Category creation involves dreaming up a new suite of products that can sell via traditional channels or methods. It’s a process that demands more than a game-changing product, as it takes having the right talent on your team and a consistent vision that drives all aspects of your business.
Mark Ghermezian, the co-founder of Braze, takes us through his journey of reinventing a category and building Braze from an idea into a dominant player in the mobile lifecycle marketing space.
Building blocks for category reinvention
These three building blocks need to be considered as you embark on the process of reinventing a category.
- Listen to your customers. As we were pioneering a new platform in the mobile ecosystem, it was vital for us to listen to our customers. This led to Braze creating our entire brand around customer success.
- Cultivate humility and gratitude. One essential virtue I was mindful of bringing to the team and our culture was humility. It’s important that we remain humble and learn from each other, lean on each other, and join hands as we work towards the same goal.
- Know your industry. If you want to keep going and go far, you must know what’s going on in the industry to stay ahead of the curve. The mobile ecosystem was and still is moving quickly, so it was an “innovate-or-die” situation for us.
Realizing opportunity and making changes
When I was learning about the software development kit (SDK) concept, I realized that I could integrate CRM software into a mobile app. Inspired by Foursquare, a location technology platform that people were using to check into venues and restaurants, I wanted to build software that would allow people to check into apps. This envisioned this idea of mine potentially solving two problems: discovery and recognition.
- Discovery. When a user checks in to an app, they are sharing on their social networks that they are using this app. This promotes word-of-mouth endorsements for apps from their users, resulting in future users discovering apps that they may find useful.
- Recognition. Users checking into apps helps developers know who their top users are and can, publicly or privately, recognize users as such.
We eventually developed a mobile CRM platform that could allow developers to collect user data, message users, and build customer relationships.
“What enabled us to build a best-in-class platform was that we had to fight tirelessly and jump through so many hoops to find out how to sell the platform to the very first customer.”
I began building the mobile developer community around 2018. I started with a website where people would create their profiles and share their ideas around the topic. The premise of what I built was to bridge the network among users and app developers. However, I doubted the platform’s potential for growth.
The state of the market
As I was delving deeper into this idea, I realized just how big the market was for the product I was developing. At the time, platforms were being built for desktops, laptops, and email. Next-gen CRM hadn’t yet emerged allowing us to integrate into the different platforms and devices.
The state of the market signaled an ample market opportunity for us because competitors weren’t yet building from the bottom up to support the mobile ecosystem, and they weren’t building analytics platforms that bridged multiple devices. There wasn’t yet a platform that extended from analytics to real action.
“We had an underdog mentality throughout the journey. This gave us a nothing-to-lose / everything-to-win mindset.”
Building an $8 billion company
We started as Appboy, but we grew into Braze. It wasn’t until we were signing large contracts that we realize just how big our opportunities were. Like us, many SaaS founders will underestimate their budget. You must know who your power users are and what their budget looks like. Do your research and take into consideration the size of the company you’re looking to sell to.
As companies started to understand what a CRM was, we watched company budgets rapidly grow for software purchases. Enterprises also began showing interest in the market.
Amid these market dynamics and emerging opportunities, we stuck to our margin and stopped chasing deals. We didn’t play the game of competing on price.
“As you build out your sales force and your company, you want to build a culture of sticking to your margins and price, especially if you believe in the value your product delivers to its users.”
We lost some deals because of the price, however, most of these customers came back to us simply because we had absolute trust in our product.
Consider these three key principles for success as you reinvent a category:
- Talk to your customers and gather specific feedback—both, positive and negative. You want to understand how your customers feel about the product you build, don’t you?
- Be humble at all times. When you lose a deal, dare to ask for feedback and learn why you lost it. Mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them.
- Aim to build the best-in-class of whatever it is you build. Don’t derail your attention—remain hard-focused on your product.