What It Takes to Champion a New Category

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two happy girls on their smart phones excited about the new category

From 2017 to 2020, I was singing the same tune to fellow entrepreneurs — we’re spending our best years building our startups, so pick a problem that is well acknowledged, so your product has an established buyer, budget, etc. It’s hard enough to build a product, create and motivate a team, capture leads, sell your product, retain customers, etc. Why would you also want to “create a category” that doesn’t exist and take on the burden of educating the market?

My passion for spreading this message came to be thanks to witnessing how hard it was for me to evangelize the mobile messaging and engagement platform we had built from 2012 to 2015 versus seeing the journey Freshworks (which acquired our startup) had in well-established categories. I learned a lesson the hard way, and I wish more entrepreneurs realized there was an easier path.

And yet here I am on my next venture at Rocketlane with the same co-founders, going down the path of creating a new category once again!

Why did we make this choice?

We have four reasons:

  • While category creation is hard, and chances of failure are higher, we do believe there are outsized returns for being the winner or the “default” option for a category.
  • We had one success before, so our appetite for risk is higher this time.
  • We looked at the “momentum” behind the new category and figured if the category already has some traction, then it may be easier to make it happen.
  • We also understood if the problems we were solving had founder and board-level visibility and were strategic for key metrics of the company, the category and leading product should grow fast.

Once we decided to create a new category, we needed to build it and emerge at its forefront.

We designed and used a three-step playbook to make it happen:

1. Grow and engage an audience among our user and buyer persona in multiple ways

We grew and engaged an audience through community-building, events and product reviews.

Community-building and events

One of the best decisions we made early was to build a community alongside our product. We created Preflight to provide an avenue for onboarding and implementation professionals to network with and learn from experts and each other. We host multiple webinars, deep dives, and office hours for Preflight members. This encourages professionals to join the community and engage with us.

Another way to find our ideal audience was by participating in adjacent category events. We presented onboarding best practices at events such as CSM Summit and Gainsight Pulse.

In March this year, we took it a step further and hosted our own event: Propel22, the world’s first global conference for onboarding and implementation professionals. We had close to 30 industry leaders deliver talks and workshops to 1,300 attendees.

Product reviews

We pitched influencers to provide honest reviews of our product through their platforms. In parallel, we created our G2 profile early and nudged our customers to provide their reviews and feedback on the platform. This boosted goodwill and helped us emerge as the client onboarding category leader on G2 within six months of launching our product.

2. Be a thought leader and help teams level up beyond using our software

The best way to showcase thought leadership and expertise is through content.

In his book “Category Creation: How to Build a Brand that Customers, Employees, and Investors Will Love,” Anthony Kennada suggests approaching category creation like writing a book; what would be the chapters and their content?

We applied this and started writing those chapters. We ended up with long-form content with a unique perspective, which set the tone for the blogs and resources we produce today: content that isn’t all fluff and keyword-stuffed and that the audience can’t find elsewhere. We employ this unique perspective on resources we create, such as templates, surveys, best practices, etc.

Another way we keep our content original is by publishing case studies, the content generated by the Preflight community, and interviews with industry experts on onboarding, implementation, CS (customer service), CS Ops, etc.

3. Build and showcase an amazing product for the space

We didn’t go to market with an MVP (minimum viable product); we launched a full-fledged product. We wanted to replace mature horizontal products with a solution purpose-built for customer onboarding and implementation, a unifying product that would eliminate siloes created by using multiple tools.

Showcasing a nearly completed new product to potential customers also ensured they didn’t need to imagine what it would be in the future; they already saw it working successfully and could comprehend that value. The idea was to make potential customers feel there can’t be a better solution.

We also showcase the product with recorded and live demos indicating we understand our user’s jobs. This is a great way to help prospective customers who aren’t ready to activate an account understand how our product works and how it can solve their problems. We showcase our USPs (unique selling propositions), such as visibility to customers, through a customizable, branded customer portal.

How we’re faring so far

We assembled this playbook based on our lessons from the first time we became category creators. Every move described in this article was intentional. And we achieved every milestone faster with Rocketlane than with Konotor.

We are perceived as emerging leaders in the client onboarding category. We are recognized as a team that is passionate about the domain and contributes to its growth. As with Konotor, we built a great product, and customer love catapulted us to a leader position on G2 as well. We gained visibility, built the right perception of Rocketlane in the market, and now have 65% of the mindshare in the client onboarding category.

Maybe a year from now I’ll update this playbook with more of what we did differently that worked for us.

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