We Are Category Designers
After almost 30 years of being an executive, he feels lucky to have discovered a role that suits his style. A supporting role, behind the scenes, for some of the greatest founders, teams and companies of tomorrow.
Building categories is a messy business. He is often involved in the ugly parts of Category Design as well as the glamorous ones.
Over the course of the last decade as a Category Designer, he supported founders and teams as they created more than 50 new categories.
Al loves the alignment of Play Bigger's business model - we win by helping our portfolio companies win.
Prior to co-founding Play Bigger, he enjoyed working with some of the great executives at Adobe Systems, Macromedia and Quokka Sports. Before that, he was CTO for an Americas Cup campaign and founder of an Australian Software company.
He cut his teeth writing Fortran 77 on a PDP/11 and a Vax 11/780 and still writes the odd piece of Python code when necessary. He’s excruciatingly organized, focused on results and very data driven. He likes spreadsheets, charts and diagrams.
Al’s had the honor of being named as one of the most influential people in the digital economy by Time Magazine. He’s raced in the Americas Cup, taken multiple companies public, won big (and lost big), all the while never taking himself too seriously.
He loves the outdoors and still charges big waves and big mountain lines (for a guy his age!)
Mary Forman is our fearless Ringleader and she directs all aspects of Operations. As a member of the original Play Bigger team, she manages our cast of characters through every inquiry, project, event, and category outcome. Mary manages our client engagement process -- from scoping to overseeing strategic deliverables. If you need anything done at Play Bigger, ask Mary.
Before Play Bigger, she was a Corporate Concierge for Spieker Properties, Sun Microsystems and American Express. Starting in college, Mary earned her stripes in the hospitality industry managing some of the hottest Bay Area restaurants and hotels. Mary has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Santa Clara University.
When she’s not Playing Bigger, Mary can be found picking fruit on her family’s farm, planning high touch events, running the PTA, taking or teaching Pilates, and keeping up with her three spectacular children. Mary is a San Francisco Bay Area native with a fabulously wicked sense of humor.
Jason Wellcome is a Category Designer who brings nearly two decades of experience driving transformative work for leading communications agencies, technology companies, global consumer brands, and fast-growing startups.
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Jason was captivated by the region’s flourishing tech scene and worked on launch efforts for start-ups during the first dot-com boom. He eventually found his way to global PR giant, Weber Shandwick, where he worked closely with companies like Microsoft, Toshiba, and Universal Pictures to create new categories for entertainment in the digital era.
Jason believes the pace of today’s technology-led change requires a bias for continuous learning and transformation — on both a personal and organizational level. This led him to New York City where he spent much of the past 10 years reshaping the communications landscape and establishing a new category-defining capability, Mediaco. Ultimately the allure of west-coast living pulled Jason back to his native coast to lead the go-to-market function for a fast-growing software startup focused on supply chain.
When not obsessing about new opportunities for Category Design, Jason loves to hike with his rescue pup, Harley, and add to a growing list of 30+ countries explored with his wife.
Mike is a Category Designer with a background in psychology and communications strategy. He finds hidden problems and unspoken truths, and connects those with companies, brands and products to drive businesses and, importantly, the people they serve.
Mike’s style of Category Design is simple, straightforward and playful. His work is equally influenced by the behavioral sciences, business theory and imagination. Carl Jung on one shoulder, and Dav Pilkey on the other.
Mike’s work has been featured in Advertising Age’s “Book of Tens,” has been awarded numerous industry accolades and has driven double digit brand growth for dozens of clients.
Outside of work, Mike is a frequent guest lecturer at NYU and The New School, a hockey coach to five year olds, and a father of two boys. He lives in Westchester, NY with his wife, kids and backyard ice rink.
Ashli Walkiewicz is a Category Designer In Residence and specializes in Strike Execution. She has led strikes at Play Bigger portfolio companies including Livongo, Domino and Clear Metal. She is an energetic, motivated multi-tasker who can wear many diverse hats simultaneously and is not afraid of a challenge. Ashli truly takes the bull by the horns - no matter what her exact role is - with her southern charm and always exceeds expectations. Prior to Play Bigger she had an impressive 20-year career in traditional and digital marketing working with start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. When she isn't telling folks how passionate she is about category design, you can find her spending quality time with her husband Scott and her adorable mini bernedoodle, Dunkel (his full name is Munich von Dunkelstein if you wanted to know).
Christopher Lochhead is a co-founder of Play Bigger and co-author of “Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets”
Today he’s a #1 Apple Podcaster and one of the “godfathers of Category Design”. He has been a Category Design advisor to over 50 venture-backed startups, is a venture capital limited partner investor and a former three-time Silicon Valley public company CMO (Vantive, Scient, Mercury), and entrepreneur.
On rare occasions he helps design categories with Play Bigger portfolio companies.
Carrie Drew began her career at legacy brands Quiksilver and Volcom, giving her a strong foundation in technical product design, production and marketing. She travelled the world while designing for O’Neill, PacSun, and Urban Decay Cosmetics, before becoming the Senior Art Director for Fox Racing, Inc.
Carrie’s last full-time role as the Global Art Director for Rip Curl, Inc. spanned a decade. Carrie's designs were featured on award-winning campaigns and outfitted pro surfer and shark attack survivor, Bethany Hamilton throughout her movie, Unstoppable.
Just after starting a Boutique Creative Agency with her husband Brad six years ago, Carrie launched her first Lightning Strike by going to market as an exhibitor at the PrintSource Textile Show in New York.
Carrie loves inventing new ways to tell stories through the prism of Art and Category Design. When she's not working in her studio, she's tending to her garden, cooking colorful recipes, working with horses, and foster-parenting babies.
Brad Drew has 20+ year’s experience within the Film, TV and Media realm and owned his own content production company for nearly a decade. Brad began his career working at Surfer Magazine and the Los Angeles Times where he traveled the world as a freelance writer before moving on to an Editorial Director role at a groundbreaking desktop publishing company. Brad led the Marketing Departments at Ambiguous Clothing and Rusty Apparel -- where he helped execute numerous Lighting Strikes – before branching into TV production. Working as a Sports Emmy-nominated writer and producer, Brad’s produced programming for Fox Sports, NBC Sports, FUEL TV, Red Bull Media House, Monster Energy, and many others. He worked as a Webby-nominated senior producer for both Network A and Nitro Circus and was writing and producing content for pro surfing's World Surf League before taking a leap and joining creative forces with his wife.
Brad loves inventing new ways to tell stories through Category Design. When he's not neck deep into a project with is wife, he's enjoying a day at the beach, golfing with friends, adventuring with his dog Bandit, and planning the next trip.
Bianca Valenti is a professional big wave surfer, Italian wine specialist and Changemaker. She plays to win. And her victories extend beyond the water. She’s recognized as a champion for winning equal pay and access for women in professional surfing. Bianca is Play Bigger’s first Category Design Brand Ambassador, and she developed the Women’s Big Wave Surfing category alongside three of the world’s top female big wave surfers.
Possessing a rare ability to navigate risk with remarkable composure and elegance, Bianca breaks barriers in and out of the water. Named one of Outside Magazine’s Most Accomplished Athletes in 2018 (alongside climber Alex Honnold and tennis champ Naomi Osaka), her surfing performance and advocacy work has been highlighted in the New York Times Magazine, BBC World News, ESPN, Surfer Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other outlets.
As a Category Designer, entrepreneur, public figure and leader, Bianca selectively works with partners who stand for excellence, environmental stewardship, equality and equity.
She volunteers with Brown Girl Surf and MeWater Foundation to ensure the next generation of female surfers can experience the stoke and awe-inspiring power of the ocean. And as an ambassador for Save the Waves Coalition and Sustainable Surf she contributes to ocean-positive, surf ecosystems at home and abroad.
When not tackling Mt. Everest-sized waves, Bianca hosts wine tastings as an Italian wine specialist. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Sports Management, she went on to study with the Association of Italian Sommelier to become an Italian Wine Specialist. She co-owns Valenti & Co Ristorante Vinobar in Marin County and lives in San Francisco, where she can be found surfing two notoriously scary big wave breaks -- Ocean Beach and Mavericks.
Adam Bartlett is a talented 14-year old surfer from Westside Santa Cruz who comes from a family full of surfers. He’s well-travelled for his young age, having already visited and surfed exotic locations like Costa Rica, Hawaii and Ireland. He was chosen for the prestigious USA Surfing Olympic Developmental Team in 2021/2022 and is a highly-ranked amateur competitor both locally and nationally. Adam can count World Championship Tour pro surfers Kolohe Andino and Nat Young as influential mentors and friends, both of whom serve as great role models and remind him to work hard, stay humble and have fun as he pursues his dream to become a professional surfer one day.