Software, content, and just about everything else you see online today has been designed for the masses. Apple builds one Mail app for millions of people to use; EA expects a wide swath of people to enjoy the video games it creates; journalists write news stories intended for mass consumption.
And this makes sense; it’s how most products are made these days. After all, it’s not feasible to craft a custom offering for every individual, right?
In fact, we’re just barely scratching the surface of personalized products. A/B testing and variants let us target increasingly granular demographics with the content most likely to convert them, but this isn’t true personalization — at least, not yet. But what if every piece of software, every article, and every video strived to be what each person wanted it to be?
It’s already happening in journalism, e-commerce, financial services, and business intelligence. In fact, a pioneering automation company in the Research Triangle of North Carolina called Automated Insights is working on just that.
Robbie Allen, its founder and CEO, claims the company is the largest content producer in the world, having written more than 1 billion articles in 2014 alone. “We flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” he says. “Instead of one story with a million page views, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.”
The same is coming to video games and other software. One day, we’ll have applications that can adapt themselves to each user’s needs. Automation and AI will make this a reality, and the game will change not only for consumers, but also for entrepreneurs.
What the Future of Automation Means for Startups
There’s a reason companies like Atlassian, for instance, focus on project management for developers and don’t branch out to project management for construction or financial services: If you go after too broad a market, someone will build a more specific — and more personalized — system that better serves the needs of your niche.
This is how markets fragment, and it’s why businesses are advised to target one very specific part of their market. Going forward, though, you should expect to be able to target individual people and companies using automated development systems that can tailor a piece of software to fulfill a customer’s precise need. Targeting usually takes place at the marketing level, but you’ll soon see that moving to the product development level as well — when software products become able to self-modify in order to better suit individual users.
Automated capabilities will affect hardware, too. Standby Screw, a custom parts manufacturer in Ohio, is already reaping the benefits of having intelligent machines perform custom operations that originally took hours of manpower. The company uses Baxter, a Rethink Robotics’ product, to perform a variety of tasks — even repositioning parts bumped out of place — without having to stop or be reprogrammed.
Baxter has freed up valuable time for employees to do tasks that require more creative intelligence and has cut down on the production time needed to build custom parts and packaging. In the future, enhancing customization will be the bare minimum for companies looking to remain competitive — startups, and even larger businesses, will have to differentiate themselves through other means, such as price and customer service.
What this means for entrepreneurs is that the barrier to entry will be considerably lower: Fewer employees will be needed to complete increasingly complex tasks, rendering startup costs, even for manufacturing, relatively negligible.
How to Prepare for a Brave New Personalized World
So how do existing tech companies prepare for this future of ultrapersonalization? What’s the best way to stay on the cutting edge of the automation revolution?
Here are three ways to stay on top of the customization game:
- Don’t be late to the party. Begin looking at ways to adopt automation and personalization technologies as soon as you possibly can, including partnering with other companies and products that can help you get to that next level. Mercedes, for instance, has taken advantage of Nest’s developer program, and its cars can now let your smart thermostat know what time you’ll be home. Nest can get your home to the optimal temperature before you pull into the driveway.
Lest you think only tech companies in Silicon Valley need to worry about this issue, a recent survey found 60 percent of businesses across a variety of industries are already seeing returns on their investments in personalization tools. Nearly every industry will be deeply affected by this movement toward greater personalization — to remain competitive, it’s best to prepare now, regardless of your area of expertise.
- Expect the rules to change. The hard and fast rules of the startup world (i.e., find a specific target market, build one product that works for that group, and market it accordingly) are going to change. A core product that’s good at accounting, project management, or payroll, for example, could adapt and personalize itself to fit the needs of a broad range of individual prospective users.
In the near future, many businesses will allow each consumer to customize, and in some cases, design his or her own product from scratch — even if it’s digital. Something as mundane as breakfast cereal is already being hyperpersonalized: Muesli now allows you to create your own mix on its website. Creating something that’s perfect for just a percentage of the population is no longer a requirement; automation and AI will allow you to paint with broad strokes.
- Implement automation in product testing. Thanks to automation, the timeline of going from idea to implementation will be dramatically decreased.
Many companies that have shifted from a completely manual testing process to a hybrid of automated and human testing are already seeing efficiency improvements in product development. The shortened time frames that result would be a huge boon to startups, which are more often than not limited on time and resources.
A future where nearly every product and service is customized to fit the individual is closer than you might think. By preparing for this future and incorporating automation wherever possible, entrepreneurs and existing startups can ensure that they remain one step ahead of the competition.
Image Credit: CC by Christian Lau