Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to ruin your reputation during a crisis.

In times of crisis, like the current COVID 19 situation, a lot of people will panic and act in a way that would ruin the reputation of themselves or that of their brand. So you want to be very careful how you treat people in times like these so as not to cause bigger problems for yourself when the crisis is over. 

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about Steli’s recent experience with a desperate salesman, Hiten’s thoughts on this particular experience, how treating people desperately and sleazy can ruin your reputation and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:42 Why this topic was chosen.

03:15 Steli’s recent experience with a desperate salesman.

07:12 Hiten’s thoughts on this particular experience.

08:22 How this is an unusual experience.

09:10 Why the devil is in the detail.

09:44 What was wrong about this person’s approach.

10:32 The second thing that was wrong with this person’s approach.

12:16 The importance of communicating your value.

12:34 How treating people desperately and sleazy can ruin your reputation.

3 Key Points:

  • During a crisis, people will sometimes show their true colours.
  • Some people have been consistent over the years that anything they do is not surprising.
  • The devil is in the detail.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today with The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about how to ruin your reputation during a crisis, or what not to do, so that you build a strong and positive reputation in the marketplace during a crisis. So let me set the scene real quick. The reason why I wanted to talk about this is twofold. One, a common acquaintance of both Hiten and mine, did something a couple of days ago that has ruined his reputation with me, and we were just chatting about that. But that also sparked this thought, that during a crisis I think people will sometimes show their true colors and true face, but maybe sometime impulsively just act weird. And underestimate the damage that you can do to yourself and your brand, during this difficult time, when you act selfishly, or out of order, or do shitty stuff, right? Because you’re in a panic, or because you feel pressure, or because you’re stressed. So I felt like it might be a good idea to talk about that a little bit. I’ll summarize my story, and then maybe we dissect it, and try to highlight some learnings for our listeners, that they can take away from this. So the thing that happened with this common acquaintance between Hiten and I, is that this is somebody that has been friendly with me, and I’ve been friendly with him online for many, many years. Once in a while he needed help with something, I try to help when I could. Once in a while I asked for help, he tried to help when he could. Just very casual, very like twice a year email exchange, everything’s cool. And then recently this guy has a podcast, and I have been meaning to be booked on a bunch more podcasts, to promote a new book that we’re going to have coming up. And so we had somebody on the marketing team reach out to a couple of these podcasts that I’ve been on, and a few that I hadn’t been on yet, but that I’m kind of friendly with the hosts. And so my team reaches out to him to book me on his podcast, if he’d be interested in that. And in response, he sends me a message and basically goes, “LOL. Do these cold emails work to be a podcast guest?” Now to give some context on this, Hiten and then I know a lot about this. We have a podcast, there’s not a week where we don’t get cold emails from people that want to be guests on it. And for us it’s special LOL, because we are one of the rare podcasts that doesn’t do guests, right?


Hiten Shah: It was very silly, yes.


Steli Efti: We always laugh at this. So I do get it, right. I do get that he was like “LOL. Do these emails work?” And then I responded and said, “Hey, we only do this with people I’ve been on before with people I know.” And so far they’ve worked pretty well. And then we exchanged some pleasantries, and I asked him if he’s fine. He was like, “Everything’s fine.” And then he asked me, and I was like, “Everything is good.” And that’s that. And in my mind that was that. He made a little bit of fun of me, that’s cool. I have no problem with that, I get it. And then since he didn’t offer, and didn’t say, “Yes, I’m interested, let’s do it.” I just assumed he’s not. I’m like, “All right, I’ll keep it moving.” Two days later somebody from my marketing team forwards me a message from him, that basically reads, “Hey, in order to survive we’re charging 10K now for an interview. Does that work for you guys?” And so, to that my response was “LOL.” But I was like, “All right, this is aggressive. This is interesting.” It was a bit weird because I was like, “Why didn’t he pitch this to me directly?” We were already talking via email about this. And then I was like, “Also this is not that compelling.” Right? It’s like, “Just so we can survive.” What’s the value? Why should this be something we’re interested in to pay 10,000? Like how will we return that money? No pitch or effort made to make this compelling for us, which is very selfish. “10K we need to survive, do you want to pay?” And I know nothing about, to be honest, about how big the podcast is, if it would be worth it or not. I’ve never been on it. So I definitely would not pay. I’ve never paid anybody to be on anybody’s podcast.


Hiten Shah: Right.


Steli Efti: And so I said, “You know what, just say politely no.” Right? Just say politely no. Okay, so the team writes back to him and says, “Thanks for the offer, but it’s not going to work for us. But best of luck and stay safe and all that, and cheers.” To which he then responds, and this again gets forwarded to me. He responds, “Okay, special deal, 9K. Only for this week, cool?” And to that I think the 10K I was a little like, I was laughing at it, although I was not loving it. But I was like, “Ah, what about it, I’ll ignore this.” But the 9K special offer Hiten, that was the moment where my heart was broken a little bit. Plus I got a bit pissed, because I’m like, “This is so dumb and so desperate. This is actually, A, it breaks my heart because now I think so much less of you. And B, it pisses me off, because it shows me how little you think of me. Who am I? What is this? Are you joking? You’re giving me a 1K discount this week only, and what are you expecting? That I get excited about this? What is this?” So I told my team to just ignore him. We moved forward, and then he texted me a day later, with his link to “How to you make sure your audio is good for our interview” and some comment about, “Hey, your marketing podcasting person was really great.” And I’m like, I was even confused about that. I’m like, “Why is he text messaging me as if we’ve agreed to doing an interview?” Now he’s giving me his checklist, and he’s giving me a compliment about my team. This is so weird. This is so desperate. This is the type of behavior, this is why people hate sales people. And this is why people hate people that tell others you have to hustle, because this is what people think hustle means. Being a selfish, sleazy, desperate asshole, right? It’s somebody that’s just in it for themselves, and will act in kind of weird ways and just when you ignore them, they just think, “Well, I’m pretending they’re saying yes, and maybe that’s going to convince them.” Just weird. And it’s so sad because this is somebody I hadn’t done any close business with this person, so I didn’t have any strong opinions, to be honest. But this is somebody that was like, “I like this guy. This guy is cool, I guess.” I’ve heard some bad things about him before, but it was like I’d never had a bad experience, and whatever. It was a casual online acquaintance. It’s totally fine. But this made me think of him like this very desperate, sleazy person, that I will want to ignore in the future. So I thought I’d share that experience with our listeners, and I’m dying to hear your reaction to how you interpret this chain of events, and what your thoughts are about this.


Hiten Shah: We’re not going to mention the person, but I wish I could say, “Hey, this is a surprise to me.” But it’s not a surprise to me, because some people have been very consistent over the years, of anything they do is not surprising. This happens to be one of those just people. And I think it’s like, the word that comes back to me around this in my head, it pops in my head, is tone deaf. So it’s just the idea that this person is just tone deaf. They’re just unable to read the tea leaves, and understand what’s going on. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to stop somebody from making money, and charging for their podcasts, but it just seems like, it just seems really weird. Even the way of saying like, “It’s this much, and because of these times we have to charge for our podcast to survive, or whatever.” It’s just so weird. It’s just so weird. The whole thing’s weird. And I think it is something where you’re going to remember it, and you’re going to tell people too, just because it’s that weird. That’s your prerogative, right? Just like it’s that person’s prerogative to go ask for what they did. So I see, fortunately on my end, I don’t see too much of this kind of thing, but I do see a lot of smaller things, where I’m just like, “Really?” And I think this is just a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s business as unusual, and I guess this was unusual. But people are dealing with a lot right now, and it just seems really weird to do something like this, at this time. And make it about money, and use the excuse of what’s going on, to make it about money, for example, especially in that way. So I think what you do. And I think it’s just weird, and you’re going to remember it.


Steli Efti: It’s even like, I think the devil is in the details, right? As you said, I think we’re both on [cam] charge money, and make money, even during difficult times. Nobody is mad at people wanting to make money. Now you want to charge for interviewing people in your podcasts, I don’t love that business model. I don’t think that’s smart. But sure, I mean, whatever. I don’t care. I don’t want to stop you from that. The problem is not on the charging money part, and I have to pause here real quick Hiten. Here’s the problem with this, in my opinion, it’s number one, you’re asking for money and all of the reason you’re giving me is that you need to survive. That’s not a good enough reason for me to give you a ton of money, right? Like how about pitching me the value of being a podcast guest, or your podcast, or your audience? Or how I’m going to make money with this? There was no attempt to make this about both of us, right? “Hey, I have a new idea. We would charge you this, but here’s what you would get in return.” At least I can respect somebody who’s giving me an honest effort at a pitch that’s value based. But there was no such pitch. It was just “10K motherfucker, because I need to survive.” “Well, I need to survive too, so fuck off.” Right? I mean, it’s not compelling at all. That’s number one. Number two, when somebody says no thanks politely, the response, “Okay, I’m giving you a 9K deal, but only this week.” Listen, you have to be, if I come to you and I’m like, “Oh my God, can I pay you any money in the world? Please let me be on your show. You’re so huge. Your audience, your reach is so amazing.” Then you can say, “Listen, there’s too many requests, so we’re charging people.” When demand is way higher than supply, maybe you can play that arrogant game of like, “Oh, you give 10K.” But when there’s no fucking demand, it’s not like there’s a ton of people with brands on this podcast being interviewed. I know, because they’re not. If there’s not a ton of demand, you can’t charge a ton, not explain why it’s useful, and when somebody says “No thanks,” offer them a deal, as if that’s going to do anything. “Oh 9K, oh if it’s a 9K deal this week, of course we’re going to pay it.” It is so unimaginative. There’s nothing about it that says, “Hey, I’m going to try to make this valuable for both sides.” There’s nothing. You know what? If the email was, “I’m desperate. I’m about to fire half my staff. I need to make any kind of money. Can you help me, and give me some money?” The chances of me saying “Here 10K, I’m borrowing it to you,” are a thousand times higher in an email like that, than what he did, right? Because “No I’m not going to pay to be your podcast guest, because you need to survive.” What does that even mean? So I think that’s important to keep in mind. Of course, you can charge for things. Of course, you can ask for any money you want. His prerogative is to ask whatever he wants. My prerogative is to say “Fuck no,” right? That he didn’t do anything illegal.


Hiten Shah: Yeah that’s fine.


Steli Efti: It’s totally fine, but the way you do things, the way you do business does matter. And if you treat people with the lack of respect, which this is the way I interpreted this whole exchange. There was no respect. There was no trying to value each other. It was just desperate and sleazy. If you treat people desperately and sleazy, you shouldn’t be surprised if that becomes your reputation, and less and less people want to give you things, or work with you on things, or collaborate with you on things, or channel opportunities your way. And I think that, of course I get it, it’s desperate times. People are freaked out, and they’re going to make mistakes. But it’s also a question of who, right? And when. I’m much more willing to be forgiving of a junior sales rep that’s in their twenties, and is just desperately trying to close a deal. I’m still going to tell them, give them harsh feedback, but I’m more willing to forgive somebody that’s in their twenties, than somebody that’s in their forties, and has a lot of experience as an entrepreneur, and is not new around the block, right? So this is not a lesson that this person has to learn because they’re too young, and too naive. So yeah, ask for money, charge for things, hustle, pitch, try to do whatever you can to prosper during these times. But do it with respect. And make sure that you offer value in exchange for what you’re asking, and it’s not a pure selfish pitch. Because otherwise it’s going to ruin your reputation. And it doesn’t take much. This is the thing. It does not take much. It took him, we’ve known each other for, I don’t know, five to 10 years. It took him three emails to ruin his reputation with me. In the span of three days for nothing, for something that never had a chance to happen anyways. I think people need to keep that in mind, you cannot be selfish during these times, more so than ever before, when there’s a massive crisis. I think we’re all hypersensitive to selfishness, to just outright pure selfishness. So be sure not to be that guy.


Hiten Shah: Don’t be that guy.


Steli Efti: Don’t be that guy or gal. All right, that’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon. Stay safe. Stay sane. Bye bye.


Hiten Shah: Bye.