Our most overwhelming struggles are often looked back on as ‘sink or swim’ moments. At times you’ll feel like you can’t keep your head above water, but if you focus on making progress and consider how others have overcome their own struggles, you’ll discover that you can overcome yours and grow from them too.
Because those outside perspectives make such a big difference, over the next few episodes, my guests are going to be sharing what they’ve learned from their struggles to give you a leg up when you face yours. The first of which is Blaine Light, who’s the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Qwick, a company that’s changing the future of work by connecting food service professionals with reliable staffing in real-time.
While Hollywood likes to portray the startup scene as billionaires in hoodies who stumble into overnight success, Blaine’s experiences developing disruptive technologies in Silicon Valley and Phoenix depict more adversity and ramen than extravagance and avocado toast. That’s why on this episode of Ignition Point, Blaine’s sharing his perspective on how to connect your capabilities to your aspirations based on what he’s learned firsthand from the startup world
So, let’s get after it! Click the Play Button right now and learn how to connect your capabilities to your aspirations with Blaine Light!
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Hey! What’s going on? I’m Steven Miller – and you’re listening to Ignition Point.
It’s no secret that since day one, every perspective we’ve shared on the show has been meant to deliver a shock to your system, but there are going to be days when you’re just going to feel like you can’t keep your head above water.
When you’re in the thick of it, these sparks aren’t going to be enough to light you up on their own; but however hard it gets, there’s always a way forward. Even though struggles can be isolating and stressful, they’re always temporary. Sometimes you just need to look at your situation through a different lens or go against the grain, but you can overcome just about anything.
To drive this home and give you a leg up, I’m going to be joined by three local leaders over the next few episodes who’re going to give you a behind the scenes look at how they’ve grown by confronting their challenges. So, make sure you’re following the show wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts to be notified when every episode drops.
On today’s show, I’m joined by Blaine Light. Blaine’s an old friend who’s the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Qwick, a company based here in Phoenix that’s connecting food service professionals with reliable staffing in real-time.
For as long as I’ve known him, Blaine has been on the forefront of developing disruptive technologies that connect like-minded people for a purpose. Before he and his team started Qwick, Blaine led a team of 70 over at Uber that steered Uber’s expansion in Phoenix and Las Vegas, where they grew revenues in excess of $250M and onboarded more than 30,000 drivers. But now, at Qwick, Blaine oversees recruiting, growth in existing markets, and expansion to new markets while ensuring the growth and well-being of his team; which will be serving 20 markets around the US by the end of 2020.
After finally discovering his place in the Phoenix Startup community over the last few years, Blaine’s encountered a struggle that’s all too common among high achievers; figuring out how to achieve big things despite the fact that you may not have the all the skills or resources required to achieve them. Through firsthand experience and continued education, Blaine’s gained real insight on how to overcome this dilemma, and that’s exactly what he’s here to share with you today. So, let’s get after it! Here to share his perspective on how to connect your capabilities to your aspirations, this is Blaine Light.
THE WEEKLY MONOLOGUE WITH BLAINE LIGHT
Oftentimes in startups, we have this big vision and this grand thing that we want to do, and the question is: how do we get there?
I’m reading this really good book – it’s called On Grand Strategy – and this is where I’m borrowing this main concept from. For example, applying it to Qwick – the company that we’re at now – it’s food and beverage, staffing for bartenders, servers, dishwashers and cooks; and our aspiration is to change the future of work so that every professional that comes on our platform has the ability to earn when they want. They can pick up extra shifts in their downtime and they have that total freedom and flexibility to apply their skills.
And so, our aspiration could be, we’re changing the future of work, we want to empower these people with these skills, and if we were totally aspirational, we’d say, “we are going to change the future of work for everyone!” That’s aspirational. We’re changing the future of work.
The capability is: let’s stay focused here. Let’s change the future of work for food and beverage staffing to start; and let’s do it in the United States to start. And how do we build this amazing team in each market that gets to grow? How do we support those people centrally? Well, let’s build a launch matrix and let’s rank the risk and the reward and we decide from there.
And so yes, we are changing the future of work. That’s the aspiration. We’re simultaneously holding all of our capabilities and saying, “where do we start? What do we do next? What’s our path to success?” And if companies just have the capabilities and say, “we’re capable of launching this one market,” well that’s not very exciting. If we’re just focused on capabilities, we don’t have a lot of creativity to innovate and pivot and try different things and if you’re only in a capabilities mindset, you’re only doing it how it’s done.
Anybody can come up with a great idea and say, “let’s go this way!” That’s aspirational. If everybody is saying, “let’s go this way,” now you’ve got a total mess and no one’s rowing in the same direction. So, for the people that are listening, it’s really important to remember, let’s have a direction. Let’s be in line with the capabilities. So, when we match our aspirations to capabilities, we’re all rowing in the same direction and we’re rowing really fast.
At my first role I ever had at a big tech company, I quickly found out that big corporations weren’t for me, but why is that? When I went there, I’d show up and I do the same thing every day. The ability to innovate and change and put my handprint on things and grow something from the ground up was nonexistent. The number of meetings exceeded the amount of working time, and overall it just felt like I couldn’t control the work that I wanted to do.
The other side of it – coming out of that experience – I went up to Silicon Valley and did my own startup where I had total freedom. It was a ton of fun. I went to parties where there were acrobats that were falling from the ceiling because these entrepreneurs and VCs were trying to get people to come to events that were really exciting and it was an awesome atmosphere, but in all that freedom came the question, “what do we do?”
And so, I’m able to contrast the experience of working at this big corporation to this total freedom of a startup. And to be candid, I failed at both.
From that I said, I want to be part of something that is succeeding; and Uber at the time, was one of the top hottest startups coming out of Silicon Valley and they needed someone to help launch in Phoenix. And in that experience, it was absolutely amazing. I got to both innovate and grow and bring my ideas but did so within a structure. There were goals, there were expectations, there was a place that we were going to.
You want to be able to match your capabilities with your aspirations. Where do we want to go? What do we want to do? The startup. The capabilities is, “how do we do it? What is the day to day? The corporation. And by combining aspirations and the capabilities, you get this amazing experience that I had at Uber.
I noticed that as we were heading towards IPO, profitability was a very important thing to have. And the really fun part of being at such an innovative company was that they empowered individuals to come up with ideas and then Uber gave the capabilities to achieve those aspirations.
I got to lead up this large team called S.P.O.T. – Special Projects Operations Team – so, I built the team of 70 people and we aggregated tasks across all of the United States, bringing all of these things together into one shop, whereas before, it was done in different cities. So, LA was doing it one way, New York was doing another way and there were all these local teams that were doing it.
By bringing it all into one place, we saved tens of millions of dollars.
If Uber hadn’t been a company like that and had been more like the previous company I was at, it would’ve been more stifling and would’ve been more difficult. And so, I think for me, I found a lot of joy in being able to apply exactly what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, the aspirations; with having the resources and the capabilities to do it.
So, whether you’re at a corporation or whether you’re at a startup or you’re looking for a startup or you’re doing a small business, for yourself and the people on your team, always ask yourself:
One – am I empowering these people by giving them the resources they need? While two – putting boundaries on, so they know what is acceptable or not acceptable for them to do?
If you don’t do either of those, you end up with people that are misguided or they’re not self-driven, but the other side, if you don’t empower them with the resources and the capability to do it, now they’ve got all this ambition and nowhere to put it. And for you as an individual, you have to ask yourself, “how do I maintain this freedom and creativity?”
A lot of people feel like they have to leave somewhere in order to make something really great. My co-founder, Jamie Baxter, spent 18 years at an HR technology firm, and in that time, he was what’s known as an intrapreneur. So, he was able to innovate team after team after team. No one gave him permission per se to do that; he sought his own way within the company and being able to do that was able to add the most value. And if you had that aspiration, the way to do it will come forward. You’ve got to be able to know where you want to go, set a vision, and then get other people around you to do it.
When I was at Uber, there was a lot of people with really good ideas and because of the company culture, we were able to then implement the things that we were thinking about. For example, in Phoenix, I wanted to try out this incentive for all of the drivers that were out there on the road for Halloween.
We ended up spending more money than any other city in the entire United States and it was a total flop. Did I lose my job? No. Did I get reprimanded? Not exactly. Now, had I been in a typical company, maybe I would have been fired or maybe I would have been on a performance improvement plan.
Let’s be clear, the goal of a startup or a company is to succeed. If we make mistakes. The goal is to learn from those mistakes and apply them. I think learning by doing is one of the best ways to learn, but we also learn from others.
For example, if there were other teams that had already done this incentive experiment and failed, we could have learned faster. So, actively seeking out the knowledge that’s there, but not using that to limit you from going ahead and making a decision and trying something.
So, for the people that have the privilege of leading a team, remember you are first and foremost there to protect your team. If they make a mistake – and I don’t want to label it as good or bad or ugly or they do something really well; either way, if there’s any heat, you take it as the leader, and if there’s any praise, you give it to the team and empower those people to match their capabilities and aspirations.
Being able to blend those two and ground ourselves in, “we’re building something amazing and here’s how we do it,” that’s what gets me fired up every single day.
Startups are super exciting by nature, and there’s days where things go wrong. There’s up days and there’s down days. It’s important to remember every day that we show up and we believe in what we’re building. We’re confident in where we’re going, and we also are watching to make sure that every step that we’re taking is in the right direction.
I like to take risks. I’m a super extrovert. What’s my risk profile? If I’m more of an aspirational type of person, I’m more, “let’s go and do it.” I think it’s good for me to lean in to that, and if I’m more of the person that’s risk averse, kind of stuck in the capabilities of, “here’s what we’ve got to do and here’s how we do it;” it’s okay for me to start thinking outside the box a little bit and taking a little bit more risk.
I’ve done both! I was totally in the corporate side and just feeling that stifling environment and then going out to San Francisco and saying, “I’m going to go 180 degrees. I’m going to go out to Silicon Valley. I’m going to do a startup. Ate ramen, and by going to these lavish parties and seeing the contrast kind of made me realize, “maybe there’s a middle ground here. Maybe it doesn’t have to be all structure. Maybe there’s something in the middle.”
I think you’ll have a lot of success if you lean in, know who you are, know what you provide, know what your weaknesses are, know what you need to learn, recognize where you are on the risk aversion scale, and you’re grounded between your capabilities and aspirations.
STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS
First off, I’d like to thank Blaine Light for taking time out to contribute to this week’s show.
He and his team at Qwick are bringing freedom and flexibility to food service professionals through reliable, on-demand staffing. So, if you’re looking for an exciting opportunity in the startup scene and want to join a great team at one of the best places to work, you should check out the opportunities over at Qwick. I’ll have a link to their opportunities page for you in this episode’s Show Notes if you’re interested.
Getting back to capabilities and aspirations, I think there’s two things you need to keep in mind.
First and foremost, you need to understand that Blaine isn’t telling you to reduce or reign in your aspirations. It’s not that they’re too audacious or too far outside the realm of possibility. Rather, the moral of the story is that after you know where you want to go, you need to be a realist about what it’s going to take to get there.
It’s about knowing where you are at that present moment, and answering questions like, “what do I need to learn… what milestones do I need to hit… what resources do I need to acquire…” and, “who do I need to connect with…” in order to make these dreams come to life?
By answering those questions, you can reverse engineer your aspirations. Then you can go down that list and put a check mark next to all the elements that are within your current capabilities, execute against those, and then get after the elements that you lack. Be as detailed as possible and ask for input from your mentors and accountability partners.
This is just one example of the times when you might be looking so closely at something that you’re unable to zoom out and see the big picture. Which brings me to my second point.
Blaine mentioned that when you’re thinking about your capabilities you need to lean into your strengths and be aware of your weaknesses. You need to know what qualities you bring to the table, what you contribute to a team, and what value you can add. But however well you think you know yourself; you’ll still have these blind spots for your weaknesses and appropriately named “bright spots” for your strengths.
Now, there’s good news and bad news about blind spots and “bright spots.”
The bad news: Strengths and weaknesses change as you grow over time. So, in a perfect world, you should probably be doing this once every three to five years.
The good news is that there is a way to uncover them, and it’s pretty straightforward.
The best way for you to see into your blind spots and bright spots is by seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes. What you’ll want to do is make a list of about ten to fifteen peers, mentors, and friends who you think would be willing to give you honest testimonials via email reflecting on these questions:
Can you tell me about a time when you saw me at the top of my game?
At the time, what strengths did I demonstrate at the time and what do you think brought them out?
What do you think I should consider as areas for improvement?
Once you’ve gotten feedback from about 75% of them, start looking for where those stories overlap. Eventually, you’ll start seeing common threads between the testimonials; those are the strengths and weaknesses that others notice about you. These people you surveyed are practically shining a spotlight on your most impactful strengths, so take note and determine what activates them so you can tap into them and apply them more readily.
There’s a really good chance you’ve heard the quote, “knowledge is power,” but have you ever really thought about the power that comes from having a deeper knowledge of yourself?
Truly understanding your capabilities and leaning into them is like striking a match.
Having a vision for your aspirations is like seeing a bunch of fireworks set up in the distance. You know how incredible it’s going to look when they go off, but they’ve got to be lit.
When you connect your capabilities to your aspirations, it’s like you’re taking that match and igniting the fuse that leads to those distant fireworks.
But without that moment of connection – where the fire of your capabilities meets the fuse that leads to your aspirations – you’ll either be standing in place with a match burning away at your fingertips or you’ll be staring, waiting and wishing for those fireworks to go off.
So, connect your capabilities to your aspirations; and as you tack on new capabilities, continue learning, and expand your network; that fuse will burn faster and faster, inching closer and closer to setting those fireworks off until one day, you’ll have made your aspirations, your reality.
Again, I’d like to give a big thank you to Blaine Light for coming on this week’s show. If you’re looking for links to any of the websites or resources mentioned during this episode including where you can learn more about Qwick, they’re all available in this episode’s Show Notes up at DecisiveLeap.com/IgnitionPoint.
If you’re fired up about raising the bar for your Personal Brand or you want to develop a comprehensive Brand Strategy for your business, let’s connect! I’d love to find a way to team up with you. So, to reach me directly and begin your next leap forward, just send an email to email@example.com.
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Well, that’s going to do it for this episode, so stay motivated and keep moving forward.
If you put in the hard work right now – one day – you could be the one motivating the world with your story.
I’ll look forward to speaking with you next time on another Ignition Point.
Now get on out there and win the week!