10 crucial lessons from a founder who raised millions then shut down


Lessons learned from Sebastian Trif's £3m start-up journey.

From finding product-market fit to building the right team, founders face a myriad of challenges that can make or break their ventures. In a recent candid podcast interview, Sebastian Trif, the former CEO and co-founder of Aurelia, shared his insights and hard-earned lessons from his entrepreneurial journey.

Despite raising millions from notable investors like Blossom Capital, Aurelia ultimately had to shut down after struggling to achieve product-market fit. However, Sebastian's transparency about the highs and lows of his experience offers a treasure trove of wisdom for aspiring and early-stage founders.

Drawing from Sebastian's first-hand account, we've distilled the following top 10 tips to help entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls and increase their chances of success. Each tip is accompanied by Sebastian's own words, providing context and deeper understanding straight from the source.

Whether you're just starting out or pivoting your existing venture, these insights from someone who has been through the trenches can prove invaluable...

1. Understand the difference between searching for product-market fit and executing on it

Sebastian highlights the critical distinction: "When I started, I didn’t see any difference between searching for product-market fit versus you’re executing on product-market fit that you found...I think we just jumped the gun. We just went straight into 'let’s build a company' mode, hire a team, all these things, and then you realise, oh, actually, if you haven’t actually found something that clicks with people, none of this is going to save you."

2. Don't underestimate the value of understanding your market

As Sebastian puts it, "I think understanding the difference between searching for product-market fit versus executing on product market fit that you found. We should’ve focused on searching for it, then it could have just been Jasper and myself for the longest time possible. Don’t spend much cash, keep your business lean, find something that starts to click, and then...you double down, hire a team, etc."

3. Pay yourself a market-competitive salary

Sebastian regrets underpaying himself: "Personally, when I look back at it, that's one of the stupidest things I've done because it adds so much stress to your life if you're not paying yourself, at least at the level where the market value."

4. Find a trusted mentor or advisor

Sebastian highlights the value of one of his angel investors: "Those sessions I had with one of our more experienced Angel investors were, for me personally, those were the most helpful. Just because of his background I think having seen so many founders, he was able to kind of pinpoint and diagnose where I was having shortcomings."

5. Don't fall for vanity metrics

Sebastian cautions against getting caught up in team size: "I just kind of took it as like, oh yeah, my team, I should worry about that. Who are we hiring next? How are we growing? As opposed to having some backbone, some direction, some purpose..."

6. Be cautious of visionary thinking in established markets

As Sebastian advises: "If you're in a very open space, you're innovating for the first time...then, okay, maybe the vision play works very well. But if you're in B2B SaaS, and there's five other companies in a similar market...you need a more structured approach."

7. Seek diverse perspectives and feedback

Sebastian learned this lesson: "Three to five people that you're speaking to is the danger zone. You're starting to build something for this audience that you have in your mind. But it's so small, it's not an accurate enough sample size of the market that you're going into."

8. Involve investors in key decisions

In hindsight, Sebastian says: "When I look back at it, maybe it would have been wiser to actually speak to Blossom about all of this while it was happening instead of involved in that."

9. Don't let technical expertise become a crutch

Sebastian admits: "I was thinking in this naive way: If I can build something, then that’s the hard part, what else is there to stop me? It turns out that’s not really enough. I think for me personally, there was a disadvantage in being stuck almost to this fantasy worldview."

10. Be prepared to pivot or shut down

Sebastian made the pragmatic call: "It was becoming apparent that even though we had a runway, just enough to kind of go for another try with the team that we had, it was just another fantasy that, yeah, if all stars aligned, then we would go for it. So, I had to be a little bit more pragmatic."

Checkout Sebastian’s full podcast episode here.

Want to read more e-commerce insights? Sign up to The Journal!

Sign up for our latest insights