I've been thinking a lot about high beams and low beams. The majority of our clients are pretty early-stage startups (Pre-Series A) and while they have a big vision, they're still trying to figure a lot of the puzzle pieces out. We start a lot of client meetings hearing, "So we had an epiphany!" or "We've got some big updates for you..." and while learning and adjusting is how all startups find their product-market fit, it takes a certain personality to skillfully surf the waves of change, stay focused on elements that are consistent, and choose marketing goals really wisely so that they’re not constantly starting over. I like to think about things in terms of high beams and low beams.
Just like driving your car, you use your high beams to focus on things way out in the future - things you want to see coming for a long time; your low beams are more day-to-day. Learning to recognize, differentiate, and respond to incoming changes by thinking about things this way can make the difference between a team that iterates and responds quickly, and a team that gets wrapped too easily around the axle, paralyzed by repeating uncertainty.
I think I'll always have tendencies of a Type-A planner who likes to have backup plans for every possible contingency. But over the past 5 years, I've gotten much more comfortable with uncertainty - embracing the borderline out of control feeling that skiers know all too well, being "out over my ski tips." Taking in the view from this mindset, I think this is where most startups need to live in order to be the groundbreakers of their aspirations. But I get it, it's super uncomfortable - especially when you're spending someone else's money.
Here are my three pieces of advice as a recovering Type-A'er:
1. Identify and stay at least partially focused on things that aren't going to change
In the marketing world, that means foundational pursuits like building a contactable database and ranking for key SEO terms. These things take a long time - they are definitely high beam initiatives. You're going to need them no matter what; even if your go-to-market or product offering adjusts, you will be prepared.
2. Figure out what you can keep (and learn) when you do shift directions It's so easy to see a change in strategy and jump to a complete marketing reset – it's a classic Life-in-the-Low-Beams move. Here at Wheels Up Collective, we look at our work with early-stage companies as part marketing, but also part research. Amidst inevitable change in the startup, we push our clients to consider the high beams - to learn and repurpose what they can from existing work. It not only drives efficiency, but also helps manage morale during changes that can be super frustrating for individual contributors.
3. Surround yourself with the absolute smartest people you can It sounds obvious, but especially when you're growing, and hiring is such a consuming part of your job, it's easy to get a little, um, lazy and fall prey to the temptation to fill roles with people who are "good enough." Hire hustlers with common sense (high beam thinkers) and all-around athletes who are creative problem solvers (low beam warriors). You can teach them the rest.
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