How to Avoid the Complexity Trap

Simplicity usually wins...

Happy Saturday to every unicorn in the galaxy.

My new mantra is “Avoid complexity”.

It’s a razor that allows me to avoid unnecessary work that won’t contribute to my ultimate goals.

Complexity shows up in a lot of areas within a startup, and I’ve found that in many cases it’s not only unnecessary but counter-productive.

I use these two questions to bring simplicity and avoid a waste of time and resources:

  1. Is this necessary to achieve our goals?

  2. Is there a simpler way to accomplish this?

In the spirit of keeping things simple in this week’s addition, today we’re going to look at 13 ways that needless complexity can creep into startup life.

Why should you care?

Simplicity usually wins.

Simplicity creates momentum.

Simplicity increases rate of learnings.

Simplicity fosters iterative improvements.

Simplicity is understandable.

Simplicity is revealing.

Simplicity motivates.

Today’s growth strategy is avoid unnecessary complexity.

Growth stage: Any

Difficulty level: Hard

“For weeks, we'd cut something out and conversion rate wouldn't change. People didn’t care about most of our features.

We removed so much complexity, until it just became a document with auto-complete. And that was when users were like 'I love this.'“

David Park, CEO

Ditch the Unnecessary Complexity

Humans love to complicate things.

Complexity slows things down.

Reduces product adoption.

Destroys productivity.

Causes confusion.

Kills morale.

Let’s take a look at 13 common ways startups make things unnecessarily complex:

Value Proposition

There’s a reason the “elevator pitch” exercise has persisted across time in our culture. If you can’t intrigue someone with your value prop in under 30 seconds, it’s probably too complex to capture attention.

Product features 

The quote above from the CEO of is a common one. It’s tempting to throw feature after feature at lackluster business results. But a set of decent features often won’t have the impact of a simple outstanding one.

Project ownership

There’s a great quote - “If everyone owns it, no one owns it” about projects and being responsible for hitting KPIs. Multiple project owners creates confusion, and confusion is a source of complexity.

Tech stack

I’m no savant but I can often get something “working” faster than a real tech team because they will rely on a convoluted system with a wacky architecture to ensure maximum scalability, redundancy, security and whatever else is cool that day.

This stuff is important for enterprise quality but I see it happen all the time that a simple ask has 15 steps and requires an “official release”. Nothing kills the spirit of fast-moving startups more than a byzantine, over-engineered tech stack.

Chances are you don’t have 1M concurrent users (yet).

SEO strategy 

The nuances of deep technical SEO are icing on the cake to great content and lots of high quality backlinks. It’s easy to get lost in overly technical SEO plans when what you need to start getting on the scoreboard is just great content and links. See this meme from Brian Dean:


Novice writers try to impress by writing fancy. Simple words almost always win.

A great example of that is Y-Combinator’s mantra “Make something people want.”


I saw a pricing proposal the other day that bored me to tears and made no sense. I couldn’t figure out why it was so complex and it definitely wasn’t because the consumer was somehow benefiting. There are well-researched pricing strategies and they are generally easy to understand.

Remember: “A confused mind doesn’t buy.”


Goals should be so simple that everyone in the company can say them in their sleep.

Too many or too complex goals lead to splintered efforts and confused people. Clear goals give everyone an easy guidepost they can reference at any point in time:

“Will this get us closer to the goal?” If not, fuck it.

FB ad campaign structure 

Simplicity wins these days. It used to be that you needed separate campaigns for every damn dimension you wanted to test. These days you may only need two: one for always-on winners and another for experiments.

Core values

Companies should only have 3-5 core values. If you stand for everything then you stand for nothing. Having 3-5 values makes it easy to explain to every new hire what the company stands for and what types of behavior you value.

Any more is confusing and hard for people to remember.

SEM optimization strategy

In the age of AI, you’re better off having a single tROAS target rather than making a million manual bids. Don’t get lost in the weeds.

Product / UX design

Some people think that if your UX needs onboarding then it’s too complicated. I think this may be too much of a simplification but it’s a good reminder that most things can usually be made simpler through better design.

Ambiguous leadership

Unclear leadership is a form of complexity because people don’t know what to do or how to proceed. They get lost in their heads, project weird shit, take no action, take the wrong actions, etc.

Ambiguity is complex.

Being clear is a superpower to getting things done effectively.

Time to Simplify

Now take a hard look at what your goals are and figure out where you’re falling into pits of complexity.

It’s an excuse for procrastination and a way to avoid hard truths.

Reminds me of a dating truism: if someone likes you, you’ll know.

Keep it simple, friends.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Albert Einstein

Bonus Prompt

✨ That’s it for today!

I hope this helps you in your growth journey.


PS - I’m accepting new advertisers. If you want to promote your startup to ~10K entrepreneurs and marketers, just reply to this email.

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