Imagine a driverless car behaving more courteously than the driver sitting next to you. That’s what Drive.ai is looking to do with its iteration of a smart car: It's experimenting with all forms of automated pedestrian communication.
The brand hopes to position itself as an interactive self-driving vehicle, experimenting with verbal commands and rooftop billboards capable of flashing messages, directions and even emojis. Even as companies like Audi and Mercedes continue to saturate the smart car market, Drive.ai is investing in the continued evolution of its product, adding in the necessary technology to differentiate it from competitors.
Drive.ai's vehicle is a piece of proprietary technology for the company, one it must continually invest in to keep consumer interest high -- because it’s not enough for entrepreneurs to just create or patent something that stands out. They have to continue tweaking, tinkering and toggling with that new software product to parallel changes in customer needs.
That's where proprietary tech comes in.
The perks of proprietary software
Proprietary technology, in the form of patented products or services, allows businesses to develop customer loyalty and continuously build on their offerings. Proprietary technology is -- and has been -- a big part of my own water-conservation company’s fabric since its infancy.
Externally, we’ve constantly tweaked and improved our trademarked residential water-conservation offerings in order to become the go-to choice in that area for property managers. Behind the scenes, we've outsourced engineers to develop software that, according to our own research, has expedited internal workflow by 50 percent.
These processes allow us to specialize the development phase and establish a level of control to maximize workflow efficiency. As massive an undertaking as ours is, we keep at it because we know that establishing and maintaining proprietary technology and processes will pay off in the end.
Developing proprietary technology is also costly and time-consuming; so companies must invest at the right time. Those that invest prematurely may end up scrapping the technology because it didn't meet the full range of a client’s need or didn't align with the company's long-term strategy.
Once an organization creates genuinely innovative products, it must protect its ideas and invest in proprietary assets. At that point, the technology is worth the initial cost because it pays for itself exponentially once the infrastructure is in place.
When leveraged correctly, proprietary tech boosts revenue significantly, presents a unique market offering and limits the competition. Here’s how companies can get it right:
1. Find some kind of fault.
A CB Insights survey estimates that 42 percent of products falter due to lack of market need. Research your audience’s biggest struggles, and provide the answers to those problems.
Before you look to create a solution, evaluate common market problems that you could hypothetically solve. Identify a gap in the industry, and make it your technology’s goal to fill it. In Drive.ai’s case, it shifted focus toward pedestrian communication, something competitors apparently hadn’t given a lot of thought to.
My company observed that our customers lost considerable amounts of money on pipe leaks and abnormal water usage. All of the existing market solutions were prohibitively expensive or impracticable, so we invested in a toilet-monitoring product that addressed 90 percent of the waste issues for a fraction of what other providers charged.
That investment showed us that our clients see much better returns on investment with our product when compared to our competitors. Offering a smarter, more cost-effective solution helps a business corner a section of the market and distinguish itself as a viable alternative.
2. Don’t be a cog.
An estimated 10 percent of product costs are wasted on features customers either don’t value or don’t appreciate, according to the Marketing Research Association. Examine the common products in your field, and find ways to improve the tried-and-true solutions.
Innovate within established industries. Water companies have been around for a long time, but my organization wanted to avoid the standard approach of replacing toilets or showerheads. We wanted to do something that actually worked and had long-term benefits, so we invented products and solutions that filled the gap in the market.
Customers are thrilled when they encounter technologies that target the roots of their problems instead of acting as temporary Band-Aids.
3. Do more by doing less.
Google Drive acts as a hub for Gmail, Docs, Hangouts and all other Google products, which is why it’s been so successful and retains more than 1 million paid customers. Build products and services that are intuitive and dependable.
Because consumers demand simple, easy-to-use products, proprietary technology should be accessible. On the back end, create platforms that are user-friendly to both clients and the in-house team.
Instead of referring to multiple spreadsheets and software programs, my company invested in one behind-the-scenes platform that acts as a central nervous system for water analysis and data aggregation. Being able to see all our client data in one place enables us to identify trends and create more accurate usage predictions for them. We’ve also established a customer-facing portal where they can view these metrics themselves.
Distinguishing your product from the competition never stops. Entrepreneurs who continually invest in their own proprietary technology help their companies stand out and give colleagues within their industries something to shoot for.
Businesses must offer exceptional products that no one else can replicate. Proprietary technology can help companies establish and sharpen their competitive edges. Whether you’re enhancing a car’s ability to drive on its own or developing ways to better conserve water usage, constantly investing time, money and creativity into a proprietary product is a good way for entrepreneurs to ensure customers keep finding your services useful.