In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about why your startup isn’t your baby.

In the startup world, it’s very common for some founders to compare their businesses to raising a child. And there’s a good reason for this as certain aspects of running a business does feel like raising a child and a founder can develop a level of attachment to that business. But doing so can be quite harmful and should not be encouraged.

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about Hiten’s thought on calling your startup your baby, why a lot of people think of their startup as their baby, the fundamental differences between a startup and a baby and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:34 Why this topic was chosen.

01:24 Hiten’s thought on calling your startup your baby.

01:11 Why a lot of people think of their startup as their baby.

04:22 How a startup is not biological but mechanical.

06:18 How you might have to kill your startup at some stage.

06:41 The fundamental differences between a startup and a baby.

06:57 The harm in thinking of your startup like a baby.

12:15 How attachment can be a bad thing.

12:50 Hiten tip on how to avoid making running your business difficult.

3 Key Points:

  • With your kids, you have no choice but to deal with them.
  • I feel like people create a false sense of attachment when they say their startup is their baby.
  • A startup gets killed by the founders every day.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody.


Hiten Shah: Hi. Cool.


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


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: In today’s episode we’re going to talk about all the reasons why your startup isn’t your baby and why you shouldn’t say your startup is your baby or think it. Now this is something that’s kind of one of your pet peeves, right? If you talk to a founder and they think or say that their startup is like their baby, it usually pisses you off.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. The other day, I’m working with an engineer, a new engineer, and he was like, “I’m birthing this thing,” and that probably pissed me off even more. But, this engineer doesn’t have any kids, so I don’t think he really understands what that looks like or feels like. I’ve had two and I was in the room when the kids were birthed … Birthed, or whatever you want to call it, both times. And yeah, I have a visceral reaction. One of them is, with your kids, you have no choice. Unless you’re really, really a unreal human being, you have no choice but to deal with them. They’re your kids. There’s exceptions, but they’re very rare, where someone will not deal with their kids. Obviously if you give your kid away for adoption, all that, whole different story. But in the context of this, it’s like these are … Startups die. They just die. They die and it’s your fault. Kids generally die and things like that happen, but it’s not your fault. Also, with the kids, you have an attachment. It is part of you. It’s your DNA, to a great extent. This kid would not exist without you. A startup is much different. It’s a business. It’s not anything else at the end of the day. I feel like people create a false sense of attachment when they say, “This is my baby.”


Steli Efti: All right. So I’ll play devil’s advocate here.


Hiten Shah: Go for it.


Steli Efti: Not because I disagree with you, just because it’s going to be fun. Don’t you think that … I would argue that a lot of people think about a startup as like a baby because it is a potentially useful metaphor, right? You came up with the idea of the company, and you probably didn’t do it by yourself, there were other people involved in creating it. Hence why the co-founders are thought as the parents and why we often talk about the founder DNA being something culturally that you can sense and feel in the company. In the beginning, obviously it’s all there is, but even later as the company scales and grows and many, many other humans work on it, the starting DNA point made a huge imprint that probably will stay with the company forever. You’re starting something from nothing. Today, there was no name, no product, no service, no customers, no nothing, and tomorrow you have created something. And as humans, the first thing we’ve ever created … The main creation that we’ve been involved with probably, on a biological level, is creating other human beings. Copying ourselves, right? And creating businesses is a much more modern form of creation, a more commercial form of creation, but is a form of creation. And then I do think that even with a baby … You could say that when it’s your child you have to deal with it and you’ll have to deal with it for your whole life. But a child, to a certain degree, it is yours and it has your DNA and you’re really responsible for it just like your company, but it eventually grows up and becomes its own human being with its own needs, and it becomes more than just a copy of you. There are more people involved in … They say it takes a village to raise a child. There are more people involved than just you to influence who that child becomes. And that’s, again, a very similar metaphor to how a lot of people would think about a business. Don’t you think that as a metaphor it kind of fits really well and that’s probably why people use it?


Hiten Shah: Look how long it took you to explain it. It took you forever to explain that. I know you were doing it to play devil’s advocate and that’s great. I just don’t agree. It’s not biological. It’s mechanical.


Steli Efti: That’s true.


Hiten Shah: Right? It’s mechanical. Majority of business is not creative. I don’t mean to say it can’t be creative. I don’t mean to say it shouldn’t be creative, but it’s not creative. But none of that still goes to biology and this living, breathing, speaking, opinionated thing, that’s not a combination of a lot of other things. So a child is not a combination of a multiple people’s work and they get to have ownership over that. I don’t have ownership over my kids, but I definitely have ownership over my companies. I have equity in them. It is an embodiment of me just like a child would be, but it is not something I can’t change. A child is hard to change. A child’s personality for example. It takes a lot of work to change a child’s personality. I don’t recommend people try to do that. And with a startup, it’s like you’re actually trying to kill it all the time realistically. Because there are a lot of these other startups that are out there that are trying to kill you, or take away your customers, or be better than you at something. And that to me … I don’t want to feel like … Here’s what it boils down to be … I don’t want to feel like my startup is so precious I can’t kill it. If I think of it as a child or a baby, I’m going to think it’s so precious I can’t kill it. That’s really what it boils down to. Thank you for the devil’s advocate because that was really helpful in getting to that precise thing which is like, “Dude, the startup can die. The startup will die. The startup should be treated as if it’s going to die.” Because that’s when you really have the breakthrough.


Steli Efti: Yeah, and it’s not just it might die it, I think the money quote, “Is you might have to kill it.”


Hiten Shah: Right.


Steli Efti: Right.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: That is the money … You might have to take the responsibility to kill it, and if you think about it like a child, you will never-


Hiten Shah: It will be that much harder.


Steli Efti: You would never want to take that responsibility to even think about that option because you’re so attached to it.


Hiten Shah: No, you’re not killing your child. You’re not ever going to kill your child. Not on purpose, this is very rare, right?


Steli Efti: Yep.


Hiten Shah: While a startup gets killed by the founders, by the CEOs, by the executives, every day. There’s a startup dying right now. There’s probably dozens of startups dying right now. There are startups that by the end of next week will be dead, and the year’s over, and they’re done. And someone did it, and it was done on purpose. So yeah. Yeah. You’re not sitting there trying to kill your child. You are sitting there constantly trying to kill your startup. I actually do believe that even if you look at a lot of the values that Facebook has, they have a great value. I’m going to paraphrase it, but it has something like, “If we don’t invent the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will.” This attitude, it’s an attitude shift, it’s a mindset shift, and it’s one where I really get worried, honestly, when people think about their companies as babies. I get worried for them, and the amount of emotion they’re attaching to their business.


Steli Efti: Just before you gave us kind of the essence of why this is harmful, I was just about to ask you, what’s the harm in this What are all the bad things that come as a result of people thinking that they’re birthing their companies, and that they’re the parents of them and the startups is their babies? You gave me the answer even before I was able to ask the question. This relates to a prior episode that we talked about, which is that I think that one thing that we can agree on is that too many startups are not being killed early enough. It’s a tough balance to decide when you need to persevere and when you need to call it quits. But I think knowing and having the mind frame that at any time you have the responsibility to ask the question, “Is this still a good business? Do we need to shut this down?” That being a real option. Although you’re really dedicated and passionate. You can be dedicated and passionate about your company and still always feel the ability to ask the logical question, “Is this still a good business? Do we need to shut this down or are there good reasons to continue?” I think that that’s a balance that is very rare to find with founders. Most founders are either too flip floppy and they’re very opportunistic and they don’t care. They just want to make all the money. If today’s crazy is about AI, they’re finding some people that work on an AI startup and they join as a co founder, but then if they don’t raise money they move onto the next thing. They don’t really care about anything, they just like leeching onto opportunity. And then there’s the other extremes, these people that truly believe that they’ve birthed this thing and it’s their child, and they will never let go of it no matter what the world tells them, no matter what the market’s tell them, and they’re ruined. A lot of times lives are being ruined that way. They get into debt. They are emotionally and physically destroying their body. They’re harming their families because they’re not letting go when the time has been overdue and this company should be shut down. It doesn’t mean that you can’t start another company or do something else. So I do think that it’s tough for people to find that balance of being dedicated without being attached. Of truly being passionate about that company and feeling ownership, without feeling like it’s part of their identity and they cannot let go of that.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point around identity. The startups are a part of your identity. That is what you’re doing. That’s the business you’re working on. There’s countless examples of that, right? Facebook is synonymous with Mark Zuckerberg. Virgin is synonymous with Richard Brunson. And so, when I think about that, when you think of it that way, the identity connection’s always going to be there. Especially with the founder. Especially if they’ve been successful to some extent, grown their business. But the problem still lies in the fact that it’s still not your baby. Just because you identify with it in that way, it doesn’t mean that you should think of it like your baby. You should definitely think of it like your achievement or something you’re working on and you care a lot about. Of course. I wouldn’t want people to think that I think you shouldn’t care about your startup. I just don’t think you should care about it in a way that gets you so attached to it that it makes it harder to make hard decisions.


Steli Efti: Yeah. That’s really it. When you lose yourself in the startup and it makes it harder to make hard decisions, you’re going to make really bad decisions for yourself and that company. So ultimately you’re harming that business. Okay, I hate to draw the metaphor back to the child. But in this case it’s actually not that crazy to say that sometimes parents are also so attached and so overly protective that they’re doing things that in the longterm are really harming their children. They’re not empowering them. So I think attachment in general, and that’s a topic that we’ve talked a lot about, but attachment in general is just something that will turn you into a founder that’s less successful, less effective. So thinking about your startup as a baby will make you inevitably more attached to it, and then will make it harder for you to make hard decisions. We had an episode, I want to highlight to people that are listening that want to learn more about this, about attachment versus dedication. It was episode number 29, so if you want to hear about Hiten and my framework on attachment versus dedication as an entrepreneur, you can check that episode out. Do want to wrap this up with a tip, Hiten?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, absolutely.


Steli Efti: So what’s your tip?


Hiten Shah: What’s my tip. My tip is don’t do things to yourself that make it harder for you to make business decisions. Sometimes it’s hard to see those but when you’re thinking about, just an example here is this whole episode, when you’re thinking about your startup like your birthing it or like it’s your baby, you end up getting this sense of attachment like it is your baby or like you are birthing it. And that sense of attachment can make it very, very difficult to make hard decisions. It can even make it difficult to make seemingly easy decisions, like we’re going to change the market we’re in. And that’s what people don’t realize when they use this language with themselves. So watch the language you’re using when you speak of your startup, especially in the sense of your level of attachment to it. Obviously you care a lot about it. It takes up probably most of your life. So again, it’s not to say that it’s not an important. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t have some level of conviction and emotion about it, but that level can be really dangerous. It’s actually where most founders go wrong.


Steli Efti: I love it. All right, so my tip is going to be to find some examples of the type of founder that we’ve talked about. I think there’s so many stories out there that create this false sense of these founder heroes that went through hell and went through all the suffering, and everything was stacked against them, and everything was pointing that this is going to be a failure and they should stop, and they just never stopped because they love their company like their baby. A lot of people think of people like Steve Jobs that was incredibly attached with his company and all that. So I think there’s a lot of stories about these type of founders and how perseverance and attachment and looking at your company like your baby, that that is a necessary requirement for success. I think if that’s most of the content you’ve consumed, the most of these stories you’ve consumed about heroic entrepreneurship, then it’s going to be really hard for you to act differently because it’s going to feel like you’re acting in a way that will not lead you to success. So my advice would be, look for counterexamples. Look for people like … Hetin can be one really great example. You see a founder that’s very dedicated, very passionate, but not attached. Not talking [inaudible] his companies as his babies. But Hetin is not alone. Look for other examples of people that are incredibly dedicated, incredibly hardworking, incredibly passionate about their company, but would never say, “It’s my baby.” Would never say, “I could never kill this company or never shut it down.” That are able to make really tough decisions or tough choices in tough situations. And sometimes it’s to keep going with it, and sometimes it is to shut it down. Look for these examples because the more of these examples you consume, the easier it’s going to be for many of you to follow that example without creating anxiety that you’re doing something wrong. Look for the type of entrepreneurial stories out there that prove that there’s more than just one way to go and that this, “My company’s my everything in life,” is not the only way to create massive success and be very successful, and hopefully also happy entrepreneur. So look for some of these examples and stories out there.


Hiten Shah: Never say never.


Steli Efti: Never say never. All right. That’s it from us. We’ll hear you very, very soon.


Hiten Shah: Bye.