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Play Bigger: Reflecting on a Massive Year for Our Companies, Founders & Making an Impact

2023 was not a normal year. With financial upheaval, global crises, generational innovation, and the most dramatic CEO exit and reentrance in history, stability was nowhere to be found. But if the last fifteen years of Category Design have taught us anything, it’s this: strange, uncertain, and different are the foundations for greatness. And man, did we see that come to life in the work our companies put into the world this year.

So, how do you design new categories in a year like this? Well, here’s how Cloudflare and Beekeeper did it:   

Cloudflare - The Dawn of the Connectivity Cloud

Cloudflare started by recognizing IT leaders must connect everyone and everything, everywhere. But with the thousands of cloud, SaaS, Internet and on-prem domains in most organizations, controlling it all is nearly impossible. Cloudflare solved this IT Control Gap with the world’s first Connectivity Cloud: a unified, intelligent platform built specifically to connect everyone and everything, everywhere.

A series of brilliantly executed Lightning Strikes, like this Times Square takeover helped turn the Cloudflare Connectivity Cloud into a must have line-item in every IT budget. 

Click here to read Cloudflare's Annual Founder's Letter.

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Beekeeper Brings Success to the Frontline

Meanwhile, Beekeeper pointed out frontline workers make-up 80% of the global workforce, and yet they are among the most disconnected of all workers. Forced to use antiquated tech, or retrofitted office worker tools, the frontline literally can’t connect with the rest of the organization. In 2022, Beekeeper created the Frontline Success category, a suite of mobile first products designed to work with and for the frontline, and end disconnection.

In 2023, Beekeeper kept its foot on the accelerator with the first series of conferences dedicated to advancing Frontline Success: the Frontline Success Summit. Throughout the year, Beekeeper and the Frontline Success platform hosted hundreds of enterprise leaders and reached thousands more with a clear message: the Frontline can be connected.



Play Bigger Goes on Tour!

2023 also gave us an opportunity to see the category potential of almost 100 companies and their founders as part of our Play Bigger Category Design Tour. As part of the tour, we made stops at CEO roundtables, salons and dinners hosted by some of the most incredible and dynamic investors in the world.

It all started with our friends at ReGen Ventures and their annual founders offsite. A beautiful setting at the Triple S Ranch Napa where an inspiring mix of founders tackling some of the biggest challenges of our time around climate tech had gathered. The working session around Aigen's problem space was electric, with virtually every person in the room leaning in to contribute and ask questions.

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Oh, and RJ Scaringe, founder and CEO of Rivian, joined us in the evening to share his amazing journey and vision.

Next stop was Santa Monica, CA for March Capital’s CEO Retreat. But before we got to the summit, we had the chance to spend an afternoon down the street at March Capital offices to talk with their entire team about identifying and supporting category defining companies. The following morning, we kicked off the retreat with dozens of CEOs and founders. Again, the engagement level was profound, particularly as we got to the working session focused on Nile and Acceldata.



Most recently we had the opportunity to partner with SVB to host a dinner with a diverse set of founders from their enterprise software customers. A festive setting in Portola Valley, CA with great food and drink. Perfect for an intimate discussion around the problems founders are facing today and how some of the core principles of category design help tackle those same problems.

What we’ve learned from these early stops, so far:

  • Damn it feels good to be back in person where you not only hear but feel the passion from founders who are in the arena day in and day out trying to create something new and different.
  • The new format is a smashing success. Sharing our approach and examples of work is nice but co-creating around a real-world scenario with a group of driven founders is magical.
  • Founders helping founders was the unanticipated and unequivocally best benefit of the new format. A good reminder, it’s not about us but what we can spark from and between founders learning and helping each other.

We’re going to keep this tour bus rolling. There’s just too much value in hearing firsthand from founders about the challenges they’re facing.

In fact, we already have a couple of dates booked. Starting by closing out the year Down Under with an afternoon spent alongside a group of 30 founders and investors hosted by Tractor Ventures and Rampersand.  Then it’s on to 2024 where we’ve started to add events like The Montgomery Summit.

If you have other stops in mind, let us know. We’d love to bring the band out to upcoming founder and CEO gatherings.

Creating Positive Impact With Category Design

The City of Santa Cruz did something incredible in 2023: they tackled perhaps the biggest problem of our generation -- climate change. As Rosanna Xia said in her amazing book “California against the Sea”, “We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and probably the last to be able to do anything about it.”

Save West Cliff, a local community group in Santa Cruz, has been working hand-in-hand with the City to shine a light on the real climate threat -- Bomb Cyclones. These “West Coast Hurricanes” are becoming more prevalent and create massive swells that destroy the coastal regions. Dr. Gary Griggs and Dr. Curt Storlazzi explain that they do 76% of the damage to the California Coastline. Here's the link to the Griggs Files. 

Play Bigger is helping Save West Cliff and the City create a new and different kind of solution to this threat. With the help of our own Carrie Drew’s incredible creative, graphic design skills, more than 600 people and a dozen agencies “saw for the first time” a new category called Natural Feature Restoration (NFR). The image below was printed on 8’ x 4’ boards and shared at the Dec 5th community meeting.

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NFR is one of 4 alternative visions for Santa Cruz in 2073.

Applying category design to this climate problem has been some of the most rewarding work we’ve done to date, and we can’t wait to see where it takes this community. It’s almost certain that the approach taken in Santa Cruz will be the benchmark for the entire California Coastline and quite possibly many other areas around the world.

This kind of IMPACT is what Play Bigger is about and we are proud to be doing this work pro-bono.

So yes, 2023 was A YEAR. Crazy, up, down, sideways. But with that craziness came new opportunities, new types of category design and an energizing lead-in to what we are sure is going to be an unbelievable 2024.

Thank you for reading, supporting, working with and evangelizing Play Bigger and the category of Category Design.

We couldn’t do any of it without you.

Happy Holidays!


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