344: Startup Karma
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about Karma.
Karma is the law of moral causation. In business, relationships are key. It is advisable to treat people the way that you want to be treated as not doing so can lead to missed opportunities and people not wanting to business with you.
In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on Karma, give examples of how to react when you haven’t been treated fairly and much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
01:20 About the topic of today’s episode
02:37 Why this topic was chosen.
04:17 The second reason why this topic was chosen.
07:00 Hiten’s relationship with Karma.
07:58 What to do when karma hits.
09:05 About the golden rule.
10:10 Steli agrees with Hiten point of view on this issue.
11:01 An example of a situation that could lead to bad karma.
13:30 When to speak up against bad behavior.
14:58 Why public shaming of a person is a waste of energy.
3 Key Points:
- Treat people as you want to be treated.
- Karma’s gonna fuck you over one way or another because you’re building a bad reputation
- Whatever is going on, good or bad, it’s your karma.
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, here’s what I wanna talk to you about, Hiten. I wanna talk about karma.
Hiten Shah: oh.
Steli Efti: Yeah. Oh.
Hiten Shah: Okay. I … Okay. Go ahead, go ahead. I’m listening.
Steli Efti: I was going back and forth if I really wanted to talk to you about this, because I do feel like a lot of what we’ve covered in past episodes, especially in the ones where we talked about personal brand and reputation, those are two that stand out to me. I think there are a lot of degrees … You know, it boils down to the advice that we have to give to people, it’s like “Just be a good fucking human and do to others as you want to be done to, and be helpful, and don’t be an asshole,” and all that. I think that that’s kind of a lot of what we propose to people and preach and teach. And I think that maybe we’re gonna talk a lot about that, but I wanna give you the example of why I wanted to talk about you about this, and see where it goes, right? Because we might go totally different with it. There’s two things that happened in the last three days that made me think about karma. One, I’m a partner in a small firm, I made a little bit of an investment, started doing this this year. And there as one company that I really liked and really wanted to make an investment in, and then the eleventh hour, just before deciding to write a check, I thought “Wait a second, in know some people that might know some people that might know these guys. Let me reach out and do the back channel reference check, and see if I learn anything before I finally pull the trigger.” And one of these people basically, I didn’t know this, but one of these guys that I thought might know somebody that might know somebody, that might know them, no, that guy had invested in them, in one of the founders 10 years ago, in another startup. And he was like “Just call and let’s talk.” And when I called him, basically boiled down to saying “Yeah, this kid is a good entrepreneur, but he’s really unethical, and here’s the four things that he did that fucked me over as an investor, so I won’t do business with this kid anymore.” And that was basically, you know … I had to tell those guys “Hey, I’m pulling out of the deal, I’m not interested.” They asked why, and I said “I can’t really go into too much detail. I really like you, but overall, I asked around and some of the things that I was hearing from people was not that positive. So it is what it is.” And it made me think about this karma thing, and made me think that many investors would have not told them that they heard some bad things. They would’ve just said I’ve changed my mind, and you never know that the reason this deal didn’t happen is that you have a bad reputation, or they fucked somebody and karma’s biting you in the ass. The other thing though, which is the real reason why I wanted to talk to you about this, is that some asshole, I’ll tell you after we’re recording who this is, some asshole dude that’s in our space, that I’ve known for a while and has been annoying me for a while, because he’s just a douche, he did something that’s not correct. He published something about us a while back that’s just not accurate. So I had somebody on my team ping his team and go “Hey, could you guys change these fact or take them off this page? Because it’s just not accurate.” And the team member sent me the interaction with him, and it was like the douchiest chat interaction ever with … That guy basically was like “No, fuck you guys. You would have to prove to me with bank account statements and with this, this and that information that this isn’t accurate. And I have put a lot of effort, time and energy in creating this, and I’m not changing my mind about it.” And then the team member was basically asking me what should I do now? And I was like “Just let it go.” Just let it go, because it’s not important enough, nobody really cares, nobody goes to this page, it hasn’t hurt us. I just saw it randomly and though it’s not accurate, so let’s change it. But just forget about it, it’s not worth the fight or the effort. But internally, I’m like “At some point sooner or later, there’s gonna be a chance where I could either help that guy, or I could fuck that guy over, and I’m gonna fuck that guy over with pleasure.” And I don’t even have a list of people that I wanna do bad things to, right? It’s not even in my nature to be angry at some stranger, but that guy really pissed me off. And his attitude, I was like “Dude, karma is gonna fuck you over one day or another, because you’re building a bad reputation.” So this is my rant on karma, and I think I might even be curious … Or one thing that I’ve been thinking about is the invisible-ness of karma. Like, it’s gonna fuck you over, but you’re probably not gonna even know that it was karma that happened. Some person is not responding to you, and you don’t know that the reason for that is that that person heard something bad about you. It’s that type of a thing, where if you do bad things to people, it creates a reputation, creates a footprint in the universe, and then bad things come back to you. And you’re not even aware of the cause and effect. Anyways, end of my ramble. I’m dying to get your first response and see where this goes.
Hiten Shah: Yeah. Karma. So I grew up with the concept of karma since I was a kid. It’s part of the religion I grew up in. That’s Jainism, which is an offshoot of Hinduism or Buddhism. It’s right in the middle. So karma’s near and dear to my heart in terms of something I was taught growing up. So when there’s a struggle in my family’s life, my dad would eventually … He would talk about it, think of ways to get through it, or whatever. But at the end of the day he’d just be like “It’s my karma, I gotta deal with it.” So I think that’s the perspective I grew up with with karma, which is whatever is going on, good, bad, It’s your karma, and then you’re here to deal with it. And that sort of was a way to help you feel okay about bad times, or okay if even someone else is doing something to you that you can’t process, or it doesn’t make sense. Or they’re being negative or bad, or like in your situation. The guy just seems like he’s not amicable in any way, and that kinda sucks. And you’re upset. I think it’s his karma, in a way, to be that person. Your karma in a way to deal with that, and then now what do you do? Right? And I think the part of “Now what do you do?” Is what gets really interesting when it comes to karma. So you seem upset. I get it. I actually can probably guess who it is, so that’s cool. But it doesn’t matter. And I’ve had people do similar things to me. But whether it’s that, or even worse. And I actually asked my dad, because he’s a karma expert to me, at least. And I’m like “Okay this guy did this to me, and I think he screwed me over, and it was a business thing, and I just can’t get over it.” That’s usually what happens. He’s like “Just don’t do business with the guy.” I was like “Oh. You’re right.” Like, “You can be friendly with him if you want, because I know you wanna be nice to him. But don’t do business with the guy. He screwed you over.” I was like “Okay.” My dad could take his own advice, by the way, sometimes.
Steli Efti: Couldn’t we all?
Hiten Shah: Exactly. And for a while it was the thoughts that you had, which was like “How can I screw the guy over?” And all that. But honestly, this rule, this karma thing, is the same to me as the golden rule. Right? And that rule is basically “Do unto others what you … ” What is it? Like, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And I think that in a way, that rule is very dangerous. Because if you have a reaction, like you’re having, and then you decide I’m gonna do something about that. I’m gonna control the karma, so to speak. You’re probably creating bad karma for yourself. By doing that, instead of just saying “Oh, all right. Well, he’s gonna get his, but it’s not my job.”
Steli Efti: Yeah, and you know-
Hiten Shah: End of story.
Steli Efti: Yeah. So let’s talk about this, this is really cool shit. I’m glad were talking about this topic. And it’s also funny, just a second before we joined on this call, I didn’t have the name karma for the topic of the episode. I had like … You know, you’re creating a bad reputation or something. And I was like Reputation, we’ve already talked about this.
Hiten Shah: Right.
Steli Efti: So the Karma thing was like the last second thing, but it changes the discussion so drastically, which I love.
Hiten Shah: It really does.
Steli Efti: Which I love, which I love. All right. So I agree with, I think, your point of view with this. I typically, and in this case even, I don’t think “What can I do right now to show this person?” That’s not something that’s … Like, I got upset with him, and it’s really rare that I get upset or that I get angry at somebody-
Hiten Shah: I know, yeah.
Steli Efti: … But he has been annoying me for a long time. This is also probably part of this. From afar, I’ve been annoyed about this person. And so now that I’ve gotten in touch and he interacted in a very douchy way with us, I’m like, you know … Rationally, I went “Lets leave this alone, it doesn’t really matter.” In the future there might be an opportunity where he needs help, and he’s not gonna get it, right? But he might never need help from me, right? I might never interact with this person again. And there’s another good example I wanna bring into this, because I have a question to you about this. There was a guy we’d hired many, many years ago as a designer. We talked about him in some episode in the past. He joined with a signing bonus, he was really expensive, but we were really psyched about the work that he did. And then within the first two weeks we realized that he had lied, the work that he showed us was not really his, and he wasn’t doing work for us. He was remote. And so we let him go, but he was demanding the second part of the signing bonus, and whatever, whatever. I called it “Cost of doing business.” We ended up paying him a bunch of money for him conning us, basically. And that was that. Again, there was a lot of energy, a lot of people in the company upset, we were a small team back then, tiny team. And people wanted to write a blog post about him, and wanted to really publicly shame him and stuff like that. I was like “You know what? This all is taking energy and focus away from our customers. Let’s not do it.” But then there was another guy that hired him, right? And I was surprised that they hired him, and a long time later I saw him at a conference. I was like “Hey, is this designer still working with you?” And he’s like “No. He kinda didn’t do a really good job and we had to part ways.” And for a minute I was conflicted, because I’m happy with just letting it go, being like “I’m not gonna do business with him. We learned our lesson, there’s a lot of things we learned from this on how to prevent it from the future. I don’t want to have this energy in my life, or this person, so let’s not bother shaming him.” But on the flip side, I saw him conning, I think two [inaudible] entrepreneurs that I like, I’m not really good friends with, but I like. And I’m like “You know, maybe I could have stopped that from happening If I didn’t just keep it to myself.” And this person can go on conning founders, because nobody’s speaking up about it. So it could be my … Shaming him publicly could make this whole negativity and fighting with him and everything, make that part of my karma. And I really don’t want that in my life. But there’s another side of me that’s like “Nobody speaks up, and nobody does anything.” It’s also enabling him to a certain degree, because he just goes on and fucks over more and more people, because nobody’s speaking you. Where are the lines there? How do you decide when to speak up or not, or how to … I don’t see this as my role to stop people from getting jobs that I think didn’t do a good job, or anything like that. But I thought about it in the past, especially with this designer guy, thinking maybe I harm the community by not saying anything.
Hiten Shah: Yeah. So karma’s about accumulation. So do you wanna accumulate more bad karma? Or bad karma, period? Or do you want to keep accumulating good karma? Or good karma, period? So that’s probably a good way to think about this. So to me, this is the way I look at it. And it goes more to what you can do in that situation. So in that situation, I would say that, as a industry or community of startups and tech people, we … I really … And this … Even as a manager, this is a good style, I really resonate with it. Which is where you praise publicly and you criticize privately, as much as you can. It can be hard to do, but it’s very valuable. If you extend that to the situation, or any situation, I think what this investor that you describe did, that started the whole thing, or one of the things that started the whole thing, was right. He criticized the people privately.
Steli Efti: Right.
Hiten Shah: I doubt that that person has shamed them publicly. So the way I look at it is, if that designer comes to those two founders that are acquaintances of yours, and you like them and all that, and you wouldn’t want them to get screwed, it was their job to go figure out who you worked with and come talk to you.
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: And they could have easily figured out “Oh, we shouldn’t hire this person.” Right? And you would have been critical of the person. You would have been critical of the person privately. Everyone on your team would be critical of that person privately, if asked. Correct?
Steli Efti: Correct.
Hiten Shah: So I think the public shaming and all that is a waste of energy, unless it’s absolutely necessary because you’re looking to create change. So you’re not looking to create any change here. It’s just one dude running around scamming people, right? And it’s some random designer, and there’s a lot of designers out there. I think criticizing privately in one-on-one conversations, or more, is very useful and important. But that requires people to share, and ask, and due diligence, right? So that’s a requirement. And then the privately … I you’re actually praising publicly, some people will know when you don’t praise somebody, right?
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: They’ll just know.
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: And so what happens is, one of the things I’ve learned recently from a very good manager that I’ve hired, is that … What he does, is that even when people are leaving, he makes it a point to really highlight them and their contributions to the business in a positive way. And that’s public. And he’s not lying. He means it. I’ve seen him do it with the folks who he has had a very hard time working with, but eventually they left the company. And before they leave, he writes a very thoughtful set of two to three paragraphs about them and posts it in Slack publicly, and really wishes them well. And I think there’s an attitude about that, that is karmically positive. It’s not that he’s lying about the person or their quality or anything. He’s just literally doing that. So now think about it. If for this person that happens to just bounce, right? You bounce them, right? Had to get rid of them. There’s nothing positive to say, right? But there is something you can say, which is “We thought it would work out.” Right? But in, you know “We were very excited, but in a short period of time we learned that it’s just not a great fit for us in terms of the person’s work style.” Right?
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: And the person might have a better time somewhere else, right? But you might not even write anything about the person, because it’s a very negative experience. But my point is lets be positive publicly. Let’s be positive. Let’s praise people. And when we don’t, people will know what’s going on, and then be critical privately. And so if somebody doesn’t ask you if the last person that that designer worked with was you, and they don’t ask you about that person, that’s not that. I wouldn’t put that on you and say you should have publicly shamed this person. Because then your folks and your brand and you end up being that team, right? Or that brand, that’s willing to do that. And I would say that’s a tactic that I would be only willing to do if I’m really pushed against the wall and trying to cause some change to happen. And usually it wouldn’t be against a person, it’d be against another company.
Steli Efti: I love that. This is beautiful advice. Nothing else to add to this. We’ll wrap up this episode with your timeless wisdom, and we’ll hear everybody very soon.
Hiten Shah: Watch your karma.
Steli Efti: Watch your karma.