One thing every successful startup has in common is category domination. While there's no "silver bullet" for launching a successful startup, creating a new product category will put your company on the path to success.
As a co-founder of Terminus, an early-stage B2B marketing technology (MarTech) company that's out of its startup infancy, I've seen firsthand how the right product-market fit can help contribute to a company's growth. Without a product-market fit, your startup has a slim chance of attaining that magical $1 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue).
Now, even with the right product in the right market, there's still the question of category fit. Over the past few years, we've seen thousands of new B2B MarTech tools come on the scene. But when we co-founded Terminus, there was no category for our product. We were in a new subcategory with our account-based marketing (ABM) platform.
There's the old saying a rising tide lifts all boats. We knew we had to get people on the ABM boat.
Building a category is a 10X move investing your time, energy, and resources for a community that is vendor agnostic. Check out #FlipMyFunnel for example. This is a community built by (and for) ABM enthusiasts. Nearly every major player in the B2B MarTech world has helped to build this community to thousands of members in less than two years.
Here are 10 lessons learned in building a category.
1. Talk about the problem
It's not about you and what you think; it's about the pain people are experiencing. Nobody cares about your startup. What they care about is that you understand their problem and want to solve it.
2. Tell a story
The importance of storytelling cannot be understated. Sharing a narrative helps to connect with the people you want to reach: your future customers, advocates, thought leaders, and anyone in your industry that's impacted by the problem your startup is aiming to solve. You're adding fuel to the fire to get people inspired and riled up about challenging the status quo.
3. Bring thought leaders together
You're not alone, and you don't have to go alone. Even if you're creating a new product category, there are thought leaders and champions in your industry who care about the problem. These people can discuss these challenges intelligently and in a vendor-agnostic way to amplify your message across the industry.
4. Bring practitioners together
Thought leaders are great, but the people who are in the trenches fighting the same battles will have an even more powerful story to tell. Bringing together practitioners fosters a sense of realism instead of a "pie in the sky" philosophy because there's a genuine emotional connection. Practitioners can talk directly to your audience and identify with people who are feeling the same pain, then share how they found solutions to overcome these challenges.
5. Bring competitors together
Remember the aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats"? Find friendly competition who can help you build your category. Most startups don't have tons of resources to pour into these marketing efforts for category creation. Look for other early-stage companies that are launching within your emerging category. Partner together, and then race to build best-in-class products and services for your industry.
6. Put on a show
Top companies have demonstrated how hosting conferences can bring your message to the masses. Just look at the success of Salesforce with and Dreamforce Hubspot with Inbound. Nothing replaces a human connection. Gathering the best and brightest people in your industry for events is a big deal when it comes to category building.
7. Un-brand everything
The most important thing to remember is that building a business is not about you: it's about offering the right product or service to help solve a pain point for your customers and the industry they work in. That's why emerging leaders like Salesforce and Hubspot established their industry events under separate brands to bring people together.
8. Educate, educate, educate!
Category creation requires a people-first rather than product-first approach. You and your startup are not the ultimate answer, but rather you're part of a bigger solution. It's all about utilizing content marketing to educate your customers and provide much-needed advice on best practices. Consider launching a "university" by developing an online knowledge center or resources site to educate the market.
9. Write enough that it becomes a standard
Building a category means you've got to be relentless about creating an incredible content war chest that will serve the market's cravings. A great example of this is Gary Vaynerchuk who published tons of content to gain market traction and become a leading expert in the business world.
10. Give credit to the community
In the early days when a category is being defined, whoever takes the time and effort to build a community will emerge as the leader. When you create a community, you'll build an incredible army of advocates who believe in the problem your startup is trying to solve. The more people who believe in the problem, the more people who will be looking for solutions. In the end, you will win the race to build your category for your startup.