192.168.1.1? No, not that kind of IP. We’re talking intellectual property, and why it’s a great idea to make it a part of your business strategy. This works for many different kinds of businesses, and even digital agencies like ours. In fact, we’ve been working on our own service product, that we’ll talk about a little later on.
In a world where many brands’ key assets are now in digital form, intellectual property, despite its dusty old connotations, is more relevant than ever. If a business has an asset that is intangible, and if it’s been created by the business to serve a core function for its users or customers, it’s most likely intellectual property.
Intellectual property can be broken into a number of groups, including trademarks (logos, words, symbols), copyrights (software, books, designs), patents (utility or design) and trade secrets.
If a modern company such as Slack or Facebook hold IP rights over a particular digital asset, it could be a mix of any of the above, packaged up in a complex bundle of legality. But the bottom line is clear; whatever the arrangement, protecting IP protects your business, its idea and its products.
Aside from the obvious security benefits, holding IP over something that your business or agency has created indicates that it’s of great value to you, and most likely, to other people too. And if those other people are potential customers, then great – this could be the start of a profitable journey.
Of course, you don’t just whip up an idea overnight and register the trademark, copyright the formula and hide away the secret. It’s not quite that easy, no matter how many Post-its you have on your meeting room wall. Creating an idea that could sell takes time. And protecting the IP is only worth doing if you (and others) truly believe that there is value in the idea.
- What problem does your digital product solve for customers?
- Are you sure this isn’t being solved already by another product or service?
- Is your idea scalable and future proof?
- Is there a feature roadmap to keep customers engaged long-term?
- Or is the idea so good that it does one thing, and one thing only?
How do we help businesses form an idea that could become IP?
For us, it’s a fairly straightforward methodology. We listen to the business’s needs, and we form a solution that they can’t buy off the shelf – a solution that we think will stand head and shoulders above what other agencies may propose to them. If we all work together to get it right, the client has a digital solution on their hands that not only solves their problem, but may well solve other people’s problems too, thus opening a new revenue stream.
Looking internally, we’ve applied this method to our own day-to-day gripes; there just isn’t a piece of project management software out there that suits our needs. That’s not to say the landscape isn’t impressive. There are some truly beautiful apps available for project management, team management, client communication and the day-to-day running of an agency. But as we’ve grown and evolved as a business, our needs become more unique to us and our requirements more reflective of how we work as a team. The moment we realised this, we began to work on our own project management solution.
As we’ve grown and evolved as a business, our needs become more unique to us and our requirements more reflective of how we work as a team.
The ongoing quest for unbillable time
Every agency knows this issue all too well. When is the right time to work on your own projects? Where can we find the resource to work on our own website? Client work always comes first, and it’s difficult to carve out those extra days, weeks or months to build something of your own. But as the old adage goes, “Slow and steady wins the race”. Terrible advice for runners, but good advice for building internal tools.
Working on your own tool internally and alongside client projects is actually the perfect test bed for building something well-suited to your business. You have real-world scenarios in which you can test your product, you can quickly apply learnings or new features as you encounter them during your day-to-day, and you can easily make comparisons to the standard off-the-shelf digital products that you may already be using.
So perhaps it does take months for your product to reach a usable state. But think of these months as MVP. Remember, MVP isn’t necessarily the product itself (we speak about that here), but more the processes or pathways you take to find out if your product is even possible, usable or viable. Working with clients and logging those interactions and project management woes as you encounter them may just be your MVP.
As a product is formed, you can start to use it internally. No user testing, no eye-tracking, no volunteer sourcing. You become your own tester, and the real luxury here is that you can be as biased as you like – it’s your tool. There is one caveat though. It’s important to consider if you are intending to make this product available to the wider world, don’t make it so very niche that no other business can find a place for it in their workflow. As great as a heavily customised and wonderfully bespoke internal product may be for you and your team, it may as well be written in hieroglyphics if no one else is willing to use it.
Make it to make money
There are two ultimate goals with IP. The first and the most obvious is protection. The second is profit. In our case, we would love to reach a point where our product has generated enough revenue to cover our unbillable development time in building it. And then some.
The agency tool digital product utopia is either recurring revenue (as you grow the product in tandem with its popularity), or, an eventual sale if the product is so attractive and successful, that you can sell the entire thing, including IP, to a buyer. These acquisitions happen daily, with companies like Apple snapping up smaller businesses who have a technology that would be beneficial to them. Not only do they acquire the technology and the IP, they also effectively ‘shut down’ the competition by absorbing it as their own.
Qualifying projects may be eligible for R&D tax credits. This is a funding source administered by HMRC, and is open to businesses regardless of their cash position. There’s a number of requirements, and probably too much to delve into here, but here it is on a basic level…
You can qualify for tax credits if your innovative solution can be defined by two beginning and end boundaries; where a technological uncertainty or opportunity is identified, and where/how it can be resolved. Right now, R&D is limited to science and technology, and the project must present a significant improvement to, or a brand new solution for an area in the market. You can read more about that here.
Building IP with our clients
We’re lucky to work with clients who have brilliant ideas – ideas that are their IP. Right now, we are close to signing off a project with a planning company whose aim is to replace an off-the-shelf product with their own stream-lined version. We are also working with a recruitment business, exploring how they can create a tool which aggregates large volumes of data, analyses it and visualises it for their management team, improving efficiencies across the business. And as we mentioned earlier, GroundCtrl, our ‘coming soon’ project management app that we’ve built from the launch pad up.
We’re excited to share more about all of these tools, so keep your eyes peeled for more info in the near future. If you’d like to talk to us about our tool, or maybe you’d like to chat about something you have in mind for your own business, please do get in touch. We would love to help you build something beautiful, and profitable.