Episode 19: Paul Sebastien and Dan Frohnen

In our 19th episode, Gil talks category creation with two B2B leaders from the cybersecurity training and asset operations management categories.

Panelists for this episode include:

  • Paul Sebastien, CMO of Offensive Security and leader behind the cybersecurity training category
  • Dan Frohnen, CMO of Upkeep and leader behind the asset operations management category

Or watch the video

You’ll walk away from this episode with an understanding of quantitative marketing, startup playbooks, and category competition.

Here are some of the key takeaways from this episode.

Takeaway 1. Word of mouth marketing is underrated

Everyone talks about metrics when discussing B2B growth and category creation. Yes, knowing your numbers is essential. You need some objective way of measuring whether what you’re doing is working or not. But you also have to keep in mind that some critical aspects of your growth aren’t easy to quantify — for example, branding.

We know that branding works. The only problem is that it’s not easy to quantify its effect, especially in the short term. You have to rely on many indirect indicators to determine its effectiveness.

Word of mouth is usually a strong indicator of effective branding. And while you could use social listening tools to quantify how often people are talking about you on social channels, you still can’t measure conversations that happen offline. These conversations have just as significant an impact as other growth channels with qualitative performance metrics. However, most startups don’t consider developing a strategy around word-of-mouth marketing because it’s not easily quantifiable and therefore assumed to have no impact.

Takeaway 2. Don’t be quick to use playbooks

A lot of early-stage startups believe that growth playbooks are the solution to all their problems. The problem with this approach is that it forces you into a particular way of thinking. Most playbooks assume that all companies are the same. They don’t take into account each organization’s unique situation, customers, and market.

An overreliance on playbooks might cause you to make many short-term decisions that get immediate wins, but you’ll lose sight of the long-term vision that’s required when creating a new category. It’s always a good idea to take a beginner’s approach instead. You can refer to frameworks and playbooks occasionally, but they shouldn’t be your primary tools for problem-solving.

You have to look beyond playbooks and put as much effort as possible into understanding your customers. Apply these learnings to make your product better. Then once you’ve found something that works, double down on it and find out how you can replicate your results.

Takeaway 3. It’s tough to create a category without any competitors

A common misconception about category creation is that you have to create something entirely new to be considered a market leader. That’s not always the case. You can create a new category even if you’re building upon an already-existing idea.

In today’s highly competitive and crowded marketplace, you’ll rarely find a profitable market that has zero competition. Companies that try to create new categories fail because of the same reasons. Either they fail because the idea isn’t well-executed, or they make something that people aren’t ready for, or technology hasn’t caught to yet.

You have to accept that there’ll probably be a lot of competition when you create a new category. Instead of creating a category of one, focus on finding out the problems your customers are having, then go out and make the best solution possible.

For more insights, listen to episode 19 of B2B category creators.


Dan tells us why you should take the difficult path when creating a new category.

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