In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about founder distractions.

Being distracted from work is something all founders have to deal with and, while some kind of distractions can be a good thing, when distractions start affecting your level of productivity then it may be time to make some changes. 

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about what founder distractions are, the most common types of distractions, how you can overcome these distractions and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:32 Why this topic was chosen.

01:00 The first thing that comes to mind when meeting other founders.

01:40 Why meeting other founders can be a big distraction.

03:32 How Hiten approaches requests for meeting up.

03:40 How founders get distracted by competition.

05:17 Another major distraction for founders.

06:45 Why you don’t need to read ten books a day to become a successful founder.

09:25 How meetings and getting on calls with people can be a distraction.

10:10 Antidotes for distractions.

3 Key Points:

  • One of the biggest founder distraction is meeting other founders.
  • Founders get distracted by competition
  • Helping and meeting is not the same thing


Steli: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli: And today on the startup chat we’re going to talk about founder distractions, the types of things, maybe the most tempting temptations or the most distracting distractions for founders. Things that founders easily get distracted by or with that founders should avoid if they don’t want to get into trouble. What comes first to mind when you hear a common founder distraction? What is the first thing that pops up in your head?


Hiten: Oddly I think one of the biggest founder distractions is meeting with other founders. I think-


Steli: Tell me more.


Hiten: I think there are a lot of meet with other founders, get feedback on what you’re doing or have sort of a community or a group of you that kind of can talk about work, right, and talk about how, what your dealing with and things like that. There’s a lot of camaraderie that shows up in that way when you have friends that are founders, and one of the biggest things is when founders are just meeting other founders almost like a… How can I put it? Like just for the sake of meeting other founders, “I’m a founder, you’re a founder, let’s meet up.” Or a founders meeting of other founders with the idea of there’s a lot out there that have a lot to do with, “I am meeting other founders, they’re early stage founders. I want to help them.” So I actually even think helping other founders can be a distraction for many people, right? And I know many people would be, that are listening, know me really well and know I help a lot of founders. They probably know you really well, Steli. You help a lot of founders, right? And they’re like, “Well what are you talking about?” But look, I don’t think most founders are actually should go help other founders all the time. And the reason I say that is it’s either something that you know how to do and you can do it because it’s just part of your DNA and also like it helps your businesses somehow or your business, or it’s just not something in your DNA. It’s just not something that you you know how to do, right? So I think there is a lot of distraction I’ve seen with founders trying to help other founders or founders meeting with other founders just because they’re are other founders, and this is easy because what happens is there are so many founders out there now that will email you and want to meet up. Or will email you and be like, “Oh you did X, Y, and Z. I’d love to learn from you.” And you can get caught up in that. I’ve seen founders get caught up in that. Well now it’s even like, it’s not just because you’re venture funded, even a lot of self-funded founders are getting that because they’re successful to some extent. They built something of value and they’re getting hit up. So for me, I think I’ve said this before, I do like to try to help people, but a lot of times I’ll say, “Hey, just send me your questions by email and I’ll respond,” right? And I do that a lot. If you really want to meet with me, even if you get introed to me, I am now always doing a calculation of am I going to learn something from this experience if I meet with this person in person? Is it that I have some obligation because it’s like a good friend of mine or somebody who introed me, right? Who I know that they would want me to meet with this person for a very specific reason? But usually they’re able to tell me why, right, the other person who’s introing is able to tell me why I need to meet the person versus why I need to help the person, because helping and meeting is not the same thing in my mind. So that’s one aspect. And I’ll say another one and I’m sure you have more. And another one I’ve seen is founders getting distracted by competition. That’s probably one of the number one things. And I have a very specific view on competition, which is I really do care about competition, but I care about competition because it impacts my customers. It impacts my prospects. I want to learn about competitors because they are also in market talking to customers or in front of customers. So I only care about the customer’s opinion and the customer’s sentiment, what the customers have to say about the competitors. I do not care that the competitor launched a feature. What I do care about is what does the market think about it, the market of people that are going to buy or use that product and possibly mine.


Steli: I love it. Yeah, good Shit. All right, so let me give you two favorite founder distractions in my recent observation. I think one that’s so big and has been talked about so much that it’s hard to even truly acknowledge how impactful it can be for you and for me and for everybody is I think consuming information that seems or appears or creates a feeling that it could be useful for your venture. So it’s sort of like under the [mangle] Of doing work, right? So that could be listening to podcasts, this could be listening or reading books. This could be, I mean, reading books even less in my opinion or a book is such a different form factor than a podcast. Sometimes podcasts can very much where the lines between entertainment, like very passive entertainment versus really useful practical, tactical information that’s relevant right now. But just consuming information, like following certain people on Twitter and reading everything they write, reading blog posts, articles, listening to podcasts, accessing free courses. There’s just this amazing wealth of information. Reading Hacker News or Product Hunt. I’m checking out a religiously Product Hunt, Hacker News, then listening to your 17 favorite podcasts. Then scrolling through your Twitter timeline to see what’s new, what’s really going on in tech. Then reading… It can feel like somewhat work because you need to stay up to date and you need to know what competitors are doing and what companies are doing and you need to stay creative and you need to keep learning, and these ideas that you could collect from different places or information bits that you could consume in different places could now help you inform your strategy or what you should do next. So it kind of feels like work, but it’s actually just fucking around and it’s just fucking around for a couple of hours and indiscriminately throwing your attention at anything that throws itself at you, right? It’s kind of setting up your day as a founder in a way that feels like you’re educating yourself, but what you’re really doing is distracting yourself, right? You don’t need to read 10 books a day to become a successful founder or whatever the hell the myth is that all important successful founders are reading an immense amount of books. You don’t have to listen to the top 50 entrepreneurship podcasts to be successful. You don’t need to read all the top blogs. You don’t have to be on all the top sites. You don’t need to analyze every single product launch every day because that’s going to teach you something about the thing you may work on next year and may want to launch in three years from now. A lot of founders tell themselves a bullshit story around how much time they spent consuming information that is not absolutely necessary and useful for what they’re doing today. Not saying you should go the other extreme, never consume any information. That’s crazy talk, but I think that founders do get distracted by their love for consumption of data and information and the overwhelming amount that’s available out there and they’re not very disciplined about it. They’re not like, okay, I’m going to spend 30 minutes a day reading, consuming podcast and I’m going to do it very mindfully in these situations. When I go work out, I’ll listen to a podcast, right, that’s a good time, or on my commute and then at night before I go to sleep, I’ll read this book. Like there’s these moments where I’ll do something or when I do research I’ll do research with a time cap and with a very specific outcome and purpose in mind. No, I think what most founders do is they kind of set up this life where eventually half of their day and even more time of their day, they’re mindlessly consuming information and data left and right, and then the information is not really useful and educational. It’s really just a distraction tool, just like how other people sit in front of the television and watch sitcoms all day long. You are reading blog posts all day long that are random and it’s make you feel like you’re learning something, but ultimately are really just preventing you from doing the work and being focused. So I think that that’s a massive destruction. That’s not just for founders. I think this is a general massive life challenge that humanity has to face, the amount of information overflow and distraction that we’re dealing with. But I think founders particularly have like this narrative that makes them feel like they’re doing work when actually they’re just fucking around. So I think that’s a massive, massive distraction. I don’t want to throw a second one. I think competition is a really big one. Meeting with founders or in general, meetings, meeting or getting on calls with people, again not discriminately ill or not being very purposeful. Just saying yes to these, oh here’s another company that wants to partner with us. Let’s just show up at a one hour call. Is this company really big? Do they have a massive audience? Do they have an audience that could be your customer base? Do the companies align? Does this make sense? No, it’s a company that doesn’t have any customers. We don’t have any customers, so zero and zero obviously make sense so, so let’s jump on a two hour call to brainstorm about how to partner and how to integrate our technologies when we both have nothing of an audience or customer base to share with each other and do things that don’t really align together. So meeting with people, it doesn’t matter if it’s founders, potential partners or whatever else in a way that is wasteful is definitely big. Competition is definitely big, investors, data. So many distractions. I think the antidote… I’ll give one antidote that I want to share that maybe you share one and we’ll wrap this episode up. I think to me one of the biggest disciplines to cultivate, one of the muscles that I have to build and work on is the ability or the the space for silence and thinking that you create during your day in life in today’s world. So having half an hour a day of uninterrupted time where I’m not working, I’m not listening to anything, I’m not reading anything, I’m not doing any like super hard activity. I am just thinking, maybe I’ll go on a quick walk and think about a problem or about something I want in life. Maybe I’ll sit somewhere and watch the river or the landscape or whatever and think about something. But like creating these spots in my day where mindfully and thoughtfully, I’m not consuming information and I’m not engaging in any particular activity. I’m just trying to get in touch with my own thoughts and create space and silence to think clearly. I think that’s been a massive help for me and something I’m still struggling with at times, but a big thing that I’m working on that helps me identify distractions more easily and protect myself from them as a founder in a better and better way.


Hiten: Yeah. I think the one thing I’ll say is it’s really important when it comes to the meetings you do, the information you listen to, the things you gathered that are all kind of obviously in the professional realm, that you’re focused on timely and making sure that whatever it is that you’re consuming, it’s very timely for what you’re thinking about now or what you need to execute in your business now or very soon. And I find this really tough to do for most people, for all of us actually, because there’s so much information, like you said, coming at you all the time and it is kind of your job to filter, is this relevant to me now or not? And not really worry about missing out on it or not being able to find it later for when you need it. If you don’t need it now, you probably shouldn’t worry about it.


Steli: I love it. All right, this is it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten: Don’t get distracted.