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How To Innovate

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Love the idea of inventing the next great innovation in the industry? Here are some tips from David Caulfield, founder of text messaging technology UpdatePromise.com and owner of Fix Auto Yorba Linda in Yorba Linda, Calif. on becoming the next Thomas Edison of the collision repair industry.

• Solve a problem you have in your own shop. The reason Caulfield invented UpdatePromise.com, which interfaces with a shop’s management system to send automated text messages to customers with updates on their repair, was because he was having trouble staying in touch with his customers. “You’re running thin and you don’t have time [to call customers every time there’s a status update on their car],” says Caulfield. Thus, the concept for UpdatePromise.com was born.

• Try it out on your friends (or in your friends’ shops). Once you have a prototype of your invention, pass it on to your friends in the industry to try in their shops. “You can’t get a second sale if you don’t get a first,” Caulfield says. “I called up [a friend in the industry] and said, ‘Can you please give this a shot?’ They tried it and they found benefits to it.”

• Do everything by the book from the start. When you start the process of patenting and marketing your new invention, do everything correctly; don’t try to cut corners on the administrative and legal stuff. “We have customers who have very strict privacy requirements, so as far as legal goes, it’s all done correctly,” Caulfield says.

• If you make money from your invention, reinvest it in the company. That’s the only way to grow, says Caulfield. And he should know: UpdatePromise.com is growing about 50 percent per year. “No one’s out driving Ferraris, but it’s a profitable company.” Thanks to a philosophy of reinvestment, “2011 is going to be a big year for UpdatePromise,” Caulfield says.

• Stick with the winners. Surround yourself with industry pioneers and thinkers who can support and challenge you as you develop your innovation. “I’m very close to the industry leaders,” Caulfield says. “We share ideas and information, and any of them would be there for me in a second to make sure I can achieve my goals and dreams."

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