Why Well-funded Disruptive Legal Startup, Atrium Failed? Justin Kan Shares it all [My “win or die” strategy didn’t work and worse, strained relationships]

During my time as Partner at @ycombinator, my ambition to build something big only grew.

I took the plunge and decided to follow the ‘age-old’ wisdom of fixing my own problem and building a startup around the solution.


I hated doing legal work for my startups and never really understood what I was paying for.

The entire experience was too complicated and opaque. I started Atrium to make this easier for founders.


Sometimes a new idea is not enough

Despite having a great team, great investors, and early customers, our rosy start soon began to wither.

Many things contributed to the eventual downfall of Atrium.

Here is what I learned from my failures:

Build something you believe in and love, not for your ego

As with most founders after a big sell, my ego kept nagging me to think ‘bigger’.

My dreams were full of insanely large numbers. A ten-billion-dollar company. A hundred-billion-dollar company.

We weren’t clear about our mission early on

It is very hard to write the mission after the fact. You should start with a clear reason to exist and filter early hires for believers.

Without clearly defined goals between co-founders, huge frictional costs can arise.

We hired too fast

Hiring too quickly – especially before PMF can be a fatal mistake.

At Atrium, we hired too many people too fast and we failed to set a cohesive culture early. This is incredibly hard to change later on.

Prioritizing growth over product

We raised a $10m series A with just an idea. We focused on growth over everything else. While we successfully grew our customer base, we couldn’t retain them.

We simply hadn’t spent enough time to figure out our product.

We didn’t define our ‘who’ early on

It wasn’t clear who Atrium served; the lawyers or the clients who were buying our legal services. Without making the distinction, we fell into the pit of trying to be everything to everyone.

In contrast, early on in Twitch, we decided that we would serve only streamers and iterated till we could serve them in the best possible way.
Win or die leadership

My colleagues needed to be supported and set up for success. My “win or die” strategy didn’t work and worse, strained relationships.

I lost several friends this way.

A more empathetic approach would have at least been a morale boost for the team.

Not looking inwards and asking big questions

Not figuring out my intrinsic motivation made it impossible to stay resilient in tough situations. My big question was, do I really want to be the CEO and build products? I also had no passion or real interest in legal tech.


After Atrium, I realized that building product and being a CEO was not my primary goal.

I love interesting people, stories, and ideas – all of this has led me to content creation.

I am a much more actualized now and pursuing something that I find fulfilling.

My failures do not define me

It sucks having to shut down a company. I was not the only one affected, and I let a lot of people down.

Dealing with it moving on to discover what’s important is what really matters.


Faith in myself that I will emerge a better and stronger person led to personal discoveries that exceeded my wildest expectations
Be proud of your failures – wear them like a badge.

Reply to this thread and share what you’ve learned from your own shortcomings, would love to read them.

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