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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to create a category

Pair a changing paradigm with a never-changing need and you can begin to develop the guiding principles of your category.

How to create a category
[allexxandarx/Adobe Stock]

Building a company from the ground up is hard. If you’re a founder solving something that hasn’t been tackled before, you might need to give structure to the ambiguity of this new solution by also inventing a category.

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I learned this while building my company, Blue Fever. Our wellness/social product for Gen Z never fit into pre-established tech categories—we were always a hybrid of social media, mental health, and search. So we created the category of “emotional media:” an online space for authentic identity development that provides emotional relevance and support.

It took time for me to realize pioneering a category improved my ability to build and pitch Blue Fever. For anyone forging a new path, here are my practical tips on how to find and define your own category.

COMMIT TO WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT

Using other successful founders’ trajectories as a north star can be helpful, but it has a shadow side: it can inadvertently hide what makes you uniquely qualified to define this new space. If you’re hiding, then people who want to help you build this category (teammates, cofounders, users, investors) won’t be able to find you. More importantly, you won’t be doubling down on your strengths, and that can trickle down to the choices you make and the risks you take in the early days as your company defines its identity. Moral of the story: Be different, then commit to it daily.

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START WITH MACRO SHIFTS

Pay attention to macro shifts in the world—they will always have seen and unseen ripple effects. Think critically about the future implications and ask yourself: How will this change people’s reality? What problems or solutions might arise? Before I started my company, I studied the merging of media and tech companies. This tectonic shift created many opportunities, including one for the category I would eventually create. Observe the shifts happening in the last two years (there have been many since the pandemic). Then think through what life might look like five to 10 years from now and what problem/opportunity spaces will inevitably exist.

PAIR WITH INNATE HUMAN NEEDS

After you’ve pinpointed the macro shift, it’s time to think about what human needs could be met differently and better because of it. Products with longevity are often at the intersection of an existing human need and a cultural or technological paradigm shift. Maslo’s Hierarchy of Needs is a classic framework for universal human needs. Our most basic needs rarely change, but how we get our needs met in a world with never-ending technological innovation will have to constantly evolve. For example, the adoption of the ubiquitous smartphone changed how we got our basic needs met; smartphones have opened up massive innovations in housing, food, transportation, etc. Pair a changing paradigm with a never-changing need and you can begin to develop the guiding principles of your category.

DEFINE PRINCIPLES TO CONNECT THE CATEGORY TO YOUR PRODUCT

A powerful way to validate the need for your category is to connect it to the product you’re building. Your category should serve as a framework that helps outsiders see a throughline from the vastness of your vision to the tangibility of your product. The best way to do this is to define the principles of the category. These principles should be incredibly simple but will need to capture: the human need you’re solving for, how technology has created a new way to meet this need, and how the product works to give users value. Principles will be the foundation from which you and your team build everything.

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FIND PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN YOUR VISION AND YOU

Once you have your principles, go find your tribe. These are the people you will rely on to be champions of your vision and (almost more importantly) believe in you when things get hard. Surround yourself with people who focus on you, create space for dialogue, and are a source of wise counsel, constructive criticism, and motivation. Initially, this might be other founders who have bold ideas. Later, it will be your team and strategic advisors who also see the patterns of today that will build tomorrow. Take care of these relationships—they will give you endurance for the road ahead.


Greta McAnany is the CEO/Co-Founder of Blue Fever. She is a tech entrepreneur with media roots building products for Gen Z wellness. 

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