Startup Ideas – July 2011
The curious thing about doing a startup is that you start seeing potential startups in every problem you encounter. Since I’m trying to focus on my startup Curvio, I can’t go implementing every idea that comes into my head. The best remedy I’ve found is to simply write the ideas down so that they’re out of your mind. Thus, inspired by Jacques Mattheij, I’ve compiled a list of the startup ideas I’ve had recently.
The list below is in no particular order. Some are just fun app ideas and others are probably better as features to existing products than full-fledged startup ideas, but I do believe a few have significant potential.
Game Challenge/Ranking Site
Tagline: Zaarly for competition
Living in a dorm for three years and then spending another four years with male roommates all in their twenties, games become a part of life. The smack talk– always in good fun– is pervasive and ubiquitous. Whether it’s Wii Sports, basketball, Settlers of Catan, or poker, There inevitably comes a point where you wish you could see how well you and your roommates stack up to others near you. I am sure in any decently populated area, at least a few dozen people play the same game as you.
GPS Notifications of Interesting People
Tagline: Foursquare meets LetsLunch
Have you ever been riding to the airport in a shared transport like the Super Shuttle and everyone has this awkward silence? How about going to a Meetup event and you have to wade through dozens of people to arrive at someone with a cool project or interesting hobby? This idea is straight-forward: fill out your interests, hobbies, specialties, and anything else you’d like to talk about. When the application loads, it will let you see other people around you that you may find interesting.
PhD Candidate for Hire
Tagline: Cutting edge technology on the cheap
There is this curious mismatch with the current state of research: graduate students get paid virtually nothing to create world-class algorithms and technology that may be worth billions to companies. To offset this, most PhD candidates will take summer internships which virtually never involve their own research. Why is there not a service to which graduate students can sign up and people can contact them to implement their own research? It could potentially create a self-reinforcing feedback loop that helps keep academic research grounded in real world problems while simultaneously keeping companies up to date on the latest technologies.
Flashmob for Hire
Tagline: Gigwalk for Flashmobs
What if you were able to organize and direct a horde of anonymous people? Maybe you’re drumming up publicity for a new movie or store opening and you want a crowd of people all wearing purple shirts in the middle of Central Park tomorrow at 4pm. On the flip side, you may live right near Central Park and happen to have a purple shirt and some free time tomorrow. With this startup, participants would be given special instructions with only a short time (maybe an hour) before the event, and they would have to check in via their phone along with a picture/video to verify they meet the requirements. The organizers would pay you a certain price and you would pay out a fraction to the participants. Everybody wins.
Fake Community Generator
Tagline: Fake it til you make it– automatically!
It’s no secret that lots of sites fake communities to get started; Facebook scraped user profiles of Harvard students, reddit created fake accounts, etc. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a service that could take a link to an article and produce a fake discussion? While most simple Markov chain approaches to generating text aren’t very believable, I’m sure a dedicated effort at generating fake topic discussion would bring it to a point somewhere between YouTube comments and real human communication. It would also be a very attractive service to use when starting up your online community, though likely a very controversial one.
Source Control for Recipes
Tagline: Github for Chefs
There is a lot of overlap between chefs and hackers. Both are passionate about their work, often practicing their craft in their spare time. Both obsess about the latest techniques (e.g. compare the sous-vide craze in the culinary world to the MVC paradigm taking over web development in recent years). There are countless parallels between source code development and recipe creation, including trial and error, best practices, forking existing repositories, etc. However, the average chef often has virtually no online identity and their recipes may exist only in a hand-written notepad. Imagine how awesome cooking may be if it were made social in the same way that Github made programming social.
Tagline: ThatHigh for Pickup lines
Pretty simple lifestyle app idea with all the right parts: sex, comedy, crowd-sourced content. Sites like TextsFromLastNight are hugely popular and relatively easy to setup. This site would be in a similar vein, but would focus on pickup lines and similar stories.
Run My Life
Tagline: Virtual assistant for everyday tasks.
Okay, here’s the thing: I really don’t care about setting up most things in my life. I don’t want to decide if I should go to the gym on Mondays or Tuesdays, and in the morning or evening. I don’t want to think about when my oil or transmission fluid needs to be changed. I just want someone to do that all for me. I want a system that will send me alerts every morning with a list of mundane things to do, and the order at which to do them. It needs to be somewhat flexible to account for the randomness of life, but anything that enables me to offload the mental drain of planning my daily errands is an immediate productivity boost and I would happily pay for the service. Sites like Thirsty are getting there with health-based alerts, but I feel like there is such a big opportunity here.
Tagline: Mechanical Turk for editing
Let’s take a purely hypothetical example: you’re writing a blog post about startup ideas at 3am and no one is available to edit it because normal people are asleep right now. I bet you’d be willing to pay $3 to have that article reviewed, even if just for grammar and links, right? Me too! You could have a service that charges per-character to review text and the best part is that editors are accustomed to making very little money so they would likely be willing to sign up for the service and make some spare cash! Add in a WordPress plugin and you’re golden.
Video Creation Contest
Tagline: 99designs for video
I used 99designs for the EffectCheck logo, and I loved it. Now I’d like to make a landing page video, but the pricing from an agency is outside my budget. It’d be great if I could do a contest for video where contestants submit story boards and I pick a winner then pay them to make the video. I understand it may be a much more expensive process (maybe $1500?), but it’s still much cheaper than the current approach.
Infographic Creation Contest
Tagline: 99designs for data visualization
Same as the above idea, but instead of creating a video, I have a data set and I’d like someone to make cool visualizations out of it. I would imagine there are multiple levels of services here. You could simply supply raw data or you could have a collection of statistics you want analyzed.
A Revenge for Hire Marketplace
Tagline: Dirty Work meets the internet
Everyone who has ever been dumped, denied, rejected, or humiliated will appreciate this app. It probably comes with all kinds of legal pitfalls, but if you can execute well and reach sufficient growth before the lawsuits roll in, you could have a cool startup. It needs a good name though– maybe NeverCross.Me?
Wagers on Anything
Tagline: Betfair for Anything
This is another idea to file under “dubious legal standing.” This would work particularly well with Facebook/Twitter integration. Imagine if you could bet your friends on when a couple you know will get married or break up. Taking the money part out of the equation and just making it a play money app would probably make it viral enough to make it a lifestyle startup off ad/affiliate revenue.
Tagline: Classic board games with a twist
Two of my favorite apps for the iPhone are Word with Friends and Catan. The former is a variant of Scrabble with some slight board/tile changes, demonstrating that it doesn’t take a lot of changes to a game for it to effectively be a legal clone. The latter is one of the highest selling board games of the last ten years, but the app is severely lacking (still no mobile-to-mobile play). This startup would take popular board games like Scrabble and Catan and create variants where you can “blast” the board in some way. In Scrabble, this may mean special tiles that replace existing tiles; in Catan, it may be a new type of piece that could attack other settlements.
Exotic Locations Webcams
Tagline: Screensavers 2.0
The average cubicle worker dreams of their next exotic vacation. Maybe it’s the fjords of Norway or the beaches of Tahiti. Imagine if you had a site that specialized in setting up webcams in exotic locations, so you could see what your dream-vacation looks like right now. I think hotels would happily work with you to setup a 24/7 webcam if you enable viewers to book a room– via an affiliate link of course.
Does this fit me?
Tagline: Online shopping with big data
Guys have it easy. Pants fit us all pretty well once we know our waist and length measurements. The toughest decision I usually have when shopping is whether I need a L or XL for this particular shirt. On the other hand, women search endlessly for the right blouse or a pair of jeans that fit well and still look stylish. If a critical mass of women tagged the clothes that fit them, it would be straight-forward to create a classifier to predict if something will fit someone, given the data from similar other women. Imagine if going to Old Navy’s website showed you not just the item, but a probability of fit customized just for you.
A Global Mutual Fund Platform
Rydex for the global markets
Note: this is from my hedge fund days and is a bit esoteric. Companies like Rydex and ProFunds offer a win-win service for people looking to make daily trades at the close of the market, particularly for the S&P 500 and other major American indexes. You can move money to leveraged long or short funds, without any trading fees, and they simply take a small (~1.69% last time I checked) annualized fee. Since they simply trade the next difference of the long and short funds, their slippage is virtually non-existent. If you’re developing quant models, this is great since you can download OHLC cash data and expect virtually the same performance in real-money trading. However, the US markets are just one piece of the global trading puzzle. It would be great if a service offered the same kind of functionality, but geared towards people looking to trade all the major indexes– at the close of their respective markets. If that service existed, I would probably start my own investment advisory as I have models that work really well on a number of non-US markets.
Tagline: An altruistic-jobs board
A jobs site that only posts jobs with a more altruistic slant may speak well to the younger generation of workers. It seems like helping people and making a clear difference in the world are some of the most important aspects of jobs for young, well-qualified people. Sites like Code For America are relying on that hypothesis.
Group-Oriented Grocery Delivery
Tagline: Groupon meets Amazon Fresh
One of the biggest issues with delivering groceries is that margins are so small. This would basically be a service where if a sufficient number of people in your area signed up for regular delivery of a product, it would be delivered. The group purchasing aspect hopefully offsets the low-margin problem and may actually mean you can buy groceries at or near in-store prices and get them delivered to your door.
Tagline: Efficient product promotion
Rather than hiring a huge agency to promote your product, service, or store in a new city, why not go straight to the promoters? Promoters will post how much they charge to tout your product in their area. The app tracks their average sign ups, average monthly users after signing up, and any other analytics that might be valuable. This would accomplish the holy grail of marketing: tying it directly to sales.
User Manual Creator
Tagline: Mockingbird for user manuals
A site that lets people easily create user manuals for their products. Most manuals seem to follow the same set of steps: list parts, show numbered steps with pictures, provide alternate language text, etc. Let users upload pictures/text for each step and then you create a printable manual that can be folded up and neatly placed inside a product box.
Wish You Were Here
Tagline: Crowd-sourced market demand information
Ever been in the middle of nowhere and craved In-n-Out? How do corporations know where to open their next location? This app would enable you to check in somewhere and say, “If X was here, I would buy from it right now.” That’s a hugely valuable service on both sides of the table: consumers get to be heard and companies get cool heat map visualizations of where the highest product demand is.
Wait To Buy
Tagline: Reverse deal monitoring
Say I want to buy a Wii, but I do not want to pay full retail price. Now, I could watch the prices on Amazon, check the local ads, or even sign up to a service that monitors deals. But what I would rather do is make a bid that says “I will buy a Wii for $125″, and if someone wants to offload some inventory quickly they can come to the site, look at the buy-side of the market, and sell to the highest bids. The data you get from this would be highly valuable to manufacturers as they could see the buy-side demand in real time.
That’s it! So glad to get that off my mind! I’m really interested to hear any feedback you might have on the ideas. Are some of them already implemented? Do you think one of them is the next Google? Let me know!