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The Category Science Of Category Pirates: A Below-Deck Look At The Weird Data That Drives Our Decisions And Path Forward
How we used Category Science to analyze our subscriber survey data and discover insights that will shape the future of Category Pirates.
Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Category Pirate,
If you’ve been sailing with us for some time, you know Pirate Eddie is a Category Scientist.
Being the legendary Category Scientist he is, Pirate Eddie saw an opportunity to use data to understand you—our fellow Pirates—and course correct the Pirate Ship, if necessary. So he and Pirate Kat co-designed a survey and sent it out to all of you. (If you completed the survey, we sincerely thank you for your time and insights. *Raises glass.*)
Some of the data you shared met our expectations. But some of it surprised and inspired us, especially when we combined it with our Substack data.
Weird data for the win!
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter S. Thompson
To give you a sense of how to find buried treasure in weird data, we’re going to share how we used Category Science to analyze the survey data and discover insights (from you) that will shape the future of Category Pirates.
Now, we’re not doing this to sing our own praises. Instead, it’s an exercise in drinking our own IPA—we much prefer this over “eating our own dog food”—in order to help explain the course we’re charting for the future. (Spoiler: We will continue to raise eyebrows and explore radically Non-Obvious waters. Arrrrr!)
Most importantly, we want to show you how to do Category Science on yourself by doing Category Science on ourselves.
Because conducting Category Science that focuses on Superconsumers is the fastest path to near-term growth—and to driving the word of mouth that builds legendary categories and brands.
By the end, a few of you will realize that you’re spending more than necessary for your ticket aboard the Category Pirate Ship. Others will learn why it might make sense to jump overboard. Above all, you will get a sense of the direction we’re sailing in and see what it means to make strategy adjustments by listening to your Supers. We hope both make you more excited than stumbling upon a rum cellar.
So get ready—it’s time to dive below the Pirate Ship. 🤿
The Category Science Of Category Pirates
If you haven’t heard of Category Science yet, we encourage you to read Category Science 101 to learn about the business-altering impact it can have before jumping into this mini-book.
A quick explainer: Category Science is a new category of data science. It’s not “better data analysis.” It’s broader and weirder data analysis.
What does that mean?
Most data analysis is very narrow and deep, just like the experts who conduct them. And it’s sure not looking for weird data. (In fact, most data analysts weed out outlier data.)
Consultants excel at analyzing data about a company’s economics.
Bankers/analysts are great at looking at the economics of existing categories.
Marketing gurus are great at looking at data about products, prices, and consumers.
Very few consultants, bankers, and marketing gurus sufficiently understand product, company, and category at the same time—even fewer like to be weird. But you need to deeply understand all three, and embrace the weirdness you find, to achieve The Magic Triangle. That’s where Category Science comes in. It’s the process of gathering and integrating data from all three sides to spot future exponential category growth opportunities.
You then use that data to create the future—or even predict the future.
This is about using a more scientific approach to something heretofore not considered science-able.
So, Pirate Eddie and Pirate Kat designed a Category Science survey to ask a balanced amount of questions about the Category Pirates product, company, and category. (For those interested, a mini-book on how to conduct Category Science surveys is on the ship’s manifesto and queue!) We then pulled data from additional datasets: our Substack to deep dive into our products and Stripe to understand our Superconsumers better.
And our Supers have spoken!
The Category Science helped us experience the following a-has:
Your personal and career outcomes drive our Net Promoter Score (NPS).
You need to see an outcome within 5.2 months, or else you jump overboard.
Our top mini-books have 5 factors in common, which is now our map for success.
That said, let’s break down these results and explain how our business decisions will impact you.
Your Personal & Career Outcomes Drive The Pirate NPS
Net Promoter Score is the gold standard metric for measuring customer experience.
The score ranges from -100 to +100 and is determined by a single question: “How likely is it that you would recommend [Organization/Product/Service] to a friend, family member, or colleague?” Respondents choose a rating between 0 (not at all) and 10 (extremely likely), which determines their customer category:
Promoters (a score of 9 or 10) are typically loyal, enthusiastic Superconsumers.
Passives (a score of 7 or 8) are satisfied with the product or service but are not happy enough to be considered promoters.
Detractors (a score of 0 to 6) are unhappy customers who are unlikely to buy again, and may even discourage others from buying.
To calculate NPS, you subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters.
NPS = % Promoters - % Detractors
The higher your NPS, the more likely customers are to recommend your company, product, or service—and the more satisfied they are with your business. In fact, the team at Bain & Company (led by Frederick Reichheld) that originally designed NPS found the score is most correlated with a company’s future growth.
Today, many companies monitor their NPS because it is so simple and easy to execute.
Yes, some quibble with the score and results. But if you know how to execute it, NPS can be very valuable. (If you want to learn the Category Pirates way to use NPS, let us know!)
The Category Pirates Substack NPS is 36.
It’s a reasonably good score, but far from legendary.
Our NPS broke down as follows:
55% were Promoters (9-10)
24% were Passives (7-8)
19% were Detractors (0-6)
It’d be easy for us to get defensive about this. Category Pirates has been a Top 5 Paid Business Substack for over a year. And we get tons of comments, likes, and other positive feedback that we love to receive.
But Category Science is about curiosity. (Thinking about thinking is the most important kind of thinking.) So we asked: “What’s up with this weird data?”
It’s pretty simple.
85% of our Promoters said they had a positive business or career outcome directly because of Category Pirates. (Arrrrr!) So if you made more money, got promoted, found more joy in your work, or unlocked a new category because of Category Pirates, of course, you would recommend it. But only 18% of Detractors said they had a positive business or career outcome.
This made us want to walk off our own plank.
But it also made us come to a crucial realization.
We Have 5.2 Months To Help You Get An Outcome
The simplest way to explain this is through a Supers vs potential Supers lens.
About 33% of you are all in for the weird, wild category design journey.
Almost one-third of you are annual subscribers—and our Supers! We suspect you’ve already had a great outcome from Category Design and believe the best is yet to come.
We are grateful for your vote of confidence to board the Pirate Ship without always knowing exactly where we are heading, but trusting there is buried treasure along the way. You keep us motivated to empty the treasure chest of everything we’ve ever learned that has brought us success and share it through legendary content. This is what keeps our creator capital flywheel of new thinking, data, and frameworks spinning.
And trust us, there’s plenty more buried treasure!
About 67% of you are curious about Category Design.
Or as some people call it, Category Curious.
You are monthly subscribers and potential Supers, and you stay onboard for an average of 5.2 months. You’re sampling the rum we’re selling, so to speak. And you’re probably starting to see category design in your day-to-day life. We are grateful for you too—and are excited to continue helping you become a category designer.
But we recognize you want the option to get off the Pirate Ship at the next port, if you so choose.
You may value this flexibility for various reasons:
You are dipping your toe into Category Design but are unsure if it is right for you.
You are 100% onboard with Category Design but are unsure of how to apply it.
You are 100% onboard with Category Design and know what to do. But you can only take so much Pirate playfulness before wanting to toss your laptop into the ocean.
If you agree with #3, we say yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum—avast ye matey and ARRRRR!!!
But if you agree with #1 or #2, we want to meet you where you’re at.
If you are a #1, we totally get you may have a specific question to answer—and that’s it. (Almost one-third of our subscribers dip their toes in for 1-2 months.) Maybe someone gifted you a free trial. Maybe you wanted to check out one particular mini-book. Maybe you’re still figuring out if all this category design stuff is for you.
Hint: It’s for everyone who’s open to thinking differently and using their unique POV to change the world!
If you like what you’ve read, or you’re excited about everything we shared here, you’re in good company if you stick around. So, we want to make sure you get one of two things:
Great value for your money
The most cost-effective way to buy our content
(Checking in with customers about their perceived value, while also constantly trying to make it easier for them to buy, is always smart.)
If your goal is to binge and bail, we want you to be able to do that at the lowest cost possible. For context, you will spend between $20–$40 if you subscribe to Category Pirates for 1 or 2 months. This is when it helps to understand our publishing process:
New content emerges first on the Category Pirates Substack.
A few weeks after Substack, we publish certain mini-books as eBooks on Amazon.
We combine certain mini-books into big books and publish them on Amazon as eBooks and physical books.
We turn certain mini-books and big books into Audible books.
If you just want to read one mini-book (and want to save money), you might be better off waiting and buying it as an eBook on Amazon. Or you can spend the same amount and buy several big books. Going forward, we will make this clearer to our new subscribers so they can choose the best option for their specific needs.
And now you know too!
If you are a #2, we are building curation tools to help you navigate our growing library of content.
About one-third of our monthly subscribers stay for 3-5 months. For you, our goal is to build and provide you with curation tools such as:
Recommendations: If you like this mini-book, you’ll also love these.
Persona Paths: If you’re an entrepreneur, these are the top 5 mini-books to read.
Outcome Albums: If you want to achieve XYZ outcome, check out these 5 mini-books and Pirate Profiles.
(Even Pirates Christopher and Eddie rely on the “Digital Wheelchairs” Pirates Cole and Kat have built to help us find what we wrote in the past!)
Finally, the remaining one-third of our monthly subscribers are paying a bit more than the annual subscription amount of $200. While we appreciate your willingness to pay more, we will reach out to those of you in this group to encourage you to save some money and buy the annual subscription. Then again, part of what we like about being Pirates is sailing however and wherever we want. So if this is you, ARRRR!!!
Onto the next Category Science finding.
The Top Pirate Mini-Books Have 5 Factors In Common
Pirates love weird data.
But even we were surprised to see that our top 10 mini-books drove 59% of our paid subscribers.
If you want to read (or re-read) these mini-books, here’s the list:
As you know, the next step after you find weird data is to ask “Why?” 7x. So, why did these mini-books perform the best? It turns out there are 5 factors that consistently emerged throughout all our best-performing mini-books.
5-Factor Framework For Top-Performing Content
Pirate Eddie realized our best-performing mini-books have five things in common:
Hyper-Targeted Audience (e.g., “Write for 1 person”)
Clear and Compelling Career/Business Outcomes
A Robust Mix of Frameworks, Strategies, and Category Science
Obvious and Practical Application
Easy, Effective, and Efficient Marketing
Let’s explore each one so you understand how it will impact the content you get going forward—and how you can use this framework for your own content.
Factor 1: Hyper-Targeted Audience
One of the Obvious takeaways from analyzing our top 10 mini-books is that 80% are hyper-targeted to a specific audience.
Of these 10 books, 50% are hyper-targeted for writers, 20% are hyper-targeted for analytics-oriented folks, and 10% are hyper-targeted for teens (or parents of teens). Given that Pirate Christopher wrote Niche Down, Pirate Eddie wrote Superconsumers, and Pirate Cole wrote The Art and Business of Online Writing, we’d again like to remind ourselves that we should always drink our own IPAs.
That said, we believe the following types of Superconsumers are on the Pirate Ship:
We’ve had a gut feeling about these Supers based on the performance of past mini-books. And it’s why we created content like How To Create A Category As A Small “e” Entrepreneur, The Content Pyramid, Paid To Create, etc. The survey simply confirmed our suspicions.
So, going forward, we will continue to rotate our content among these various Supers.
Factor 2: Outcomes, Outcomes, Outcomes
You jumped on board the Pirate Ship for your own reasons. But collectively, you all are hoping to achieve a wide variety of outcomes.
Here are the top 5 shared in the survey:
66% want to use Category Pirates content to grow, market, and sell your services
58% want to be an amazing creator across your job, company, career, and life
41% want to be an amazing entrepreneur
40% want to change categories/industries
40% want to design an amazing life
Everyone here deserves to unlock these treasures for themselves—and it’s exactly what we’re here to help you with!
We love everything about this list. But we recognize the need to grow, market, and sell your services stands above all the others. To achieve that goal, we plan to hyper-focus on content and practical applications that help you make real progress toward driving growth.
Our Supers have spoken! And we’re listening.
So, here’s what that content will include.
Factor 3: Frameworks & Category Science
As part of our analyses, we put each of our mini-books into specific sub-categories. The mini-books that rose to the top? The ones that featured Frameworks/Strategy and Category Science.
This makes intuitive sense as frameworks/strategies simplify the world, which we know is very helpful. And having robust data to back it up also makes an exponential difference. Together, this kind of content can help you grow, market, and sell your services. It’s also the type of content that delivers “thinkers’ high,” but it doesn’t always guarantee an outcome.
Not unless we also deliver the next factor.
Factor 4: Obvious Practical & Tactical Application
When we came up with the Obvious/Non-Obvious framework, we realized our natural tendency is to play too much in the Non-Obvious sandbox. We love it there because it gives us the most “thinker’s high.” But we wouldn’t be good missionaries if we sailed you all out to Non-Obvious Island and left you there without an Obvious application.
In reality, the final destination should be Outcome Island.
To navigate there, one of our fellow Pirates (Kim Korn, by way of Joe Pine) read Snow Leopard and created the following visual to help see where his content sat on the Obvious and Non-Obvious spectrum.
After Kim shared this legendary work with us, we reswizzled it into the Content Value Curve.
Our deepest apologies to Kim and anyone else we left stranded on Non-Obvious Island! We are working to prevent that from happening again. And this visual is a great reminder to aim for the top of the curve—even though we detest the very beginning of the curve and love everything after the crux.
Factor 5: Easy, Efficient, & Effective Marketing
This final factor is an interesting one.
Having a previously-built audience to easily, efficiently, and effectively market our books and mini-books to is a clear reason why some of them did so well. A reminder for all content creators: Lean into the arenas where you have a built-in advantage by marketing to the people who are excited to hear from you.
To see if this factor—and the entire framework—held water, we looked at three of our books.
(Note: Radical, data-first self-awareness is a powerful way to discover both near and long-term revenue opportunities. It’s not a stretch to say that some data science can lean into more predictable and positive data than weird and negative data. That’s because most executives don’t want to see weird and negative. It’s just another way Category Designers are different.)
Hyper-Target: Current and potential writers who want to find their category niche
Outcome: How writers can move from a 5-figure income to a 6-7 figure income by mastering the art of Obvious & Non-Obvious content and monetizing in new ways to enjoy a lifelong career of independence, creative freedom, and exponential financial upside
Obvious & Practical Application: Idea-Centric vs. Author-Centric book titles, best-selling book categories, and more
Easy, Effective, & Efficient Marketing: Promotion via Pirate Cole’s social platforms and the Ship 30 for 30 audience
Snow Leopard is our best-selling book as the Category Pirates business writing band. It is clearly a tight fit on all five factors, but the last one is a major player in its success— thanks to Pirate Cole’s natural audience of writers. Ultimately, it was a compelling book with an easy, effective, and efficient audience to market to.
Pirate Christopher’s book, written with his Play Bigger co-authors, was also tightly aligned with the 5-Factor Framework.
Hyper-Target: VCs and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and executives
Outcome: How to capture 76% of category economics and market capitalization
Frameworks/Strategies/Category Science: The 6-10 Law on how age and money impact startup valuation
Obvious & Practical Application: From-To, Magic Triangle, and several more
Again, the last factor is key. Pirate Christopher’s podcast platform and Al Ramadan’s Play Bigger consulting firm were naturally perfect ways to market the book. So it’s no surprise Play Bigger stands above the majority of business books—it has sold more than 200,000 copies and is still going strong. (In fact, sales would be even higher if HarperCollins could keep it in print. 🤯)
Keep in mind, a nonfiction book has to sell at least 10,000 copies to be considered a success. But the average self-published book sells about 250 copies over its lifetime, and the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies.
These low averages are just one reason why it is beneficial to write and self-publish a business newsletter—and keep the majority of royalties to reinvest in your company, instead of giving them away to a traditional publisher.
Pirate Eddie’s book did not naturally align with the five factors. But it certainly benefited from the boost by Harvard Business Publishing, which is probably why it landed in between Play Bigger and Snow Leopard in sales.
Hyper-Target: The original target was S&P 500 consumer packaged goods C-suite executives. In hindsight, this target was a mismatch from the start. The real target was up-and-coming Category Queens! Big CPG executives felt threatened by Superconsumers—they wanted to win everyone to preserve their market share. But the up-and-coming Category Queens understood the need to niche-down to attract the true Superconsumers. As a result, the book didn’t speak to the right audience.
Outcome: Superconsumers laid out a clear path to generating $100MM-$1B+ of profitable growth. The problem was the original target for Superconsumers were incredibly large companies with tens of billions in sales, for whom $100MM wouldn’t move the needle. That’s why Superconsumers did the best with executives who left the S&P 500 companies to join up-and-coming, hyper-growth Category Queens.
Frameworks/Strategies/Category Science: Pirate Eddie’s book had tons of Category Science around how to find, attract, and leverage Superconsumers.
Obvious & Practical Application: This factor was also strong, particularly around Super-Geos and Super of 1 = Super of 9. If Pirate Eddie could rewrite his book, he would have centered it on Super-Geos and Super of 1 = Super of 9. (Which is exactly what he did in our Super of 1 = Super of 9 and Category Science 101 mini-books!)
Easy, Effective, and Efficient Marketing: Pirate Eddie partnered with Harvard Business Publishing for this book, and they were great to work with. As the most prestigious business publishing brand, they provided a massive tailwind for Superconsumers. They were very effective at marketing the book and getting it into print around the world.
We’re curious to hear how this framework holds up against your content performance. Did your best-performing articles, books, or posts meet all five factors? Did your underperforming content lack one (or a few) factors? Let us know in the comments, or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once we understood this framework, why you all are here, and what you’re looking for, we decided to adjust our heading.
Where The Pirate Ship Is Heading
First things first, we will never stop creating content. (We’re addicted to “thinker’s high” and trying to make a difference.) Of course, this content will be aligned with the 5-Factor Framework to ensure as many of you get legendary outcomes for your careers and lives.
But in a little over two years, we created so much content that we now have to organize it. And how do Pirates organize?
This will make it easy for new subscribers to find relevant content and get the outcomes they’re looking for, quickly.
But what can you expect as someone who is already on board?
Here’s what you will get from us going forward:
New mini-books twice per month. You have asked us to focus on fresh “thinker’s high” ideas, frameworks, and Category Science, and include practical and tactical applications that lead to legendary outcomes. This is what we enjoy creating the most! So we will continue to spark your brains with legendary insights and connections.
Original content: We ran an experiment to see if everyone would enjoy short weekly summaries of our mini-books. We thought you might like these recaps, with sprinkles of fresh applications, in between the “normal” mini-books. The experiment gave us a legendary outcome: You don’t want that. You want the long-form deep dives. Of course, you will see references to previous frameworks or case studies (because everything is connected in category design). But we have an overload of original ideas on deck that we’re excited to share.
A variety of topics, for our variety of Supers. Marketers, creators, executives, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, scientists, writers, and consultants from all over the world read Category Pirates. We’re honored, to say the least. And while we will never try to be for everyone, our mission is to share the principles of category design with anyone who’s interested. So don’t expect every mini-book to be handmade just for you. But if you approach our content with an open, curious mind, we bet you’ll pick up a gem or two...or 10.
Will we still write long-form books? Of course. We will have new books for sale before the end of the year!
But we are a digital-first, 100% independent, publishing company. As we said, our publishing model is unique. We present new and original thinking in our mini-books—and then we compile those mini-books into larger big books. So as a subscriber, you get to access this thinking 6-18 months before the rest of the world. If that doesn’t matter to you, it may be best to wait and buy each big book once it’s published.
But if you want original category design thinking (and advice on how to execute it) popping into your inbox several times a month, stay on board.
There’s a ton more in the treasure chest.
If you apply it, we guarantee it will positively impact your business and life.
And if it doesn’t, we guarantee you will make us walk the plank.
If reading this taught you something new and different, click the ❤️ button on this post so more people can discover it on Substack. 🏴☠️
PS: Don’t forget to grab a copy (or gift!) of one of our best-selling books:
PPS: For an in-depth overview of category design principles, sign up for (or share) our free email course:
🏴☠️ The7-Day Category Accelerator course walks through the fundamentals of Category Design and gets you up to speed quickly, so you can start “thinking different.”