Entrepreneurship Investing

“I see [Default] Dead [startups]”

When I meet w/ founders and companies and asses their business model, I often feel like Cole Sear from the movie The Sixth Sense. After a quick assessment of their strategy, their unit economics, and more importantly their philosophy about how “easy it is to get funding in the future”, I can’t help but feel like I’m looking at [soon-to-be] dead company.

In his thought-provoking essay “Default Alive or Default Dead?“, Paul Graham challenges entrepreneurs to reconsider their approach to building a successful business. He argues that too often, startups default to a state of being “default dead,” where they rely on outside funding to keep them afloat, rather than striving to become “default alive,” where their business is self-sustaining and profitable. Graham’s essay highlights the importance of being frugal, growing revenue, reducing burn, and increasing margins to achieve this goal.


Firstly, being frugal is a critical aspect of building a successful startup. Startups that prioritize frugality can make their capital stretch further, allowing them to invest in growth and innovation while minimizing waste. This is especially important in the early stages of a company’s life when resources are often scarce. By focusing on keeping costs low, startups can ensure that their funding is spent on the things that truly matter and avoid overspending on unnecessary expenses. Additionally, frugality instills a culture of discipline and efficiency, which can benefit a company throughout its entire lifespan.

Increase Revenue Growth

Secondly, startups must prioritize revenue growth. Without consistent revenue growth, startups may struggle to generate the funds needed to fuel their growth and achieve profitability and will perpetuate their dependence on investor funding. To achieve this, startups must be relentless in their pursuit of revenue, leveraging every opportunity to monetize their product or service. This may involve developing new revenue streams, experimenting with different pricing models, or expanding their customer base. By prioritizing revenue growth, startups can build a strong financial foundation and set themselves up for long-term success.

Reduce Burn

Thirdly, reducing burn is crucial for startups looking to achieve self-sustainability. Burn rate refers to the amount of money a startup is spending on operating expenses each month. High burn rates can quickly deplete a startup’s funds and put it in a precarious financial position. Startups must focus on reducing their burn rate by optimizing their operations, minimizing unnecessary expenses, and negotiating better deals with suppliers. By reducing burn, startups can extend their runway and increase their chances of achieving profitability.

Increase Margin

Lastly, increasing margins is essential for startups looking to become self-sustaining. Margins refer to the difference between a company’s revenue and its cost of goods sold. By increasing margins, startups can generate more profit per sale, which can help offset their operating expenses and accelerate their path to profitability. Startups can increase margins by optimizing their pricing strategy, negotiating better deals with suppliers, and improving their operational efficiency.

In my opinion, Paul Graham’s essay is a MUST READ for all entrepreneurs. I’ve seen too many founders and teams make poor business decisions because they falsely believe they can always return to the well when the money dries up. Founders need to understand the importance of being frugal, growing revenue, reducing burn, and increasing margins for startups looking to become self-sustaining and profitable. By focusing on these key areas, startups can build a strong financial foundation and set themselves up for long-term success. In today’s competitive business landscape, it’s more important than ever for startups to prioritize profitability and self-sustainability, and by following Graham’s advice, they can do just that.

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