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Speed Review: Play Bigger

Speed Review: Play Bigger

Speed Review: Play Bigger

How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets

by Kevin Maney, Dave Peterson, Al Ramadan & Christopher Lochhead

In Play Bigger, the founders of Silicon Valley advisory firm Play Bigger assemble their findings to introduce the new discipline of category design. By applying category design, companies can create new demand where none existed, conditioning customers’ brains so they change their expectations and buying habits. While this discipline defines the tech industry, it applies to every kind of industry and even to personal careers. Winning today isn’t about beating the competition at the old game. It’s about inventing a whole new game — defining a new market category, developing it, and dominating it over time.

Review

What do Uber and Birdseye frozen foods have in common? They are what the authors of a new book, Play Bigger, call category kings. Category kings are unique companies that revolutionize industries by inventing entirely new categories — and then dominating that category. Play Bigger is written by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson and Christopher Lochhead, three Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who co-founded a consultancy focused on designing category king companies — the name of the book is the name of their consultancy; a fourth co-author is long-time technology journalist Kevin Maney. The authors begin by defining the term “category.” A great category, they write, “solves a problem people didn’t know they had, or solves an obvious problem no one thought could be solved.”

On a visit to the Arctic, Clarence Birdseye, who created the frozen food category, watched the Inuit catch a fish and throw it on the ice, where it would instantly flash freeze. Birdseye’s reaction was not, “Finally, the solution to the problem of frozen food!” — for the simple reason that frozen food was not a concept and, therefore, not a problem. The founders of Uber, on the other hand, realized that their concept would solve a problem familiar to nearly anyone who has been near a city: the often frustrating experience of trying to hail a cab. It was an obvious problem but not one that people thought could be solved.

Finding the Missing

A vision for a new category, write the authors, often emerges from what they call a “missing” — the recognition by entrepreneurs that there is something missing in the market and that their solution can fill the gap. Marc Benioff realized that the cloud offered a way to provide CRM solutions without the expense and hassle of software. Leaving Oracle, he founded a new company called Salesforce.com, which would become the king of the cloud-based salesforce automation. An inventive idea, however, is just a small initial step in the category king strategy. The authors tell the story of a company called Jawbone. Among its inventions was a small headset that connected wirelessly to cell phones — just as states were passing no-hands regulations for drivers. However, it never established itself as king of the category, becoming instead (in the eyes of the marketplace) just one of many companies offering wireless headsets. Even more surprising is the fact that Jawbone invented the wearable fitness tracker but could not get the product on the market before a startup named Fitbit swooped in and is today the indisputable king of the category. How does one avoid the fate of Jawbone? The answer begins by understanding your “frotos,” which is the authors’ shorthand term for “from” and “to.”

To succeed as a category king, you must bring the market from someplace to your category. Siebel Systems was a major incumbent in the CRM software business. Benioff knew the company well and, in fact, had worked at Oracle with company founder Thomas Siebel. Benioff also knew that if his company was to succeed, it had to bring the CRM market from Siebel’s software-based solutions to his cloud-based solutions. The authors detail how Benioff, through publicity and marketing efforts, “conditioned the market” to accept his approach. One of the keys to his success was the ubiquitous mantra of “No Software.” The heart of Play Bigger is devoted to the authors’

“Category King Playbook.” In detailed chapters that end with five or six specific steps, the authors describe how to discover a category; how to craft a story about your category that will capture the imagination of the market (the authors call this story the point of view, or POV); how to mobilize the entire company to move forward in implementing category design (this includes the evocative idea of a “lightning strike” –– a single event in which your product explodes on the market); and how to condition the market to welcome what the authors call your “pirate invasion.” Play Bigger is an inspiring book. By offering a clear, detailed and believable path to the summit, Play Bigger will convince entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — category kings are not all startups — that they, too, may be on the verge of becoming the next Marc Benioff…or Clarence Birdseye.

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