👋 Hi, I'm Adam.

🚦 challenger ICP teardown

Published 4 months ago • 2 min read

Seeing Keyplay featured in last week's Growth Unhinged newsletter was a big high for me (even bigger than the Halloween sugar high). 🎃🕺 If you are building an outbound motion, it's worth checking out the story from Thena. I'm very impressed by their GTM strategy and and Brendan Kazanjian has been the ultimate power user.


As Geoffrey Moore teaches, startups need to win an early market before “crossing the chasm.”

It requires strategic focus. Smart challengers don’t play everywhere that the incumbent competitor plays.

Today's deck shows this point with data and graphs 📊.

The example study is Linear vs Atlassian. I mentioned them last week and wanted to go deeper. In the data, we see a sharp contrast between the challenger's early market (Linear) and the incumbent's increasingly broad approach (Atlassian Jira).

This analysis comes from a sample of each company's customer list. We pulled the "featured" customers from each company's website (~100 each) and then compared the two ICPs from several different angles. This is similar to the work we do for Keyplay customers, but we look more holistically at their closed won.

Let's breakdown some of the themes from Linear vs Jira...

Category Focus

Atlassian Jira has case studies in every industry. Linear has focused on emerging, software-centric categories.

95% of Linear featured customers are in SaaS, Fintech, Online Marketplaces, or Health Tech. Companies in these software-centric categories buy into Linear’s product development methodology, elegant UX, and “modern” approach.

Contrast that to the incumbent. Atlassian has 200K+ customers, across every industry. McDonald’s uses Jira. So does Audi, Airbus, Adobe, Target, Hilton, many major governments. It's become a "default" product much like Salesforce in CRM. You don't get fired for buying Jira.

Rising Stars

As the incumbent classically goes up market, the challenger wins with smaller, faster-moving companies.

83% of Jira’s feature companies are larger than 1,000 employees. Linear highlights smaller customers, almost all of them VC-backed, and remote workplaces.

But this is not a pure SMB vs ENT strategy. Linear has focused on rising companies with growth potential, positioning for the next generation.

60% of feature customers were founded in the last 5 years, 41% have raised $100M+.

The CTA on Linear’s customer page is beautifully consistent with their market strategy. It’s clear this product is targeting the rising stars.

"Modern" Mindset

Linear's homepage message called their product "the new standard for modern software development." The idea of a modern approach is pervasive in Linear's external message, POV, product focus, and customer list.

We see it in the charts above -- founding date, remote work, modern categories. It also shows up in the correlated technologies being used by Linear customers.

This chart is a bit of an eye-sore, but shows some clear patterns. Atlassian customers lean much more toward incumbent vendors across their stack -- Salesforce, Adobe, Workday, Microsoft, Oracle. Meanwhile, Linear customers appear to lean more toward second and third wave vendors in many of these categories -- Intercom, Ashby, HubSpot, Amplitude.

The Pattern

I shared this chart last week and I'm clearly still obsessing over the bigger picture pattern. There are lots of versions that we can study going forward.

Linear's approach works for them, but this kind of focus can take many forms. I started brainstorming a short list of ways that challengers "attach" to specific ICPs. I came up with the following 4:

What else would you add to this list?

Reply or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

p.s. If you are looking for this kind of data on your customer list, Keyplay can make it happen for you! As part of our free POC process we can crunch the numbers on your customers list, find lookalikes, and hone your ICP model.

Just reply here with a little background and I'll get the process started for you.


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👋 Hi, I'm Adam.

I'm chief analyst here at PeerSignal and CEO/co-founder of Keyplay. Join 17K+ B2B SaaS leaders who study modern GTM with my almost-weekly newsletter.

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