My son Owen is a high school club volleyball player. While he isn’t near the tallest, at almost 5 ft 10in and still growing, he definitely is the giant of our house. And his height DEFINITELY comes from Mom’s size. Owen plays setter. Setter is, as I have learned, the quarterback of the team. The setter gets more “touches” than any other player, and while the hitters get most of the glory, without a good set, there is no ball to kill.
What in the heck does this have to do with Category strategy? Well, let me explain a bit more about Volleyball teams. The typical squad has about 12 or so players. Of those, two are typically setters, maybe three. This depends on whether the team is playing a 5-1 or a 6-2 rotation. Without getting into the gory details, the first number is the number of hitters that rotate around, the second number, the number of setters. So if the coach plays a 5-1, only one setter plays, and usually they will roster just 2. In a 6-2, two setters play and you might have 3 on the roster. You see, in competitive volleyball, you play a position, players are categorized and put into a roster slot based on the position they play.
This brings me to a conversation I recently had with Owen after this seasons tryout process, where Owen ended in a great spot on a good team, but not quite on his first choice roster.
Owen: “Why would Coach X pick Player Y over me, I’m better than him”
Dad: “Well are you like a ton better”
Owen: “Well Y is good, I’m just better”
Dad: “Here’s what I think Owen, Y has been playing on Coach X’s team for like 3 seasons. His parent is team parent, and he knows the other players, and there’s trust and a two way commitment. He’s part of the system! Coach X would have to think you are like 100X better than Y to give you that spot…”
So, here you go. You are a startup. You say – “I am such a better Category X than established player(s) Y. Those buyers would be crazy not to pick me over them…”
But I say, “the buyer has a relationship with Y. Y is part of their “team” already. Y is embedded in their business or life. Are you really 100x better?”
Now the good news is you have another choice. Don’t be a better X than Y. Be a “NewCat”. Unlike the volleyball roster, we can buy other new things that don’t fit into a “position” we already have filled. This happens ALL THE TIME! That’s why Category creation is SUCH A COMPELLING STRATEGY for a start-up. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s really the best one- full stop – drop the proverbial mic!
As I write this, I am sitting watching Owen’s practice with his new team. In sports, the best generational talents are often said to “Redefine their position” or “change the way that the game is played”. Wilt changed the center position, and paved the way for Akeem, Shaq and others, as did Michael and Lebron as well as Pele and Messi. They still are in the same category, the same position, but actually are 100x better. In business, the winners don’t change the way the position is played, they create a new position and change the game, not the way it’s played. In sport, that would be unfair, but in business it is actually #CategoryMagic.