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Ep #117: Play Bigger to Dominate Your Market with Al Ramadan

What better way to break into an industry than by being the first company to understand exactly what it’s missing? On this episode, we sit down with Al Ramadan to discuss how software engineers, innovators, and companies do just that.

While Al got his start in coding as a software engineer, his career now encompasses marketing, design, advising, and writing. His new book, Play Bigger – How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, co-authored with Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney, is a study of legendary category-breaking companies like Apple, Google, and other Silicon Valley giants.

In this interview, Al touches on some of the characteristics of these companies that make them so industry-defining. He also shares how organizations of any size can do the same by creatively reframing market problems and understanding cognitive biases. Al’s message combines key psychological insights with unparalleled experience in technology and marketing, and is valuable regardless what field you’re in.

Al Ramadan has had an expansive, varied career, filling the roles of CEO, entrepreneur, operating executive and sailing technologist.

At the outset of his journey, Al co-founded Quokka Sports: a pioneering, data-intensive sports immersion site that linked audiences to sports in real-time for the first time ever. While Quokka revolutionized the way people experienced sports, it was ahead of its time and ultimately declined.

Overcoming this obstacle, Al later joined Macromedia (and Adobe, which acquired Macromedia). There he led teams that created the Rich Internet Applications category and helped develop the discipline of experience design, continuing his ground-breaking work in the field. Today Al helms Play Bigger Advisors as co-founder, introducing the world to category design as an innovation and marketing tool.

Tune in to hear from a tech and marketing giant about the methods he uses to analyze the world’s most successful businesses. This episode is full of information and advice that you will absolutely not want to miss.

If you enjoy the show, please drop by iTunes and leave a review while you are still feeling the love! Reviews help others discover this podcast and I greatly appreciate them!

Listen in:

On Today’s Episode We’ll Learn:

  • Why companies that create their own category tend to outmaneuver competitors.
  • How smaller organizations can also successfully generate and dominate a new category.
  • Why the “magic triangle” — product design, company design, and category design — is a blueprint for a successful, market-transcendent business.
  • How marketers use cognitive biases to appeal to consumers.
  • How to relate the lessons of category design to your own career.

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Full Episode Transcript:

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Welcome to the Brainfluence Podcast with Roger Dooley, author, speaker and educator on neuromarketing and the psychology of persuasion. Every week, we talk with thought leaders that will help you improve your influence with factual evidence and concrete research. Introducing your host, Roger Dooley.

Roger Dooley:       Welcome to the Brainfluence Podcast. I’m Roger Dooley. Today’s guest is a co-founder of Play Bigger Advisors. He also co-founded Quokka Sports which pioneered data-intensive sports immersion on the internet. He’s a coauthor of the brand new bestselling book Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets. Welcome to the show, Al Ramadan.

Al Ramadan:          Thanks, Roger. Pleasure to be here.

Roger Dooley:       Great. We actually have something in common, we both got our start coding in FORTRAN. I think I was probably a few years before yours. FORTRAN 77 hadn’t been invented yet.

Al Ramadan:          Yeah, no, I was originally FORTRAN IV so we might be in the same era.

Roger Dooley:       Oh, you never know.

Al Ramadan:          It was a great programming language back then for sure.

Roger Dooley:       Yeah. Probably a good thing neither one of us stuck with the coding profession though perhaps.

Al Ramadan:          I don’t know.

Roger Dooley:       Or maybe, who knows what you might have disrupted had you done that.

Al Ramadan:          Yeah, I wrote for many years but I definitely moved on from the software engineering side of the world. But it’s fun to be working with many of these early-stage companies. It gives you street cred if you can actually talk their language.

Roger Dooley:       For sure. You know, you don’t necessarily have to know how to do everything but you have to be able to at least speak the language to get that little bit of respect. So tell me about the sports company that you founded back in the late 90s I guess.

Al Ramadan:          Quokka Sports, yeah. In the three years before that I was the chief technology officer for an America’s Cup campaign. Kind of had an insight which was that in the case of yachting and racing, the data was more valuable than the video. If you watched the video, it was very difficult to tell who was going ahead or who was behind. Whereas with data, it was way more accurate. Of course, that insight now plays out in pretty much every single sporting event we watch on TV or on the internet.

We founded Quokka in ’95 and it was originally, sort of the first event was the Whitbread Round the World race. It was a yacht race around the world. It got great reviews and captured the imagination I think of people. We started talking about a thing that we did which was total sports immersion. It was allowing enthusiasts to really immerse themselves in the sporting event and allow the athletes of the event to tell the story as opposed to having commentators in the middle.

That total sports immersion concept became very popular. It got applied to everything from other outdoor activities like rock climbing and things like that, but all the way through to golf as well as the Olympics in ’98, 2000, 2002. So that company went public in ’99, a billion dollar market cap.

Then by 2000, like many of the other companies, really had a tough time when the advertising dried up. But a fascinating experience into how people enjoy sport and many of the people from Quokka are in ESPN, Fox, and many of the other companies out there today essentially doing what we were attempting to do at the time.

Roger Dooley:       Fascinating stuff. Sometimes timing is everything. You can be too late but you can also be too early.

Al Ramadan:          Yeah, absolutely. Kevin Maney who’s one of the coauthors of our book, he was a journalist with USA Today and then Newsweek of course. He followed us all the way through that journey and he often writes that we were somewhere between 15 and 20 years too early. So timing is everything as you say. The market has got to be ready to adopt it. At that time of course, broadband was the big limiting factor for us at least in terms of delivering immersive experience. It wasn’t quite ready for us, but it is now, there’s no question about that.

Roger Dooley:       Right, well, I started a magazine about home automation in 1986 thinking the explosion was right around the corner and it seems like now about 30 years later it is probably finally happening.

Al Ramadan:          Finally happening.

Roger Dooley:       Now that you’ve got some of the major players like Amazon and Google involved. But I know the feeling. Although, actually, the magazine did survive, not under my ownership or our ownership, but it still exists and probably now is prospering I would guess, at least I hope so.

Al Ramadan:          Yeah. IoT is now a thing. It’s a mega category, there’s no question about that and there are many, many great examples, Nest being probably the top of the pile. Google acquired them I think for a couple billion a few years back. So yeah, you were ahead of your time, but like all of these things, these markets do evolve at a particular pace and we did a bit of research on that for the book Play Bigger and be happy to chat about that too.

Roger Dooley:       The book again is Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets. Since they couldn’t be here and a four-way conversation would be kind of awkward anyway, why don’t you do a quick intro for your coauthors?

Al Ramadan:          I’d be delighted to. The greatest project I think I’ve ever worked on honestly. Kevin Maney is a writer. He writes for Newsweek. He wrote the definitive book on IBM, Thomas Watson, The Maverick and His Machine, as well as many other books. My two partners, also my adopted brothers in life, Christopher Lochhead and Dave Peterson are the other two coauthors.

Myself, Chris, and Dave run Play Bigger Advisors which is a consulting organization to early-stage technology companies in the marketing and what we call category design field. We knew we needed somebody to help us tell the story and Kevin really fit in with the team. It’s funny, when we were marketing our book proposal, Jim Levine of course is our agent, one of the famous agents, Geoffrey Moore, and many others.

It was interesting that the publishers were really afraid of a multi-author scenario, and four was off the charts multi scenario. Two was bad, three was terrible, four was unimaginable. But Hollis Heimbouch who is also Jack Welch’s publisher as well as Ben Horowitz and many others really thought it was going to be a positive thing and embraced us. So that’s the entire team that we have publishing the book.

Roger Dooley:       What was their concern about the multi authors? That with that many cooks in the kitchen it wouldn’t get done?

Al Ramadan:          You know, I think it was that media is so one person, one voice kind of thing. They found it difficult that—you even said it yourself—it’s tough to have four authors in a conversation on a call like this. But once you get to know us as authors you realize actually we are—whilst we’re individuals, we also speak with a common tongue. We each take credit for the entire work.

It’s a body of work that four people put together. It’s not “Al did this or Chris did that or Dave did that or Kevin did this.” So I think once Hollis really understood that this was a band, we start the book out talking about that this book is written by a band, not a solo artist. Once you understand that, it takes on a whole different light.

Roger Dooley:       It turned out fine so apparently you’ve got that chemistry going. So the basic premise in the book is that the true path to business success is to design or create a new category as opposed to just trying to enter a category and be better than the players that are already in there. Go into that a little bit more depth, Al. How does that work?

Al Ramadan:          Yeah, we looked at every company that was founded since 2000 as well as interviewed many, many, many dozens, potentially hundreds, of people. Our goal was to understand what made a difference in the world and what technology companies were successful. That was where we started the question from.

What we found was that actually creation wins. That those companies that create new ways of doing things, new ways of solving problems—sometimes problems we didn’t know we had or didn’t know could be solved. And that the notion of creation was the thing that actually drove these great companies.

Then if you think about a company that creates has to also change behavior. The classic story of Facebook. It started with kids. In my case, it definitely started with my kids. They were using it. Then my behavior changed as a result. It became a communications medium and ultimately the ultimate social network.

So we then started to try and understand what it was that drove these behavioral changes, how did they create these categories? So the book takes you through the journey of not only why creation wins and what the economics of winning means—76 percent of the market cap of a category goes to one company—but also the whole process of how you go about doing that.

Roger Dooley:       By the way, I found it amusing that you call your company Play Bigger the world’s first category design firm, so you’re practicing what you preach there by defining a new category.

Al Ramadan:          Yes, absolutely. You’re right. And folks used to say, “You guys are just marketing guys, right?” In the case of Chris and Dave of course, they’re two of the most famous technology CMOs in the valley so that’s absolutely true. In my case, I was definitely a CMO technologist kind of guy and if you start a conversation with an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist or anybody else in this ecosystem with, “we have a marketing strategy,” you immediately in the mind of that person you’re talking to get put into a bucket. It’s a bucket that someone else defined.

So every time we tried that conversation, people were looking at us in a particular way with a certain set of expectations. What problem were we going to solve? We were going to solve some sort of a marketing problem. Turns out that the great leaders didn’t only do that, they did a number of things. We have a diagram in the book we call the magic triangle which is these great leaders actually combined product design with company design and category design.

When you get the triangle, the three pieces of this working together, that’s where what we call “category kings” which are these enduring companies, technology companies, that evolve over time. That’s when it really goes. So to do that, we had to practice category design on ourselves which sounds weird, I know, but that’s kind of what we did.

So category design it turns out is a discipline. It is a discipline that CMOs as well as entrepreneurs and potentially folks in the product organization are really starting to embrace. We just taught with a master’s class of science and engineering at Stanford. We actually presented it as a full course and got great feedback from 50 or so of the students. So it can be learned and it can be taught. It gave us the confidence to write the book.

Roger Dooley:       You use examples like Uber and Facebook and so on that obviously come to dominate categories, but is this applicable to smaller organizations? It’s sort of like saying, well, design is important, look at Apple, and everyone should hold up Apple as an example. But most of us can’t really aspire to be Apple or even Uber.

Al Ramadan:          Absolutely. I mean, Steve Jobs and Benioff in our minds were the great category designers of our time. So just stating for the record, these folks practiced category design, it’s true. It’s just they did it intuitively. They knew what they were doing and because of their role as a CEO, they were able to reach into those three pieces of the triangle, the product side, the company side, which is usually go to market or sales distribution, as well as category which has a big role in the marketing organization.

So you’re absolutely right in that they are always held up as the pinnacle and in the case of Jobs and Benioff they definitely deserve it. But what we found, we’ve worked with about 20 companies over the course of the last five years. Of course, we’ve worked with a number of companies in our operating careers prior to Play Bigger. What we have found is that it absolutely is applicable to these early-stage companies.

It’s applicable because there is a thing called the category lifecycle. What that thing is is the notion that as time on the x axis and value of a category on the y axis, it sort of looks like one of those classic S curves where it takes a while to get moving. In the middle phase it really rocks and rolls. Then sort of out into the end of the category’s life, it will taper off.

Paul Geroski who did some fantastic work on the development and definition of new markets, it was a book from Oxford Press. He also overlaid on top of that sort of the notion of the vendors or the providers as he called them. So in the early stages, there’s lots of vendors and providers come flying out of the woodwork, early-stage companies competing for this category, then over time that drops and through the middle phase, it’s dropping really quickly.

By the time you get to the end, there’s really only three or four companies, one of those companies takes 76 percent of the market cap of the category. So you are playing a winner-take-all game. So the early-stage companies have a huge opportunity if they do category design right in conjunction with product and company design to actually become through that growth phase what we call “category king.” We have many examples in the book.

I can tell you a couple of companies that are really early-stage who are in that battle right now. One of them is a company called Sensity Systems. Fantastic story. A real pirate, Hugh Martin, who’s the CEO. His insight, the founding insight was essentially that incandescent lights were being replaced with LED lights but what they realized as they were, a cherry picker putting these things, LED lights up, was there was power which meant they could put a computer up there.

Think of an iPhone in a light socket with LED lights and of course a network. They were able to connect sensors to those light sockets as well as a network. So now you have a network of lights that is able to sense temperature, CO2, video, audio, images, and create this grid. We call that the light sensory network.

That’s the category that they were developing and of course most of the Smart City initiatives that are happening today, still early days in the development of that category, obviously a slowly-adopted category because you’re talking with municipalities and things, it’s not Pinterest, which is going to happen a lot faster. So, yeah, that’s an example of a company. We have dozens and dozens of others.

Roger Dooley:       Your point about the market cap, of the leader being such an outsized proportion almost reminds me of the Boston Consulting Group and their experience curve where they weren’t looking at disruptive industries necessarily or new categories, just that even in mature industries, the volume leader tended to have significantly higher profits. Of course, that would lead to a higher market cap. Theirs was based largely on what they called experience which was sort of the cumulative effects of producing more than the other guys.

Al Ramadan:          Yes. We definitely saw some of the work from them as well as the Cambridge Consulting Group, both folks have really good insights into this. We actually couldn’t find the definitive piece of research on the development of market caps for tech companies. So what we did was we went back and we found all of the companies that were founded since 2000. The numbers are pretty staggering.

To your point about the early-stage companies, 4,000 companies get a Series A financing and as of the end of first quarter 2016, 75 make it to IPO. So it is a true gauntlet that these companies have to run. Of those 75, about 35 are what we call category kings, which are these enduring companies that ultimately are in the market cap.

We did all the math that’s available in what we called our time to market research report, which is available on We cite it often in the book as well. But it gave us an insight into something that many people had been talking about which was the tech industry is a winner take all. There is no competitor for Facebook. There is no competitor for Google.

In fact, Microsoft thinking better was the way to go, which we don’t believe, we think different is important, spent 10 billion dollars on Bing and still have no market share. Even a company with remarkable leadership and infinite resources can’t make a dent with better. So this is the concept that you really need to create new and you really create a category and define it and set the rules, or what we call for the enterprise folks, the RFP for the category so that when anybody wants to go buy or has that problem and needs it fixed, your RFP is the RFP.

Roger Dooley:       Is category design or inventing a category riskier than other approaches? I mean, I guess we’ve obviously got a lot of great examples of companies that succeeded because they invented a new category but what if the—and I think you mention Snapchat as an example that seemed like a goofy idea, disappearing pictures, but it ended up get traction.

But there probably were a bunch of other ideas that were kind of equally dumb sounding that actually turned out to be dumb ideas and those companies didn’t go anywhere. So I doubt if there’s any statistics on the failure rate of that kind of effort but I’m just curious what you think about that.

Al Ramadan:          There’s two kinds of insights we talk about, one is the market insight, Uber, i.e. he was standing on the corner and couldn’t find a cab, as one example. Then there’s a technology insight. VMware is one that we cite in the book of discovered a way to virtualize, have applications running on different servers can virtualize every computer. Don’t have a problem in mind other than a technology solution.

So in many cases, the technology insights, which probably represent 30 or 40 percent of the companies that we see at least. We see 60 or 70 companies per year. Most of those companies are “I have a solution looking for a problem.” So for them, the discipline of category design is incredibly helpful because it converts this incredible insight that a founder has from a technology point of vision for how the world can work as opposed to what problem does it solve. So in the case of those kinds of companies, it’s an absolute no brainer, category design.

In the case of the market insights, I see a problem in the market. I see a bunch of people experiencing a certain type of problem. Category design is a really powerful accelerator to a lot of the work that they’ve already done in the product market field as well as in the company design side, i.e. sales and distribution.

What we found is that actually category design really reduces the risks or increases the likelihood that companies become successful. Certainly, based on the qualitative research we’ve done, 35 out of those 75 are category kings and most of those CEOs either intuitively or otherwise kind of practiced category design as a matter of fact.

Roger Dooley:       Al, our listeners have an interest in psychology and behavior science. You support your category theory work with the work of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner that most of our folks know and also cognitive biases. What are some of the cognitive biases that help drive the position of the early category leader?

Al Ramadan:          Yeah, this is a fascinating and deep area that we love to chat about. It’s a little bit of our nerdiness coming out I think. The way we approach this problem is that, depending on which source you read, we either receive hundreds or thousands of marketing messages every day.

There hasn’t really been a definitive study on that. I’ve seen as high as 5,000 and I’ve seen as low as sort of 500. But let’s say it’s 1,000 just for the heck of it. It has doubled, maybe tripled, in the last two decades. That’s not surprising. We now have so many different channels into our brain that we didn’t have. It used to be rotary phones bolted to a wall and a TV set and that was pretty much it and conversation of course. Now it’s the plethora of Twitter, Facebook, and everything else.

So our brains are dealing with an increased number of messages and the other side of that of course is those messages become even more targeted. They know who I am. They know what I like. They know I’m a surfer and as a result, I’m interested in surfing. So not only have you got an increase in volume but you have an increase in relevance. So the combinations of those two things really mean our brains are operating for the most part in our awake state in a completely overwhelmed state.

So we turn to—to your point—we turn to Daniel Kahneman and Michele Wick, Lecia Bushak, Barry Schwartz, a number of the researchers who are leading this kind of brain science. We identified, well, they identified, 50 different cognitive biases which help us process all this stuff coming at us. It’s more instinct than it is logic. So you don’t sit down and think, “Oh gee, here’s seven options for this particular problem. I’m going to go and do a comparison between those things.” That’s not what happens at all.

The four biases that we think are important and that we talk about, the first one is what’s called the anchoring effect. It’s the concept that the first company that really anchors the conversation around the problem you’re experiencing has a very strong likelihood of being the company that continues to hold that strong position. So it’s a little bit like you and I are in a negotiation about a car. You say it’s $5,000, it immediately anchors the conversation at that price point. It’s not $50 and it’s not $200. So that’s the first sort of bias.

The second bias is one that’s called choice-supported bias. It is that, Roger, you and I are friends, I respect your opinion. You say that you really like Nike for this particular application, it might be trail running or something like that. I am likely to go just make that decision based on you because there’s so many other options that my brain sort of filters them out and goes to Roger’s opinion. That’s the choice-supported bias.

The third one is the groupthink bias. This is obviously we want to hold an opinion that’s similar to our group, especially in the social world that we live in and absolutely for the kids. I have a son and a daughter in their early 20s. I saw them growing up through their teenage years and absolutely groupthink and this bias to want to be part of the pack is at the forefront. Then sort of conformity as well as a basic sort of need from human psychology as well. So these four biases are in play in this crazy world that we live in. We called it a “messed up crazy world” where there’s so much stuff that’s relevant to you coming at you.

So the question that a marketer in particular, but the CEO as well, if he’s a really good category designer, thinks about is how do I anchor a conversation, for example? How do I become the company that articulates the problem better than anybody else? Because as soon as I do that, everyone says, “Gosh, if they understand the problem better than anybody else, they must have the best solution.”

Now if you were around during the transition from the what’s called on-premise CRM to cloud CRM, you will know that Benioff did not invent a better mousetrap. He absolutely didn’t. In fact, it was a tenth of the capability of the Seibel System at the time when he was competing against it. But he framed a different conversation.

He said that it wasn’t about the functionality, it was about this problem that you could never get this on-premise software up to date and keep it up to date and the cloud solved that problem. Ta-da, no software. Ta-da, the cloud. He singlehandedly invented that category, which is now in the hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. Not just for CRM, but rolls of cloud vendors.

So he was able to anchor the conversation in something different. As a result, everyone felt that pain. All of the IT guys and gals knew that that was the case and every salesperson in the world knew they hated using these systems that never worked. So as a result, when he came forward with this solution, they said, “Gosh, I feel that pain. Let me have it.” Of course, it took off from that point.

So as part of our sort of category design process, we think about how do you appeal to these four cognitive biases because all of the people, whether it’s a Pinterest customer or whether it’s a ERP customer, they all have the same problem of high volume, high relevance.

Roger Dooley:       Right. And I think probably you could use a similar example with Uber where people didn’t really think much about the pain of taxis because there was no alternative solution. It was just kind of the way life was until they said, “Okay, we can ease that pain,” and provided a solution that did that.

Al Ramadan:          Absolutely. And they framed the problem so beautifully. It was on-demand transportation is what they called it. It wasn’t “taxis 2.0.” They created a new category that your brain had to switch. It wasn’t a choice between toppings on your pizza. It was a choice between pizza and ice cream.

You chose ice cream because oh my gosh, that really solved my problem and they spoke my language and the way they communicated to me as a consumer, it really anchored the conversation around, you know what, I am tired of that dirty cab that’s never on time that charges me too much.

Then of course, so the anchoring of the conversation centered on that problem and then of course they started through social in particular to appeal to the choice-supported biases and the conformity biases and these other biases that play in our heads that well, gee, if Roger is using Uber and he says it’s cool, I might as well try it.

Roger Dooley:       Cialdini’s social proof at work there for sure. You know, Al, just to play devil’s advocate, instead of inventing a category, is it a valid strategy to be—I don’t know if there’s a more up-to-date term—but what used to be called a fast follower? In other words, let a bunch of companies beat their brains out trying to invent categories but when you see one that’s starting to get traction, then jump in with more resources and try and become that leader.

Al Ramadan:          I think there’s the concept of reframing a category and that is absolutely a valid strategy. If you think about it, just think about search for example and search advertising more particularly. Google wasn’t the first. So if you think about it from a product design point of view, the fast follower can work. In their particular case, it did.

They created from the product side, they created an algorithm which was based on a completely different set of insights that it would measure what people were actually interested in and somehow magically that meant that every search you did answered your question compared to Yahoo or AltaVista or many of the others that were before it, which was a completely different trolling mechanism.

So on the product design, this is where the triangle comes, if you come back to that conversation. On the product design side, the fast follower thing, there’s no question it works. However, Google reframed the whole conversation around advertising by doing a number of other things. They created an auction model. Instead of just saying, “Gee, the price per thousand ads are $30,” they said, “we’re going to allow people to bid.”

The concept of how important it is to you as an advertiser for someone to be in that state of mind or asking that particular question was something that you could pay for. Completely reframed the conversation. Completely reframed the actual dimensions of that category. Of course, they went on to build AdWords and AdSense and all of the other incredible products around that.

If you really think about Google as an example, they’re a perfect example of what was a fast follower from a product point of view became a category leader and of course now they are the category king. I think the last check I did was something like 76 or 78 percent of the market cap of all digital advertising went to one company and that company was called Google.

Roger Dooley:       I suppose the danger of trying to pursue that strategy is that the first person in actually capitalizes on their position and dominates, as Uber has perhaps even though there are other players in that market, by raising massive amounts of cash and moving aggressively across the globe, they’ve achieved a fairly dominant position.

Al Ramadan:          They have. There’s no question about that. But they did all three pieces. For all of the press that you read about Uber and the fact that the outcome of this category creation and what they did was disruption. There’s no question about that. They didn’t think about disrupting cab companies. That’s not where they started and I think for most of the great category designers, they don’t think about disrupting, they think about creating. They did that and they did it through good product. The actual product worked.

When you pressed the button, a cab driver did appear—or a limo driver did appear. The customer service was remarkable. They built in a number of things on the company design side that evoked many of these biases so you rated each other. The driver rated you, you rated the driver. There was a mechanism for doing that and making it visible.

Of course, on the category side, they created on-demand transportation. I know a number of people here in San Francisco for example have now started switching from a lot of the food delivery vendors to UberEATS. It’s remarkable. They are taking on a second big category in exactly the same way they did with the transportation piece of this. My bet right now is that even though they weren’t first, they probably are going to be the winner.

Roger Dooley:       How does the concept of category design relate to people in their careers, Al?

Al Ramadan:          Well it’s about controlling the perception of how people think about you. We all have strengths and weaknesses in our career and we all have particular areas of expertise. So you as an individual, your job as your own personal category designer for want of a better conversation, is to really focus on what is the problem that you solve for a company?

Once you’ve done that, then you can in fact create a category around that and articulate why you are the leader in that category. I’ll give you one example that I saw which may be helpful for many of the listeners. In the early 2000s, I was the CMO for a company called Macromedia. Terrific software company run by Rob Burgess.

Roger Dooley:       [Inaudible 00:30:39] used their stuff for years.

Al Ramadan:          Yeah, it was stuck. You’ll remember this back in that time. It was really stuck, post dot com, you know, Dreamweaver and Flash, and even good old Director back then. It was stuck in the sense that it had what Rob affectionately called a bunch of doorknobs. When we really thought about what it was that Macromedia did, at the core, as part of our category design process and what problem did they solve. They solved this problem of creating what is ultimately a great experience.

Now today, you’re going to go, duh, everyone says that. But this is 2002, I just want to remind you. So we created a point of view called the experience matters. Great experience is a great business. We created a category called rich internet applications. In addition to that, coming back to your question on the personal side, we created a discipline called experience design.

What we found was there were many different pieces of an enterprise or a company that played with the experience: on the product side, the UI guys and gals, you might have a graphic designer. You might have someone on the marketing side dealing with communications messaging. There were probably a dozen different roles that people played but there was no connecting point between all of these things, no organizational boundaries in the way. Not unlike category design.

So experience design was coined as a discipline and we wrote a number of definitive—“Experiencing [Parity 00:32:08],” if I remember, as being the definitive article on this. What happened was the graphic designer who believed that experience design was an important thing, actually a bigger and broader context for them as an individual, became an experience designer. Last time I checked, there’s 35,000 experience designers now on LinkedIn.

So it’s a remarkable story of how great category designers back then, that’s what we were doing, not only created a category for the company—rich internet applications and a point of view, experience matters—but a discipline that allowed people to self-select into it and then promote and build.

Of course, Roger, Farnham who was one of the founders of a company called Method communications in 2013 I think it was wrote a book called Experience Design and it became one of the great books of all time in terms of for that community. So that’s a wonderful explanation of how you can in your own personal careers get attached to these bigger movements and position yourself as a leader.

Roger Dooley:       Well, that’s probably a good place to wrap up, Al. Let me remind our audience that we are speaking with Al Ramadan, cofounder of the company Play Bigger and coauthor of the brand new book Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets. Al, where can people find you and your content online?

Al Ramadan: is the best place. We have sections for our book, our research, and many of the other things that we do.

Roger Dooley:       Great. We will have links to those, to the Play Bigger book, and any other resources we mentioned on the show notes page at We’ll have a text version of our conversation there too. Al, thanks so much for being on the show.

Al Ramadan:       Absolute pleasure. Nice chatting with you, Roger.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Brainfluence Podcast. To continue the discussion and to find your own path to brainy success, please visit us at

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