5 Personality Traits of Successful Startup Employees

Photo from StartupInstitute.com

Photo from StartupInstitute.com

Seeking the thrill and excitement of a new or evolving career in a fast-growing company, young professionals are flocking to work in startup roles. But, startup life isn’t suited for everyone. While high-growth employers have their lists of characteristics that predict success, the perspective of a startup employee working in the trenches is a bit different. From salespeople and marketers to back-end engineers, here are common personality traits of successful startup employees, from the perspective of a startup employee:


Startups are small and lean with limited budgets, time, and manpower. A successful startup employee appreciates this and is resourceful. Assessing and utilizing available resources fosters efficiency for both the employee and the company. In a growing startup, the most important resource is time – don’t waste your own or others’ time. At my first week working at a startup, I asked my boss—the COO—what to do if there was a typo on the website – “Fix it.”

Successful startup employees figure things out for themselves – or try to. If you don’t know the answer to a question, employ the “three before me philosophy” that my 4th grade teacher invoked – ask yourself, look it up (Google it), ask a peer, – then ask me. Don’t distract your coworkers by asking questions you could have answered faster with Google. I’ll bet you a million Bitcoin that no one ever sent Bill Gates a “Let Me Google That For You” link – don’t be the guy who gets one from your coworkers.


Using existing resources isn’t just time efficient – it’s also a sign of creativity. Successful startup employees are creative. Some of the best innovations have come about for reasons other than their intended purpose. The principle of scaleability is based on creativity.

While we may not all revolutionize something big, a little creativity can solve many problems at a startup.  Whether you’re making a standing desk out of cardboard boxes and paper cups, writing an eBook with existing content, crowdsourcing customers for product improvements, or designing a guerrilla marketing campaign to develop brand awareness on a limited budget, using existing resources is one of the most important traits in a successful startup employee.


Successful startup employees are humble. They help themselves but know their own limitations. While hours on Google may eventually give you an answer, five minutes of help from a coworker will save time and frustration.

There is little room for arrogance at a startup. Thinking you’re always right won’t take you far. Embrace the collaborative aspect of startups. Need advice on a problem? Want another eye on the project? Ask questions or ask for help. As the adage goes, if you’re the smartest person in a room, you’re in the wrong room. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to do something, as long as you’re willing to learn. Of course, this means striking a delicate balance with the first point. Be honest with yourself as you evaluate your problem to decide when to figure it out on your own and when to seek help.


Curiosity is part of the passion that startup employees have. A drive to learn more and improve yourself will lead you to success. Max FaingezichtThriveHive‘s co-founder and CEO, reads a lot of books, but you don’t find any fiction on his shelves. “There’s is always something new to learn – it’s fun!” he says. Ira Glass tells us that although we may never feel good enough, by continuing to work hard, we can fight through this to reach our ambitions.

Working in startup roles, you will wear many hats and there are always new skills to learn. The more you know the better, be it about your industry or another. It’s no surprise that many founders and startup employees are on their second careers, coming from a seemingly unrelated path. Curiosity is invaluable in a startup. You never know when outside knowledge can be used to improve a process, product, or company, or even to close a sale.


Startups lack the structure of the corporate world. Successful startup employees are easygoing and don’t complain. The project you worked on until 3am may take a completely different direction, you may take on a role you weren’t hired for, and some days you will have no idea what you’re doing. Startups move fast and break things; rather than complain, successful employees embrace the philosophy. Complaints are a waste of time, of which no one has extra.

Instead of complaining, take matters into your own hands. Every complaint is an opportunity to fix something. Come up with a solution to the problem. What resources do you have to work with? Who can you ask for help? What do you need to do or learn to find the answer to the problem? Complaining is the opposite of being easygoing, and quite frankly, no one likes a complainer.Connect:

The best startup employees are connectors. They connect people to each other and, in turn, are the people who others look to for help. The power of connectional intelligence is limitless and powerful. The book Get Big Things Done explains the game-changing power of connectional intelligence.

Successful startup employees are connectors who they have sought out answers themselves, asked questions, collaborated, ventured outside of their comfort zones and expanded their knowledge, rolling with the punches all along.


Emily is an alumna of the Startup Institute Boston’s Summer 2014 cohort. An attorney-turned-content marketing specialist, she currently works at ThriveHive, a startup that provides marketing solutions to small businesses. When she’s not helping small business owners with their marketing challenges, Emily can be found blogging at Sassy in Sequins, trying new restaurants in Boston, or barefoot on her yoga mat.


Startup Institute provides immersive education for the innovation economy. Their full-time and RampUp programs help individuals to Startup-Institute-Global-Logobuild the skills, mindset, and network to get jobs and thrive at startups.