Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how even seasoned founders can feel like first-time founders.

Starting a new company can be scary. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first company or you’re started a couple in the past, you never know if your new venture is going to be successful or not, and this can cause us to feel insecure or scared

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about how starting something new can be exciting, Hiten’s experience with starting companies, what to spend your time on when you’re starting something and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

02:15 About today’s topic

02:45 Why this topic was chosen.

04:29 How starting something new can be exciting.

05:31 Hiten’s experience with starting companies.

06:33 How Hiten handles pressure and insecurities.

07:25 Questions to ask yourself if you’re feeling insecure.

08:31 How starting a new company can be a totally new experience.

10:37 The danger of spending too much time on things that are comfortable.

11:38 Advice on what to spend your time on when you’re starting something.

3 Key Points:

  • When you start something new, you don’t know anything.
  • There’s a lot of beauty in the feeling of starting something new.
  • I can’t know right now if it’s going to be bigger or better than the last one.


Hiten Shah: … If you’re fearful of it, like you’re just thinking about it in a way that makes you fearful, so you’d probably need to think about it a different way so you can just stop being paralyzed. Because usually fear paralyzes and then there is no momentum. So-


Steli Efti: Hey guys, this is Hiten Shah and Steli Efti with our awesome podcast, The World’s Best Business Podcast, the startup chat. I don’t know exactly what we finally decided on, but we’re still kind of coming up with the best possible name. At this time I’m still in Europe traveling and Hiten is in a car driving to… Where are you driving to Hiten?


Hiten Shah: I’m actually on my way home.


Steli Efti: Oh, that’s nice. That’s awesome. So from where? From where are you driving home?


Hiten Shah: I came to San Francisco for a couple of meetings and now I’m going back home. I live in the peninsula, which is between San Francisco and Palo Alto, in the middle.


Steli Efti: Awesome. It’s midnight right now here in Berlin. I had a very full day of conference talks, workshops, meet-and-greets, hiring interviews, and now I’m at the peak of my day which is having the podcast with you before I walk my way over to the other apartment and hit the bed, hit the pillow.


Hiten Shah: That’s awesome. So I’m assuming you guys have one apartment to work, one apartment to sleep-


Steli Efti: Exactly right.


Hiten Shah: … And all that?


Steli Efti: Yeah. Exactly right.


Hiten Shah: Oh that’s cool.


Steli Efti: And you know what, today they did a big thing in Berlin they call Startup SAFARI where they do open offices of all the startups and everybody that wants to work at a startup can just go. They bus these people from startup office to startup office. And we got included in that. So people came in, arrived at our Airbnb apartment. So a Silicon Valley startup working in a Berlin Airbnb loft.


Hiten Shah: They must have loved it. That’s awesome.


Steli Efti: It was a lot of fun. People definitely had fun and we did so too. All right. What are we going to talk about today, Hiten? What do we want to talk about?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, this is my topic, I guess, maybe. So I have this thing where, I have a friend and I was just hanging out with them on the weekend which is usually rare for me. And he has a startup, and he’s a company I invested in and I advise. And he’s a longtime veteran at a sort of corporate company, but very startupy thinking-type person. And so he just started his company. His company is about 12 people. It started officially probably more like earlier this year, so four months ago, let’s say. And he made this comment and he kept making this comment over the last couple of months I’ve known him and I finally just came to a conclusion about it and that’s what I wanted to talk about. So he made this comment, his comment was, “Hey, it’s my first time. And so, you know, I don’t know, right? I mean everything’s crazy. I don’t know.” And then he kept saying that every time he wanted my advice. And what had got me thinking is because right now, specifically, I’m starting technically at least my fourth company. I probably lost count. But if you look at companies I can name this is technically the fourth one, although it’s been around a little bit. But we’re starting it. We’re building a team, we’re trying to actually build product and stuff like that. And all I could tell him, and I think he understood this now because it just kept bugging me that he said it, is, I told him, “Look, the feeling you have is the same exact feeling I have. I just don’t say, ‘Oh it’s my first time.’ That’s the only difference.” And the feeling I’m talking about is when you start something new, you don’t know anything. There’s a lot of assumptions you’re making. A lot of risk, a lot of uncertainty. And I think it’s unnatural. And that’s why we try to come to some sort of realization or conclusion and thought process around it in our heads like, “Oh, it’s my first time.” I told him, “Hey dude, that feeling doesn’t go away. Every time you start something new, that’s that dramatic of, like involves that much uncertainty, you don’t know. It’s like having a baby, right? Like it’s your first time having a baby.” “Okay. All right.” Well the second time you got two down, you know, like what are you going to do?


Steli Efti: And you the funny thing is, there’s a lot of beauty in that feeling when you’re starting something new obviously, you’re not really, you don’t have to deal with the messiness of something that’s already been around for a while, and grew and is messy in its history and has bad decisions being made. You don’t have to deal with any of that. It’s got a clean slate. So on the one side it’s exciting and beautiful and fresh and everything, it’s just potential and everything this could ever be, and you don’t have to deal with all the problems that usually come down the line as you’re growing something and seeing it evolve. But at the same time, you’re nervous, right? And you don’t know. And as you said, it’s not like the second or third child, you’re totally relaxed and it’s like, “Well I already had two children, so who cares?” You’re still nervous. Obviously you’re a little bit more in routine and you know how to deal with certain situations, but there’s still nervousness, there’s still risks and there’s a lot of unknowns and you still have to deal with that and face it every single time from you.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, and it’s not like most people start companies every day. Most people don’t even can start companies every year. It’s usually like every decade or half decade, you know? Maybe every three years, some people. And so all kinds of things change. Like, the way I would start a company though, I started my first one, my second one, my third one and even this one, it’s all completely different. Even the way I think about it is different, but yet that feeling that it’s uncertain and I don’t know anything, it comes right back and you’re just like, “Oh shit. [crosstalk 00:05:42].”


Steli Efti: And also, let me ask you this. So a lot of times at the beginning people think, “Well, this is the very first time I start a business.” So obviously they’re a little nervous and also insecure in their own opinions and decision making and like, “Am I doing this right? Am I making the right choices?” All that. And they look over to somebody like you for instance, and they think, “Well, Hiten has done this multiple times. He’s a veteran. He has certainty. He knows that every one of his decisions is probably right.” But let me ask you, how do you feel about the pressure? Because you have a brand and you have done a few things very successfully. What are the pressures and insecurities you have? Are you plagued by thinking, “This needs to be bigger than my last thing,” or, “I better have success with this because all these people are taking advice from me and I’m a known brand and I don’t want to have a big failure.” What is the side of the coin that people don’t know about that you have to face as somebody that’s been a veteran entrepreneur and also somebody that has a brand and is really well known and a lot of people look up to?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I love that question. And I think, I don’t know, in general, whenever I feel fear… So a lot of those things you said were fear, right? Like, “Oh this won’t be as large as Kissmetrics or Crazy Egg or whatever.” I flip it around and say, “No, that’s not rational. Like it’s not… I don’t know. I don’t know. Like I can’t know right now if it’s going to be bigger or better than the last one.” All I can do is know that that’s important to me and do something about it. So the way I think about it is like, okay, I actually think about what are the things that made, and this is if you have a last thing, but what are the things that made the last thing not as big as I wanted it to be? Because obviously I have a desire to make this one bigger. So, and, what can I control right now to prevent that? You know? So that’s one thing. Another thing I want to touch on is in the specific one I’m talking about, it’s a company called QuickSprout. It’s my co-founder’s blog. It’s a very popular blog. And now that he’s developed it really far and we’re even making some money, but not with software. It’s what I call my turn to come in and start building software because that’s what I do. And that’s what I love to do. So we’re building software and we first thought, “Oh this might be like Crazy Egg. Let’s go outsource a majority of the development.” Because we actually outsource a lot of development at Crazy Egg for all kinds of reasons I won’t get to get into this in this show, but probably, it’s for another podcast. But, and we thought we were going to run it like that and we started running it like that and then we realized, “Oh no, there’s all these issues with it and if we do it like that we might not be able to make it as big as we’d like knowing what we know now. And so maybe we need to hire people in-house. We need to hire some people and actually deal with building a team and getting these people to be part of the team and all that kind of stuff.” So we actually just recently flipped the script and now we’re thinking about more hiring internal people that are full-time people because it’s a lot different. And I didn’t think that just two months ago. And I had to make all these changes all of a sudden and we had to think about it a little bit differently. So, that whole uncertainty, that whole feeling of “Oh, you could do it like you use…” Like you can take something you’ve learned before and do it and not, and it’s the same, is totally a fallacy. We had to be open to change or I believe we would not be building the type of business we want to build. And so the past and your experience only tells you what you know, or what you think you know. It doesn’t really tell you anything else.


Steli Efti: So let me ask you this, and you know what’s funny? If you could see what I see right now, it’s the most ridiculous thing ever. There’s a bunch of people that came back, it’s midnight, it’s almost 1:00 AM in Berlin. And a bunch of my teammates came back and it’s hard to tell, but I would say that they had some alcohol in their system. So there is one guy that’s trying to stop them from doing stupid things and being loud because they know we’re recording a podcast, and then there’s a group of people that are fighting the good force. It’s good versus evil right in front of me right now. All right, so enough of that distraction. So let me ask you something else. I had a discussion today. I did a sales workshop for startups in Berlin and they were asking a lot about the, “Why are we all trying to avoid to do the messy things early on?” Why we’re all spending all this time coming up with the logo, and a nice new brand, setting up the blog, doing research, putting together PowerPoint slides, instead of going out and talking to customers, trying to close a customer before we build something? Trying to go out there in the real world as quickly as possible and do the things that don’t scale, quote unquote. And that might be a little unpleasant versus just sitting in front of your screen and doing the things that are cool and exciting and safe and nice. And just by asking that question, I mean, in the phrasing of the question, a lot of the answers are there already. But that’s something that’s fascinating me about like when you start fresh, there’s always the danger of spending too much time on things that are comfortable. Like how do we think about that? What’s your advice to people that are thinking of making that leap, taking that step, starting something new? It doesn’t matter if it’s the very first time that they start something or it’s the second or 10th time. But the danger with new being not wanting to face reality in the real world and spending too much time on things that might not truly matter. What’s your thinking on that?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, as a sales person I think you can probably guess my thinking, but I’ll let you talk about that perspective because I know you have a perspective on it. But from my perspective, I call myself a “professional purple bruise poker.” So if I see a purple bruise, I just want to poke it. I want to push, I want to touch it, I want you to have pain, right? And the reason for that is if there’s a bruise, if there’s something that that’s hard and painful that you’re just not willing to do, it’s likely that you should be doing it. And so to me it’s just about finding that thing that’s hard to do and doing that. And I think when you’re starting out and even to your question to that question you got, it’s so easy to do these things that aren’t even bruises, these are the things that don’t even matter. Because they’re not hard. And you’re just avoiding the hard thing. The hard thing is getting a customer to pay you money without a product. But the right thing to do is doing that.


Steli Efti: So when you say “hard,” I think we have to differentiate between complex and hard, right? So there’s things that people want to do that are complex, meaning they’re intellectually interesting, and let’s set something up that’s really hard or that is intellectually complex. But then there’s things that are hard. And hard really oftentimes speaks to the emotional side more than to the rational side of things. Hard is going to somebody and not just saying, “Do you like my idea?” but saying, “Are you willing to give me money?” Right? And then seeing somebody look at you and go, “No, I kind of like it, but not enough to want to give you money for it.” Right? Hey my man are you still there?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I’m here.


Steli Efti: Oh, I thought I lost you for a second. You know, driving in the car I wasn’t sure. So I think that “hard” is speaking to the, like, jumping over your fears, going over your discomfort internally, over your hesitations. Doing things or facing reality, facing rejection, seeing people tell you they don’t like what you have or they’re not understanding how to use the product versus talking about things theoretically in a way that is safe and allows a lot of people to tell you that they like you and they want to support you. And yes, keep going on with this awesome idea of yours. But really nothing has been accomplished in that conversation other than you getting some false encouragement.


Hiten Shah: I’m going to give a really dumb way to think about this, like it’s super dumb-


Steli Efti: Awesome.


Hiten Shah: … But it works for me.


Steli Efti: I love dumb.


Hiten Shah: It’s really dumb. It’s really dumb.


Steli Efti: Good!


Hiten Shah: And the dumb way I think about this is, every business needs customers for it to make money, and the sooner you get those customers, the better. Otherwise you’re going to have to go figure out how to get those customers later. So would you rather go figure out how to get those customers now, or later? I’d rather go figure it out now because I know if I don’t have customers, I don’t have a business.


Steli Efti: I think the way you think about this is totally backwards. I think this is the reason why we get along so well, because this dumb way of thinking makes total sense if you step back and you go, “What is the reason a business exists in the first place?” If it’s not about the customers, why the hell do you exist at all? Right? It’s not about somebody where you create so much more value than what you are asking a return of, that’s the whole basis of even creating a business to begin with.


Hiten Shah: That’s right.


Steli Efti: All right, so we talked about, it never gets easier, right? No matter how many times you start new, it’s always… New is new for everyone. It doesn’t matter how many times you approach something. Although I would say that you do have some advantages, right? You do have some pattern recognition, some experiences, some skill that you’re able to put into it.


Hiten Shah: The uncertainty is no different. That’s my point. Basically the uncertainty of starting something, regardless of if you’ve done it before, is no different than the first time. There’s still all these things you know nothing about.


Steli Efti: Do we have any tips for people on how to deal with that uncertainty?


Hiten Shah: Just don’t. Don’t deal with it. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about it. Just figure out what’s fundamental. And what’s fundamental? You already said it, getting customers.


Steli Efti: I love that. I love that because it speaks to the power that you give or you take away from certain limiting emotions, right? So I love to think about, like the difference between fear and excitement is just context. It’s the way you think about it, right? But it’s the same emotions, the same kind of internal energy that you feel and the question just is are you going to use it to expose it and to do something productive or not? And in this specific case, when you say just “don’t deal with it,” the awesome thing about that is that if you’re trying to suppress it, it’s only going to get bigger. If you make a big deal out of that uncertainty and that emotion, it’s only going to get bigger. But if you just tell yourself, “You know what, I feel uncertainty,” who gives a shit? “Let me still go on and do this. I feel a little uncertain about, is this the right idea? Should I go with option A or B? Whatever. Who gives a shit? Let me just take one and if it’s the wrong one I’ll correct it down the line.” If you don’t make a big deal out of it and you just keep going on anyways, magic happens because as you are active, things happen and those things that happen create results. These results give you data about what to do more of and what to do less of, and all of a sudden you build momentum. And all you have to do is just get over yourself and don’t be stopped or slowed down by that level of uncertainty. Just go, “Everybody feels this way. I’ll just keep moving on although I feel uncertain.” And that’s all it is.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Even the reason I love this topic is my buddy kept telling me this, every time I saw him, every time I text message him, every time I talk to me, he’s like, “Oh, this is my first time.” I’m like, “Dude, is it your first time breathing air?” So yeah, it’s just so funny how we just want to believe we’re special, right? And we’re in this situation and it’s our first time. It’s like, ah, everything, you’re doing something for the first time every day, guaranteed. Even if it’s stepping on dog shit for the first time, right? Whatever. Right? So, I don’t know, I think this uncertainty thing, and I love the way you thought about it, which is if you’re fearful of it you’re just thinking about it in a way that makes you fearful. So you probably need to think about it a different way so you can just stop being paralyzed. Because usually fear paralyzes and then there is no momentum. So yeah, I hate those feelings or those thoughts or those things people say that paralyze them. It’s like, “Hey, that’s not effective. That’s not going to help you do your job. But you constantly thinking about this as the first time, it’s not going to help you do anything. It’s actually probably de-habilitating you. It’s making you seek too much feedback. Too much advice.”


Steli Efti: Oh yeah. Because you’re so uncertain you don’t want to make any mistakes and you go and overcompensate because of it, right? You go and try to get too much advice, read too many articles, read many books, ask for too many people’s feedback and input, and all it does is, because people are going to give you conflicting advice and conflicting points of views, it’s only going to make it worse, right? You get more and more data that doesn’t tell you exactly and safely what to do next.


Hiten Shah: That’s right. Yeah. And I see this all the time. It’s like the biggest pattern out there, what you just described.


Steli Efti: All right, my man. Let’s end this with a tip. You want to go first? Let’s give one actionable piece of advice for people that are listening to this podcast to take away from.


Hiten Shah: Why don’t you go first?


Steli Efti: I knew you would say that.


Hiten Shah: After you! After you Steli.


Steli Efti: Ah after you sir.


Hiten Shah: After you!


Steli Efti: You’re so kind Hiten. You’ve been so good to me.


Hiten Shah: Oh yeah.


Steli Efti: All right.


Hiten Shah: Hell yeah.


Steli Efti: Well, here’s my advice to you. And it’s about managing and dealing with those emotions. When you feel super nervous, super fearful, super hesitant. When you have lots of energy, especially when you’re nervous. Nervousness is a good one. Take that energy that’s inside you and instead of trying to contain it, just think of it as energy that needs to be released. So when you feel nervous before you go to talk to an investor or a customer, or before you go on a stage and present a demo or something, just speak louder, be more animated. Just use that energy and let it out, versus trying to contain it and then see how it’s going to slowly but surely cripple you. Just use the energy of nervousness to be more animated, louder, and more seemingly passionate to the outside world than ever before, and that energy can really serve you.


Hiten Shah: So I think Steli just shared his secret sauce. It’s basically be more like Steli when you feel nervous, just fucking, just go out there, just say it. Be more energetic. I love that. That’s a patented Steli maneuver. It’s probably how he lives his life, if you have ever met him or heard him talk.


Steli Efti: I try. I try to.


Hiten Shah: I love it. So I got a tip that’s kind of related, but probably more introverted. I think you’re the extrovert if I’m the introvert, if we want to go there. I don’t even know if I’m an introvert, but whatever. So my advice would be, when you have fear and whatever, any of those feelings around being paralyzed from taking action. That’s the way I would describe it. And we all feel that all the time, like I’m sure. The thing I like to think about is, Steli mentioned it earlier, it’s called momentum. So just find a way to get momentum. And I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen is that people think they need to do something really big and grandiose as a next step. So to me… Just earlier today I was like, “Hey,” I was talking to someone and she was telling me about one of her problems and I’m like, “Hey, what if you just do this one thing, this really small dumb thing. Why don’t you just email somebody about it?” And even an email will help you take action. It’ll help you start building the momentum. Or even if you’re trying to build a product and get a customer, write a blog post instead that’s about the problem. You don’t have to take the full on, 10 steps out there thing or the big heavy step. You can just take a small step and that momentum builds on itself. And I think that would be my tip, which is just think of it as a baby step. Don’t never, you know, like crawling versus even trying to figure out how to walk or run when you’re not ready. Just anything to get momentum.


Steli Efti: Momentum is key my man. I couldn’t agree more. I hope you guys enjoyed the podcast. Take a lot away from it. Tweet us. Tweet at Hiten and Steli. Let us know what you think of the podcast. Tell us about your first time. Tell us about your nervousness. Are you starting something now? Have you just started something? Just share your experiences with us and we’ll hear and talk to you again more in the next podcast.


Hiten Shah: Yep.


Steli Efti: All right.


Hiten Shah: See you.


Steli Efti: Bye-bye.


Voice Over: Did you pick one of the two action items from Steli and Hiten already? Do that now and snap into action. It’s time to grow your business.