I’ve learned a lot about giving advice over the past 5 years at YC (still more to learn). When I started I had a very formulaic / tactical view of how startups succeed. Over time and after seeing over 1000 startups go through YC that has changed.

I now spend the most time trying to explain to founders how startups defeat themselves.

One of the biggest errors they make is over relying on the opinions/actions of their peer group. In most jobs if you surround yourself with smart motivated people and you act similarly to them you’ll succeed.

In startups even the smart and motivated fail very often. There is a lot of timing, luck, speed, and original thinking required to make a company successful.

Another error is giving into imposter syndrome. Not realizing that pre-product market fit everyone is struggling to simply survive - no matter their traffic, revenue, famous investors, or cash on hand.

Another error is not acknowledging upfront how rare success is and how hard it will be to accomplish. Please expect to feel bad a lot and deal with a lot of failure. Don’t believe the startup hype.

You are personally responsible for developing methods to destress (coaches / therapists / cofounders / friends /a significant other can be very helpful).

And finally convincing yourself that you cannot make something large and positively impactful in the world. Many talented people with good ideas convince themselves of the opposite.

To sum up - one of the underrated qualities of successful founders is their ability to manage their emotions and fears while still executing.

If you find yourself giving advice to an early stage startup - please remember that all the best tactical advice won’t matter if the founders lose faith in themselves.

PS: I’m also giving this advice to myself because I think it’s one of my biggest weaknesses when trying to help our founders.

You can follow @mwseibel.


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