as them, and I actually do this pretty often, if I’m somewhere and I’m giving advice, let’s say, which I do less and less these days, but if I’m somewhere, I’m giving advice or presenting or trying to make an impression on people so that they can do better for themselves, these young startup founders and someone says something that I disagree with before I go on and say it or whatever, I’ll just call it out. I just straight up call it out. Even when I give advice, you might’ve noticed that sometimes, I don’t know, I’ll just call it out. I’ll be like, “Oh, that person, yeah, they’re cool, they’re famous. They said this. I disagree. Here’s why.”



Steli Efti: Yup.



Hiten Shah: I just put it out there, right? It’s not to shame them or anything. I’m doing it to express my point of view and make sure that people are not getting bad advice, at least in my opinion and what I consider bad advice. To me, the most bad advice is generic advice. Someone who’s gotten lucky, won the lottery ticket or many years ago did something great. Giving advice from that vantage point is usually very generic advice or very specific advice to their situation but it does not apply to the people they’re speaking to. I just do the best I can to make sure that people know what they need to know and not worry so much about who said what.



Steli Efti: I love that. All right, let’s wrap this episode up. I still have to mull this but I think, ultimately, the thing that stands out to me after having this conversation, this chat with you about this topic is the being less judgmental about others and just asking myself more, are they creating value right now. With myself, I think I can’t get rid of that. I think that’s a part of not the only thing or not the main thing that drives me forward, but I do think it’s a healthy neurosis that I have, that at times, I’m like, “Am I doing the best work I’ve ever done right now?”



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah.



Steli Efti: Most of the times, I actually doubt that. I’m like, “I’m not sure,” then, that gives me a kick in the ass that’s useful.



Hiten Shah: That’s what’s important. What’s in there that causes you … What’s in that situation that you see that bugs you about yourself. That’s it. You got it. That’s it.



Steli Efti: Yup. Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Why you got any kind of judgment is generally about you, not them.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: You’re basically telling me, “Hiten, I don’t want to be like them.” Cool, Steli, you’re not like them. I promise.



Steli Efti: I love it. All right. Everybody, this was a little therapy session for all of your ears’ entertainment for free. If you enjoy The Startup Chat as many of you are so kind of letting us know that you do, please go to iTunes, please give us …



Hiten Shah: It’s five stars. It’s five stars.



Steli Efti: Five stars and a little bit of a sentence or two on why you enjoy listening to us and how it offered value and we would highly appreciate that, until next time, we’ll meet you soon.



Hiten Shah: See ya.