Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the fear of doing something insignificant.

It’s very common for people to sometimes feel that their ambitions or what they do is not big enough and then beat themselves over it. This shouldn’t be the case, because of how big a goal or ambition is a very subjective issue.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about why people worry about something insignificant, why you need to define what small means to you, why the idea of being small is very subjective and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:31 Why this topic was chosen.

01:40 Why people worry about something insignificant.

01:50 Why you need to define what small means to you.

05:14 Why the idea of being small is very subjective.

06:00 How people can get stuck in doing something they don’t like.

07:30 How people judge themselves based on other people’s opinions.

08:25 Why you shouldn’t be rigid about who you are.

09:44 Why you always need to access your current situation.

3 Key Points:

  • You have to define it.
  • Just because you’re a founder today, doesn’t mean it should be your identity for life.
  • You can point to some of the largest companies in the world and argue that they started too small.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: Today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about, should you as an entrepreneur, worry about what you’re working on being “too small”, or not significant enough. Here’s a few that I’ve seen in a million different forms, a million different times with entrepreneurs and with startups, is this fear of doing something that’s too small, working on something that might not become big enough, that might not be thinking big enough. I’ve always been in conflict with this fear. Recently, I was talking to somebody that was working on something, I don’t know, that sounds like a really, really big idea, but then when I poked why they worked on this, why she decided to focus on this, basically she was just like, “Well, it seems like a really big area. It seems like a trend. I think that this is going to become the future, and so decided to work on this.” Then when I asked her what she is really passionate about, which she told me that she had this other idea that she was much more passionate about that is much closer to her heart, much more personal to her, but she decided not to pursue that idea because she felt it would be too small. Hiten, why do we worry so much about the things that we’re working on as entrepreneurs being big or having big potential? Is the fear of working on something that’s too small and too insignificant, is that a healthy fear, a fear that entrepreneurs should have? I thought we should tackle this and unpack it for the audience.


Hiten Shah: You have to define it. You have to define small and big. You have to really define it. I don’t understand when someone says, “Hey, I’m working on something too small.” I don’t know what that means. That’s the biggest problem I have. Is it too small of a market? Do you think you can’t make enough money? Do you feel like you need to solve a bigger problem in the world because you aspire to solve bigger problems? What is it? What do you mean by too small? I think oftentimes people will have in their heads what they mean by too small and their logic is flawed. It’s funny, you could point to some of the largest companies on the planet and argue that they started too small. You could point to failures that have occurred in business and the point to the fact that they were too ambitious, you know? So it was too big.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: To me, this is a completely subjective thing. You have to turn it into something where you can actually quantify, “What do I mean by too small?”, and if you can quantify what you mean by too small, then I think you can make a lot more… A much more informed logical decision.


Steli Efti: I love that. The other thing that I noticed over the years, kind of the entrepreneurial communities that, there’s this kind of myth that we have or the story or narrative that is being told, of these people that live inauthentic lives, that work in a cubicle or work in a job they hate, and what they really would need to do is to start their own business, to be entrepreneurs, to create something new, but their fear is holding them back, society’s holding them back, their family’s holding them back. So they’re not living their true selves and their confined in this employee mentality framework that is robbing them of their authenticity. Here we are, amazing entrepreneurs. We broke through that. We broke through the resistance of our parents, of our coworkers, of our boss of society and we left this amazing job. We took all this risk on and we’re starting this company. Look at us, aren’t we fucking amazing and awesome, right? In some cases or many cases, that might’ve been a true story that somebody lived through and I applaud those people, but I’ve seen the exact same story play out a million times within the entrepreneurial community where somebody started a company, it was a founder and CEO in title, had raised some money, had created this identity around being an entrepreneur and then realized, “I actually fucking hate this,” right? “This isn’t fun for me. What I’d really like to do is, I’d like to be a teacher in a school and teach fourth graders”, or, “What I’d really like to do is being an author and writing fiction books”, or, “What I’d really like to do is try to be an actor.” When they try to make that step, how then it is hard for them to make that transition as it was for somebody else to go from employee to entrepreneur because… Exactly the same dynamics. “What are all my founder and CEO friends are going to think about me trying to be an actor now.” “What? You’re trying to build a technology company and change the world and now you’re going to be just a dumb actor.” It’s the same fucking thing or like self identity issues. “I had CEO on my business card, but now what? I’m going to write aspiring author, fiction writer?” People get stuck in the entrepreneurial world. They’ll get stuck being entrepreneurs and founders that aren’t really happy with being founders and entrepreneurs, that aren’t really… Once they made that choice, that realized they made a choice for the wrong reasons. Maybe because they thought that that would give them significance, maybe because they thought they would enjoy it, maybe because they thought that that would make them rich, whatever it was, and they realized at some point, “This isn’t really my thing,” but now they’re stuck in this new identity and because being an entrepreneurial founder is now even more celebrated than ever before, especially in the startup world, the tech world and the tech world has got a lot more popularity because of all the success and all the influence around the world, being a tech founder, CEO, or entrepreneur is such a cool identity today that letting that go or leaving that behind to start a new life in an area that might not be as prestigious… I know all these entrepreneurs that have become, I don’t know, authors or life coaches or something like that, and I know that secretly, other entrepreneurs are actually pointing fingers and them going, “I don’t understand this decision. How can you become a life coach? This seems like a weird job. You were a fucking CEO of a tech company. You had raised $10 million and now you’re like a life coach? This is weird.” To me, I know I went a little bit on a rant, but to me, it’s just this one narrative that I think growing up I believed in and once I spend enough time in this community and this industry, I realized how full of shit it is, right? I see all these people that chose to be entrepreneurs for as many bad reasons as any other human being chooses to be in any other career path and how they get stuck in it and they’re afraid of leaving or they’re afraid of following their true passion, even within entrepreneurship and working on an idea or something they really love, but they think other people wouldn’t admire or wouldn’t believe in or wouldn’t think is big enough. All right, I’ll pause my rent here to get your response in it.


Hiten Shah: I think you’re right. I think the thing I hear underneath all of this is judgment. You’re just making a judgment and you’re making a judgment that, in a lot of the cases that you described, are about other people, not you.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: So yourself based on what you think other people are going to think of you. That’s just being unfair to yourself. If you really want to do something, there is no, “It’s too big or it’s too small.” Just figure out if you really want to do it. Don’t worry about what other people think, like Grizzly, it’s something you want to do, you want to realize it, you want to do it, you think it’s relevant to you, we want to see it out in the world. Just do it. Don’t make it that big of a deal where you don’t do it because of what you think other people are going to think of you.


Steli Efti: I love that. I think this is maybe an important message, even if it’s not a popular one to hear. Just because you we’re an entrepreneur in the past or you are an entrepreneur today, you’re a founder today, doesn’t mean this has to be your identity for the rest of your life. It doesn’t. It’s not some kind of a better place that there’s no turning back on or stepping back away from. You might be a founder today and tomorrow, maybe what’s better for you, what’s a more authentic path for you, would be to join another company or join somebody else’s vision and help them. Once you go from employee to founder, it’s not some kind of a thing that you never want to leave because founder by definition is always better than employee. It isn’t. There’ve been many, many founders that are a lot more broke then employees. There’s employees that got… People that work for other people that got a lot richer than founders of failed startups. There’s people that have a lot higher quality of life, so it’s not just rich and financial outcomes. There’s a lot of people that live a lot happier lives than a lot of founders. There’s a lot of people that have a lot more impact than founders. For whatever reason, we think that a founder is of the most impactful things we could do, one of the most fulfilling things we could do, one of the most financially rewarding things we could do, and those things can be true, but they’re not universal truths, they’re not gravity of the planet entrepreneurship, right? Not everybody’s going to experience these things. If you’re a founder and you’re working on an idea that you don’t love and then you’re not passionate about, that you don’t care about, but you think is big? Stop. Take a break and really ask yourself if you want to devote your life and your time on those things. Remember, what Hiten said in the beginning. How many of the biggest companies started off as these weird little hobby looking like companies, right? Computers were a hobby for these weird people. I remember, I give a talk once… They wanted me to give a talk about how Silicon Valley helped me think big. It was somewhere in Europe. Europeans always have this fear that they’re thinking too small and Americans think really big, so that was their base assumptions, “Steli was thinking small and then went to America and learned how to think big”. My whole talk was the exact opposite, how I learned to think smaller in Silicon Valley. I mentioned the story of, I met the founders of Airbnb and Dropbox in the first five, six weeks of being in the US, and I remember judging both of these founders thinking their ideas are dumb and small, right? I wanted to change the world of education. That was my first idea when I came to the valley, and I was like, “What? Air mattresses in people’s apartments and then cooking breakfast for them. What the fuck is this? This is such a dumb, weird idea”, or Dropbox file sharing. I’m like, “Is file sharing a problem that needs to be fixed?”, just to give you an idea of how dumb I was and how great of an investor I would be choosing billion dollar unicorns. A lot of massive companies started out looking like little hobbies and weird little companies. As you said in the beginning, the opposite is also true. A lot of these overly ambitious, obviously big ideas fail when they start off like that. Life is too short to worry about, “Is what I do significant or small,” or, “What will other people judge me if I do this or if I stopped doing this?” Life is too pressure for this shit. Just ask yourself who you want to be, what kind of a life you want to live today and tomorrow, and go chase those dreams, your authentic, true dreams, and don’t worry about anything else. Everything else will fall into place on its own.


Hiten Shah: I love that. That’s it.


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


Hiten Shah: Yeah.