IAM1607 – Founding Partner Helps Businesses Dominate New Markets

Podcast Interview with Kevin Maney

Why it was selected: If you run your own race, you can't lose. In order to win, often you have to find what race you can win and that takes strategy, and planning ahead, Kevin helps people in creating a strategy around their own category.

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Previous Episode:



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Kevin Maney  0:00

You know the CEO has to be the one with the vision, the one that's gonna walk up to the top of a hill and plant a flag and say we're all going to march to this.

Intro  0:00

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales and level up your business from awesome CEOs entrepreneurs and founders without listening to a long long long interview? If so you've come to the right place Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless  0:41

Hello, this is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today, I have Kevin Maney of Category Design Advisors. Kevin, it's great to have you on the show.

Kevin Maney 0:49

Okay, great Gresh. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Gresham Harkless 0:52

Yeah, I appreciate you for taking some time out and hopping on and before we jumped into the interview, I want to read a little bit more about Kevin so you can hear about all those awesome things that he's doing. Kevin is a founding partner of Category Design Advisors and co-author of the book the Category Design Practice is based on play bigger. He's been a journalist, author and consultant in the tech space for more than three decades, author of nine books, contributor to Publications ranging from Fortune to Wired to the Atlantic and commentator on CNN NPR ABC and other broadcast outlets. And why run somebody's else waste when you can run your run and create your own race? So I love everything that Kevin does because it preaches one of my absolute favorite quotes. So Kevin great it's to have you on the show, are you ready to speak to the I am CEO community?

Kevin Maney 1:33

Yep, I'm ready to go.

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Gresham Harkless  1:35

Awesome, well, let's do this. To kick everything off I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit and hear a little bit more about your story and what led to get started with all awesome things you're working on.

Kevin Maney  1:43

Yeah well you know as you said in the opener I was a journalist and then as you know in tech and writing about tech in society and long time columnist for USA Today about tech and and that led me to writing books. All the books have been having something to do with technology and business and how to run a business or the industry. One of those books came out five years ago was called play bigger and that one had an enormous impact on my trajectory because I thought I was going to just continue to write more books which I have actually. I've written two more books since that one came out but that book proposed this concept of category design and it created a playbook for how to do that and and the book has been a phenomenal success way beyond whatever I would have thought, and not just in sales. What happened was the book started to get out there, Founders and CEOs would read this and they'd get in touch with us and say please help us do what you just wrote about and so I started to get increasingly sucked into that. So now I would say maybe two-thirds or more of what I I do in my work is working with leadership teams at companies to help them define a strategy around this idea of how do you create a new market category and define it in a way that you can own it over time. And that I mean was sort of the basis of the book Play Bigger but that has grown into a whole practice and we've learned a lot since and it's been a just an amazing transition and it's a blast to do this work.

Gresham Harkless  3.23

Yeah I can imagine it's got to be one of the most invigorating and exciting things that you get to do, obviously being able to write that book, and be able to create that framework and have people that want to know how to implement it. I imagine that you're around so many different creative and innovative minds and people that are really putting in a thing in the universe so to speak.

Kevin Maney  3:42

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Well yeah and you know the side benefit of it is that I get to learn a lot about all these different companies that are doing fascinating new things that I never would have even conceived of and they're all in these very different spaces all over the map and ranging from consumer products to deep inside. Like Data Center Software kind of stuff and I get a front row seat on all of it which is really amazing.

Gresham Harkless 4:09

Yeah, absolutely and I should say front-row seat in a participant from all the world.

Kevin Maney  4:15

Yeah, you're dragging me out into the field.

Gresham Harkless  4:17

Exactly it's like you wrote this book to help us implement this pretty free. So I know you touched a little bit upon your book I want to hear a little bit more about that and could you take us through a little bit more on some of that? I think you said 60 percent or so of the work that you do and how you work with the clients you have.

Kevin Maney 4:34

Yeah this whole idea of Category Design is not new but it does make more different now than it ever used to. So I'll tell you a very quick little story of the past, I'm sure a lot of your listeners have at some point in time owned a minivan and what happened with that was, back in the 1980s Chrysler was about to go bankrupt and it could not possibly have made typical kind of car and said we were making a better car than Toyota or somebody who's dominating the market at the time. So instead they looked around at demographic data and like what was going on, baby boomers were starting to move the suburbs and have kids and and they noticed what they perceived as a missing thing in the marketplace. And that was if you had started to have two or three kids and you could either just get a station wagon which was just a little bit of a bigger car or you could go out and buy like a full-size van which drove like a truck and it was too tall to fit in your garage and so they they essentially created this new category of car called the minivan and what was interesting about that is when Chrysler went to Market with it, they marketed the category. This idea that if you're gonna move out to the suburbs and have two or three kids but you need a new kind of car that doesn't exist yet, so they did go out and say we built this thing called the Plymouth Voyager and it has all these features and stuff. They went out and said ‘you're missing something if you don't have one of these things' and marketed the idea of the minivan first and then we've got these products that solve that problem that we described with the media. So it's safe price alert by creating this new market. It is by the way 40 years later, they still own 50 of the worldwide Market of minivans. So you create that category and you own it, it's pretty hard to dislodge you from it but that kind of thinking is what we bring to companies, to say okay, you know you've been around three years, you've been building some successful products, but you're kind of stuck because you're trying to grab market share out of existing space and that's really hard to do. So what if we looked at the marketplace you served, let's find that place, that open spot, like where the minivan was would go, right? That thing that doesn't exist yet that has to exist, is there an old problem that we can solve in an in a new and better way than it's ever been solved before? For that matter, can we tell people that they have a problem they didn't even know they had before and then by doing that, by describing that category, describing that need first and then saying we're the ones who are going to supply that, it's a sort of an inside-out way to look at how to spot a market and go after it but it really has happened. We've worked out with 40-45 companies or something like that over these last five years it's a really effective way for a company to see a strategy that can work over the long term for them and put some words behind it so that it's well defined and get everybody in the company behind that you know that North Star. So it's that's sort of bare essence of what the book is about and the practices that we've developed around it.

Gresham Harkless  7:58

Yeah, I absolutely love that and so would you consider that to be what I like to call your secret sauce, this could be for your book your business or a combination of both or yourself personally but what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique is it that ability to kind of first of all articulate that but also tap into that for organizations and their leaders?

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Kevin Maney 8:15

Well for me personally, if you're asking the personal secret sauce question, a lot of my whole journalistic background is amazingly helpful in this whole process because of a couple reasons. For one I've been writing about technology for like decades, I've seen everything and I write about technology history too. I understand a huge broad context that even if a company that we start working with is doing something that I'm not familiar with, I will bring to the conversation big historical context of what has worked and what hasn't in the past. And what's out there and how different I've interviewed everybody from Bill Gates to Jeff Bezos to everybody else. You could get a name so even have some knowledge of how those people have handled these situations before that I can bring to these conversations. Then that journalistic training of asking the right questions and listening hard to people to understand what they're saying behind what they're actually saying and being able to put all that together because one of the important deliverables we have is this document we call the POV. The POV is maybe it's at 800 000 word narrative story that tells the story of the category you're trying to create and puts it in words so that everybody at the company can clearly understand what that goal is and so you know and I'm able to bring that writing ability to clearly write that you know spent 20 years writing for USA Today where you had to write about complex technology in a way that your grandmother would understand and that ends up being tremendously helpful in these situations. So that past of mine bringing it forward into this advisory role for startups has been my big advantage, my big secret sauce in this process.

Gresham Harkless  10:12

And so I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I want to ask you for what I call a CEO hack so this could be like an app a book or a habit that you have but what's something you think makes you more effective and efficient.

Kevin Maney 10:22

I do think that one of the things that has helped me a lot is being extremely organized around deadlines and when I take on a book, for instance, I've got enough experience at this point that I can understand what has to go into the book and the pace that things have to be written so that I meet the deadline and I don't end up having to write everything in the last three weeks. I take pieces of paper and storyboard, all the whole thing out on a wall with dates about what has to be achieved.

Gresham Harkless  10:58

So definitely appreciate that and so I want to ask you now for what I call a CEO nugget so this could be a word of wisdom or piece of advice, it might be something you would tell your younger business self or potentially something you might tell a client as well.

Kevin Maney  10:12

When we schedule this actually something came to mind about that was from an older book of mine called the two-second advantage. The idea behind the book was to write about the way brain science was influencing computer science as people were starting to chase AI and in fact the way that the chase free AI was influencing the way people thought about brain science. So it was a lot of brain science kind of things in the book.

Gresham Harkless 11:43

Yeah that makes so much sense so I appreciate that and so I want to ask you now my absolute favorite question which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO and having interviewed work with and it's focusing so many quote-unquote CEOs I want to ask you Kevin what does being a CEO mean to you?

Kevin Maney  11:58

Well, I'm going to play off of what we just talked about and say that you know the CEO has to be the one with the vision you know the one that's going to walk up to the top of a hill and plant a flag and say we're all going to march to this. You know the best CEOs that I've run across even as small startups are not the ones who are going to you know to get involved with a lot of the day-to-day and and and uh you know to dig deep into you know data of every financial transaction or whatever that's happening. They have this big idea and they can rally people around its leadership it really is a leadership position and a bully pulpit position and um and in an image position, you want the CEO to you know have created an image and culture for the company that people feel good about and want to be a part of and you know to me see a CEO a great CEO are the people who can do those things really well, and then surround themselves with great people that can do all of those other things and deal with the details and deal with you know the engineering and the finances and the marketing plans and all those kinds of things. So I mean that's you know again going back to you really need to be a one.

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Gresham Harkless 13:15

Yeah I love that I appreciate you know expounding upon that and I think so many times that you know once you have that person that is able to chart that path to put that flag down so to speak there's this interview with Michael Jordan and his coach and it said like what did you do to help Michael Jordan hit the last shot I was like I gave him the ball and I told everybody else get the heck out the way and a lot of times as a leader you have to do that same thing you have to understand this is the one and everybody else you know to handle your what it is that you need to do and let it let's get out of his way and I think we need to do that ourselves as Leaders but also as the people that are around us as well too to help them to prosper and to grow in the places that they have.

Kevin Maney 13:50

Yep, and you know and to add to that right there is that the best CEOs don't care who gets the credit for whatever happens and they want their team to thrive and speak up and have the credit and do what they

do well you know when I see a when I go into a project because we when we do these category design projects we sit around a table with six or 10 or whatever of the leadership team and when we go in and do one of these and the CEO is doing all the talking and everybody else is most listening we'll go like this is a problem there's really there's trouble here if we go into a company where the CEO decides that he or she wants to be the last one Speaking most of the time and it gets everybody else to take the lead then we go like all right, this is the right feeling here.

Gresham Harkless 14:42

Yeah no that speaks volumes and you definitely have that and that definitely have that collaborative environment you can definitely hear and feel that as well too as you said so well so Kevin truly appreciate that definition I, of course, appreciate your time as well what I want to do is just pass you the mic so to speak just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know and of course how best they can get a hold of you to get a copy of your books and find out about all the awesome things you're working on.

Kevin Maney  15:04

Yeah I know I appreciate that, yeah well you know I mean we uh based on the book play bigger we formed a firm called category design advisors, uh and you can find us at

categorydesignadvisors.com and you know we love to work with companies and you know love to hear from anybody that's listening to you that is interested and I have a website if you're interested in the other books that I've written you can find them all in one place on kevinmaney.com and yeah I'd be happy to hear from any of your listeners.

Gresham Harkless  15:37

Awesome awesome awesome, well to make that even easier we'll definitely have the links and information in the show notes and I'll definitely reiterate it again I say it so many times on the podcast is why if you run your own race then you'll never lose so I appreciate you for helping organizations, leaders and people run their own races and find out that is and what that looks like so thank you so much again, Kevin, appreciate you and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Outro 16:00

Thank you for listening to the I am CEO podcast powered by CB nation and blue 16 media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co I am CEO is not just a phrase It's a community, get your driven CEO gear at ceogear.co This has been the I am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(CEOBlogNation.com), podcasts, (CEOPodcasts.com) and videos (CBNation.tv). CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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