Jeff Payne’s company, OpenCar (acquired in 2016 by Inrix), developed as an outgrowth of a major OEM engagement. The company created an open app platform that enables automakers to safely and securely connect drivers to the world around them and expand vehicle functionality after shipping. With the initial customer’s blessing, Jeff began to offer the OpenCar platform to other automakers. “The vision for our product was to generalize the development interface across ALL cars,” he explains.
Caught up in the steak, missing the sizzle
Despite the timeliness of the technology and the gained experience of an early OEM customer, Jeff had difficulty capturing the interest of other OEMs and tier-one suppliers. “As developers, I think we were caught up in the steak and missing the sizzle,” he recalls.
“In meetings, I couldn’t wait to get to slide seven, which was a schematic of our platform—I was so proud of it,” he says. “But we didn’t have a compelling high-level selling proposition; I knew it intellectually, but I couldn’t embody it.” That’s when Jeff contacted Third Law for advice. “I was interested in their industry lens,” he adds, and initially had them review OpenCar’s pitch deck.
“They walked me through their research and put me on the other side of the table—they helped me see things from the automakers’ perspective.”
Third Law delivered a detailed analysis of the pitch deck and helped Jeff think differently about the value OpenCar offered, and to whom. A positioning exercise soon followed, including a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), competitive analysis, and new messaging platform.
“Third Law had better competitive intelligence than we had,” Jeff recalls, as well as a very different perspective. “We were looking at the industry through a technology-centric lens, while Third Law looked at things differently, and so different companies showed up on their competitive landscape.”
While Third Law’s research and recommendations were unexpected, it showed Jeff and his team how OpenCar’s positioning could be sharpened. He adds: “They walked me through their research and put me on the other side of the table—they helped me see things from the automakers’ perspective.”
Embracing a new position
Jeff re-evaluated the assumptions his team had made based on OpenCar’s first customer. Each car company is unique; some are more engineering-centric than others while some focus more on the customer experience. With Third Law’s help, Jeff’s team crystallized their communication about where the platform fit in each situation.
Third Law’s positioning strategy for OpenCar focused not on similar platform companies but on global players bringing consumer-driven technology into cars through personal devices. Jeff began to pitch OpenCar as an independent, white-box alternative to these industry giants, empowering car companies to maintain control over the in-car experience.
Consumer expectations of cars are changing quickly because of the digital devices in their lives. “Cars need to become experience devices, too, and the in-car experience matters a lot—I thought automakers understood that, but the industry can’t change course on a whim,” Jeff explains. “We had to give them a really compelling value proposition.”
Changing the conversation
The new positioning, messaging, and pitch deck transformed Open Car’s experience in meetings. “After I changed my approach and used the new positioning, I had much more engaging conversations,” Jeff recalls. “The conversations became much more interactive.”
While automakers responded well to the message, they were reluctant to engage with a company with a short track record. “We needed to be absorbed by an incumbent to credibly survive the customer cycle of engagement, procurement, integration, and a five-to-twelve-year support relationship,” Jeff says. “The auto industry is a tough nut to crack if you’re a new little company. We needed the help of a larger company to do that.”
“After I changed my approach and used the new positioning, I had much more engaging and interactive conversations.”
Jeff turned to Third Law’s research and positioning as he began preparing for these new conversations: “My initial assumption about potential buyers was that the basic value proposition was obvious: Surely you must agree that the in-car user experience is important. But that assumption was again not validated, and I had to back up from it. I wouldn’t have done that so readily without Third Law’s help. They taught me how to change the conversation.”