“I’m Not Good Enough:” Shaming in Startups

Published in The Startup Couch, 01/20/2016

The fear that we’re not good enough.
Researcher Brene Brown says shame is the most powerful “master” emotion.

Shame is silent, but constant. It’s the founder’s kryptonite.

Founders constantly deal with people. When persuading customers, securing pre-orders, pitching skeptical investors, and defending their ideas to Lyft drivers, there is ample room in a founder’s life for shame to creep in. And many founders have to deal with several more layers of shame than others.

I grew up as a woman in an Asian family where humility was revered. I was praised for telling myself that I am not worth that much – even when I was kicking ass! I ended up becoming a startup entrepreneur, and in this line of work, humility won’t get you very far.

My own shame and shaming goes a little like this…


• You are arrogant. Who do you think you are?

• I feel like I am arrogant and now it is confirmed.

• I must be humble and put myself down, so I can stop being arrogant.

• It’s my fault.


In other words,

• Shame = “I am a bad person.”

• Shaming = “You are a bad person.”

Shaming serves its purpose: to prevent crime, set appropriate social boundaries, etc. But it can needlessly become self-hatred and self-destruction. We often interpret these shameful thoughts as the truth, when in reality these feelings are just noise, distracting us from what is objectively real.

It’s motivating at best, destructive at the worst.

If you want to live at a new level, try keeping this perspective top of mind: Feelings are just noise.

Start with reframing by stating an objective statement of a reality that triggered your feeling of shame. Here are some examples:

• My mother is dealing with her own feelings of shame and disappointment when I could not raise money. This started years ago when my father wouldn’t support her starting a business.

• I said I would raise one million in seed funding for my company by September, and I haven’t. My mother is upset and worried.

• I have a choice to keep going, or to get a job.

• I blame other people and circumstances in order to feel better and feel in control. This is an unhealthy habit. It’s best to instead focus on getting help and objective feedback.

Once you’ve reframed your feelings of “I am bad,” look back at your commitments to get grounded about what to do next.

Your commitments are powerful; not your feelings.

Aim to confront shame constantly. Refuse to run from, or be controlled by, shame – and you’ll kick ass like never before. Do not allow yourself to be distracted. Your feelings are not reality, but your commitments are.

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Hail to the Bootstrappers

Published at The Startup Couch, 10/27/15

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I’ve been an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley for a year and a half.

And, I’m bootstrapping. That means, no funding except from what we generate for ourselves via sales and other activities.

Choosing to be a founder, is deciding to generate resources from nothing but your word – and be held accountable to it. Thus you – not your team, advisors, partners, funders – are completely responsible for your success.

It’s a test of your integrity.

Yes, there’s luck and timing, but this game challenges your character like few other things will. Especially as a bootstrapper.

The Beginning

I began as we all did, as a…

“Wantrapreneur” (n) someone who is considering becoming an entrepreneur, but has not yet stepped boldly into the ring

It requires that you stop thinking, “I want to be an entrepreneur” and start taking action to actually become that entrepreneur. And as you do this, you will feel like throwing up a little. That’s OK. It just means you’re probably on the right track. Also, it’s important to check yourself along the way to make sure the steps you’re taking are actually the most valuable ones.

For instance, is attending yet another meetup, applying to an accelerator, or pitching more investors really a best next step for your company? What about truly making something and actually seeing if you can sell it? Do you really need to raise money right now? Or would your time be better spent confronting yourself, your ideas, and your team about what needs to get done before you attempt to bring in outside capital? These are tough questions to ask yourself, but they’re necessary in order to…

Keep you focused on what’s most important: understanding your market deeply, then building, testing, and selling product.

Raising Capital Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I personally know companies who received millions and still failed with all the support in the world. And what happened?

Lack of focus. That means, lack of getting “money-making shit” done.

The media writes about startup gossip and the Hollywood-esque chronicles of Silicon Valley, but not the larger fundamentals. Don’t be fooled. The “reality” these armchair spectators (i.e. reporters, conference organizers) portray – that only successful founders find money by getting investors – is bull. These people and their companies profit from you thinking, “Money is all I need.”

They make money off of your “wantrepreneur” fears by selling more adspace, event fees, services, and taking equity to presumably help your startup get off the ground.

Some Accelerators Are Worth It

But let me be honest. Some accelerator programs can actually help you.

What really works depends on your individual situation.

For instance, after spinning my wheels in NYC for six months, I paid money to join a women’s accelerator, and it ended up being totally worth it. Especially on day one, when Fran Maier (founder of Match.com) bluntly questioned my business plan and asked, “Why are you doing hardware?!” I went home. Cried. Then faced the music.

That direct and honest feedback was the trigger I needed to rethink my business strategy.

It was the impetus for transitioning my startup into a software play.

The environment and advisors at Women’s Startup Lab quickly provided me with a solid ecosystem of relationships. My company and I were now vetted, and Silicon Valley now feels like home, which is a great thing. But also dangerous, too, as it’s tempting to get comfortable. I try to keep in mind that education and knowledge cannot teach you courage.

In the end, it’s all up to you to go out there and do it.

Be a Badass

All in all, you should feel like throwing up a little.

Your choice to be a founder requires daily exercises in overcoming yourself, your upbringing, and your assumptions

…all while you drain resources, take action, research your ideas, and honor your word. Artificial deadlines come with funding, making it tough to take time and be patient when it’s most appropriate and necessary.

Beware of getting distracted. Continue to confront yourself.

It’s imperative that you address anything that blocks you from being completely responsible for your own success. I’ve seen people blame their team, advisors, or accelerators for their lack of success, instead of looking at their own character, integrity, and ingenuity. And one thing I know to be true:

The universe aligns when you do something for the right reasons (e.g. love!). People pick up on your energy.

So, the question is…

Will you be a badass, who’s responsible for your success?

Or, will you continue to blame others, your market, your location, or your poor luck? Personally, I’m glad to be bootstrapping. We are forced to put it all out there and operate far beyond our comfort zone.

I’ve spent countless nights freaking out about my negative checking balance, hustling to make money, and working an erratic schedule to fit everything in. I’ve met VCs, customers, partners, investors, and fans in my car driving Lyft. We have a major mobile carrier and national customer ready to enter the game with us – and a mention in Time magazine – because of our sheer focus.

Are you ready to do business the old-fashioned way – by actually selling something?

You might be (if you’re OK with throwing up a little 😉 )

Hail to the Bootstrappers!

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Finding clarity: On becoming vegetarian (Initial thoughts >15 months)

I never had much of an interest in becoming a vegetarian. I really, really liked eating meat. As a teen and college student, in a moment of inspiration, I tried a couple times on sheer willpower – and as a result, failed after a day or two of keeping it up.

A spiritual friend I respect deeply suggested: You will attain clarity if you give up meat.
And he added: Meat gives off a disgusting gas when you eat it that makes you fat and gross.

It was a perfect combo of statements. A new intrigue and new repulsion to add to my daily encounter with meat. After a one-month taper off meat, I haven’t eaten it ever since.

Did I attain clarity? Well, yes.

It’s pretty simple. I now see that the meat I’ve salivated over is – an animal’s leg. Now when I see prosciutto, bacon, or filet mignon I have the odd sense of it still smelling delicious, and yet conceptually and repulsively I SEE a pig’s butt.

Put another way: it’s like looking at a piece of shit, and remembering that it once tasted like prosciutto to you.

My conscience no longer suppresses that I am eating the ass of a being. A being that was running around, being cute or grazing – and thus, I have clarity. Because other things have become un-suppressed, too.

(And I have no interest in making meat-eaters wrong – only interested in sharing this unique perspective, which I’ve never heard other vegetarians share. Perhaps they are out there. I’d appreciate an intro.)

To be continued.

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Radical Inclusion. Burning Man & the wealthy.

To author of the Reality Sandwich article (etc): Good spiritual points and yet you like many people continue to bash “wealthy people” on the playa, but continue missing something stark. 

Radical inclusion is one of the 10 Principles. 

Can you say that you took the effort to communicate with those “rich” people? Or do you continue to judge without action, like the rest of the powerless “default” world?

Do not be this way- find a way in yourself to generously challenge and bring out transformation, vs writing bashing pieces that essentially do nothing but complain.

In short: I challenge you to take radical inclusion and self expression to a new level, stop complaining, and take action by communicating instead! Be transformed by truly living out the 10 principles, and see something possible you hadn’t before. It’s the only real way we can bring greater levels of love and being to the world.

Take this on- and write in detail about it. Don’t talk about “trying.” Say what you did in detail and what actually happened, then be open to advice on how to be more effective. Write about that too.

That’s the piece I want to see that could actually make a difference.


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The Problem with Founders

In response to Danny Crichton’s TechCrunch article, “The Problem with Founders,” and commentary from another CEO.

My response.

Minda Aguhob · CEO & Founder at Peakfoqus · 223 followers

I really appreciate hearing from the CEOs in the trenches here. Marius, Daniel, I can hear your experiences are similar to what I’m experiencing as a woman founder in Silicon Valley, leading Peakfoqus – designing smart solutions for senior health & safety.

Despite what the media portrays, money does NOT come easily – not even to the best of the best – although yes, there is a lot of money out there. The investors are intelligent, have deep experience, and easily sort real entrepreneurs and talented leaders from the wantrepreneurs.

Founders work really hard to validate our concepts, get traction, building realistic yet visionary business plans, and of course, product. I’ve found that the founders who last through the endless rejections are people with serious character who I deeply admire. I’ve sacrificed my savings while working sideline projects – I drove Lyft and did analysis work during my customer validation phase (@dailylyft). At a certain point, you must throw your hat over the wall and become 100% committed.

I believe in rewarding the team fairly, and it also takes time and experience to find co-founders, people who truly deserve equity. The sacrifices involved are not for everyone.

The article below, brief version. (Another CEO’s commentary below, too.)

“Just go start a company.” The ultimate panacea to all of life’s problems, the one solution to rule them all. I have personally received Silicon Valley’s most popular advice line more times than I can count, and my friends seem equally likely to have this help foisted upon them.

Feeling bored at work? Just go start a company. Feeling depressed about life and lack any direction? Just go start a company.

…The irony of all of this advice is that it almost invariably came from people who had never founded a business before. Our generation’s just go start a company is pretty much like our parents’ “just go join the army.” Regardless of where you stand in life, somehow the experience of going through hell will shape you up and make you a productive human being.

…Many years ago, starting a business was difficult, needing vast reserves of capital and requiring founders to give up their careers just to try a new idea. The bar was extraordinarily high, and the talent that joined in these early days was equally high.

The bar is so much lower today. Starting a company requires little capital to get started, and even then, dozens of seed funds will cover a startup’s first bills. Top students from engineering and business are gravitating toward Silicon Valley to build their company, since everyone is starting a business and everyone wants to change the world.

That single rare diamond is now mass-manufactured cubic zirconia.

Yet our myths about founders haven’t caught up with this reality. It’s the reason there is so much derision about founders today from some corners of the press. Heck, it’s the reason this article exists at all. The issues surrounding founders this year, from sexual harassment to physical assault to drunk driving are not problems of heroes, but quotidian problems of everyday life. Founders are normal people, yet are treated like deities.

…We can’t live in a world where everyone wants to be a founder. Starting a business may be hard, but scaling a business is where all the value of a company gets built. For every founder, we need dozens or more engineers, product managers, business developers, salespeople, marketers, and others to build a startup into a sustainable, economically-competitive entity. Silicon Valley’s founder premium needs to adjust accordingly.

Equity is one valve for making this a bit more democratic. Having a startup’s talent, especially those with single-digit employee numbers, receive a bit more equity would probably assist startups in recruiting, and may also allow them to focus more of their attention on getting the best people.


Our culture won’t change, however, as long as the media continues to fawn over co-founders at the expense of every other individual. Reporters are often too willing to engage in the narrative-building of startups, since it helps in crafting a story. We need to take a wider lens, and report more than just what the CEO has to say. It’s one of the reasons why I read sites like High Scalability, where employees who often don’t get much attention have an opportunity to demonstrate their innovations and skills.

It’s been fashionable to call Silicon Valley and startups a “hits” business, but we are not Hollywood. Ultimately, the names on our “About Us” pages matter little unlike the movie actors that grace a film poster. The only narrative, the only thing in the whole universe that truly matters is the product we build for our users. Silicon Valley’s roots are in the communalism of the 1960s, and the egalitarian ethos of the Bay Area in the 1930s. We need to bring that egalitarian spirit back into our startups. Just start a company — like that.

Marius Hilarious ·  Top Commenter · Founder, CEO at Tennis Buddy App

A bit cynical view of people trying to startup a company. There are two assumptions in the article that are not right.

Seed-money is not plentiful, you can´t just walk around and money gets thrown at you. The process looks like this: Have an idea and built the MVP –> fail. Then pivot 1-2 times and you MIGHT find product market/fit. This normally takes 6 months to 2 years. Once this is done, then you can start thinking about fundraising, except you´re among the 1% that have worked at facebook or Google of course.

This is so much harder than scaling a company with a product that already works.

You don´t get equity as an employee, because you get paid a salary, you don´t have to worry about things like where to pay your next rent from, if you are willing to sacrifice your friendship with your best friend from college, because of cofounder disputes or that your girlfriend might break up with you because you don´t have time for her.

These are just three worries that you can experience when starting a company, there are dozens more just like that.

My response.

Minda Aguhob · CEO & Founder at Peakfoqus · 223 followers

I really appreciate hearing from the CEOs in the trenches here. Marius, Daniel, I can hear your experiences are similar to what I’m experiencing as a woman founder in Silicon Valley, leading Peakfoqus – designing smart solutions for senior health & safety.

Despite what the media portrays, money does NOT come easily – not even to the best of the best – although yes, there is a lot of money out there. The investors are intelligent, have deep experience, and easily sort real entrepreneurs and talented leaders from the wantrepreneurs.

Founders work really hard to validate our concepts, get traction, building realistic yet visionary business plans, and of course, product. I’ve found that the founders who last through the endless rejections are people with serious character who I deeply admire. I’ve sacrificed my savings while working sideline projects – I drove Lyft and did analysis work during my customer validation phase (@dailylyft). At a certain point, you must throw your hat over the wall and become 100% committed.

I believe in rewarding the team fairly, and it also takes time and experience to find co-founders, people who truly deserve equity. The sacrifices involved are not for everyone.

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Beginning for Minda

a poem by Minda & Silvi, at Bespoke SF event 5/28/15

When you are
in love with
freedom and creation
and you work to make this
fire of your life
your fuel, you sometimes
suffer, forget basic needs
because you are ever
moving toward your want.
listen, what you know of
making light
does not need to
cause you so much pain.
see what happens when
suffering is not
a martyr’s blessing
but the thing to transcend
to truly know
an artist’s dream


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Gratitude for my health – 4 years later.

(Written 4 years ago, on June 7, 2011)

I will not be disabled permanently!

Even with my current memory and balance issues. I was deeply scared, depressed and afraid during my first 2 weeks after the accident. But…two doctors, my orthopedist (spine) and alternative med doc, had positive things to say this week. And thanks to my friends and family who visited me in the hospital and at home, even with my Keppra-induced bizarre behavior. You are saints.

I keep getting asked “WHAT HAPPENED?” So this is for my friends and family who care and didn’t know. As I like to write, this is a good memory exercise for me. I keep asking people too, bc I have total amnesia of my accident, and near total amnesia of the hospital stay and the week following.

May 14, 2011: During an 80 mile bike ride to Bedford, NY with the A19 sig of the New York Cycling Club, training for a trip (since, canceled) to the Pyrenees in France, I crashed bad. Had a good ride beforehand with my friend and ride leader, @Alan Resnick, providing caring, very wise guidance the whole way. On the short ride back to take train home, I hit bad road with major potholes and a vertical seam, I believe, so my bike stopped, and I flipped over my handlebars, likely going around 20MPH, and landed on my head. Sustained TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury): concussion and 2 parietal subarachnoid hemorrhages in my brain. My paramedic friend, riding behind me, @Edwin Roberts, saw it happen and saved my life as I lost consciousness for 15 minutes and stopped breathing. He repositioned me so I could breathe, and stayed with me throughout the first day in the hospital.

May 15 til today: Hospital, then recovering with family, then alone. A 2nd ER visit in the midst of it, stroke scare, but turned out I was OK. Help came from caring compassionate friends esp those who were parents and clearly knew how to take care of themselves. Deep insights throughout, some of which I have documented on my wall. Mostly interpersonal – I learned a lot about myself and other human beings through this period as a patient.

I was alone, probably wrongly, on my own, for 2 weeks after initial recovery with parents. It was not just my own tragedy, but a tragedy for other people, and I saw one friend almost lose her hearing the same week, and other people have meltdowns around me. And I still needed help to get down the stairs to walk one block. But I learned and recovered from the independence in the midst of the chaos around me. Had to be demanding at times, hello, I’m the injured one. I won’t reject compassionate action toward me, in fact I greatly admire it.

Seems I’m recovering pretty well. 🙂

Lesson #1: You must learn to fight to take care of yourself, bc when it comes down to it, no one will be there for you reliably. Must be shameless, even.

Lesson #2: This is bc everyone feels they are a victim and are suffering.

Be grateful for every effort that comes your way. Not everyone is given the same “equipment” or preparation to be loving beings, so those who have it, have eternal gratitude. And encourage others to take care of themselves (as well as of you!)

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Take a stand for your own greatness. Then, do it for others.

A month ago, I met a young man who recently married and was working at my local restaurant. I shared my excitement over creating something from nothing that day(a daily occurrence nowadays), and he said he wanted to be an engineer. Why don’t you? I asked. To his objections about family, etc I told him, just do it. Tell your family what you’re doing. Make it happen.

I saw him today. I asked him, what action have you taken since we last spoke?

He remembered me by name, and replied that my words had kept echoing in his head, and he did take action. He’d been promoted to assistant manager. And, he told his family and boss what he is doing, and is leaving his dead end job to go to engineering school and is learning to code from a friend who’s now in school. The energy in his being went from blaming defeat to that of a take no prisoners leader. I can’t wait to see who he becomes. I gave him my card.

Quick decisions+accountability > quick action > instant transformation.

A dear friend did this for me when I was 22yo. I will never forget the phone conversation I had with him, walking along fifth ave (near my former NYC apartment, in west village by NYU) when I expressed an interest in studying psychology but thought I was not qualified at all to consider it.

I was struggling to finish my thesis at Barnard, dropped out of premed and saw myself as an academic failure. He told me, “Just do it, Minda!”

It changed the course of my whole life. Bc of that conversation, I applied to and got into Harvard for grad school in psychology. That was never going to happen, if he hadn’t taken a stand for me.

Thank you Bobby, for standing for me. And now I can do it for a multitude of others.

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Time Out Project (Bye for now)

The Time Out Project

The Time Out Project has been an education on effective collaboration with physicians and hospitals.
In January 2010 I asked Ed, as a post-bacc premed, what his 5 biggest concerns were; then offered my research expertise, sparking the Time Out Project. After tonight’s discussion, I ask: How can technologists better collaborate with doctors in hospitals, where the cutting edge REALLY is?
Now I know what that looks like!
Ed told me the Housestaff Safety Council is now citywide. I’m so proud. The Housestaff Safety Council was sparked at Woodhull, back in 2010 when I recommended a Housestaff safety council be established and introduced Ed and his team to Peter Fleischut, who created it at New York Presbyterian (I met him at AMSA). Ed and his team all ran with this- with Woodhull residents and CIR fanning the flames. Now it’s citywide.
Thank you Ed for your mentorship, and for this experience. Your widespread impact, the respect and…

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Creating our world 

What we say creates our world. As Steve Zaffron elegantly put it:

When we know it is our conversations that constitute our world, it shifts our relationship to what’s possible. It puts us in the driver’s seat. 

The shift doesn’t necessarily get rid of the lens or filters or mindsets per se, but fixed notions, old assumptions, old realities stop defining what’s possible and what’s not. 

We most commonly use and think of language in an experiential, descriptive, or representational way—as a response to the world, a process of fitting or matching our words to the world as we know it. Let’s call it a word-to-world fit. 

This use of language allows for certain outcomes, but not others. In a future-based model, language is used in a generative or contextual way, and is more than a response to the world. It yields completely different outcomes and is actually what brings the world into being—a world-to-word fit. In this model, language is both what gives rise to the world and what gives access to what is in that world.” 


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