In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to keep your sanity in 2020.

With all that is going on in the world at the moment, the COVID-19 epidemic and the current police brutality protests going on around the world, it’s really difficult to stay composed and not let it all affect your mental health negatively.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about things they are doing to stay sane at the moment, how nobody really knows how to feel right now, how information overload could be a problem right now and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:23 Why this topic was chosen.

01:58 How Hiten is keeping his sanity right now.

02:36 The difference between luck and gratitude.

03:00 How nobody really knows how to feel right now.

03:12 How information overload could be a problem right now.

04:06 One really unique thing about these times.

05:50 How Steli is keeping his sanity right now.

07:19 One reason why this current situation is so intense.

09:07 How this current situation is hitting a nerve with a lot of people.

3 Key Points:

  • This year is something else!
  • These are unusual times
  • I just feel really lucky.
  • Nobody really knows how to feel.


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 how to keep your sanity in 2020, how to be a founder during these times, how to be a human these times. Man, this year is something else, and I’m sure we’re not the only… Lots of people are going through a lot of things right now. I felt like typically we’re known for super short, super sharp, very tactical and practical episodes, but these are unusual times so maybe they call for an unusual Startup Chat episode. I felt like it might make sense for us to just check, how do we deal with this? How do we think about all the insanity that’s going on in the world? Maybe we do have a few things to share with our listeners that are going to be helpful or if not, maybe that in and of itself gives some comfort that not even the two of us know how to deal with this.


Hiten Shah: That’s right.


Steli Efti: So let me ask you, the first big wave was obviously the global pandemic and COVID, now we’re going through this wave of worldwide demonstrations and rights, peaceful protests kicked off by police brutality, but it’s maybe even bigger than just that. There’s a lot of different things that are in the mix that are going on right now. How have the last two, three weeks been for you, and for your team, and your company? Has it been different than the first COVID wave of craziness, and how do you cope? How do you keep your sanity during all of this right now?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. For me, I just feel really lucky and I think I have, at this point, an unlimited number of reasons why, and so I couldn’t even cover them. I think that’s how I deal with this, I just realize where I’m lucky and make sure that I don’t lose sight of that regardless of what else is going on for other people because that’s really helpful. I think we might’ve talked about this a little bit, but I’ve been really wrapping my head around for myself, the difference between luck and gratitude. I think we talked about that a little bit a couple of times at least, and for me, that’s the thing that helps the most is this idea of just remembering how lucky I am. If I have to, reminding other people whether it’s in my family or people around me, when they’re feeling sad or feeling the collective situation in whatever ways that they might be feeling it because one of the things about this is nobody really knows how to feel. Nobody knows how to act. We just don’t know. There’s a lot of combined things going on, a lot of opinions, a lot of information. I think the biggest risk is information overload, that’s what I’m noticing with people around me. In terms of my companies and teams and stuff, we keep those teams very small. That’s how we’ve always operated, regardless of what the goal is. That makes it so that there are less challenges on the teams for two reasons. One, they’re small, and small meaning less than 20 people, and two, they’re all remote, just like your team. That distributes literally any world situation or any local situation, really distributes it. The thing about what’s going on right now that I’m noticing and that I find very unique is that there are protests all over the world now. All over the world over something that started in the U.S. In one city, and obviously there’s a video and everything, but that is incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed anything like that, where we’ve taken something that happened to a single country, in a single State, isolated basically in a single State, and has spread globally and caused this amount of unrest. That’s really what this is, this is some kind of unrest. People are not able to rest is what I mean, in case someone takes it the wrong way. That’s another thing, right? People are going to take things the wrong way right now just because, and that’s okay. Everybody should just do their best. I just did that right there. I was like, “You know, that might not be the right word, but that’s the word I’m using. Sorry.” I usually don’t do that, I don’t caveat most things I say because I try to be as balanced as I can. So, those are my off the cuff thoughts. I know you’re across the world, and so I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing, and obviously you have a larger team. I think, what? You folks are like 50 plus people?


Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting, I think that I want to go back later to this lucky point a little bit. I love it so much that I want to understand even better how you do it, how you practice it, but I-


Hiten Shah: I’ve been working on it, so happy to talk about it. It’s something I’m working on, so yes.


Steli Efti: For me, it’s interesting, there’s a couple of things that I’ve noticed. One, I’ve noticed I’ve never… There was a time at the beginning of COVID I was super glad to be on Twitter. I was like, there’s these very specific experts, there’s these specific people on the ground in China, they’re sharing these facts. There’s some arguments, but there’s information that I find useful, and although I would invest a lot of time into it, it felt like I’m gaining something from the experience. The experience couldn’t be more different right now. I can’t be on Twitter for more than like a minute at a time, and then I’m just like, I need to leave this place because it’s just too much. It’s a lot of brutality, there’s a lot of negativity, there’s a lot of arguing. It’s just a different level of charged environment. I want to go on social media to get a little bit of information what’s going on in the world, but I’ve never felt-


Hiten Shah: Can I give my explanation about this?


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: Maybe it would just lead to some conversation here that’s interesting. I have a few different people who talked to me about this that are very empathetic, and this is my thesis. I think that normally… So, let’s say the COVID situation on Twitter, there were dopamine hits from it. Your pleasure center and all that, big time. With the current protests and all the videos, and the brutality and everything that we’re seeing, it’s much different. I think what we’re hitting is it’s hitting our adrenaline because when we watch these things, even when we read about them, we can almost imagine selves there and I think it produces a flight or fight response. And so, you’re constantly in this fight or flight response, even if you’re not a protester and you’re not at the protest, and you’re watching it and you’re watching the brutality, and you’re watching even people just generally marching peacefully, it just never really seems peaceful if that makes sense. Not that it isn’t, it just has this energy to it. My theory is most things are a dopamine hit on social media, this is hitting adrenaline, and we run out of adrenalin. We get tired, and then cranky, and all kinds of angry, and all kinds of things. Anyway, please continue, but that was my-


Steli Efti: Yeah. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I’ve seen a number of people that they’re not in the U.S. And they’re not a person of color, they’re not in the group that’s most impacted by this, and then I would notice how they would social media themselves into a rage. They’re really affected by this in some way that I’m like, this can’t be explained with a direct line from event, cause and effect. There’s something else.


Hiten Shah: And then imagine if you’re seeing basically people that are your color, and so that probably explains a lot of people’s messages when you think about it as adrenaline, because adrenaline is a beast of a hormone and drug. If you want to call it drug.


Steli Efti: Yeah, it’s crazy. I think, and unfortunately again, this is one of those situations where I find there’s very little actual conversation. There’s very little like exchange of ideas. There’s very little trying to understand. I feel like the situation is just very charged up. I think that people have been through a lot over the last couple of months; internal stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and this is just hitting a nerve and so the people lash out in very strong ways. In the mix there’s some beauty in there as well, there’s a lot of important things that are going on, but there’s a lot. The writers within the peaceful protestors, and then the police in the mix of everything, and then you see people arguing the side of the… It’s like that quote, I don’t know who said that, where it’s like somebody will not understand an idea if their salary is dependent on not understanding an idea, [inaudible] some facts or something. Some people will take this as, “See? Nobody ever believed us. Police is corrupt, we need to change the system.” And then there’s the other side of this like, “See? And you people were telling us we shouldn’t have guns. Look at all these riots, I need my guns, and we need our guns to protect ourselves from police and military.” And then there’s the other people like, “See?” There’s no actual, “Wow, I’m learning something new. Maybe I should change my mind,” or “Maybe there’s an interesting…”


Hiten Shah: No, there’s none of that.


Steli Efti: There’s none of that. It’s just whatever opinions of whatever group you#re a part of three months ago, six months ago. You’re just now more violently in that group, and more righteously in that group, and more believing that the other group needs a beating in some way, either physical or metaphysical or just metaphorically speaking. That creates a very charged up environment. It’s also interesting that you see people, just to bring it back to founders and start-ups and all that, it’s so interesting some of the postings that I saw early on of people trying to be supportive and writing something supporting the social cause would get beat downs in the comments. It would just be like, here’s a picture of you being white and here’s a picture of your children being white, and then here’s a picture of your team of six people and there’s not a personal of color. They’re just destroying these people. And then some other people would share support and it would be beautiful responses and encouragement. It just the wild, Wild West, but a lot of charged emotions. Maybe also a lot of adrenaline. I think that that captures it really, really well, and you can only have so much in some sane way. For me, I don’t know, you are actually a pretty insane power user nonetheless, when it comes to Twitter you got your black belt and all that. I’ve always been just a blue belt at best, and never been using Twitter as much, as good as using the medium and engaging with the community on there. What I find myself is, I find myself using social media less than ever before. I’m spending very little time on it. The amount of good information I get, or the amount of things that I’m like, “Oh, this makes me smarter. This is something I should know. I’m glad I read this,” just isn’t happening right now for me. It’s just I think recognizing that, because I think that some people don’t have that sensitivity or I may be am particularly sensitive towards that right now, and I could easily see somebody spending hours and hours and hours just on these Twitter tirades raging themselves up to something that’s like, is this really helping if you sit in your living room reading these things for three, four hours and then being in a rage? How does that help? What do you do now? It’s very different from wanting to take action or support or trying to make change, it’s just like reading, watching these videos one after the other, and just getting one adrenaline hit after the other. I don’t see how that’s going to help anybody do anything better, help anybody else do anything better, and how that’s going to help people to be functional. I’ve had a couple of friends of mine that are not living in the U.S., not a person of color, that were telling me that this has been more stressful for them than COVID, and that the last two weeks they’ve basically not been able to do anything. Zero productivity, zero able to get anything done. I get it, but how do you get into a better place one day at a time, one step at a time? How is this person in some random place in Europe so outraged and so sucked into this that now they’ve not done any work for two weeks? How’s this going to help anybody? For me, one thing is limiting my social media exposure. That’s been one thing. Trying to be on top, being very selective at a few people that are… I just go to certain people’s timeline, to be honest, versus just my own because I don’t trust Twitter and what they want to put in my timeline. Just got to a handful of people and I’m like, “What are they tweeting? What are they sharing? Let me take a quick look at that.” And then I’m out of there. That’s one thing that’s helping me. Are you spending as much time as you used to? And if so, how do you do that with getting-


Hiten Shah: Yeah. For me, no, I’m not. I’m spending a lot less time on Twitter than I ever have, like ever. It’s because I don’t know what to say. For me it’s more like, I don’t know what to say. I can see the stuff and it impacts me too, so I stopped watching any of those videos or anything that was coming out for the most part. I think Instagram has been a little more useful in some areas around this just because there’s some accounts that I trust to share videos and things like that and I feel like I can consume that and be okay personally. Overall my consumption’s gone down to less, my creation of content on there has gone down quite a bit too for the moment. I don’t know what to say and every time I go on there, I don’t necessarily see too much of the positivity, plus I don’t think I should. People have things that they have to say, and they should say them. I don’t have anything to add to the majority of that conversation at the moment. I think that’s where my head is, that’s what I’ve been doing.


Steli Efti: What would we tell… I know that we stopped any kind of social posting sharing this week from a company perspective, but I wonder if it were a founder of earlier stage start-up and I’m trying to do email outreach and calling outreach, I remember a couple of months ago I would tell people, keep doing that. Even with COVID you can’t stop communicating, you have to be thoughtful and mindful. Can’t be tone deaf, but you can’t just stop living and breathing, you have to keep trying to sell your service and your service is still valuable today for people. Now, I haven’t gotten that question recently, but I wonder if I was a founder now and I was trying to sell, it’s even harder now. If you email certain people about commerce that are in that rage mode or in that mode where they feel very upset about what’s going on in the world, and it’s hard to pinpoint where in the world because people all over the world are incredibly upset. You can get very strong negative responses if you’re trying to do “business” right now or trying to run your start-up and grow it, but you can’t also not do anything. What would you advise to somebody that’s wondering, should I be writing [inaudible 00:18:24]? Should I be still trying to close deals for my new software that I’m trying to get up and running? Or should I just lay low for a week or two, and then wait and see before I start trying to reengaging in the market?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Typically, my advice on that right now, no one’s asked me either, is to wait and see. It looks like next week there’s going to be some… We’re about two-ish weeks into this, these protests and things, maybe a little bit more, but it looks like next week things seem like they might be getting a little bit normalized unfortunately, or fortunately, however you want to look at it. I’m not sure how to look at that, but normalized in the sense of, there seems to be less violence.


Steli Efti: Yeah, it’s interesting. This is something that I would agree with, and this is the first time in the five, six years that we’re doing this podcast that I would ever tell somebody, “Take it easy this week, just wait and see.” I had to do that internally a couple of times, but yeah, that’s interesting. Let’s go to the lucky part because for me, in terms of keeping my sanity, and I think we talked about it before in some of the other episodes that we had this year, it’s about trying to be as informed as I can, but understand that if there’s something I can do something about, there’s no reason to worry about it. If there’s something I can’t do anything about, there’s no reason to worry about it. That the old Buddhist wisdom, there’s certain things in the world that are going on there’s nothing I can do about that. So, there’s no benefit of me worrying about these things. Trying to ask myself, what can I impact? And let’s just focus on that. Let’s try to do the best I can today, and take one step at a time, and let’s see. Things are so unpredictable it doesn’t make sense to worry about the future because you just don’t know what kind of future will unfold, so you just have to take it one day at a time and just be adaptable and be like, “Okay, this is the new reality. Let me adapt to it.” One thing that I’ve seen that I would recommend people fight as an instinct, and this is a unique position where I’m at, this is so interesting. We’ve talked about this before, where I’ll talk to my friends in the U.S. And they’ll be like, “Europe is a shit show.” And then I talk to people in Europe and they’re like, “Thank God you’re not in the U.S., the U.S. Is a shit show.” And I’m like, “No matter where people are, they feel like…” We all have these strong biases and beliefs that we’re just trying to find, maybe in stressful times even more than before, we’re trying to find proof that the world works the way we want it to. I remember the couple of days ago was shared a more critical article with a friend of mine in the U.S. About some of the potential future scenarios, politically speaking, and then he was like, “Oh, this article is bullshit. The job numbers are great already, and protests are down, and in a month we’re going to be saying COVID was overblown and then everything will be forgotten.” I hope he’s right. It’s not that I don’t want all that to be true, but I was like, this seems like too much of an opinion than existed throughout all this time and never changes no matter what the facts are. This seems too biased of an opinion versus keeping a little bit of a flexible open mind of, I hope things are going to get better, but who knows. Versus a, I knew everything was going to get better, the job numbers are good. It’s like, just chill. Let’s wait and see if things are really going to get better. And so that will be my biggest recommendation I think to anybody, but especially founders right now is take a wait and see approach. Fight your own bias of wanting certain things to be true. Oh, things are fine here in Europe. Things are fine in the U.S. Things are fine in this coast, that coast. Oh, things are fine if you’re not in the city. Oh, things are fine if you’re not whatever. Maybe wait and see, and if there’s proof that things are fine, awesome. Let’s celebrate that. But if there’s proof that things aren’t fine, let’s not be blind to it, but let’s adapt. Let’s react. Let’s adjust. I think that this is hard to do. This is very, very, very hard to do, but that’s what’s on my mind these days. It’s just like trying to keep up a pulse on the reality around me and ask myself, is there something that I can learn? Or is there something I need to adjust or adapt to? Versus trying to find the proof that everything’s going to be all right or everything’s going to be all right for me in my bubble, in the way I want things to pan out. I think that can make a big difference. Two quick things. One, I don’t know if we could get back to that if there’s too much of a leap, but I know that this grateful versus lucky thing has been a big topic. You said that it’s been on your mind. I start my days with five questions usually and I write down the answers, I used ask, what are you grateful for? Or what do you appreciate? And now, since the last time we talked about this I ask, why am I lucky? Or what am I lucky about that right now? I already started playing a little bit with it and it does do different things. It does give me different answers. There’s less of an, I earned it component. There’s more of a, this to me and I say thank you, but I don’t necessarily deserve or earn it. Maybe I do, but that’s there’s no component of that in there where with gratitude, maybe there could be. During these days how do you practically do this? Do you just ask yourself this question all the time, why am I lucky? Or do you write it down or do you just feel it, do you meditate on it? How do you practice this right now?


Hiten Shah: For me, I think of it as a reminder, and I’ve never been able to get gratitude to be a reminder while luck and feeling lucky feels so much more natural as a reminder. I feel like it’s much more approachable, and I feel like I can say at any time, and I think for me it comes up more often than the idea of gratitude. Often meaning, just easier to remember, and it is different. It’s different in the sense of it has a different effect also, because like you said, it implies that things are out of your control. And right now, majority of things are out of your control, so it kind of lines up with the current atmosphere.


Steli Efti: That’s dope. Can you give us an example of the last time today or yesterday where you went through that thought process?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think if you see something on social media where someone’s clearly not lucky or unlucky, whatever way you want to view it, I would say that’s a great moment to remember how lucky you are for whatever your current situation is. I think that’s really helpful when you watch some of this stuff online because it can turn off that adrenaline, it can not make the adrenaline kick in. That’s been actually really powerful for me because I don’t want that adrenaline for watching a video. I really don’t. I don’t think it’s healthy because it’s just pretty intense and it’s not necessary, the adrenaline. That’s one really important one. I think even the fact that both of us have roofs over our heads that are I’m sure pretty comfortable, that’s a pretty big one for me too. It’s just those kinds of moments. Any moment where I feel discomfort, it’s a good thing to remember and helps me feel lucky. Just literally, “Oh, how lucky am I?” That does sometimes lead to, “How grateful am I for these things?” I want to feel gratitude as well. Really though, it helps me have a very honest viewpoint and balanced viewpoint on what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in my own life, and just an open space for me instead of closes it down because it’s really easy right now to look at things that are out there and be like, “The world is a shitty place.” I don’t think that’s a healthy viewpoint. I think that’s a totally okay viewpoint, I would not tell anyone to not feel that, I’m just saying I don’t think it’s that healthy viewpoint. It’s better to get out of that view, at least for me, when I’m seeing something or feeling the opposite of lucky or feeling like other people are not lucky, just that memory or that reminder, it helps me have a more empathetic viewpoint on other people’s lives too. These days we get to watch some of the worst parts of their lives.


Steli Efti: Yeah. I think if you’re listening to this podcast, there’s a big chance that there are things in your life that you can be lucky and grateful around. If anyone that’s listening to us right now is currently heavily on the struggle bus of trying to do their start-up thing, and just struggling with it or having bigger challenges than usual, we’d love to help if we can. These are unusual times. We don’t have the answers, but at least we can listen, and if we can find something that could be helpful we’d more than happy to help if we can. Get in touch with us if you need somebody to listen to you, if you need help or just need two people to listen., [inaudible 00:29:14] Stay safe and stay sane. I think both of us, we assume the craziness that 2020 has to dish out is not fully over yet, although it’s hard to believe. I feel like we might be in it for some more rocky ups and downs in this year, so we all need to work really hard to stay sane during all this.


Hiten Shah: Yep.