Dropping Out Of College, Co-Founding A Techstars Startup, And Raising $250k 💫

I talked with Aaron Lebel, Carnegie Mellon ML and Statistics dropout and co-founder @ Pairi

Hi everyone!

Welcome back to my newsletter, and happy Lunar New Year for those who celebrate! First newsletter of Year of the Ox 🐂 — and we’re starting it off strong 😎

If you’re new here, I’m Ellen, host of ΔX podcast (a deep-dive into startups, emerging technology, and the future) — talking with some of the coolest people and writing about them to learn from a variety of interesting and up-and-coming topics in an easily digestible way.

Enjoy! :) 👇

This Week’s Podcast

There are a few conversations you have that stick with you and continue to shape your thinking even long after you have them. This was definitely one of mine! 🌟

Anything outside 3 standard deviations from the mean represents ~.3% of a set in a normal distribution.

In a recent conversation with Aaron, he talked about his concept behind 3 standard deviations and trying to target the top 0.15% of whatever he is working on. In essence, being an outlier 📈📊— following an unconventional path, being willing to make high-risk high-impact decisions, going outside your comfort zone to learn faster and fail forward 💥. Whether it’s deciding- to derive high value from autodidacticism and self-learning out of college or starting a startup to solve a real problem of business marketplaces, Aaron is doing things that are different than what most people today are doing.

Listen to the podcast below to hear about Aaron’s incredible journey, from making the decision to drop out of Carnegie Mellon to where he is today with his startup Pairi! 😮

In the podcast above, Aaron talks about the value of self-learning, untraditional pathways, and taking risks. It’s something that all people can learn from and internalize to try and shoot for being part of the 0.3% outside three standard deviations. 🚀


There are so many things I learned from this podcast, from startup advice to frameworks for learning to creating impact (and many more you’ll discover as you listen along too!).

Let’s dive right into a few key points I took away from this podcast:

  1. Don’t be afraid to pivot 🔄

    Aaron and his co-founder changed ideas from eyelash extensions to a no-code platform for launching service based marketplaces fast, after meeting other companies in Techstars (a seed accelerator with combined market capitalization of $18.2 billion, with <1% acceptance) and realizing a common pain point.

    What this means: Survey companies to make sure there is a real need; Aaron and his co-founder discovered that the average cost for online marketplaces was $24k in 6 months, and was consistent across customers.

  2. Showing the product can be the best way of selling 💻

    Aaron and his co-founder are both technical founders and started off knowing little about business (leaning technical). However, they don’t see it as a disadvantage to being a business + technical co-founder pair like many startups have because of the fact that their product has to be able to stand alone. Marketing and sales is important, but even before that, your product should be able to speak for itself.

  3. Learn by building 🛠

    Despite having been a Machine Learning and Stats major at Carnegie Mellon, Aaron talks about how most of the skills he uses for Pairi were not learned in school, but were self-learned through projects. The best way to learn is to actually get out there and build things.

    Similarly, building up your network and reading/writing is also a great way to learn (what I made this newsletter for! 📰), something that Aaron has talked about:

"While reading helps to train your model on external data, writing provides a means by which to iterate on the information you already have, providing similar benefits to refactoring code." 🧠

When you read, you are essentially allowing your brain to absorb information from someone else’s experiences and perspective— training your brain on external data, as Aaron describes. It’s easy to see why this is useful to helping make more robust decisions, and why talking to others, reading about others’ journeys, and writing is so important. 📚 Aaron also mentions some resources and books that have shaped his thinking during the podcast! 💭

One big lesson that I also derived from the podcast conversation is that you don't to have to go to college to be successful. ❌ This isn’t saying that college is bad or you shouldn’t go to college, but that you shouldn’t do something just because everyone else is doing it. Rather, Aaron shows that doing things that no one else is doing and solving problems that no one is solving is more valuable.

What is one thing that you want to do to go outside 3 standard deviations? Thank you so much Aaron for chatting and being such an amazing person to be around! :)

Until next time,

Ellen ☁

Thanks for reading!

Thank you for being a part of the community! Hope you enjoyed this newsletter and feel free to hit Reply at any time to let me know your thoughts or share what you’re working on! 🎉

I also want to give a big shoutout to Tatenda Mazambani from Africa for her kind words and for being one of the first readers of this newsletter! Thank you for sharing this newsletter to your friends and supporting this!