Progress and protection: Covering yourself when innovating

Whether it’s a product or service, businesses face more intense pressure than ever when it comes to ensuring your USP is stronger than your competitors’. This not only puts extra pressure on research and development, but ensuring your work is protected too. To discuss product development and their own experiences with IP, we invited Ali Niknam, founder and CEO of bunq, and David Vismans CPO at, who offered their own priceless insights on navigating these periods.

Push things forward

First of all, you need to be confident about what your business model is and why it’s going to work. A major part of this is knowing exactly who you’re selling to, and the best way to approach them

One of the toughest hurdles for any business when developing a new product or service, is figuring out exactly what consumers want with limited data. 

It’s vital not to let this paralyse your progress, instead put the onus on being agile and making adjustments where needed as you go along. Speak to customers as much as you can and allow these conversations to guide your decisions.

While concrete data is useful, forming a deeper understanding of your customer can provide priceless insights that are key in these initial stages. Investing in a product manager can be extremely worthwhile when balancing commercial duties and development.

Don’t leave anyone behind

Development periods, particularly in tech, can quickly become confusing. Things move fast and it’s easy for people to fall out of the loop with what’s happening - especially if each stage isn’t communicated clearly among teams that aren’t necessarily working on R&D.

To combat this it’s imperative to maximise internal exposure to the latest direction. Ensure you’re engaging with everyone, and that each team is familiar with the most recent version of the business roadmap, even more so if it’s changed throughout the process. You may think you’re reminding people too often, but that’s far better than not enough.

Protect yourself when outsourcing

While the majority of people go into business with good intentions, the reality is you must do all you can to cover yourself and your creations. This becomes far more difficult when outsourcing.

Spending as much time as possible with those you plan to go into business with can be a good indicator of their intentions and whether your attitudes are aligned. 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to fully know what someone is thinking, so be smart about how you outsource. Think about how much information you’re sharing, if you can avoid giving away the ins and outs of your core business then you should.

You’re well within your rights to consider a non-compete clause in any contract too, while it may put some businesses off, it could be completely justified in the long-run.

Develop your revenue stream 

The ability to adapt is key to any successful business, the effects of COVID makes that truer than ever. One of the biggest challenges now facing many brands across the world, is how to shift from traditional selling, to a recurring revenue model.

Rolls Royce is one business that has changed the way they operate in this regard; instead of selling airplane engines, they sell the time that the engines are actually being used, placing value on the output rather than the product.

Another example is selling the availability of people needed to operate a product, rather than the product itself. 

While it can be tricky for established businesses to make the shift, startups who are just emerging should implement such a model from the outset. Not only will this help bring a steadier flow of income, it could save you a small fortune when you don’t have to make the switch further down the road. 

Creation or third party?

Deciding between creating something from scratch, or purchasing from a third party can be difficult. Time, budget and resource oftens leads to businesses being forced into sourcing from elsewhere. 

While it’s often a necessity, there is the risk of being seen as a reseller, rather than a creator. This can affect how potential investors judge you and ultimately influence their decision in whether they want to part ways with capital. If the product is something at the core of your business, something you want to be recognised for, developing it yourself is generally always the way to go.

There is however a middle ground in such a situation. Purchasing elsewhere initially to gauge your customer’s response is a useful way to make those first steps and break into the market at a faster pace. Once you see that appetite for the product, you can begin to create for yourself, knowing that the work you’re undertaking is worthwhile.

Cover your back

To put it simply, you should be patenting your offering as much and as often as physically possible. While the process isn’t airtight, for example, software has become notoriously hard to patent, it’s far better than leaving yourself wide open for competitors to swoop in and steal your IP. 

Investors will naturally look more favourably on a business that has more protection too. Be smart about the wording of any patents as this could make or break at some point down the line. This is a good case for investing in a strong legal team.

This period is a fine balance between caution and progress. We live in a time where tech is evolving like never before, successful entrepreneurs don’t just keep up, they lead. However this rate of innovation means taking the steps to safeguard your USPs and potentially groundbreaking creations, simply cannot be overlooked. 


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