Where do the best ideas come from that form the basis of blockbuster startups – or at least, startups that do well?
Thierry LeVasseur is here to tell you that they come in part from a deep understanding of where the needs and gaps exist within the products, services and technologies we use in our daily lives. They also come from the ability to think outside the box, and with a strong user focus. And when the ideas have taken form and substance, a realization that it’s important to protect your innovations with solid, detailed patents as the basis of your business going forward.
Thierry LeVasseur is a tech innovator and entrepreneur who parlayed a deep knowledge of the Web and multi-channel digital communications to devise a family of patented advances to address any number of pain points around today’s email systems.
The result is a tremendously versatile set of solutions that couple with all the major email clients, from Outlook to Gmail, to improve their security and functionality.
As LeVasseur explains, “As email grew as a business communication channel, there was good news and bad news about its evolution. On the one hand, it facilitated our ability to connect quickly – no waiting for snail mail from clients or for hard copy memos to wend their way through interoffice delivery systems.”
But it also opened the doors to every marketer in the world who was determined to reap the benefits of outbound marketing strategies. Clogged inboxes aside, LeVasseur adds, there was the security issue. Besides email’s vulnerability to hackers and scammers, maintaining confidentiality and privacy can be problematic.
LeVasseur saw the issue growing as part of his business at the time of developing such Web assets as corporate Intranets, extranets and websites. It wasn’t just email solutions that he was moved to explore, though. The increasing importance in today’s digital environment of content led him to investigate opportunities, leading to another, earlier startup centered around a cloud based content management system for multi-channel communications.
He’s most proud, though, of his patented solutions that cover mechanisms for securely transferring messages under a single email address as well as the complete tracking during their submission. Solutions that also allow recipients to review information about messages, including others’ responses, before opening them. “For your eyes only” features are also covered as well as a configurable cryptographic engine for storage.
“Everyone talks about innovation, particularly in technology, as being the lifeblood of business, and yes, it’s important. But it’s not necessarily a goal that only a lucky few attain,” Thierry LeVasseur says. “Sometimes it’s just a shifting in how we think and being able to take that all the way through to becoming a viable business is the real challenge.”
Thierry LeVasseur recently discussed technology and innovation with Young Upstarts.
What particular challenges to practical innovation and its commercialization would you warn young entrepreneurs to be aware of?
Thierry LeVasseur: Sometimes I think that coming up with ideas is the easy part of innovation. Entrepreneurs often have to put more time into overcoming the challenges than in the ideas themselves. Take intellectual property. You should provide enough information on your innovation to advance understanding of its value, but you also need to protect information that’s vital to your patent. It’s complex stuff.
Building a business capability to bring ideas to market is a different kind of challenge. It’s not just startups. Many established organizations don’t know how to screen ideas, align them with the business strategy, and allocating the right resources, whether that be personnel or financial investment.
You talk about patents. From your experience, what should entrepreneurs know about patents?
Thierry LeVasseur: Getting one is both complex and expensive. I encourage those with an idea they think is patent-able to do their homework and avoid some common mistakes. Never sell your invention or offer to sell it without filing a patent application, and even if you follow that rule, watch out. If your application is defective and doesn’t disclose your invention adequately, you may be required to do it all over.
Another rule: Avoid the do-it-yourself patent search. It’s worth the investment to have a professional do it. What you can and should do is a detailed product search on the Internet to see if anything like your innovation already exists.
There’s so much going on with technology, from the Internet of Things to blockchain to AI and machine learning, that you almost need a scorecard to keep track of the next new new thing. What do you find most intriguing and why?
Thierry LeVasseur: Where to start? Probably with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. What’s so promising here is that cloud-based machine learning tools are making AI much more accessible and less expensive. It means sectors that previously couldn’t take full advantage of the technology – like medicine and energy – have the opening. We’ll see big gains in economic productivity as a result. I also think we’re making large breakthroughs in 3-D printing that are very exciting. In particular, it’s becoming cheaper and faster to print metal objects. This has significant potential to transform manufacturing. Lighter, stronger parts are now possible, along with complex shapes that are impossible with traditional fabrication.