In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about comparing yourself with other founders & startups.

It’s common for some founders to compare themselves and their startups with other founders and startups. ,and doing so is never a good thing. The moment we start comparing ourselves to other people’s apparent success, most of the time, we all lose.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about why comparing yourself to others is never a good thing, why you need self-awareness and self-acceptance to get to self-improvement, how a lot of founders are so insecure about who they are and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:45 Why this topic was chosen.

02:02 Hiten’s point of view about founders comparing themselves.

03:23 The importance of self-awareness.

04:00 Steli trying to emulate Steve Jobs.

05:24 Why you need self-awareness and self – acceptance to get to self-improvement.

05:47 How a lot of founders are so insecure about who they are.

06:26 How lack of self-awareness leads to unhappiness.

07:00 How we’re always looking at others.

08:37 How you never know what someone else is going through.

3 Key Points:

  • I think in one word we want to say stop!
  • It’s easy to compare oneself on social media
  • What’s important is your journey.


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


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about, I think, something that it seems like people get prone to off and on. Which is comparing yourself to other founders, other companies, other businesses. Other people, even. And I think this is just a topic that we haven’t talked about that we wanted to talk about. So Steli, take it away. What’s the thesis here? What are we trying to say?


Steli Efti: Well, I think in one word, we want to say stop. Stop comparing yourself to others. There’s some beautiful quote, I tried to look it up real quickly, but I couldn’t, but somebody can tweet that at me. There’s probably a bunch of great quotes around the evils of comparing yourself to others. But this one particularly eloquent one around the source of all unhappiness or the source of a lot of unhappiness is really to find us, as humans, comparing ourselves to others and with others. And that goes for founders, and that goes for startups in general. Like startups just going, oh, this other startup is much harder than the company that we are working for, or whatever. So maybe we’ll break down why. At least my thesis or my opinion is that it’s not helpful to constantly be comparing yourself with others. And why it’s not helpful and what to do instead. But I’d love to hear… I don’t think you disagree, but I’d be shocked if you did, but I’m curious, would you agree with that? Did you give advice to others not to compare themselves with other founders of the startups? Is that even a problem? Or do you feel like most founders and startups are very… It’s a hypothetical question, a rhetorical one, but have you gotten the sense that founders don’t have this problem? Because I for sure haven’t.


Hiten Shah: I think founders do have this problem. I think it’s easy to go out there on social media or read Tech Crunch or any other news site and be like, oh, they’re doing great, I’m not. Right? Or I’m doing great, they’re not. And what we forget is, we’re individuals, we have our own journey. And that’s what’s important, which is, what’s your journey like? How are you doing on your journey? Not like, how are you doing compared to somebody else? So I think it is true that the greatest source of pain is when you start looking at other people and things outside yourself, outside your business, outside of your control, and start comparing to them. I think that that’s definitely something that I would recommend people really look into themselves and find out, well, are you actually doing something that’s related to what you should be doing? Or are you just doing things because it started with the comparison of what other people are doing?


Steli Efti: Yeah. I think that comes back to the theme that we’ve talked about many, many times on the podcast of founder self-awareness, right? Really, truly knowing who you are, so that you know who you might want to become. But in the process… I know that I for sure, when I started as an entrepreneur, all I did was, I seeked out stories of successful entrepreneurs. I’d try to have these… I was drawn towards having these idols, and then I wanted to be like them. Right? I remember one particularly bad idea of mine, which is one that during those years, I saw countless other founders do. When I moved to the Bay Area from Europe in 2007, Steve Jobs was as a height of his hype, and being admired as the best founder, most amazing CEO, and all that. I remember I would just consume any and every information about him, and there was a certain sense that I needed to be more like that. So the first startup that I did in the Bay Area, I tried to be a product visionary, and I tried to be… I didn’t go as far as dressing like him. That was too dorky, even for me, that seemed like a really bad idea. Although a lot of people, or a good amount of people, in Silicon Valley were not too good for that, and just walking around obviously looking like Steve Jobs. But I remember I tried to emulate him in the way that I was communicating, whether it was giving demos or presenting. I remember distinctly that I was putting this massive pressure on myself to be this technology visionary or something, product visionary. Which I’m not, it’s not my strength. And not my personality. It took a long time for me to find out who I truly am, and to accept… You know, self awareness only only works if you also then have a certain level of self acceptance. I find that you need self awareness and self acceptance to get to self-improvement, right? If you don’t have step one and step two, you can’t get to step three. It took me a while to really understand who I was, and to be okay with it, to then be able to evolve and improve in a way that was natural to me and good for me. When I look at many, many founders… And, I mean, this is a human problem, but if we scale it down to founders, many founders are just so insecure about who they truly are, and are clinging for certainty and confidence outside of themselves. So the most natural thing to do is to just look at who seems to be the most successful founder and just try to copy what they do, try to be like them. The hope that that’s going to, A, make you successful, and B, make you happy. And that way, most people will live a life where they accomplish neither of those two things. Neither are they going to become that successful. And even if they are, they’re not going to find their happiness. Because if you don’t know who you truly are, you don’t know what makes you happy. So you’re chasing these things based on the external world that, in most cases, people find out afterwards that, shit, now I’ve accomplished this thing that other people thought was amazing. Now that I have it, I realize I hate it. I don’t like it and it doesn’t make me happy. That’s even more depressing than not getting there in the first place, is getting to where you wanted to be and realizing you don’t want to be there. Right? So I think that that’s a strategy that leads founders to optimizing for all the wrong things in the way they build their companies. And with that, bringing a lot of failure with it, because it’s not authentic to them. And then the ones that succeed despite it not being authentic to them, with just copying what other people do, they seem to, you never know, but they do seem to live pretty unhappy lives and unfulfilled lives, even with some monetary success or something like that.


Hiten Shah: I think it’s fascinating, right? We’re always constantly looking at other people, looking at the outside world. I think it’s really important to understand what you’re getting inspired by versus what you’re imitating, and what you’re taking from other people’s experiences. Or at least your perception of them. Because I think another point here that I would make is that you don’t really know what someone else was going through, no matter who that is. Oftentimes, you don’t even know what your significant other is going through, really. You’re not them, you’re not in their heads. You don’t know. I think a big thing in this is really just about thinking through, what are the things that you are basically using to make decisions in your own life? And act and take action in your own life? And are those things from you? Something you actually truly care about or matters to you? Are they just imitations? Pure imitation of just what you think is right based on what someone else is doing, or someone else did, or your perception of how someone else was doing or what they did. This is something that I see a lot of folks spend too much energy worrying about. Other people and other people’s stuff, other people’s successes, other people’s failures, other people’s anything, instead of your own. I think that the big point here, which is, go find a way to focus on yourself, find way to focus on what you’re doing, your own needs, your own business. And don’t worry so much about someone else’s anything. Because it’s not going to help you as much as you might think so in the moment. In fact, you’re probably getting distracted when you start thinking too much about other people versus yourself.


Steli Efti: Beautiful. Couldn’t be said any better. So we’ll wrap this episode up with this. Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself with your former self. You should always be in competition with your former self and try to get better every day. But really looking at others and what they project externally as their life and their success. Comparing other people’s external impressions with your internal world is just a recipe for disaster. Inspiration is good. Getting some drive, feeling inspired when you read a beautiful story about somebody’s success, that’s a nice thing, it’s a really beautiful human thing to do. But getting obsessed about what this founder is doing all day long and then wearing the same socks and hat, that’s not fucking going to make your company successful or your customer successful. Or constantly worrying about, oh, this company in our space was acquired, this company raised this amount of money. Why don’t we have more money? Why don’t we raise more money? This other company has raised a ton of money, we should raise even more, is not a strategy that leads to success. You need to have intrinsic drive of, what do you want to do with the money? And why you need this amount of money, and why this is the right time to raise it. Versus just looking at what everybody else is doing and going, well, they should know what they’re doing, so let’s just do what they do. They don’t fucking know what they’re doing either. Nobody really does. So yeah, stop comparing yourself with others. It’s not going to lead you neither to success or happiness, unfortunately. That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very, very soon.


Hiten Shah: Later.