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.


Pickup Stories

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.


Crowd-Sourced Editing

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.


Board Blasts

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.


Rewarding Jobs

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.


Promoter Marketplace

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!

Also read...


  1. Definitely like the ‘Run my Life’ idea. Actually started building an android app for something similar but development never got very far :P.

  2. yeah I’ve been wanting to get into iOS development as well but have no iPhone yet! hehe. Hopefully coming soon ^^

    Also another startup idea my friend wants to do- kind of an ‘open education’ site where professors or experts in their field could post video lectures and stuff like that, all for free. I know I’ve been wanting to get into things like higher mathematics but it’s a bit tough without actually going to a university. Other subjects like computer science, on the other hand, are much easier to learn on your own.

  3. With regards to “Does this fit me?”, if you had a big enough database of clothing measurements such as size, fabric composition, etc, I think you might be able to just let a person take a picture of an article of clothing. We could then look for a match to a piece in the database and run some math to see what kind of fit the person would have versus their entered measurements. Seems like a killer app to me. (obviously a different approach to use IR instead of ML)

  4. @Chris, I usually am very leery of education-based startup ideas. Part of that is because I am not a very adept teacher, but I also just don’t see the big incentive. Education is one area that I think will be solved by the next generation, but not ours.

    @Dave, seems similar to my idea. I think “some math” would end up being a ML classifier, even if it’s just a simple probabilistic model that takes a few features like you described. Cool idea pivot!

  5. Great insight about the Betfair for anything.

    We investigated that model when the financial crisis was brewing, but found out that betting on regulation change before a start up could take off was something that most VCs would not consider.

    We still have an API that other developers could tap into and run their own Betfairs for anything with any currency.

    If anyone’s interested, they should get in touch with me.

  6. I am so glad to see someone posting ideas up and getting them out of their head, no more braincrack (google it). I think there needs to be more of a community around ideas and solving problems much like kickstarter. Post a pain problem – see people respond with solutions and then allow for joining the team and either kickstarter it or weekend startup it. Either way it’s making for a better world if people come together and JFDI with mobilizable ideas.

    Great stuff, glad I found it on HN :)

  7. Found this through HN. This list is awesome. It mentions several pain points I’ve experienced. Is there a site that just collects a bunch of ideas like these? Sort of a repository of cool startup ideas (hopefully with a categorization schema that makes sense so you can easily find relevant ideas).

  8. Enjoyed your “Run My Life” idea, and would like your feedback on LazyMeter – your overwhelming to-do list, one day at a time. Drop me a line if you’d like a beta key.

  9. Regarding the recipe idea, there are actually countless sites and forums for people to post and share and comment on recipes. So not sure how this is unique…

  10. LOVE the Ph.D. idea – it’s something I’ve been thinking of for a while, specifically in regards to law. Pay a law student to draft up a copy of some legal doc, and then just pay a real lawyer 1/6 the cost to have him review and change a few things.

    I think the video idea is a natural next step for someone like 99designs, but again it’s certainly a great idea – especially as product demo’s become more and more important to webpages.

    Just curious, but which one do you think has the highest disruptive potential?

  11. Not sure I get your Rydex idea – Rydex/Profunds obviously offer foreign market funds – basically like EEM 2x – what’s the difference in your mind?

    Attracting capital to something like that will be challenging in the new world of ETFs.

  12. You should have included an affiliate link to a registrar on this post. You would have just received a couple of commissions from me!

  13. @Damian, Rydex and Profunds provide foreign market funds but trading is on US Eastern Standard Time. It really makes no sense to try and trade the Nikkei or CAC 40 at 4pm EST. A better solution would be to enable people to trade at the open/close of the target market.

    I actually think attracting money to that would be relatively easy. You get less slippage and less fees… what’s not to love?

  14. @Justin, the idea that I think has the most potential is the one that I didn’t post. I’m probably going to launch that in a few months. :)

    Otherwise, I am honestly agnostic about which idea has the most potential. A lot are based on marketplace or social interactions, and those are the kinds of apps that can dominate a market if they catch on (see: AirBnb, Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon).

  15. Nice post. I actually have a beta test going on for something like the Game Challenge/Ranking Site. Right now it just has various Sports & Settlers of Catan. But I could make it to record anything.

    You should try it out and let me know what you think.

  16. RunMyLife is cool. I have thought something similar but there is a twist in it. I am just puzzled whether I make an independent site or a Facebook app.

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  18. The betting app I was thinking of is at Tracks bets with your friends over twitter. Pretty interesting idea.

  19. And it looks like someone has been trying the pickup stories idea at as well

  20. Re your, “Does this fit me?” post – this is exactly what we are building. We launched our early beta last month. Our site is called Dressipi – we help women to navigate the increasing number of clothes available online to find what looks great on them and what suits them best. We tested the service with 1000 (very patient!) trial users and found the sizing to be one of the key issues. We’d love to know what you think. Cheers Sarah

  21. Wow, I thought I had a lot of good ideas but your list is crazy! Some of those ideas are awesome, so I’m sure it would be amazing to see the ones you kept for yourself ;)

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  23. “Wait To Buy” is sort of being done by Camelcamelcamel (

    The data is certainly there and the numbers are being collected.. I don’t think vendors or manufacturers are acting on those numbers yet though. Could be a next step!

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  26. The only idea I would see myself using and thinking of it to work is “Wish you were here”.

    I presume people do post this stuff over Twitter and Facebook anyway, and with some smart filtering and location based services, you would see where most of the people are, and as a brand you could check if you have any store there, and what those people actually want.

    And based on that, you can leverage existing tools (social media), on top of allowing people to express their frustration about not having a brand in their city / location.

    Cool idea, I guess it would be interesting. Let me start: Starbucks, I wish you were in A Coruna, damn you! :)

  27. I imagine you could culture hack a “I wish you were here” service by promoting a hashtag flavor on twitter. It would lower the barriers to contributing that going to a special site or service would require.

    Like firstworldproblems or humblebrag it could cook down to guidance for others, in this case guidance toward markets ready for your product.

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