Startup founders: Don’t get dieseled
The Six Percent Entrepreneur
Startup founders: Don’t get dieseled
June 22, 2021
In this episode, we talk about how taking shortcuts to hack the system can come in unproductive ways.
This is a story about trying to find growth hacks and getting the opposite effect of what was actually intended. So for those, I don't know, I'm a third culture kid, which means that I don't have any kind of culture of my own. I kind of have like these melded cultures from all these different places that I've lived because I moved around a lot. Well, one of the places where I grew up was Salt Lake City, Utah. 

In Salt Lake City, Utah, if you were a child, this is an amazing place to have a childhood because it's just such a beautiful place. There's all these majestic mountains that are snow-capped, the weather is nice, the grass is nice like everything just feels good when you're going out and playing outside. It's definitely not like the hot and sweaty summers that you would have in Houston, Texas, but in Utah, I mean it's just like a beautiful, really beautiful place to grow up. 

One of the things that I remember in Utah is by my parents, um, I actually kind of preface this a little bit, and this story is probably going to embarrass my dad a little bit, but I should first start off by saying that my dad is super smart, he is a genius. I mean, he is a Nasa rocket scientist after all, and he's worked at these different places. But my dad, he's always looking for these hacks, right? And sometimes when he looks for these hacks, he ends up hurting himself more than helping himself. And I'll give you an example of this. 

While living in Utah. We used to have this burnt orange Dodge colt. And if you've never seen this car before, it's a small hatchback car. It looks like a Geo Metro, but it's one of those small hatchback cars, there's only two doors, and then you have the hatchback, I guess And the really, really tiny. But as a young family of four, it was good enough for us, right? I was around 5-6 years old, and my younger brother was 3.5 years younger than me. So it was, it was okay for a small family. Well, one of the things that my dad used to do is one, he was very price-conscious and the reason he's price consciousness again, I've mentioned this many times before that he's risk-averse because he has to feed his kids, He has to feed his family, right? So he's shied away from risk in terms of money and living in Utah. 

So being price-conscious, I mean my mom would clip coupons, and my dad would hunt for cheap gas prices. So hunting for cheap gas prices, my dad noticed this one place that had very, very cheap gas, and even though it was a little bit far out in terms of having to go to the gas station, it wasn't the closest gas station to us. Um, it was so cheap that my dad, he made it a point to remember it and next time we needed to fill up, that's where we went. 

Well, we went to the gas station, he was happy that he found this hack, he found this really cheap gas price that wasn't available anywhere. And he filled up his car with his gas. Well, the very next day he comes back, and he says the car is gone, the car is totaled, there's nothing that can be done. So what happened is the cheap gas that my dad found was actually diesel gas, and he put diesel gas in an unleaded engine, which totally ruined the engine, and that car was not useful anymore. 

So in my dad's want or need to hack the system and to try to get a cheaper price, he ended up paying more. So just for a couple of cents of savings on this gasoline, he actually had to buy a brand new car, lose money on renting a car and do all these things just because he was trying to hack the system. So hacks aren't a bad thing, right? But when we're looking at hacks, it's like, how do we make sure that we are hacking the right way? Are we being cheap and just trying to avoid costs. And these costs, we don't actually appreciate the value that we might get from these costs? Let me give you an example. When I was applying to different NBA programs, one of the thoughts that came into my head is maybe I need to hire a consultant because the consultants they know their ins and out around the admissions process and they would be able to help me. 

But my father, again a genius Nasa rocket scientist um for sure, but with good intentions you know he talked me out of it, he said Robin, there are so many people getting admission into these kinds of schools without a consultant. I don't see why you would need a consultant. But in hindsight, I'm about to pay $200,000 for this business school education. Wouldn't it have been worth it if I paid 10,000 or maybe even $20,000 to a consultant just to make sure that I was getting into the best situation for me and something that would might even bring um more benefits in the long run, in the future. 

So avoiding that cost seemed like a hack. But the real growth hack was, had I hired a consultant to help me with my business school applications in business school admission, that would have been the real hack, right? So I'm not saving $20,000 by not using that consultant. What I'm doing is I'm able to maximize the $200,000 I'm spending by using this consultant. 

So that's one of the things about hacks. Are we hacking the right things? Are we making the right decisions if we are trying to hack solely based on saving money, well, are we cutting off our legs and actually getting rid of value at the same time? So this is something to think about, and this is something that I actually teach my team every single time. I tell them the story because sometimes my team will try to find shortcuts, and shortcuts are great. I think, you know, if you can innovate a process and make it easier, make it more seamless, it's awesome. But sometimes, if you are trying to shortcut a process and you're doing it the wrong way, are you going to end up putting diesel gas and into your unleaded engine? 

So this is something in my team that we actually call getting Dieseled, where if you try to take these shortcuts and you try to hack the system in unproductive ways, you can actually get dieseled when just doing it the right way. At the very beginning, it probably would have benefited you the most. This is Robin Copernicus. Boom bam, I'm out. 

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