I’ve been using a new mental model where I formulate a sentence that describes what a company does and then home in on the verb that defines the category they hope to own.
By changing one word at a time in the sentence, it’s easy to think of the different directions that a company can expand in, whether through building new products or making acquisitions. This rubric helped me see what I initially thought were surprising forays by companies as choices that are strategic and cogent
Here’s an example with Uber:
Humans driving cars move other humans on demand.
Changing any of the italicized words one at a time allows us to think of adjacent markets that fit within Uber’s brand and can benefit from the expertise and economies of scale that they are building.
Humans driving cars move food on demand. a.k.a Uber Eats
Self-driving cars move humans on demand. a.k.a Uber’s Self-driving program
Humans driving trucks move stuff on demand. a.k.a Uber Freight
Self-Driving cars/trucks/boats/planes move stuff on demand.
Self-Driving Food Trucks/Vendors that move to where you are on demand.
From these examples we can surmise that Uber’s business is to own any category with the verb move. If you think of Uber as an on-demand cab company then you would miss the size of the opportunity around owning the verb to move. It’s much more rewarding to think about it as a company that moves people, objects, food, etc. It makes it much clearer what their potential can be as their ambition grows.
Let’s take another example to illustrate the versatility of the concept using Google:
Google organizes all the world’s information so that humans can find digital information.
It’s crucial to notice that Google, though it’s synonymous with search is actually anchoring it’s mission around the verb organize. Search is a method of accessing the organized information rather than the primary goal. Of course they started out by organizing links on the web and that naturally evolved to all the world’s information even if it’s not digital e.g. maps, books. They also made the information available to machines through APIs instead of just humans.
I find that framing a company’s mission using this method allows me to understand the possibilities around their business both for anticipating interesting ideas that can be built and for brainstorming pleasure :)
Thanks to Katie Gemmill and Nicolae Rusan for reading this and providing input.