In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about lies founders tell themselves and others.

It’s common for founders to unknowingly tell themselves and others lies about the state of their companies. And not realizing that what you may be saying to yourself about your company can lead to the lack of growth of your company or worse.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about the common lies founders tell themselves, how to realise that you’re telling yourself these lies, how to prevent telling these lies and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:35 Why this topic was chosen.

01:30 The most common lie founders tell themselves and others.

02:27 Why your belief in the success of your product is a lie.

03:40 Why you should use your belief of success to figure out how to make it happen.

04:34 The second most common lie founders tell.

05:47 Why this lie is a way of covering up the truth.

06:57 How things aren’t going well for startups most of the time.

07:39 The third most common lie founders tell.

08:07 The fourth most common lie founders tell.

3 Key Points:

  • The number one lie is telling yourself that this is gonna work.
  • You wouldn’t start something if you believed it wasn’t gonna work.
  • Things never get easier, they just get different.


Steli Efti: Boom. Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on the startup chat we’re going to talk about founder lies. The type of lies that founder tell themselves and others, how to prevent them, how to realize that you’re telling yourself and others, things that might not be fully true or are completely untrue. And who better to actually talk about this topic that you hitting. I mean, we’ve both been entrepreneurs for almost our entire adult career lives.


Hiten Shah: Yep.


Steli Efti: We have so many founder friends, we’ve adviced, we’ve invested, we talk to founders to every day. And if there’s one of the major themes of our podcasts in general has always been, have self awareness and we’ve talked about self awareness in many, many different versions. And I think this topic really fits into that theme as well. Being aware of the lies that you tell yourself and others. Right off the bat. Let me ask you top of head, what is the most common lie that you have observed founders tell themselves and others?


Hiten Shah: This one’s interesting because a lot of it has to do with the idea that, to start something, you’re essentially starting something from scratch, like in doing the impossible, right? And you have to have a lot of belief in yourself, belief in so many things that you don’t control in the beginning. And so I think the number one lie is a really weird one that I would say. And the lie is this Steli, it’s, this is going to work.


Steli Efti: This is going to work.


Hiten Shah: This is going to work. It’s going to work Steli. It’s just got to work. And you start your business with that lie. Like let’s just put it out there.


Steli Efti: [crosstalk].


Hiten Shah: How could you start it if you didn’t believe that?


Steli Efti: True. But why is it a lie if you believe it Hiten?


Hiten Shah: You don’t know. You’re lying to yourself. You don’t know. You started with no conscious understanding of, if it’s going to work. And I’m talking about day zero, like you start, you’re like, I don’t know, right? Truthfully you don’t know, but the mind, you have to convince your mind that this is where it started. And the way you do that is by saying this is going to work. You wouldn’t start something if you believed it wasn’t going to work, right?


Steli Efti: Right.


Hiten Shah: But yet, how many of these things actually work? Not 100%.


Steli Efti: What not 100%.


Hiten Shah: Right.


Steli Efti: Early 10% probably. At least if we talk about the original version of whatever works meant, right? Like whatever the idea was, the thing you wanted to work.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: Without having to drastically alter or change what you wanted to work or how it was supposed to work. Yeah. Almost never.


Hiten Shah: Right. I think that’s the first lie you tell yourself and that one might trickle down into all other lies that you tell yourself. And that’s one way to think about it, right? Which is like, don’t let that lie trickle down into all other lies, right? Use that belief to go figure out how to make that the truth. That’s the way I would think of that one. I know I started pretty heavy, but …


Steli Efti: Yeah. [crosstalk]. I was just thinking this should have been the last lie we covered. [crosstalk]. No, sometimes we start with the ending in mind. It doesn’t really matter.


Hiten Shah: It’s not just founders either, right? You start a new job, you’re like, this is going to be awesome, this is going to work.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: Right. Like this whole starting something, new job company, anything. I think you’re lying yourself in the beginning. If we were to put like a very, like, conscious hat on and objective hat on, you don’t know if it’s going to work yet, you’d start telling yourself it is. I think that’s lie number one and number one, maybe last one. It’s number one.


Steli Efti: [crosstalk]. All right. I’m going to build on that. Here’s the next lie that I love that I think is again, very universal and broad is, things are going well.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: And this relates to so many things. It could be like, I think that we’re really making a lot of progress. I think we are having really good traction. When you ask people how things are going, and they’re going, “Yeah, things are going well.” You can tell whether it’s true or not, right? You can tell if it comes from a place of confidence and comfort, or if it comes from a place of like, I don’t know how to say like, how to even say it, but it’s, I have to be strong moment. It’s almost like when you have to tell your children that something that’s actually bad news is going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. They’ll go like, “No, no things are really great Steli. Things are really great.” And it’s like they’ll probably aren’t, right? And I mean, we’ve all done this, I’ve done this, I’m pretty sure you’ve done this, but I think this a very fundamental lie. Things are going well. To a certain degree, is trying to cover up some version of the truth, which probably is things aren’t going well, or they’re not going well enough, right? And so first again, it always starts with ourselves. We’re trying to convince ourselves that all the things, all the goals that we had, that we didn’t reach, or the milestones that we aren’t reaching or the things we’re not accomplishing. Things are still going well. Like there’s still positive signs and I think we’re still all in all I’m doing okay. And so first you sell yourself, but then you want to keep everybody else on your team. Their morale up, right? We want to tell the story so that our co founders or our employees or team members, so they don’t start doubting. We try to tell them and convince everybody around us in our team that things are going well, don’t worry. Things are going to pan out. The funding run is going to come through, the customer is going to start paying. We’re going to hit this revenue milestone, this marketing campaign, or PR competing is going to work. Things are actually going pretty well. Just wait a little bit longer and you’ll actually realize it with true results. And it’s a story that we want the world to believe. Anytime we talk to advisors, investors, friends, family members, neighbors, people at events and they ask us, “How are things going?” “Things are going really, really well.” But it’s a really dangerous lie, because most of the time if you’re in a start up, things aren’t going well. Things are breaking, things are messed up, things are going too slow or not in the right direction. And you need to be really aware of that, instead of constantly trying to convince yourself that it’s going to be all right. You have to try to learn what isn’t all right. How to fix that. How to make it all right.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think that’s really powerful, right? Like the lie that founders tell themselves about things going well, is probably like another really repetitive big one, because again, you have to find something positive, right?


Steli Efti: Right.


Hiten Shah: You’re just looking for positivity.


Steli Efti: Right.


Hiten Shah: Another one to keep going is, that person’s going to work out.


Steli Efti: Yes.


Hiten Shah: Right. The person is going to change, it’s going to get better, right? This is one where I haven’t met anyone that hasn’t hit this problem, right? Where they have such optimism about a team member, but it’s just not working out. I mean, the number of times that I have sat with the founder or a manager even and heard about a team member, right? Because they just either want advice or like I just have to say, “What’s going on right now, like what’s top of mind?” They’re like this person, right? This is what’s going on. I’m like, “YYou need to let them go. You just need to let them go.” Like everything I’ve heard so far. I mean, you need to let them go, they’re not a good fit, right? It’s not working. And the preamble to my statement from them is just literally so much like hope, about it working and so much like reasoning of why, and why this person needs to stay or why they can’t leave or things like that. And like I already heard it, right? The person’s already like not working out. And this person has a lot of hope and they want to make it work, because as humans, I think we want to make things work with other people. But not even nine times out of 10, every single time, you can just tell it’s not going to work. Because if they’re so far as that’s top of mind and they’re willing to talk to me about it, something’s up. It’s just not going to work. I think this hope, this feeling that it’s going to work with somebody is a big one.


Steli Efti: Yeah. Such a big one. All right. You know what I realized, and we’re going to do one more before we wrap up the episode, but we could probably do 100 lies.


Hiten Shah: Yes.


Steli Efti: Easily. Like it’s just like I have 30 more.


Hiten Shah: Wow.


Steli Efti: Like, we didn’t even touch a single one that I actually had discussed in prior with you. This is such a big topic. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, but it’s important. We might need to do like an ebook with 100 lies or something with a little bit of like here’s the lie, here’s the [crosstalk]. We should do something about this. To me, like the lie I’d love to end this episode on is, it will get easier. And it’s usually once x, things will get easier. Once we raise our money, things will get easier, once we launched on product [inaudible] things will get easier. Once we have our first customers, things will be easier. Things never get easier, right? They really don’t. They just get different, right? The problems change, but unless you do something as a pure hobby, where the outcomes or the results don’t matter that much, or unless you do something where all you really want to do is just repeat what you’ve done so far and keep getting similar results, things won’t get easier. You’re just going to encounter bigger problems as you grow, as you scale, as you progress in your journey, things never get easier. They just get different. And I think again, all these things are very human lies that we tell in all situations, but this hope that once a certain level is accomplished or something is, you arrive at some point that then all the challenges of life will dissolve and you’re going to walk in a different drumbeat, is just an illusion. You’ll never get there. The problems that you’re going just have, are going to get bigger and bigger or more complicated or more challenging in one way or another. And instead of wishing, instead of putting all your hope on this one big thing, that will make everything easier, I think the best founders are those that realize that they have to stop wishing for things to get easier and they just need to start wanting to get better, right? It’s not about things getting easier. It’s about you getting better. The better you get, the easier things will be, right? And so instead of focusing on like, or putting your hope on some event or some outcome that will finally make the struggle that you’re in go away, try to become so strong, so smart, so good at what you do, that your challenges become less and less of such a dramatic struggle, right? Just try to get better instead of trying to get into a situation where things are easier.


Hiten Shah: Man, that’s really good. Yeah. You get better, things don’t get easier. I think that’s such a solid way to think about it.


Steli Efti: All right. I think that’s it for us for this episode of the subject. I’m actually going to leave all of you with a quote. I thought about this topic a couple of days ago and then I remembered this Richard Feynman quote that I love, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself. You are the easiest person to fool.” I love this quote so much and I think that, this can be one of the biggest sources for personal growth. Constantly ask yourself, what am I fooling myself about right now? Because we are all a little bit full of shit about something. And how can I stop that, right? How can I realize it and then stop it. Hopefully this episode helped everybody that listened to do that a bit more.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. That’s like a trouble prevention statement.


Steli Efti: Yeah. There you go.


Hiten Shah: I had trouble about figuring out what you’re fooling yourself about.


Steli Efti: All right. This is it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten Shah: Five stars. Don’t forget.


Steli Efti: Yes.