Episode 30: Kevin Maney

In our 30th episode of category creators, Gil talks category creation with Kevin Maney, Author of Play Bigger and Partner at Category Design Advisors. This episode covers key concepts about category creation from one of the people who invented the term. You’ll walk away with an understanding of how to build a company that makes an impact.

Takeaway 1: Category creation is not a marketing tactic

A common misconception about category creation is that it’s a marketing tactic that the CMO is responsible for implementing. The reality is a lot different because category creation is more strategic than it is a marketing or messaging exercise. That means it’s up to the CEO to make it work.

Many components need to come together. You need to start with a great product. From there, figure out what type of company you need to build to bring the product to market. That often means looking beyond marketing strategies and at other things such as your culture, the people you will hire, and the space you want to inhabit.

Creating a new category also means that you’ll need to know how to balance short-term demands with long-term goals. This is especially important when you’re still in the early stages of building your startup where resources are limited. You don’t want to overcommit too soon. So you’ll need to know the right time start focusing on creating a category and when to hold off.

Takeaway 2: Use the 6-10 concept to your advantage

In general, the best time to start creating a new category is after you’ve reached product-market fit. Once you get to this point, you’ll still have a few more years ahead of you. But at least you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction. Kevin Maney researched how long it takes for a company to derive value from creating a new category. And he found the answer to be between 6-10 years. This is also called the 6-10 concept.

According to this concept, companies within the 6–10-year mark are more successful because they are in an ideal position to capitalize on the momentum they’ve built up over time. There’s usually a lot of excitement during this stage of the company, and investors are willing to bet that the company will win big in the future. Companies older than ten years, on the other hand, generally have a more challenging time because, by that time, there’s already a clear category winner.

So, what does this all mean if you’re leading a start up? Well, it simply means that you should always be thinking of where you want to be in the future and then work your way backward. Focus on continually improving your product, moving fast, and making sure your customers are happy. That’s how you can almost always guarantee success.

Takeaway 3: Being first is not always a predictor of success

The most crucial fact about category creation is that you don’t always have to be first to create a new category. There are many examples where a startup came out of nowhere and ended up taking over even when some entrenched competitors were already in the market.

These startups all had one thing in common—they were deliberate in their category creation strategy. They put all their effort into becoming the dominant market design, built a great product, and positioned themselves as the best solution to the market need. If you follow these steps, your startup also has an opportunity to define a category and position itself as a leader.

The hard part is knowing what problem is worth solving and how your company fits into the current context of the market. Once you finally understand that, it’s just a matter of doing the work and making sure you don’t get discouraged when things get challenging.

For more insights on positioning your brand, be sure to listen to this episode of B2B Category Creators.


Kevin shares his advice on selecting a category name.

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