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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