7 Worthwhile Startup Lessons You Might Not Want To Hear

Early startup life isn’t going to be easy, but sometimes a little tough love can go a long way.

7 Worthwhile Startup Lessons You Might Not Want To Hear
[Photo by Flickr user Tuncay]

As the cofounder of a startup, I’m grateful to have a mentor, a successful entrepreneur and startup employee himself, who has helped me through the highs and lows of startup life. From how to play office politics to how to kick butt at high level meetings to how to best manage my time, he has offered me nuanced advice, over and over again.


Why do I really love him though? Because he never holds back his critiques of me, hoping that I will continue to improve.

If you can’t take criticism and learn from it, then your future career will be a wash (unless your name is Steve Jobs, and I’m willing to bet that it isn’t).

With that in mind, here are seven lessons that I learned from my mentor that have helped me succeed in startup life:

1. Own Your Domain, But Own A Bit Of Everything Else, Too

Even if your title is head of marketing at a startup, you must have your finger on the pulse of what everyone else is doing. This includes understanding the big picture strategy of where your company is going, because, should you not crack this, your startup isn’t going anywhere but down the drain.

2. Be Solution-driven And Constructive Rather Than Assigning Responsibility

At a startup, things will break every single day. There will be problems. These problems will be compounded by other problems. There will be days when you feel like you walked into a tornado and you’re wondering how you made it out alive.


You must always remember that problems can be solved. And whenever there is a problem, your first thought should not be to assign responsibility to who or what caused it, but to understand the problem. Blaming others is no way to move forward, especially when time and money are tight. Think of solutions instead.

3. Determine The Impact Of What You Are Doing

When planning your day, you must think both individually and as a team about how you will move the needle. What is the impact of what you are doing? Eliminating anything tangential that will not allow you to achieve your daily, weekly, and monthly goals is essential to success.

4. Create A Sense Of Trust Between You And Your Team

The synergies of teams are critical in creating a successful startup. You must be a trusted member of your team. This means that you must read emails carefully and never miss any question or direction that someone asks or assigns to you.

5. You Don’t Have To Be Right And You Don’t Have To Own Everything

We make mistakes all the time at work and in our lives. It’s okay to be wrong. Swallow your pride, and swallow it whole. Disputes among team members are important–they signal that there are multiple ideas of how to move forward. And if you’re wrong, put your head down and keep soldiering onward.

6. You Need To Do The Administrative Work And The Dirty Work

If you want a secretary, you should work at an investment bank.


At a startup, you won’t get paid for doing the admin work, but it is expected that you will get it done. If you slack on the little things, the big things will surely be more painful to complete later.

You may not have all the answers off the top of your head–that’s what Google is for. Before asking others on your team for help with the small stuff, always remember that their time is just as valuable as yours.

7. Pay Attention To Detail

The one way to deliver on this over-used but necessary phrase is to take a notebook to every meeting. Even if you were never a note-taker in school (I surely wasn’t), if you take a notebook to meetings, you will remember details that other people will surely forget–and when you do this, you will appear smarter and more powerful. This will help you win new business and retain current clients.

Mentors are important. They needn’t be much older than you or have 50 years of work experience, but they must care about your personal growth and development.

I am thankful that I have had mine for more than two years now. When you find a mentor, thank them frequently and let them know that you are happy to take criticism, because if you do, you’ll be far better off in the end.


Stephen Robert Morse is the cofounder and head of marketing at SkillBridge. He previously founded, worked for,, and Follow him on Twitter.