How Would-Be Category Kings Become Commoners

MIT Sloan Management Review 11.05.2020 1 min read
How Would-Be Category Kings Become Commoners
How Would-Be Category Kings Become Commoners
Image courtesy of Richard Mia/

Innovative companies may succeed in pioneering new markets, but often fail to dominate the categories they create.

Starting any business is hard, but creating a new category of business with a completely new model is a high-wire act. Companies have to convince investors, customers, the media, analysts, and others that something the world has long managed without is now a necessity and legitimately constitutes a new business category. While educating and selling the market on this new category, there’s also a business to build and a whole new business model to formulate. Pulling this off is like delivering a nonstop TED Talk while inventing the light bulb and building General Electric all at the same time.

Many people feel it’s a challenge worth taking. Category creation is the holy grail in business. Companies that succeed at creating entirely new markets, industries, or product categories — like Airbnb, DocuSign, and Salesforce — generate wealth beyond their founders’ wildest dreams. The spoils are so great that the winners are often referred to as category kings. Over time, their brand name becomes virtually synonymous with their category, effectively barring new entrants.

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