Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how startups grow you as you grow them.

Being part of a startup, whether you own it or you work at one, changes you as a person. There are a lot of opportunities to learn and improve yourself. It is safe to say that who you were at the early stages of your startup journey changes after you’ve been involved in it for a while or after you’ve left it – and this is a good thing.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about how there’s a huge opportunity for personal development at startups, how you stop growing when you don’t care anymore, how people struggle with creating an identity for themselves and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:05 About today’s topic

01:14 Why this topic was chosen.

03:49 How there’s a huge opportunity for personal development at startups.

05:33 How there are a lot of people who get into venture capitalism but truly don’t know the job.

08:16 How you stop growing when you don’t care anymore.

10:33 How Hiten approaches tweeting these days.

10:47 How Hiten feels about how certain people tweet.

12:59 How startups demand growth from you.

15:12 How a lot of people going into the world of venture capitalism and make no contributions to it.

17:13 How people struggle with creating an identity for themselves.

3 Key Points:

  • A startup is a venture that demands growth from you.
  • If you created a startup, or even if you work in one, the amount of personal development opportunity that you have, I think, is almost as great as like joining the army.
  • There are things you experienced in your life that truly have the potential to change you completely.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah : And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about the tweet, the infamous tweet by now from Hiten Shah, startups grow you as you grow them. So Hiten, I saw you tweet this, startups grow you as you grow them, I instantly liked it and retweeted it because I thought it was a beautifully expressed idea. And then as I often do, especially with you, I asked myself, “Why did he tweet this?” I ask myself this with other people as well. Sometimes I’m just like, “Why did this person decide to write this tweet right now? What is going on in their life, in their world that triggered this?” But with you especially, because we’re very good friends, and because I know I have a space, this podcast, where I can dig deeper. And so let me ask you, what triggered this tweet? Why did you write this on Twitter?


Hiten Shah : I’m not tweeting a lot. I used to tweet a lot. I’m not tweeting a lot. I think a lot of people are tweeting a lot. I have been working on multiple projects at my company, FYI, for three or four months now, and that’s just going to continue for the foreseeable future. Things that only I can do. It has a lot to do with the phase of the company, and the things we want to achieve, and all kinds of things like that. And quite frankly, I don’t have time to tweet. I don’t feel like it either. And .I lurk on Twitter sometimes I’m considering just ripping it off my phone again. I’m not on Instagram. And I’m thinking about a lot of things these days. I’m thinking about the people I know who have built startups, and whether I know them or not, and then turn into venture capitalists, or turn into angel investors. Then I’m thinking about the people that I know that, and I’ve done those things before, and I’ve had that phase of my life where I wanted to invest in companies, and then I decided I don’t want to continue that phase of my life. And then I’m thinking about people who I know used to run businesses very actively, and are relatively from an age standpoint, young, and now only work two to four hours a week. And there’s a few of these people, or work very little, or have less drive, maybe ambition, I don’t know, than they used to. And all these people are either people who I personally know, or people who I see and have met, and there’s no specific people I’m pointing out, but there are a lot of people going into venture that were operators or founders before. There are also a lot of, not as many people, but people that I know that are basically retired, is what I call it. Because if they used to work 16 hours a day, they work two to four now, which is different than working eight. And again, don’t want to get into this whole thing about how hard you work, that’s not the point of this tweet or this topic I guess. And then I realized that if you started a business, you created a startup, let’s say, even if you work in one, the amount of personal development opportunity that you have I think is almost as great as joining the Army. And why I say that is, in the Army you go through a lot of training, right? And you’re put through a lot of exercises. There is a lot of structure. Startups don’t have the same structure. And I don’t know enough about that analogy to do it justice, but that’s just what popped in my head. So for anyone who’s out there that knows about the Army, and I know people that have joined it, a good friend of mine actually was in the Army, and in various countries and things like that. I’ve known other folks as well, so I don’t know enough about it. So if I’m not doing justice to the analogy, totally my bad, but to me what I’m trying to say is there are things you experience in your life that truly have this potential to change you completely. Where if you found a way to document who you were when you started,” and then who you are a year later, two years later, three years later, et cetera, you would feel the difference. You would know the difference. You would be like, Oh my God.” Some people might not even be able to recognize you. And that is where that tweet came from, is just seeing all these people who have started businesses, thinking about even myself, I’m not stopping. I will continue to do this for as long as I possibly can, and I’m damn sure of it. And do this meaning businesses, startups, whatever you want to call it. And I know what it does to me, and I kind of like it. At the same time, I hate it. And so, that tweet came out of looking at, “Oh there are people I know that have opted out of that.” The majority of the people that I know that are in the retired camp have opted out of it. They said, “I don’t want that. I have found a way to have my life and work two to four hours a day, and be happy. And that’s happiness to me now.” Maybe they’ll start up again or not, I don’t know. But that’s where they’re at right now. Then there are people who I know that have gone into venture capital, and literally they make me sad, because they’re operators, and they don’t even know how to do venture capital. Then there are people that have got into it that treat it like yet another startup for them, and they are working their butts off because they want to achieve. And they still have that same thing. So it’s not a judgment even on those people who I mentioned in venture capital who don’t know the job they’re doing, because they really don’t. Bu my point is there are these observations I have, and that tweet is really just about the fact that if you keep going on that journey of a startup, even if you’re working in one to be honest, and really want to achieve, and are determined, and I don’t care about how many hours you work, that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about what it does to you. I think you can just totally not burn out or be over it, and not want to do it anymore at all.


Steli Efti: All right. I’ll be honest with you, it took me a while to get it, because in the beginning when I read the tweet, I assumed that this was about the amount of personal development and personal growth that has to happen for you to be able to make the decisions and execute on certain things in a way that allows your startup then to grow. The relationship between, if you’re not growing, your company won’t grow. If your company is growing, it is going to demand and stimulate an incredible amount of personal growth. Demand that from you. When you started explaining the tweet, and you talked about people that were retired or semi-retired, or people that went into venture capital, I was like, “Where is he going with this? How is startups grow you as you grow them related to people going to venture capital after being founders?” And then at the very end I was like, “Ah, now I get it.” Because you saw these people that decided to opt out of maybe the extreme environment.


Hiten Shah : They don’t know it, but they opted out. They don’t know it. I see it. Because I’m like, “Yo, you don’t care anymore. You don’t care like you used to care.” Literally the word is care. Because if you care about yourself the way you used to, you would be growing super fast. And I know people, I don’t know anyone that’s retired, my terminology of retired in this context, that cares the way they used to. I know people in venture capital that give a big crap that just got into it. Like, they are on it. But then I know way more people that are not, and they don’t know. They think they’re doing a good job, they just don’t know. And these are people who are ex-startup people who are now in that game. I’ve just seen it, and it’s fascinating to me because there’s a big contrast between the two groups. Here’s the thing, at this point, the way I feel about Twitter is that if I tweet something, I don’t think anyone will truly understand where it came from. So I really appreciate you digging into that one because I am not tweeting some random thing that came, popped in my head anymore. It’s something that’s meaningful to me. I don’t care what other people think.


Steli Efti: You.


Hiten Shah : Like, cool, if you got that interpretation, it helped you out or you hate it? I don’t care. It’s cool. I just had to let that one out.


Steli Efti: I can tell, and you can tell by following people’s content creation process. If somebody’s constantly tweeting these super quotable ideas or thoughts, and I’ve done this too, to some degree. You can get into a zone of that’s the way you think. And you constantly are seeking that. So you’re writing emails, you’re talking to somebody, “Oh, I should tweet this. This is a tweet.”


Hiten Shah : You know how many times in the Bay Area I’ve been in a meeting, and then I see someone tweet something after it, and I’m like, “Oh no, that did not just happen.” And I’m sitting here like, “Oh, so now I know where all your ideas come from.” They’re from some random media. And again, there’s not judgment or offense, even though it might sound like it, but like, “What the fuck dude? Do you even have an original thought of your own?”


Steli Efti: So it is judgment, but I’m with you. I’m just judging what [crosstalk 00:10:45].


Hiten Shah : I’m just saying. It’s not judgment because it’s the world we live in. The world we live in. It’s judgment in the sense of, what you just said triggered it. Because you’re just tweeting a bunch of stuff. I’m like, “Yeah, totally cool.” But the thing is for me, when I’m one-on-one, this is basically the closest thing that anyone can watch. Shit comes out of my mouth that I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know it was there. So if I meet someone, and then I seen them tweet something, I’m like, “I know where it came from,” and that’s cool, because I’m not going to tweet it. I don’t care. But this is how you do Twitter, this is how you think of the world. And that’s what I’m looking at. Not the judgment, it’s just like, “Really, that’s your life?” That’s interesting. It’s just such a fascinating sort of experiment, and thing we live in today. And the thing is, in this Bay Area, I’m here, I live here, and I don’t always go meet with the tech people that are tweeting, but when I do, one thing I’ve noticed is there’s also a lot of conversation about Twitter. A lot of it. And it’s like, okay, cool. That’s cool. We’re going to go meet offline to talk about what’s going on online.


Steli Efti: Online, yeah.


Hiten Shah : Yeah. And it’s probably because you’re going to go tweet something after this about that.


Steli Efti: because you’re thinking, “What can I tweet?”


Hiten Shah : Yeah, and here I’m meeting you, and it should be different. It shouldn’t be like that. I’ve literally been in a meeting and I got asked a question. Literally, I was in a meeting, I got asked a question, the person, about a half hour, hour after the meeting, tweeted my answer to that question. And I just realized, and it clicked, “Oh, this person asked me the question so they can create a tweet.”


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah : And it blew my mind.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah : Anyway.


Steli Efti: Back to the tweet, to your tweet.


Hiten Shah : Back to the tweet.


Steli Efti: So, here’s the deal. The premise is basically that a startup is such an intense model. It is a venture that demands growth from you, and there’s really no hiding in it. It’s much harder to pretend or to hide in it than other forms of work. So, it is one of those types of work that you get involved with that is more brutal on its demand for you to grow and for you to grow it. It’s not the only one. There’s many endeavors people can get involved with that would allow them to grow dramatically. And then to grow the thing they’re involved with. Some are harsh environments and some aren’t as harsh, but in general, people can grow in all kinds of areas in life. But startups are the types of areas in life that are just so much more demanding. So if you’re not interested in growth, it’s going to be a place where sooner or later you’re going to look for an exit. And so maybe once you’ve done it long enough, and once you’ve had some kind of a track record, you will see opportunities for maybe things that will allow you to enjoy life and be quote unquote, successful, and be recognized and all that without those brutal, harsh demands on you, continuing to grow as a person. And now, as you said, there’s people that go into all kinds of areas, venture capital is one that you mentioned as an example. People can go into VC and grow a tremendous amount, and make a tremendous contribution to that world and to startups, but many go into that world and make no contribution to the world and to startups, and experience no growth whatsoever. They’ve just gotten into an area that is prestigious, where they make great income, where they have a cushy, cool, fun job, but they just stop growing. They look for refuge in an area where they can keep working and do something that seems appealing and impressive to people, without having to personally grow as much or really prove that they’re truly making an impact and a contribution. And I do think in most people, let’s forget about entrepreneurs, let’s forget about the Bay Area or the East Coast, West Coast, like these cities or these concentrated areas where the most ambitious of humans aggregate and try to change the world or have careers, or try the impossible. If you look at more broadly the average person, a lot of them, at least where I grew up, the idea was that you’re going to struggle and work hard. And then eventually once you got a certain status, a certain position in life, then you can finally stop struggling and growing, and taking risks, now you just have to hold on. Now the whole idea is that you can just keep that cushy job and you make a great income and it’s safe. And then eventually you buy a house, and then eventually you retire, and you made it. You struggle up to a certain point on the mountain, and then you just put your camp there, and then that’s it. That’s where you’re going to build your house, and you’re not moving anymore. You found a good spot. I think most people I know, and I knew growing up, that was their mental model of life. Even when you’re young, when you’re a teenager and all that, you have to struggle through trying to create an identity for yourself. You go through all these struggles, these, “Who am I? What and who am I attracted to?” In school, you’re going through these, “Am I a cool kid? Am I a nerd? Am I a musician? Am I an outcast? What group do I belong to? What is my identity? Who will I become or be some day?” You go through all these, being a beginner at everything you do, it’s awkward and you don’t know how to do it, and you don’t know how to be good at it. And then eventually you went through that struggle, and now you have an identity, a title, a social circle, and boom, now you’ve created your safe life, and now just stay there. Then you’re confident and your secure, and everything is great. But the problem with that is obviously that if you stay there, you also have zero growth. If you don’t continue to do and involve yourself in new endeavors, and try new things and explore new areas and expand your world with new people, yes, you’re not going to have failure, you’re not going to have the pain of rejection or the pain of being a beginner and being clueless and looking stupid in the process of attempting something new, or being involved with new people, but you also don’t have any growth anymore. So I think that idea is very universal. I think in the startup world it’s just so much more obvious, because it’s such a concentrated, demanding world, that if you are in a startup, as you grow, your startup grows. And as you grow your startup, you grow. And most people that we know that have been in this world, they don’t want to be in it forever. And eventually they do take an exit. In one way or another, they do take an exit, and then they become part of a world that’s more comfortable. And I want to bring this up because I’m sure you don’t mean this, it doesn’t mean that you cannot stop being in the startup world and keep having tremendous growth in life.


Hiten Shah : Yeah, of course not. Yeah, it’s all good.


Steli Efti: You could become almost anything. Almost anything you could do. And let me ask you, could somebody stay in startups their entire career, whatever, their entire life, but stop growing, become more of a career startup? Maybe not as a founder, maybe as an executive that keeps joining small startups but is growing? Could you stay in that world and not grow for really long periods of time? Have you seen that pattern as well?


Hiten Shah : Yeah, of course. And that’s why I said it as, startups grow you as you grow them, I didn’t say it in any other way, because I think if you want to grow something, you’re going to grow. It’s going to grow you, you’re going to change, things are going to happen. And if you don’t care about growing your startup aggressively or fast, or whatever way you want to call it, then that’s fine. You’re probably not going to grow at the same pace. Because the thing is, and I mentioned this earlier, but I’m spending less time on social media, and not for any particular reason except I just don’t feel like it. So there’s no like, oh it’s horrible or anything. There’s some patterns and things happening, but for me, there’s a bunch of stuff I’m doing that’s pushing my limits. And it’s pushing my limits of what I know, what I’m good at, and I’m noticing how it’s just changing me, and leveling me up in ways that, I am now conscious too that in the past I just thought it was like, “Oh, I have stuff to do, there’s things I need to do for this business or I want to do for this business, and I’m going to go do them.” And I almost took that learning for granted. Now I don’t take any of the learning for granted, or any of the personal growth that comes out of it. Even being able to see a team member on my team feel a certain way, that I’ve been working with for almost 10 years, I was able to think of that person and some patterns for that person. And something that he probably would have spent a month dealing with, I literally didn’t have the patience, and also knew him well enough to have the trust to call him out on it, and we were able to make a switch within 24 hours. And it’s that kind of thing that is not just learning for that person, but it’s also learning for me of like, “Oh wow. That’s really interesting. In the past I wouldn’t have done that.” And so there are for me personally, because you asked where that tweet comes from, I think it’s just, you want an opportunity to grow super fast personally, you want to really push yourself to limits and cross certain boundaries that you might have about yourself, this is the way to do that. This is a great way to do that. Just make sure you want to grow your thing. It’s a great way to do that. There’s a lot of friction to it, because there’s always a friction to changing and growing and all that stuff. But it’s the one that can give you, I think, some of the most satisfaction as you’re growing. Whether what you’re doing is successful or not, because you are thrown these challenges, and you get to dive into them. Now, not everyone’s personality is like that. Not everybody needs that. Not everybody wants that. I know for myself, I need it. Literally there’s things that I want to get better at right now. There’s three things that I want to get great at that I know I’m not great at. And those three things I’m going after, and I’m repeating it to whoever will listen. Whoever needs to hear it. And it’s helping me get better at those three things. And I’m sure there’s another episode in this, because I’m sure you do things like this, but we should talk that. But to me, yes, the startups grow you as you grow them. That’s the way I think about all this. And it came from lots of observations, and not just some, “Hey, I’m just thinking about this right now.” No, I’ve been thinking about this for like six months, and trying to really figure out what this means to me, and what the difference is between these different people that I see in the world. Because a lot of them had these experiences of, they’re a startup, them having that same experience, and then them getting tired of it, I think. It’s totally possible.


Steli Efti: I love it. All right. That’s a beautiful way to end the episode. Startups grow you as you grow them. We’ll hear you very, very soon.


Hiten Shah : See ya.