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Why not dying works:

The one year anniversary of sleeping in the freezing cold without power or heat. In the middle of a crime scene.
5 years ago

One year ago today was the lowest point in my life. This isn't a sob story, so I'll try to explain it as succinctly as I can: but there's a lot. There's a lesson, I promise.

Exactly one year ago I was on a couch with my dog struggling to stay warm in the midst of a brutal and horribly timed cold front in Charlottesville, Virginia. We had no heat, no electricity, and perhaps worst of all I was sleeping in the middle of a crime scene for an attempted murder: blood on the walls, fingerprint soot everywhere, the works. Two weeks before this, my house had been robbed, and my two roommates and our two best friends held at gunpoint for about 5 minutes. Eventually one of my roommates was brutally beaten and shot by the robbers (he's ok). In the weeks to come, I would spend all of money covering the expenses for my two roommates who had been in the robbery, my un-shot roommate would be in two car accidents and have his car broken into, I would be in 2 car accidents (both not my fault), and the co-founder of my startup would be falsely accused of a truly reprehensible crime (exonerated).

That's right: my co-founder. In the middle of all of this, I was running a just-launched startup called The City Swig, on a mission to reinvent the nightlife deals model. We had launched 30 days before the shooting and were seeing awesome user growth, but we were already facing huge monetization and fundraising challenges BEFORE the shit hit the fan.

But we weren't going to die. I had to stay in Charlottesville, it took us 9 months to get this son of a bitch launched and I believed in it. The worst part was that I had to pretend everything was fine. My co-founder was going through his own problems, and our other coders were working for free on my vision. Any chink in the armor, and everything could come to a halt. So I stayed in that house for over a month and a half and worked 10 hour days at the University of Virginia Libraries. It. Sucked.

So you can imagine that when Paul Graham calls the Airbnb guys "cockroaches" for how resilient they were, I chuckle a little bit before reminding myself not to be such an insufferable asshole. Those guys went through a lot. I did too. But do you know what: that didn't help my startup, and it didn't help Airbnb. It revealed their resolve, but they were on totally the wrong track with no traction before Paul Graham told them to "go to your users". And they did. Paul Graham and Y Combinator gave them a shot, gave them direction that helped them get lucky, and let awesomeness take over from there. THAT is the story. Their resilience was to get THAT chance, but they were not successfully iterating and getting traction before that moment.

Think about this: what if Airbnb was as bad an idea as it seemed? The story would be the same story: just with a different ending. But if you're smart and have an idea that COULD work, if you don't die you'll buy enough time to figure it out. That's what it is. That's it. That's why YC focuses on smart and ideally resilient founders.

And so it was with The City Swig. We ultimately "failed" in a different way: Virginia's ABC Board unexpectedly shut down our plan to get Ramen Profitable after an Angel had helped us out with a house to code in for the Summer of 2012 (yes, we made it that long) and we decided to pivot. We're now working on something else based on what we learned about our users from The City Swig. But we still need to find some luck (yes, it's something you find) or someone to believe in us for us to get to the next level. Resilience alone doesn't cut it. You need it, but it's not sufficient.

You need to not die: not because not dying helps, but because it's more likely you'll get lucky or find someone to buy you the time you need to only need to get slightly less likely. Discouraged? Don't be. Try not dying for a year and half and you'll never look at yourself the same way again. Ever.

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