I learned a very important lesson as a founder this week — a lesson in optimal stopping, but generally about the psychological temperament I needed to have.
People will always want to take you for a ride. You can't escape it by being too defensive. You can't either be too naive all the time and let others take advantage of your good.
You need to look at every opportunity in terms of its cost to you and the trade offs that you're willing to make to take that opportunity cost. You need to learn to evaluate at which point this opportunity cost becomes sunk cost. And when that happens, you need to stop playing the game.
Empathy is very important. But don't let your empathy be a reason for people to treat you as a doormat. And they will do that. Don't blame them for it, its only natural. You can see other people's biases, but you can't see yours. You will always judge yourself by your intentions while judging others by their actions. If you're woke at this level — as a founder — you're winning already.
Hanlon's Razor → Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance
Optimal stopping theory is a framework to help you decide when do you stop putting that extra marginal effort into something. It helps you either maximize your rewards, but more importantly, it helps you minimize your sunk costs.
I can't stress enough on the importance of having a personal value system. For a reasonably non-smart person like myself, I am glad that I have a value system. Whenever a conversation or a deal contradicts my value system, I walk away from it. I don't have to explain to anyone why I'm walking away. I don't have to rationalize my own decision to anyone, even myself.
For e.g., if I feel that my time is not being valued as much as the person I'm speaking with, I stop. If the other person is being a jerk to me or to someone else in front of me, I stop. If I feel that I'm not bringing incremental value to the table, I stop.
As a founder, your credibility is paramount. In my experience, you build credibility with your work as a professional, with your actions as a person, and by being consistent. Keep doing good work, keep being a good person, and keep doing this for a long time.
And its okay to lose some times, even in public. If you keep your guard up all the time, you will miss out on many future victories. Increase your opportunity surface areas and be prepared to lose a few small battles.
Also, about choosing your battles — you don't have to show up to every battle you're invited to. But the ones you choose to fight should generally be worth winning.