In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about meditation for founders.

Meditation is an ancient practice that helps those who do it control their mind and consequently their lives. It’s a practice that is becoming increasingly common in the startup world and this isn’t surprising as meditation has many benefits.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten they got into meditating, the different things you can experience when you meditate, how meditation is much more about being than doing and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:35 Why this topic was chosen.

01:25 Hiten’s point of view on meditating.

02:24 How meditation is becoming common in the startup industry.

03:25 How meditation isn’t something you get good at.

04:30 How there’s a lot of different things that you can experience when you meditate.

05:28 How Steli got into meditation.

06:51 How hypnosis can be very directive.

11:58 How meditation is much more about being than doing.

10:10 How meditating has affected Steli.

3 Key Points:

  • I didn’t start meditating until a few years ago.
  • I don’t think meditation is something you get good at.
  • I think there’s a lot of different things that you can experience when you meditate.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: This is Hiten Shah. Today, on The Startup Chat, because Steli insisted, we’re going to talk about meditation.


Steli Efti: Exactly. This is basically … We could call this the podcast, Because Steli Insisted, that would be a cool podcasting title. Steli and Hiten Shah, because Steli insisted. Well, we’ve done an episode before on mindfulness, which was episode 286, 2-8-6 Mindfulness For Founders. We touched about that subject in very broad terms and we talked a little bit about meditation, but I thought it’d be cool to take meditation as a single focus for an episode, and talk a little bit about that in the context of you and I, which then puts it in context for, I think founders and CEO’s and people in startups. Since meditation’s become quite popular over the last couple of years, especially in the startup community, but even more broadly so. Here’s my question to you and I’ll answer that question as well, which is, A, do you meditate? And B, if so, tell us why.


Hiten Shah: All right. I guess I’m going to go first. I didn’t start meditation until a few years ago, but I grew up in a house where my grandmother meditated pretty much 75% of the day. She was either reading scriptures … I grew up in a Jain household, so it’s a religion between Buddhism and Hinduism. We don’t eat meat and things like that. I’d say I’m definitely practicing a lot of the principles of Jainism, and I go to the temple whenever I get a chance, but not on a regular schedule, so I actually hadn’t really meditated beyond any of the religious activities growing up. Then more recently in the last three or four years I started meditating. One of the biggest reasons is because my co-founder, Marie, is really into meditation, and helped me see the sort of benefits of it. There’s a lot of movement right now in the sort of tech culture around meditation and things like Transcendental Meditation and there’s the [inaudible], which is a breathing one. Then there’s meditation retreats, silent retreats and all these kinds of things as well, so there’s a ton of this stuff going on and a lot of different methodologies and techniques and things like that. I’ve tried a number of them in different ways, and I think for me, to answer the question more succinctly after that background is I do my best to meditate at least once or twice a day. I do like finding a mantra in the moment that might pop in my head, and say it if I’m feeling really intense about something, or something like that. I don’t really care about the thoughts part of it, or any of that, like, oh, go clear mind, or any of that. There’s a way to get to a place where you can be in a meditative state and still be speaking to people. Or you can be in a meditative state and just go into one pretty quickly and be there. I’m not saying I’m any good at anything. I think meditation’s not something you get good at, it’s just something you do and there’s waves of it. Right now I’m going through a wave where there’s a bunch of things that are consistently on my mind, and it’s actually a little bit harder for me to get into that state when I actually try. When I don’t try, it’s much easier, which is really weird. But anyway, to me, I want to be in a meditative state as much as possible, because I feel like I’m more present in the moment. My practice, so to speak, is all about getting to that place. How can I be in that state more often without actually having to think about it? How can I be in that sort of presence that I like? Then on top of that, I believe that, and then I’ll leave it at this for a second until you kind of share your approach. I believe that the benefits of meditation are unlimited. The amount of depth you can go into, even meditating for an hour, two hours, three hours, doing these long things, there’s a lot of power there. There’s a lot of … Not even, power’s the wrong word, but there’s a lot of impact it could have. There’s a lot of, what I meant by power is there’s a lot of different things you can experience when you meditate that I think we’re barely scratching the surface of, and quite frankly like, it’s somewhere in the esoteric side of things, all the way, like different dimensions and planets and aliens. You can get into all that kind of stuff, all the way to simply being one with the world, which almost is another end of it, which is like, I’m here, I’m in my little bubble so to speak, but yet I am everything in all those theories. I’m a student of meditation, I’m a student of mindfulness and I will be for the rest of my life. That’s kind of where I’m at. Really for me, the trigger was meeting somebody who really valued meditation a lot and taught me about it, so my co-founder Marie is the one who really shed light on that and taught me a lot about it just by doing it, not by specifically being like, “Hey, I’m going to teach you,” but more like just embodying it and meditating and sort of helping me see things, then I’ve been just devouring whatever I can. As esoteric as it gets, just to understand and know and try things, all the way to just the simple idea of just being present in the moment.


Steli Efti: I love it. For me, it started out very differently, so I didn’t have meditation around me culturally growing up.


Hiten Shah: At all?


Steli Efti: I had the opposite. I had how to be … I had a lot of the television is on at all times. 24/7, so silence is kind of drawn out by noise. That was kind of, a big part of me growing up was when we were not, even when we were talking, I remember even at lunch or dinner, the television was always playing. I remember myself just being in a state where I needed noise. I was never just sitting somewhere silently. There was either music or television playing at all times. I didn’t have that growing up around me. I first got into hypnosis before I ever got into the practice of meditation. Hypnosis was something that kind of opened the door to a certain degree just sitting there silently and just focusing on … I think focusing on breath as the power of breathing. I think first I got introduced to that by the concept of hypnosis, but hypnosis always was a much more directive way of getting into a deep state, but then doing something practical with it, right? Trying to trigger something, learn something, tap into a piece of information. Hypnosis can be very directive in a way that meditation isn’t at all, but I think it was my first kind of soft introduction into different states of minds and the importance of breathing and the power of breathing. Then later in life I started picking up books about mindfulness and meditation. I started meditating probably 10 years ago, 10, 15 years ago I started experimenting with meditation. Mindfulness, on and off over the years have done all kinds of things from going to two or three hour long meditation group sessions to just meditating for two minutes a day in the morning by myself, to reading a lot of books, so I’ve been practicing and studying the topic at least for a decade plus. I find it’s such a fascinating thing, because meditation to a certain degree, when you meditate, to me is such a beautiful contrast to most of my life and most of life and most of the life that I observed with other founders that’s it is very action and progress oriented. For the past five years, I’ve seen this wave come and go of friends of mine, that are founders, or acquaintances of mine that are founders or CEO’s that pick up meditation as kind of a productivity pill. It’s like, “How can I do even more? How can I self-hack even more?” Then eventually they … Some self-hacker writes about meditation as a way to be more capable and all that, so they pick it up and they pick it up with a very deterministic and worldly productivity mindset and they’re trying to be good at it, right? They’re like, “Oh, I’ve gotten up to an hour of daily meditation at this point.” As if the amounts of minutes that you sit there is any meaningful indicator for the quality of what is happening during those minutes. It’s funny to see a lot of founders take on meditation as this thing that they then either brag about, they can’t shut up about it, so they tell everybody about meditation, meditation’s the new cool thing. They are trying to get “better at it.” They’re like, “Oh, when I started, I wasn’t good, now I really got the hang of it,” which is kind of understandable, but still I have to smile at that, because I look at it different today as like, meditation’s the thing you, the one thing that is much more about being than doing, so it doesn’t … There’s no being good at it or bad at it, there’s no getting your black belt at meditation, verses being a white belt. It’s much more about experiencing life fully in that moment and yourself fully, to me, than being good or bad at it, or anything else. Just getting fully in touch with your body, your mind, your feelings, your surroundings, for as many minutes as you want or you can versus, I don’t know, reaching some heights in one book. I’ve been, I think for the past year or so I’ve been meditating pretty consistently, but for a very short period of time, around 10 to 15 minutes a day usually. It’s not that long, but it’s still has provided me, or provides me with an instant, almost increasing quality of the rest of my day, and it’s kind of a really beautiful check-in for myself. It makes me go, “Oh, this is how I feel right now,” or “Ooh, this is what my mind is like right now.” It just gives me a chance to check in with myself and the world and surprise myself with something I’m kind of aware of, but not fully of like, “Oh shit, there’s a lot going on in my mind.” Or, “Wow, my body’s really tense, all right, relax.” Or I’m really peaceful, I’m in a really good mood. Whatever it is, but it gives me a moment to check in with myself and life. It’s been super, super valuable. The one book that I’ve always recommended and I keep recommending, it’s one of the few books, it’s the only book on meditation and mindfulness that I have read multiple times. I’ve read it maybe four times by now, is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s, Wherever You Go, There You Are.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: I love that book. I find it very accessible. I find it very easy to read. A lot of people that gifted that book have seemed to enjoy reading it and it’s had its impact. It’s written in a very kind of small chapter, like three or four pages at a time. It’s written very beautifully, but also very accessibly. I find it a beautiful introduction. For those of you out there that want to read more about meditation, or maybe afraid of the satiric nature of it, or don’t want to be too much challenge, so don’t want to … I find that book to be a really beautiful starting point, so I want to throw that recommendation out there, but yeah, that’s kind of my background and also my current practice around it.


Hiten Shah: Love it.


Steli Efti: All right.


Hiten Shah: It’s powerful. It really is. There’s a lot you can do with it. I think it goes beyond the things that we’re hearing about it, about stress relief and things like that. There’s a lot to it, but just suggest doing it basically, and I think you would too.


Steli Efti: Yeah, there you go. That’s it from us. We’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten Shah: See ya.