In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to reflect and plan ahead at this time of year.

At this time of year, it is very common for founders to go into reflection mode and reflect on the progress of their business. This could be thinking about what they’ve achieved in the year, what went well in that year and what didn’t go so well. This is a good thing, and while it is recommended that some founders do it, some other founders might decide to use this time of year to plan for the coming year.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how you could use this time of very productively, two key things people do this time of year, why you should do what works for you and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:38 Why this topic was chosen.

01:10 How you could use this time of year very productively.

01:44 Two key things people do at this time of year.

02:40 How this time of year is the easiest time to get somebody to reflect on the past.

03:07 Why a lot of people reflect at this time of year.

04:34 Why you might want to reflect at this time of year.

06:07 Why you should do what works for you.

09:53 How there’s no one path to be successful.

10:51 Why Hiten loves giving one on one advice. 

3 Key Points:

  • This is the easiest time to get somebody to reflect on the past
  • If you’re in that mood, don’t fight it.
  • Just do you.


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


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah, and today on The Startup Chat, what are we going to talk about, Steli?


Steli Efti: Well, Hiten, I think we’re going to talk about the mood that we’re all in, which is we’re kind of in the tradition between holidays, New Year’s, and kicking off 2018, and I think we want to talk a little bit about that season from an entrepreneurial point of view, from a [subtle] point of view. First, things slow down, right? And they kind of, I think, a lot of people… It puts people into a contemplating mood. You start reflecting back on how this year went, and you start trying to prepare for what the goals and what the changes and what the “resolution” should be for next year. I think we want to just go through this a little bit from our own lenses and maybe highlight some of the things startups and entrepreneurs can do to use this time in the most productive way possible, to make sure that the next year is going to be killer and successful, and they’re going to accomplish the right type of things that they want.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I love that. I think I’d like to split it into two. I think there’s two things people do during this time, in my experience, which is they reflect on the year and what’s gone on, in this case in 2017, and then they think about what’s next. In some cases, one thing I wanted to mention is, you mentioned startup and founder perspective? I’ve found this to be a business and personal perspective as well. Holistically, regardless of size of company or what you’re up to because a lot of companies go into planning mode pre-holidays, and even into the holidays depending on how aggressive the company is and how much they let you have a holiday, so to speak. And they’re planning out next year. They’re doing forecasts and all that fun/boring stuff, depending on how you look at it, and then other companies that are much smaller, like a startup, they tend to not have formal processes. Sometimes they don’t even think about this stuff, but there’s still a bunch of reflection and figuring out what’s next going on. So to me, let’s talk about reflection really quickly. What I’ve found, and this is mostly in the advisor role I have in a lot of situations, whether it’s with friends or companies I’m formally advising, as well as in my own companies, I definitely take that role more than I take any other role. It’s either advisor coach or some form of a manager and in terms of the contributor to the work, that’s definitely, in the latter Q4 of most years, I’m more on the other side, not as much the contributor to things. And so what I’ve found is, this is the easiest time to get somebody to reflect on the past, especially the past year. That’s one of the most common things I’ve found. Sometimes it’s even easy on a personal note to get people to reflect even further back because of the holidays and the time with family. So that’s how I’m going to start on the reflection side of things.


Steli Efti: It’s an easy time to reflect, so you might as well use it to do so. That is actually a really interesting observation. Very astute. I think that we don’t have to dive into too much why that is, I’m sure it has multiple reasons why, right? One is just the season in general, when the days get shorter. It gets darker earlier. People start to close in on the chapter of the year from a seasonality point of view and thinking about the next year just puts you in a sort of mood. Then people are just in that mood in general. People start talking more about it. The content that pops up in social media, the conversations you are having with friends and family and colleagues, everything just starts revolving around finishing up this year, looking back, and then closer to New Year’s people start thinking ahead and start planning. So it’s a good time. If you’re in that mood, don’t fight it. One tip that I’ll give is, some people like to be rebellious and be like, “Ha ha, this is all bullshit and I don’t like the holidays,” and I’m not a particular fan of holidays or celebrations in general. Not that I’m not a fan, I’m just not overly participatory when it comes to this stuff. But when everything around you is in that mood and the momentum of something pushes in one direction, might as well just use that energy and go with it and go, “Well, if everybody is reflecting back, let’s just use this time instead of fighting it and do so ourselves as well.” And this points to a quick side note that I want to bring up. There was a little bit of a discussion going on online about, “Should you hustle through the holidays and work through it as a startup, or should you take a break?” I think some founder or ex-founder or whatever posted about some startups who slow down and take a holiday break, the ones that don’t, they have an advantage over you. They are going to kick start the next year with a competitive advantage, something along those lines. And there were many other founders that reacted negatively to that and there was a whole debate going on on social media. I’m sure you saw this, about should you take a break or not take a break or do both or whatever. So it’s an interesting-


Hiten Shah: I actually didn’t see it.


Steli Efti: Oh, you didn’t see it?


Hiten Shah: And because I didn’t see it, I have even a stronger opinion about it.


Steli Efti: All right. So hit us with it.


Hiten Shah: Fuck this shit. I don’t know. That’s my reaction. My reaction’s like that, because you know what? I really strongly feel like this about it because after some many years of working on stuff, working on business, it’s just, god. Just do you. If you want to take a fucking break, do it.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: If you want to go figure out how to hustle or keep working, you know what? Do it. But all I hate about this is, there should be no rule around this. There should be no guidance anybody tries to give you. Because it doesn’t fucking matter. That’s the truth. Right now, like in my case, I don’t know how to stop working. So I’d be working regardless, but if I told you, “I worked hard this year at the end of the year compared to last year,” I have no fucking idea. I don’t know. Why is this even a discussion? Just do you. If you want to take a break, take a fucking break. If you feel like taking a break, take a break. If you want to keep working and do what you do, do what you do. Right? It’s so personal. I guess that’s my response. It’s personal. It’s fucking personal. So many things happen in our lives that are not just our businesses that affect our businesses and our businesses affect our personal life that it just doesn’t fucking matter. Why are we making this such a big deal, right? People, this is so personal. People are going to do what they’re going to do. If you feel like you need to work through the holidays because someone’s going to beat you? I’m sorry. I’m sorry for you. I really am.


Steli Efti: Yeah. And this is why 90% of the time when people argue on social media at times, I look at and I go, “I could say something here and probably benefit from just a retweet or hearts point of view, exposure point of view, because people like those kind of arguments and a lot of attention flows towards them. But I don’t really care. I just don’t. I can take a counter opinion to this, but I don’t really care about this discussion, right? And I think in many cases we often land on the, “It depends.” There is not an answer that’s universally true. And some people should work through the holidays and other people shouldn’t and it shouldn’t be determined by some fucking expert or founder or successful person on Twitter, and it shouldn’t be determined on your competition, and it shouldn’t be determined on your bad conscience or your stressful inner voice that’s trying to tell you you’re not enough and you need to work less or more, be more like this guy or less like that girl. It depends. It depends on your situation. If you’re totally inspired and out of your mind motivated and you work gives you joy and there’s not anything that you have to take away from? Work through the holidays. Awesome. Who gives a shit that these are holidays? If you’re a 22 year old kid somewhere away from family, it doesn’t matter if it’s holidays or not. Maybe this is the best time for you to work. Maybe it’s quiet, nobody’s in the office, nobody’s bothering you. You can be the most creative person you are, and that might be the best gift you can give yourself. And in other situations it’s crazy for you work and feel like the need to answer some bullshit emails and do busywork all day to just create the feeling that you are progressing or that you’re not falling behind. So I couldn’t agree more with you. But this goes back to, it depends. “What is right for you?” is the right question and not, “What is everybody else doing?” What is the right thing to do as a startup during the holidays? There is no such thing. There’s no right thing to do. For every piece of advice, and I tell this, oftentimes I’ve gotten into the habit that whenever I give really strong advice to somebody, whenever I’m incredible convinced of what I’m saying is right and I say it in a very forceful way, I always now end with this side note or this public service announcement. I always go, “And this the way to do to. And by the way, for everything that I’m telling you, there’s 10 counter examples of startups that did it the other way and still succeeded. Just throwing that out there.” There’s always a counter example. There’s always somebody that did it differently that still succeeded. There’s not one path to doing life and there’s not one path to doing startups or entrepreneurship or business, so don’t look for, “What am I supposed to do during the holidays?” Ask yourself, “How do I feel? What’s my life? What the context around my life? And how do I use that context and this time in the best way possible for me?” Right?


Hiten Shah: This is why I love giving one on one advice and I really hate generic, I have to go up and speak and give everyone advice. Because the best advice I have is, “Don’t take anyone else’s advice.” Especially if I’m up on stage trying to give some generic bullshit advice. Right? Because if you have to caveat it, it’s not really advice, in my opinion. So I think, not to get off on this tangent, but I’m sorry, to get off on this tangent.


Steli Efti: To get off on this tangent.


Hiten Shah: When I give advice and it’s one to one, it’s always great, and the reason it’s great is I listen to the person. I hear what they have to say and honestly, half the people I talk to, I tell them, “You better be working right now.” Other half of the people, I tell them, “You better take a break.” And that’s just what it boils down to. I can’t say to everybody the same thing. This is the problem with these Twitter debates, like you said. So I think we’ve talked a bunch about reflecting, right?


Steli Efti: Yep.


Hiten Shah: And I think we can talk about growth and the one thing I’ll say is, this is a great opportunity to think about what I call, what’s next? And what you have upcoming in your life, regardless of whether you’re the hard worker doing some hard work, so to speak, or trying to relax during the holidays or whatever, just thinking about what’s next in whatever way is really useful, especially because ideally, you probably just reflected. Reflecting is one of the easiest things to do right now. It’s actually typically hard during times when the world is moving faster. Because definitely in Q4, especially starting Thanksgiving and onwards, especially in the U.S., I’m sure in other countries too, but other countries I hear from you, Steli, that are a lot more chill most of the time anyways, but it’s just a great time to think about, “What are you going to do next year? What’s going to happen?” Whether it’s personal or professionally or even in any way that resonates with you.


Steli Efti: The thing that I love about this time of year is that momentum is such a powerful thing, and we’ve talked about momentum plenty of times here, that it can be a good and a bad thing. Momentum in all areas of life, when you have been doing something more and more and more and more, it’s at some point very hard to stop that thing, especially when you’re going the wrong direction. And it’s important to keep doing the same thing if you’re going in the right direction, but the beauty of this season is because things slow down, it gives a chance to ask what’s next from a perspective of what needs to change. And when you’re not in the day to day hustle, bustle, and stress, it’s easier to then potentially adjust and add or subtract something from what’s going on in your life to your startup, right? So I would take this time when it comes to thinking about what’s next and ask the question, “In a year from now, next year during this time, what do I want to look back to when I think about the year? What should’ve happened? Where do I want to be? Where should we be? And what is something that I’ve been carrying around for this year that next year around this time I don’t want to have anymore? I want to let that go.” And startups have habits and startups keep doing things. Any group of people will keep doing things that will be useful and valuable, but we also get into the habit of doing things past their prime or past their utility. So being able to just take a moment and ask, “What do I want a year from now, and what do I not want to have anymore a year from now? What do we need to let go of? Where do we need to change?” Asking those big questions, and one way to do it is to go backwards. To start with the end in mind. End of next year, working your way backwards to the beginning of the new year. And the other way to do it, and I tend to do both things, try to go bottom up and then top down. The other way to do things is not to think year or two or three or five ahead, but just to think a day ahead, and go, “From a day to day perspective, what’s one little thing I want to add and I want to add consistently and do throughout the entire year? And what’s one little thing that I’m doing that I want to subtract, just take out?” And that’s usually the way that I approach the new year. It’s just reflecting on a high level, but also taking the time to think big picture, what do I want to accomplish year from now and chuck back, but also what do I want to add and subtract on a daily basis, habitual basis. And then think if I do this for 365 days, do I think that that’s going to create a ton of value?


Hiten Shah: I love the subtraction part. I think a lot of people don’t think about what they can stop doing or what they can do less of. And especially the idea of doing it in small chucks day to day. I don’t actually have anything to add. I think you really gave people a lot to think about if they’re thinking right now.


Steli Efti: Sweet. We’ll wrap this episode up then in just one second. I just have one more thing that I forgot to mention, which is, we’ve talked about this in a prior episode. I don’t remember which one. This little hack that I do where I have an Evernote, of you can have any kind of note you want, where I track the entire year, a gratitude tracker. I just put in a month, like December, and then in bullet points I just write down everything good, awesome, or exciting thing that happened during that month that I’m grateful for, and then at the end of the year I just go through the entire list to kind of reflect on the year. And depending on how much time I have, I go back two or three years. Usually I write a little summary about the year and I read the summaries just to reflect, because life if a blur. I don’t remember what happened four months ago, three months ago, the entire year. Sometimes in the moment I feel like this year was really stressful or this year was not as great or this or that, but then when I look at that bullet point list, I go, “Holy shit. This year was amazing. I totally forgot about it.” So it’s one of those exercises that I tend to do at the end of the year and one exercise that I can highly recommend everybody to add as a habit for the next year. I’m not a big journal guy, but this bullet point in a simple text editor, that habit has worked for me really wonders and I’ve been doing this for now, I think, four or five years. So with that out of the way, we wish all of you an incredible life, day, and next year if you’re listening to this prior to the new year, and we’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten Shah: See ya.