Growth-Hacking My Career: 3 Years in a Startup Incubator

Problem-Solving with Sticky Notes
In this post I share 10 lessons I learned from my whirlwind journey as Creative Director, building a startup from the ground up.

My 3rd anniversary working at Leadline, Inc. was a few weeks ago. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this amazing company from the beginning. It has been a wild ride full of surprises and lessons that have made me appreciate the beauty of working at a startup.

Being a Creative Director at a startup company can be a rollercoaster of creativity, challenges, and opportunities. If you want a job that keeps you on your toes, this may just be the job for you. Over the years I’ve learned many lessons that have shaped my role and my perspective not only professionally but also as a person. Here are the top 10 insights I’ve gained from this exhilarating journey.

1. Become a Master of Disguise

One of the first lessons I learned was that as a Creative Director in a startup, you’ll wear more hats than you ever imagined. You’ll be a designer, marketing director, art director, social media manager, PowerPoint magician, project guru, administrator, sales pro, data analyst, email marketing wizard, and copywriting extraordinaire—all at the same time. Embrace the chaotic beauty of it all and see it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

2. Practice Patience with the Launch Limbo

Picture this: You’re all set to launch your project, but just when you think it’s time to hit the button, someone shouts, “Hold on, we need another six months!” Yep, that’s startup life. Expect the unexpected and learn to embrace the launch limbo with a sense of humor. Be patient, stay flexible, and understand that It’s all part of the adventure.

3. Priority #1: Your Mental Health

In the whirlwind of working at a startup, you’ll find yourself with more tasks than time. It’s crucial to remember that you’re not a superhero (although you might feel like one). This can be as simple as setting boundaries for yourself and others. Focus modes on the iPhone are a lifesaver. Learn to say no and your time will be respected. Take it one day at a time and don’t forget to prioritize your mental well-being. Burnout is not on the itinerary.

4. Create to Scale

Once a startup grows, it happens fast, so it’s essential to make everything scalable from the get-go. One way to achieve this is by documenting your processes and keeping the team informed as you craft those systems. Think big, prepare for the boom, and watch your work flourish as the company expands at lightning speed. You’ll thank your past self later for looking out for you.

5. Embrace Nimbleness

One of the unique superpowers of startups is the ability to be extremely nimble and pivot quickly. You can experiment with your brand, messaging, and design until you find the sweet spot. Keep experimenting—you’re allowed to color outside the lines.

6. Channel Your Inner User

Before you have customers, it is vital to think like a user and advocate on their behalf. Be their voice, their champion. In a world where customer feedback isn’t readily available, user-centric thinking will guide your decision-making and lead to a product or service that resonates when it finally reaches the market.

7. The Art of Communication

Communication is the glue that holds a startup together. It is crucial to regularly engage with all stakeholders and keep the lines of communication open. Talk to everyone and do it often. This proactive approach will help prevent many potential issues and keep everyone aligned.

8. So Much Flexibility

Working at a startup offers unparalleled flexibility so it’s best to make the most of it. With great flexibility… oops, I mean power, comes great responsibility—so use it wisely. This is the perfect time to establish processes and systems that will support the company’s growth and long-term success.

9. Advocate for Core Values

As a Creative Director, you have a unique opportunity to help shape the company culture. Advocate for the values you believe in and encourage the team to establish core values that reflect the company you want to build.

10. Enjoy the Ride

Finally, remember to have fun and enjoy the ride. Building something great in a startup is challenging, but the rewards are worth it if you approach it with dedication and passion. Keep your heart in your work, and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Conclusion

Working as a Creative Director in a startup is a dynamic and ever-evolving experience. These lessons have been my guiding principles over the past three years, and I hope they inspire you on your own journey. Embrace the chaos, stay patient, and most importantly, enjoy the ride. You have a unique opportunity to make something extraordinary, so make it count.

What about you—have you worked for a startup? Did you survive? I’d love to know your experience as a creative leader in a startup environment. Leave me a comment to continue the conversation.

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