Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the role entrepreneurship plays in your childhood.

Things that happen in our childhood play a big role in shaping our adulthood, and becoming an entrepreneur is no different. Most founders would agree that there were things that happened to them when they were kids that influenced their decisions to become entrepreneurs. 

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about events that influenced them to become entrepreneurs, how your past is not your future, how our natural tendencies can affect us becoming entrepreneurs and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:14 Why this topic was chosen.

01:15 Things that influenced Hiten to become an entrepreneur.

03:03 Why Hiten’s father gave him some early advice.

03:42 The effect this advice had on Hiten.

04:31 How you get a better understanding of your childhood as you grow up.

05:54 Why how you respond to what happens to you is super important.

07:05 How your past is not your future.

08:24 Things that influenced Steli to become an entrepreneur.

10:12 How our natural tendencies can also affect us becoming entrepreneurs.

3 Key Points:

  • There were things that happened in your childhood that made you become an entrepreneur.
  • My dad told me not to work for anyone.
  • Your past is not your future.


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 what role your childhood plays in entrepreneurship and if it plays a role at all. So here’s an interesting question. When you think back to your childhood, I do believe … I have prior knowledge, but I do believe that there were things that happened during your childhood that played a role in you becoming an entrepreneur and how you develop as an entrepreneur. Is that true? Would you agree?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah.


Steli Efti: And I would agree for certain on my childhood and what role it played in me becoming an entrepreneur and how I approached the whole thing. So maybe let’s just talk personal on this episode and talk about kind of what role our childhood played in it and how it influenced us. So when you think about your childhood, what are the immediate things that stand out where you go, well this is what happened during my childhood and how these events of things influenced me becoming an entrepreneur and what kind of an entrepreneur I became?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Mine was very direct. So my Dad, when I was four or five, told me I shouldn’t work for anyone. So I think he wanted to live vicariously through me and so he spoiled me at that point and said that. Then, over the years, he said three things. He said you could be an entrepreneur and work for yourself, the sky’s the limit. That was his take on it. And he was already a workaholic. He’s a physician, he’s an anesthesiologist. So what would happen is he would come home from work, we would have dinner and then he’d actually take me to work with him. I would sit in, basically, the IT room and I would mess with the computers and stuff. That was his version of taking a kid to work. It was literally every day. And then by the time I was seven or eight I just sat there and messed around with the computers. I had one since I was eight. I would build them and break them and take them apart and learn all about them and get on BBS’s and all that kind of stuff, the bulletin board systems from back then. I had dial up really early, Prodigy, AOL, all the good things and that was my childhood. The second and third things said were get married early and have kids early. So now what I’ll say, and then I’ll hand it over to you, is I’ve done everything he wanted so I don’t need to listen to him anymore.


Steli Efti: Well, wait, so on the entrepreneurship side I wanted to ask you, why do you think your Dad told you this? I think you said you thought that he wanted to live vicariously through you. On that note, why do you think he said you should get married and have children early in life? Was it just because he wanted to be a grandfather soon?


Hiten Shah: No, no, no. I don’t believe he really was just trying to live variously through me either, I think he wanted to impart the lessons that mattered to him that he felt like he wanted to impart in me. I was an only child and so he pushed them early and I think, for his agenda, that was smart. That being said, growing up, my rebellious streak impacted him the most. And I can blame him too. When you tell someone, “Don’t work for anyone,” when you’re four or five I think part of me took that in as like, “Oh, there are no rules.” I don’t need to follow anyone’s rules, even yours. Because he didn’t just say it once, he said it enough times that it just got ingrained. And so one thing I’ll say, and I really want to hear your take on this, but one thing I’ll say is of course your childhood impacts you for the rest of your life. And as you grow up, either you let it keep impacting you in ways that you don’t understand, or you start getting a better and better understanding of it, because you want to understand yourself better, or you want to improve or whatever. One of the things I have to say about it is, as harsh as this might be, it has little to do with what other people said or did to you. Even though I wouldn’t say I had a terrible childhood by any means, or anything like that, or people were mean to me or anything aggressive or anything like that. But at the end of the day, whatever those things are that happened, however extreme or however good or whatever, you took it in a certain way, you internalized it. It wasn’t someone else doing something to you, it was you internalizing what they said. So someone else, some other child with the other brain could have taken what my Dad said in a different way. My rebellion wasn’t against him, my rebellion was just against everything and it’s because I didn’t understand what rules were. I didn’t have that many rules. I had very few rules and that’s what shaped a lot of how I think about things.


Steli Efti: I think that’s a really important point and a beautiful one to make, which is … There’s two points actually. One is it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens to you, it’s how you interpret what happens to you, right? So two people could have the exact same event happen to them and interpret it very differently. There’s famously the story of twins that grew up in a very rough situation with drug addicted parents and violence and all these things and then ended up going down very different paths. One of those twins becomes a lawyer and a very successful member of society and the other one becomes kind of a big drug addict and a criminal and both interviewed about their lives pointed to their rough upbringing as, with this type of childhood, how could I become any different? One person took that rough childhood and said, “I’ve lived through hell, so I knew I needed to create a better life for myself. I had no other choice.” And the other one, who went through the identical experience and with identical DNA as a twin, or fairly identical DNA, said, “With that messed up of a childhood, how could I have ever made something out of myself? I could only fail with those experiences.” So it’s kind of the decision and the interpretation, your reaction to what happens to you more than the actual events. And the other thing is your past is not your future, right? So some people are kind of, I find that some people get stuck in their past and they use the narrative of it to hold themselves back forever, for their entire life, or to limit who they could be and where they could go in their future. We really don’t want to encourage these ideas, but I do think it’s important to understand your childhood and what happened there and understand your past to be able to transform it, or deeper understand why you are the way you are, who you are, how you think, in order to be able to either interpret what’s going on in your life better, or to change the things that you don’t like moving forward. So it’s fascinating to hear the whole you shouldn’t work for anybody and then that meaning, to your interpretation, there are no rules, I should do whatever I want. That’s kind of awesome. I’m sure you created a bunch of trouble and challenges for yourself and your Dad, but, but it does make a lot of sense and it’s kind of a good interpretation, good take on it. I think for me in my childhood, a number of things happened. I think that, one, we went through a period where a lot of bad things happened to our family. The death of my father, the sudden death of my Dad, us being kicked out of our home and having to go to public housing and to a totally different neighborhood, our family not talking to us. That was all happening during me starting first class in school. Then I had the bad luck of … My first school teacher was a terrible woman and a racist and just a horrible, horrendous human being. So there was a two year, three year period in my childhood where it seemed to me, my interpretation as a child was that the world was against us and we were very powerless. My Mum and my two brothers and I were pushed around in society and we were not able, not having the strength, the resources to push back and to have influence over our lives. And that definitely put a big chip on my shoulder and make me feel like I don’t want to be powerless, I don’t want to live a life where anybody can just come and do bad things to us and we can’t do anything about it. So I remember that was very impactful. I wanted to be strong and I wanted to be in a situation where I have control over my life and I’m not the victim of other people’s influence and decision making over what I can and cannot do in life. So that was a big thing I think that influenced me a lot. And then I think I naturally had a tendency to, I don’t know, I think I was born with a sense of confidence and a sense of a megalomania and thinking I need to be important and significant and I need to accomplish a lot and become rich and become famous and whatever, whatever. But my entire environment was low, poor income, immigrant neighborhoods, all of these people that were uneducated, not wealthy. So I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I desired to have some more power in my life and to be able to help my family and to create some kind of significance. And I think that desire in this situation that I was in as a child led me to discover, hey, there’s this thing called entrepreneurship. This is how businesses are started. You don’t need a diploma. Nobody needs to give you permission to start. Any type of business you create, it’s your creation and you can make it as big or as small as your creativity, your hard work allows it to be. Once I discovered that option, it was the answer to a very significant question that I had. So I instantly was … I was 16, this is when I discovered entrepreneurship, I was 16, I was like, wait, this is how business works? Anybody can start something and then make it this massive enterprise that has huge impact? You don’t have to have a boss and nobody has to agree that you are allowed to make this successful. I was like, all right, sign me up. This is it. This is going to be the way I do it. Literally, to me, this was like discovering a fucking planet. I was like, Holy shit, this is all this works. I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship. I didn’t know that you could just start a business. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that businesses could become as big as anybody wants. These things were all foreign concepts to me. So once I discovered them, I was like, Holy shit, this is it. I know what I’m going to do. But I do think that those more difficult years of my childhood paired up with my intrinsic desire for significance and my natural ambition, those two things led me down a path of asking myself the question, what the hell am I going to do in life and how am I going to be able to improve my life? And then those questions led me to discovering this beautiful idea of entrepreneurship and going, oh my God, this is it. I know what to do with my life. So yeah, I do think that influenced me a lot. Now having said that, I know that some people will listen to us and go, oh, my childhood, my parents didn’t like risk taking and they were both working for the government and I tried to do a lemonade stand in the summer and nobody bought. So there were these five things that happened to me and this is why, now that I’m an entrepreneur, this is why I’m struggling, because my childhood has influenced me to not be good at this thing called entrepreneurship. And what will we tell somebody that is thinking along those lines as they’re listening to us right now?


Hiten Shah: Oh man. I think the whole thing here is you’re making a decision. Excuse me. You’re making a decision at some point in your life and that decision is to start something of your own, right? So I feel like everyone’s going to have their own experience about this, but how childhood relates to it, it has a lot to do with the things that you interpreted as you were growing up and what that causes you to believe about yourself and the world. And a lot of times it’s not even your belief about yourself, it’s actually your beliefs about the world. For example, I think you went from thinking there was not as much abundance in the world to realizing there is a lot of abundance and how you can get it. And that would be my summary of what I heard from you. While for my Dad and the way that I grew up, he just told me, “Hey, it’s out there.” HW didn’t even tell me to go get it, he just said, “Hey, it’s out there. That’s all there is for you.” But it’s out there and that’s all there is is kind of weird. When you think about the fact that, well that’s all there is is abundance and it’s out there for you. And ultimately that’s, I think, the thing that, in different ways, shaped both of us towards the same thing, which is, to me, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a founder. You’re actually thinking more with an abundance mindset. I can do anything. Anything is possible. The world is abundant. And to me, the childhood things, all this boils down to is what is that story and if I were to really go there, Steli, it would be like, “Hey, what’s your story of abundance? How did you get to a point where you believe you can do anything? Or you believe that the world is abundant?” I think that’s the crux of it for me, which is what someone’s story is to that place. Because I don’t imagine anyone’s started anything without having some understanding that they can do it. Otherwise it wouldn’t start. And it could be a subconscious understanding, but I feel like that’s really what you get from childhood, this idea that the world is abundant. If you’re going to kind of get into entrepreneurship somehow, you get that from childhood. It could be because you’ve experienced the opposite, or it could be because someone told you, or it could be because you just, over time, realized it because you tried things and they worked. Lucky you.


Steli Efti: That’s amazing and so true. All right. This is how our childhoods influence and played a role in us becoming entrepreneurs. If you have a story that you feel compelled to share with us about your childhood and how it influenced you in a good or bad way, or on entrepreneurship, we’re always happy to hear from our listeners. You can always get in touch with us,, Until next time, this is it from us.


Hiten Shah: Later.