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…(click to continue reading this review)