How to kill your startup: Are you being ordinary or are you being extraordinary?

“At Y Combinator, we see a lot of companies who raise money on demo day as you can imagine, but still the vast majority of them die and about 70% of them do not go on to find any form of product market fit. Here are the most common trends”

Michael Seibel

I found an online talk by Michael Seibel here ( that described literally every issue I have encountered since starting. It is the most relevant and useful advice I have seen in a long time. I wrote them down and organized the content into something people can skim and google easily.

This is an interesting one.

Are you copying the people around you, but expecting a massive success? It turns out that in your normal life, if you are a smart person and you put yourself in a group of smart motivated people and you are middle of the pack – in normal life you’re probably in the 95th percentile. You’ll probably do fine. You’ll probably become a good lawyer, a good doctor, a good banker, a good employee at a tech company.

You will probably be fine.

The problem is that the failure rate at startups is so high that being average amongst smart people isn’t enough.

You’ve got to be extraordinary. You have to be many standard deviations better than the other people who are doing startups around you. So how do you reach for it?


Understand that the people around you are the floor and not the ceiling.

Not believing you can be better than the people around you.

Not having the confidence that you can be better than the people around you.


You’ll start noticing a lot of these signs and preventative measures are somewhat similar.

No numerical goals.

Measuring success by some other way. You know, being invited to conferences, press, that kind of stuff but not numerical goals.

Ignoring obvious signs of lack of progress.

You are not growing month over month. Your churn’s too high.

You’re just happy to be alive.

You’re happy to be a company that’s got some money in the bank/

You’ve stopped learning

You’re no longer learning new insights about what your customers need or about how your product should work.

Blaming outside factors or a lack of luck for a lack of success

Oh, our timing was wrong. Oh, they got lucky – they raised from this investor and we didn’t. Blaming outside factors for your lack of success versus internalizing that you have to create success by being extraordinary.

Preventative Measures

Embrace the idea that you can get better over time

That you will get better over time. If you try that if you try to be extraordinary, you can become extraordinary. This isn’t something that is decided by birth.

Think about habit formation

Read the book atomic habits. Start thinking about how you can become more productive every day. Extraordinary people get more things done.

Jedi Council

Have a set of people that you get advice from who are more extraordinary than you.

Set measurable goals

Challenge yourself to accomplish a goal in your business that you don’t know how you’re going to achieve.

If you think you can hit this number, try to hit a number 15% higher.

You’re not going to become extraordinary by not trying.