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Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  622 ratings  ·  74 reviews
The founders of a respected Silicon Valley advisory firm study legendary category-creating companies and reveal a groundbreaking discipline called category design.

Winning today isn’t about beating the competition at the old game. It’s about inventing a whole new game—defining a new market category, developing it, and dominating it over time. You can’t build a legendary
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Harper Business
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Average rating 3.89  · 
Rating details
 ·  622 ratings  ·  74 reviews

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Christopher Lawson
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it

Yes, that’s right—begin reading PLAY BIGGER at Chapter Ten, “How You Can Play Bigger.”

What?? It’s not because the first nine chapters are bad—not at all. There are a ton of ideas in this book--written by a TEAM of authors. I struggled to clearly see the main points. But--If you first go through Chapter Ten (then start the book at the beginning) you will have a “roadmap” of the main themes of the book. You will be miles ahead.

PLAY BIGGER is an interesting perspective on how to
Oct 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: innovation
If you don't usually read Marketing Strategy books - maybe is useful.
Anything that makes you think about how to differentiate and how to position in the market is useful.

but I've seen all of this before...
in 1997 on the 2nd law of All Ries and Jack Trout - the Law of the category.
then in all marketing books talking about competition is for losers, and you should create a new market/category/...
Then it came Blue Ocean Strategy in 2004/2005 - all over again - find/create your Blue Ocean (aka
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The caveat with many business books is that they are written to teach you a concept, but rarely do they tell you how to apply that concept. I am pleased to say that Play Bigger is not one of those books.

The authors of Play Bigger set out to take the idea of “Category Design” to the mainstream - the fact that “Category Design”, at its core, is not actually a new concept makes Play Bigger a fantastic example of the idea itself. The importance of a business differentiating themselves within a
Philip Joubert
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

This book is what you get when you combine Innovator's Dilemma, Crossing the Chasm, and 22 Laws of Marketing, add a dash of Purple Cow and apply it specifically to tech startups. That's not to say it isn't useful to combine ideas from all those books but it certainly isn't original.

The essential ideas in the book seem to stem from category theories popularized by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Their core ideas are:
- People often think product when they should be thinking catergory
- If you're
Katie  Markov
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Focuses on the importance to define a new category and dominate that category companies. Simply competing in an existing category isn't good enough. The authors look to category kings, and how in recent cases (and even some old instances like frozen vegetables), founders set out to create entirely new categories, and how this separates itself in the consumers mind. But key to this is effective communication on why the consumer needs this new category. Thought it was a good read and had strong ...more
Michael Payne
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind: How to Be Seen and Heard in the Overcrowded Marketplace, by Al Ries and Jack Trout, was the marketing mental mind map of their time.

Now is the time to Play Bigger. The thoughts herein consume the mind of the Pirate, Dreamer and Innovators. This is the treasure map to meaning and mattering.

Give up on marketing, let go of positioning: Play Bigger.

Don't market.

Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty bold thesis; to forego playing at the same level as your rivals, and instead forge your *own* category and become the category king. This is unlike any business development book I've come across to heard about.
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great at explaining category design and laying out steps to try to do this.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
The main premise of this book is this idea of "category kings" who are companies who come in and create a category where none existed before. The book leans heavily on big corporations like Apple and Salesforce to drive this point home. An example on how they created the category would be Salesforce taking CRM online. Previously companies had to invest millions in installing expensive CRM software on every computer they operated. Salesforce created a new category by putting a CRM online and ...more
Sven Kirsimäe
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: at-audible
Prologue: "Better leads to a faster horse; different leads to a Model T."

Sometimes slightly messy, repetitive. For some, might feel like overselling and shallow.

For me, the book had very insightful reflections on how to look at the things happening and especially at the new beginnings.

Do not read this book if:
1. You think the company with the best product wins.
2. You believe there is room for a lot of winners in a market, that a rising tide lifts all boats and other feel-good hippy garbage.
Alison Jones
There’s SO much to love about this book. It’s well written, makes some brilliant points, and in the idea of the ‘category’ brings together some of the best innovation and marketing thinking of recent years.


It may be written by a team, but culturally this book is monolithic. Every word of every page reeks of macho Silicon valley surfer-dude. Their language is casually sexist – category king, strike master controller – and their metaphors straight from the pages of Boys’ Own: lightning
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book’s core insight is good, and its examples are helpful. That means a lot coming from me, as this genre is the saddest bunch of middlebrow palaver on Earth. For every very good book (I can think of like three of four standouts), there’s a hundred pretenders. Maybe that’s true of all genres, but there’s something about the pretension of business and leadership gurus of the preening multihyphenated LinkedIn influencer realm that is truly desperate and loathsome.
Oct 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Don't like it when books writes lesson learnt for business as lessons for humans. Definitely there are different dynamics, as identified by the authors. But the difference, I felt, were not satisfactorily addressed. Other than that, I felt that it oversimplified success and underplayed risks of lightning strikes. There were no plans for recovery, only that you should invest all your resources on it. I do like the different perspective on designing the product market fit. Just felt it was an over ...more
Aaron Scruggs
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am currently doing market research and think I have discovered a problem that needs solving. This book along with "Building a StoryBrand" have helped clarify how to educate the market on the problem they have.
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wasn't sure what I was in for but I do know my brain hurts from all the thinking and notes taken for solid new ideas.

Read at your own risk!
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Define the category, not the product.

Companies that were not the first in their space, but the first in their category:
Google (Google: “Provides access to the worlds information in one click.”; spot on results- far better than anything else; gathered data; redefined search - maps, etc; changed ads - auction style), FB, Apple (many new categories), Tesla, 5 Hour Energy (defines energy drink - quick shot and wake up), Salesforce (1% equity to charity, practice corporate responsibility, emotional
Mo Arshath
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Book explains how important is for a company to focus on Category design, POV and other actions following it to place the company as a category king. Authors took examples from successful tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Salesforce and UBER picked their category and stayed on top of it.

Books like Innovators and 'Seeing what next' explains how important is to innovate and continuous integration is important for an organization. In this book they have framed terminology like
Ben Taylor
May 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Every couple years, I pick up a business book like this one. I’m always hoping to be pleasantly surprised...I find most business and self help books to *feel* amazing in the moment, but to be pretty forgettable mere days later.

To its credit, Play Bigger does two things better than most business books. First, the core insight is pretty good (more on this in a moment). Second, the book offers concrete, clear steps that companies can follow (ex: write this blueprint, this point of view document,
Nick Blackbourn
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
There are some great ideas in Play Bigger. I appreciated reading the book and the way the authors articulated positioning combined with a surgical marketing strategy was interesting and at times insightful.

Solving problems for customers is key. At the heart of category design seems to be the idea that you sometimes need to market the problem as much as the solution. That way, you develop a new ‘category’ (market). When you do this, your company is seen as the brand that best understands the
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Solid book. The authors known how to take highly complex topics and to package them into simple concepts and descriptions – a challenge which, the vast majority of business writers have tried and failed at in the past. In this way, this becomes a more holistic approach to building a meaningful (successful) company, brand, product, and culture. The book also thoroughly argues the case for Silicon Valley’s dirty little “winner take all” secret – which, it seems is now the new norm due to ...more
Adriyana Grotseva
Oct 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I recommend to start from chapter 10 How you can play bigger, which provides a good brief overview of the book and the main focus is how you can apply it to yourself and your own career. I liked that each chapter ended with something like a checklist with questions to think about and apply yourself to your own company case. Overall I like the idea of creating your own category, rely on being different than better and the content of the book but I wished it to have more exact guidelines and ...more
Christophe Jospe
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was excellent and also highly relevant to what I am thinking about right now as I scale Nori. It helps focus on some of the things that we are already doing to create a category and think through textbook plays to build and establish a successful business. This book covers important concepts that get to the core of the discipline of what other entrepreneurs did to establish their companies as lasting category kings. One of the big takeaways is that people can build successful ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’ve read a lot of strategy books that say the same things, and this one stands out as a good one with a unique thesis and supporting insights. There are flaws in how they selected case studies...definite selection bias towards picking market leading companies and reverse engineering how those companies employed the authors’ Category Design approach. But they did a poor or non-existent job of explaining why the many market leading companies that don’t fit this framework are also successful, plus ...more
Taylor Smith
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As an early stage founder, this book was gold. The authors did a great job of explaining category-creation concepts through stories of other companies (ie: Netflix, Uber) who have gone through the process to becoming category kings. At times, parts were repetitive, and sometimes companies' success may have been over-attributed to their focus on category creation, but I walked away with a newfound framework and axes on which to evaluate my business. I really appreciated that many of the chapters ...more
Nikolay Theosom
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
meh. there is some basic truth in it, but content is mostly derivative to peter thiel and co., their approach is reductionist and rather shallow, and their constant call for witch hunt within a company during critical phases is just ridiculous.

also, a foot note, their self boasting for macromedia "success" is hilarious. i think pretty much every software engineer hated them and their products for almost a decade. and they still boast themselves as a "category king". and that's exactly the
Arturo Hernández
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This whole book felt like it was written for me to read at exactly this point in my life. If you happen to be embarked in a ship (call it a startup, a huge project or any initiative that's important for you) and you are looking to position it as "the next big thing" and really put on the hours to make that a reality, then this a must read for you.

Very practical and full of use cases. It also provides specific frameworks of thought to follow-up on the recommendations for each chapter.

Vikram Chatterji
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
The authors should have played bigger.

The book reads like a rear-view mirror amalgamation of obvious big wins, calling them out as 'categories' - Uber, Amazon, Google, etc.
If you're already familiar with the technology world, even in broad strokes, this book will leave you begging the authors to start scratching the surface already.

Moreover, I disagree with 'category' level thinking at the onset, after reading this book. Just solve a genuine problem, make sure you're a sustainable business and
Simone Bocedi
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting book about design an own category and play bigger in it. It left me with a lot to think about on how to establish category for my clients, my project and myself. The book is a bit (a lot) repetitive in many instances, probably few chapter in the middle can be avoided completely and you would still get the whole sense of the book. Maybe also I’m getting tired of hearing about Apple, Uber and Sales Force. Every book talks about them. I found more interesting when the book was referring ...more
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite recent business books. An accessible, enjoyable tone with good content and storytelling that goes beyond the traditional business genre. The authors developed great framing of concepts and does a solid job of developing on past marketing methodology. Gave me a healthy new perspective on marketing, especially as it applies to startups.

Would recommend as a go-to book for founders on marketing.
Alex Treece
Jun 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Mostly beneficial for motivational purposes. Not a lot original in this book. The most useful thing I found was in internalizing the concept of owning a new category and thinking in categories.

Like many business books, takes the astonishing success of some companies (e.g. Google) and retroactively connects their success to a principle they are (the authors) pushing. Unfortunately the world of business isn’t quite that simple.
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