Becoming the Category King

category king

Do you remember when everybody was setting up MySpace pages and making friends with the co-founder Tom? Did you chat with all your buddies via MSN? And remember when BlackBerry phones were known as CrackBerries, because everybody had them, and couldn’t take their hands off them? And more recently, who remembers Ello, the hipster social network that had insane growth, had to restrict user signups, but eventually ended up crashing and burning with 90M inactive users?

Something happened to these companies, and they went from being the de facto winners to yesterday’s news.

 

Become the Last Mover

Anyone who has spent one week at a business school has heard of the term first mover. There is a the yin to that yang.

The last mover is the company that closes the door to a given industry. Irrespective of who the first mover was, when this first mover initiated the market, and how many followers subsequently entered that market. The main goal should always be to become the company that end on top at the end. Being the first mover is only a means not a goal.

The ‘last mover’ concept is something that tech pioneer, Peter Thiel, discusses in his book Zero to One as the ideal means to obtain monopoly in your respective market. Monopolist in this context should be perceived as the optimum state that a business can reach, so definitely a good thing.

Naturally there are advantages to being the first mover. These include getting a headstart to a market, while your competitors are scrambling to get started. You can build up brand awareness, leverage economies of scale, and implement switching costs.

Being the first mover is, however, not only rainbows and sunshine. Educating your end users, spending resources on the initial research, and testing a new product on a new market can prove difficult and expensive, making it more appealing just to be the company that copies what you do, hoping to overtake you eventually.  

But irrespective of which strategy you pursue the ultimate goal is to become the winner. Become the company that has the product, brand, and position the market that will discourage future ambitious entrepreneurs. What sane person would try and start the next internet search engine? Who would try to start a new Facebook (when even Google can’t succeed)? Can anyone successfully launch a new social slash professional network when LinkedIn has +350M users? These companies have definitely closed the doors behind them and become the last mover. They are category kings.

These three companies (Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn) are truly global, extraordinarily established, enormously capital injected, and consequently some pretty intimidating players to use as inspiration.

 

Where is Graduateland?

However, while their audiences and markets are global, we are reasonable and humble enough to define our markets a bit more narrowly. At least for now. The last couple of years we have been developing our home market of Scandinavia, primarily Denmark and Sweden. We have both players on each side of the market place (job seekers and employers), an equilibrium that has proved difficult to obtain in Norway, where there is such a high demand for skilled university talent that they see no reason to use an online job searching tool.

 

Customer care vs. innovation

In Denmark and Sweden we have become market leader, the category king of university recruitment. The competition in the two markets were prime examples of what Clayton Christensen describes in his famous book The Innovator’s Dilemma: enjoying status quo too much, focussing more on pleasing current customers than staying innovative, and finally not acknowledging that new competition would ever enter their market. Without realizing it they most likely thought they were the last mover but they didn’t keep on their toes to make sure the door stayed shut behind them.

 

How to stay ahead

Since we are conscious about this situation (I guess writing this blog post proves this) we can be much more proactive when it comes to staying ahead of the competition. Meanwhile we want to expand the market we operate in, which most likely will result in fighting several battles across each local market.

The fortunate thing about building an online product is that there is so much scale in the development. Building a feature for one stakeholder will immediately make it accessible to everyone in the network. Thus we can make some sound prioritisation based on how much value the feature will provide, and how many will most likely use it.

 

product prioritization

This graph from Intercom illustrates how to prioritise product development. Basing product decisions on how much value a feature adds, in combination with how many users will actually use it make up the two primary parameters when deciding upon what to build. The greener the better. We have been inspired by this method, and apply it when making product related decisions.

 

Rules of engagement

product development

Building an online business it’s no secret that the core product plays a pivotal part. Especially one that relies on the engagement of users, which ours does. Without the engagement of the student and graduate users our portals are not very valuable to anyone. Not to downplay the role of the company segment, but getting users engaged is something that requires something magical. Getting an audience of university students and graduates to spend their precious time and energy on engaging with OUR site requires being successful with ALL of the following manoeuvrings:

  • Distributing the product to the screen in front of the user – making sure that the user lands on the page whether being located in Spain, Sweden, or Singapore.
  • Selling the experience in 7 seconds – online users’ attention span is not much longer, so the value must be explicit from the moment they land on the site.
  • Actually delivering on the promised value – one thing is what the landing pages promise, another thing is what the user actually experiences when exploring the portal.
  • And keeping them interesting, meaning that the site has that X factor that convinces the user to actually spend his or her time on it. This is where you need that secret sauce.

 

The challenge of operating a ‘marketplace’ where our fundamental value proposition is to facilitate the matchmaking of our two parties, is that we need both parties to sit at the table at the same time. The challenge is also to communicate in a straightforward way to two different target groups with different needs at the same time.

We need both the students and the companies to get great user experiences, and we need to balance the scale in terms of our product.

The prioritisations that happen in the product department spring from this. There is a constant focus on serving both parties with features that play together with how the other part engages, which naturally depends on what features were launched last.

Having just released a new version of the employers’ recruitment tool – the Graduateland Recruiter – we have now turned towards the Graduateland portal that the users – the students and graduates – use.

We’ll use this blog to inform about interesting releases, but without revealing too much we’ll be diving into some pretty interesting features for users in the near future. A new home page, a redesign of the job search section, notification and inbox features and some other stuff.

This is one of our weapons to maintain our position in our primary markets, and our way of gaining new territory. Relentlessly building the best online experience for our target audience. Tracking, benchmarking, testing, evaluating, tweaking, optimizing, improving. Lots of hyped verbs to the rescue.

Continuing to keep the product ahead of the game will be a vital component in keeping our company ahead of the game.

Expect a blog post about why excellent customer service is another vital part. As well as a blog post about why building the most competent, enthusiastic, engaged, ambitious team is also key.


Consequently – lots of exciting stuff coming up.

 

Thanks for reading.

Enter a mature Graduateland

graduateland blog

Hi!

And welcome the blog – at least the second version of it. New enthusiasm, new communication competencies, therefore also a new and reborn blog!

My name is Patrick, and I’m one of the co-founders of Graduateland. Going forward I’ll be publishing blog posts across a variety of topics, mostly related to our company, but also sharing thoughts about trends, public policies, and general opinions and advice that we find fit for our audience. Other team members will also contribute across their fields of expertise and passion. The ambition of the Graduateland Blog is for it to become our channel of communication, and hopefully somewhere that people, who find Graduateland interesting, can keep themselves updated.

Enough intro – let’s dive into the first topic; Why big things are happing at Graduateland!

 

Startup companies go through phases

The main transitions are often when the company simply morphs from startup (as the inherent meaning of the word refers to the fact that the organisation ‘just started up’) to a somewhat established business.

This doesn’t have much to do with whether the company performs better, nor the size of the company. In my opinion it refers to the company’s perception of itself. Is the company still trying to find its place in the world? Or has the company figured out what to do, how to do it, and is successfully doing it? These are things that indicate that you’re not ‘starting up’ anymore.

The durations it take for companies to outgrow the startup phase vary, and some companies may never leave the startup phase – if you can consider Apple a startup the definition is impressively broad.

It may not be attractive to lose the label, since the startup ecosystem is perceived sexy, trendy, and fast-moving, much to the contrary of the bland SME segment.

 

The first phases

The first phases startups go through are the ones that relate to the fundamentals of starting, building a team, identifying the product/market fit and so on. Thus a lot of explorative phases. At at time you’ll reach a point where the company ‘operates’, meaning that it has found a viable business model, generates revenue, and like a hamster in its wheel starts treading its way forward.

Unfortunately, in a hamster wheel you are never really questioning the direction you are currently headed. You are just working, working, working.

This is a phase that a visionary company can only occupy for so long. You can get consumed by the operation mode, forgetting to question status quo, and consequently risk losing the innovative advantage that qualified you for a spot in the market in the first place.

Graduateland has been through these phases over the last 5 years. We have learned the hard way how to build a killer team, having been forced to make some hard staff-related decisions along the way. We have learned how to foresee when to hire, and have become much better at hiring the right people for the job.

Our perception of our place in the market has also varied over time since the company was founded. We have always known that we wanted to build a great solution for students and graduates, but the way to expand geographically, in order to reach a truly global audience, was previously constrained.

It took some time to realize this, partly because our business was actually going pretty well. Why would you question whether what you’re doing is not ideal if you’re not facing obstacles? If it ain’t broken…?

As we learned that we could improve key elements of our expansion strategy a number of new focus areas were introduced. This is the phase that Graduateland as a company is in currently.

 

Founder phases

Another dimension that to which phases can be applied is related to the mentality of the founders. Do these people thrive at starting businesses or do they want to take a venture all the way (to an exit, to an IPO, or to a stable business that ultimately (hopefully) becomes a profitable cash cow)?

Perhaps the time spent in the industry reveal new and exciting business opportunities that also makes sense to explore?

In Graduateland we experienced a bit of everything. We were initially five founders, and naturally after five years of working tirelessly building Graduateland we realized that we perceived the years ahead slightly different.

Having started an exciting side project one year ago (Ontame.io), and realizing that we could actually build a potentially successful business here, we were forced to challenge some of the fundamentals, which had previously been left unquestioned. For the core founding team, could we actually end up doing something else than Graduateland?

It was of course a luxury problem – having two race horses, which both had the chance to accomplish something great. What to do?

 

New roles

To make a long story short – we have now decided to divide and conquer. Graduateland co-founder and initial CEO, Jens, is taking the role as CEO of Ontame, and I have taken over the role as CEO of Graduateland.

The decision actually makes a lot of sense. Jens has nurtured Ontame together with another Graduateland co-founder, Morten. And both of these ambitious entrepreneurs thrive at taking a company through the explorative phases of a startup, whereas I can’t imagine anything more exciting than taking a health and stable company, with a killer team in place, to new heights.

I’m imagining a football team that has learned to play brilliantly together. Now we’re heading towards the Champions League final. This is when it gets truly exciting!

Graduateland is entering an insanely thrilling period now. We have matured during the last years, have built the fundamentals of a highly complex platform, and are now extremely enthusiastic to keep building a great online experience. And ultimately kick-start even more great careers.