Ideas Are Cheap: 31 for the Taking

Over the last 30-days, I tweeted a new startup idea every morning. I could keep it going for another 30 days, but it’s a good time to stop and reflect on them. I kept them vague — how much can you explain in 140 characters? — so I’m expanding the ideas below.

Some are small and make for a good small business; some might be a billion-dollar idea from the get go, most are likely a starting point for an even bigger vision.

Not all of them are original and either have existed in a form or another, so there’s no need to tell me something like it already exists. I’m also not taking credit for all of them, most come from my head, but some I heard somewhere else. These are ideas and they have little value without execution.

Here they are…

#1 — Product search to find the nearest retailer that carries product X.

Setup: You know want you need to buy and you want to try/touch it first, or you need it immediately and can’t wait for online delivery. For example, you need to buy a travel backpack for your trip tomorrow. Which is the nearest store you can try a Victorinox backpack model you want? Is it at Target, Macy’s or at the Mall?

Product: A web or mobile service that allows you to search for a product and find the nearest store that has it on inventory.

Risk: Google Shopping comes very close to solving it, and it’s not a high-frequency problem that this product becomes top of mind.

#2 — Modern fund-raising platform (mobile & web) for non-profits.

Setup: The state of non-profit and charity technology is awful. The majority of them use in-house technology that hasn’t been updated in years and doesn’t use best practices for donations, social media, content marketing, event management, etc.

Product: A SaaS service to allow charities to build fully managed communication, fund-raising, and content marketing services.

Risk: Charities have little money, and they are cheap. Switching costs are high — they already use MailChimp or Constant Contact, have a website, and use some fund-raising management software.

#3 — Business Dashboard to provide a layer of UX sanity when dealing with government services

Setup: You have to file for your business license. You have to pay employment taxes. You have to collect a certificate. Forget what you have to do, and start by *knowing* what you have to do, then *finding* where and how to do it, and, finally, *doing* it. It’s all awful, top to bottom. Oh, and don’t forget there is the city, the county, the state, and the federal government websites. And that’s if you are lucky and only do business and have employees in a single place.

Product: Provide an abstraction layer to most services that a small business needs to deal with city, county, state and the federal government with appropriate notifications, reminders, clean experience, credentials management, etc.

Risk: 1) So, so, so much work to do. Where’s the wedge? The one small thing that could be done to get started. 2) How do you acquire customers?

#4 — Xbox Kinect Physical exam app.

Setup: The Kinect for Xbox has the most modern setup of video cameras, infrared camera, and microphone that you can buy for your home at consumer-level prices. Researchers showed how to measure the heart rate of a person by changes in skin color using a camera like the Kinect. There are conditions around vision, hearing, cognition, and bio-mechanic that can be diagnosed through this kind of technology.

Product: An app for Xbox that asks you questions or to perform certain tasks and diagnoses conditions. Pair that with historical data on how you are doing and you have a much better picture of your health.

Risk: The FDA doesn’t like technology playing doctor. There aren’t that many Kinects deployed out there. There isn’t a clear price point for this service (unless an employer or health insurer subsidizes it).

#5 — Subscribe Sign-in button with micropayment for publishers (a la FB Connect)

Setup: It has been an uphill battle for news sites to monetize their content. AdBlockers are eating their lunch (more like, stepping on it) and the paywall subscription hasn’t proved viable except for very few publications.

Product: A sign in button for publications from a shared service that makes it a one-click solution to bypass the paywall (just like a “Sign in with Facebook”), charges a monthly subscription from users, and disperses funds appropriately among the publications for spent time on site.

Risk: It needs a flagship publication to adopt this and dozens or hundreds of smaller pubs to be on board from the get-go.

#6 — Personal Dashboard to provide a layer of UX sanity when dealing with government services.

Setup: Drivers License renewal. Property tax. Remodel permit. Parking ticket. Pet License. Report a road problem. If you feel like you get a handle on all of those, this is not a good idea. However, for normal human beings, finding what needs to be done, where, how and when, it’s a hassle. The amount of time you have to re-enter the same personal and credit information is ridiculous. Ugly interfaces, tiny buttons, the opposite of mobile-friendly. Ugh.

Product: A one-stop shop for dealing with government issues at a personal level, storing credentials, information, providing reminders, and making life easier.

Risk: Customer acquisition. A lot of work to get an even small portion of it done. (not a risk: the government will do it. No, they won’t)

#7 — Massive multiplayer AppleTV family game night.

Setup: Just watching TV? Who does that these days? We have our tablets, phone, and laptops on at all times even when watching TV. Sometimes we play games while watching TV. Why not create an environment that involves all those things at once.

Product: A massive multiplayer AppleTV game in which a family plays against another family (from their circle of friends or not), and compete in tournaments of knowledge, dexterity, skills, etc.

Risk: Requires a great game experience for it work and a non-trivial user base to get the flywheel going. And, how do you acquire all those families? Oh, and it’s not like AppleTV has been this blockbuster consumer product.

#8 — VR Shopping

Setup: There is a category of product that is both non-commodities and have sizes/dimensions that are part of the value proposition, thus making it hard to buy it online. Yes, clothes are the first thing that comes to mind, but also furniture, condos & houses, tools, toys, even a lawn mower.

Product: VR app that integrates with a shopping site that allows you to see in real dimensions a product.

Risk: Feels like a feature, not a business.

#9 — Stay-at-home assisted living bundle.

Setup: Elderly care is complicated, and sometimes costly. If you are helping an elder, you have to manage (finding professionals, scheduling, billing, etc.) a few dozen different things, from medical to non-medical. Shopping, house maintenance, bill paying, doctor visit (transportation, scheduling), prescription fulfillment, etc.

Product: A service that provides a bundled assisted living package that manages it all from a single interface.

Risk: Private home care is only for the upper classes, and Medicare is complicated to deal. Margins might be too thin to justify this business.

#10 — Fixed-price medical procedures bundled with travel + lodging.

Setup: Medical Tourism is a thing. It’s not uncommon for people to travel to another country for a cheaper or better treatment. For either medical or non-medical conditions (i.e. facelift). Clinics and hospitals that specialize in fewer types of procedures also have the benefit of a “production line” system, making them better, faster, and cheaper.

Product: A marketplace service + partnerships with hospitals to create a network of surgical procedures services, particularly for elective treatments in which patients travel to the closest specialized center that’s part of the network.

Risk: Is there enough margin to make this an interesting business? Which procedure is the MVP?

#11 — AppleTV deliberate learning interactive content

Setup: Deliberate learning (sometimes called Deliberate Practice) is the act of acquiring skills by repetition of “micro-tasks” (I’m oversimplifying it here, and it’s a field that we are just starting to understand about the brain). Most Deliberate Practice has focused on physical skills (sports, instrument, etc.), not knowledge or problem-solving skills, but it probably could be applied to that. Math, geography, coding, design, grammar, poetry, etc. can be learned and improved with Deliberate Learning.

Product: An AppleTV app that gives you micro-lessons and micro-tests that you repeat on a daily basis (or multiple times a day), assuming an AppleTV is in your bedroom or a place that’s part of your daily routine.

Risk: Not enough AppleTVs out there. Unclear the first content / class of content this should go after.

#12 — Sexual Harassment & Diversity training app for college students

Setup: Sexual Harassment & Diversity training is very common (mandatory in some states) at companies and government. It turns out, not all parenting is great, and, sometimes, people just didn’t have a chance to learn what’s appropriate or not. Laughable? Not really. More common than you think. There are an unknown (large) amount of cases of sexual violence and bullying at high schools and universities. Why wait until people get to an employer to be exposed to this type of training?

Product: A Generation Z app and website, with a modern interactive micro-learning approach to teaching kids about sexual harassment and diversity (Duo-lingo for Sexual Harassment & Diversity).

Risk: Who’s paying for it? How do you get into college campus?

#13 — AppleTV app that lets you pause a show, scan the image and buy the products on that scene.

Setup: This idea has been floating around for 20+ years, where video content would have digital tags associated with them and allowed you to learn about the products, locations, or people on the screen. The hold up is because it needs too many parties to participate for it to work. The advertiser, the video producer, the video distributor, the hardware at the end, the shopping site they will be redirected to, etc. With advancements in image and voice recognition, plus a little bit of mechanical turk and crowdsourcing, some of these hurdles are behind us.

Product: An AppleTV extension (or a TV extension) that allows you to “scan” an image and get information about products, places, events, or people and save it for later.

Risk: AppleTV doesn’t provide an SDK that would make that possible today. Still require some partnership with retailers or travel sites to make the business model work.

#14 — Kitchen countertop projector with touch interaction

Setup: Alexa has been a blessing on my kitchen (timer, conversion, definition, etc.), but I still need visual guidance and words when cooking. The kitchen PC was a good idea, but the form factor didn’t catch. The kitchen counter is also the place you sit around just before you go out to work or school, so it can be used to remind you about appointments, traffic, etc.

Product: A small projector you install on the ceiling of your kitchen (or under a cabinet) that projects onto the counter, and it has tactile detection and voice-activation, to provide you with cooking instructions, calendar, brief news, weather, etc.

Risk: Hardware has thin margins, so what’s the companion service that makes this a viable business? The technical challenges to project on counter-tops of different materials and colors make this hard.

#15 — Garage sale as a service (pick up, sell, rev-share)

Setup: Selling a bunch of things on Craigslist is a hassle: The negotiating, scheduling, emailing, picking up, etc. The biggest advantage of a Garage sale is that you can sell a bunch of things at once. The hard part is marketing your garage sale. Using online and street signs are the best you can do today. The goal of the garage sale is rarely about making a lot of money; mostly it’s about decluttering.

Product: A service that drives to your home, picks up stuff in consignment and either sell or donate the items. Items that can be sold online on Craigslist or eBay (if the price justifies it) to be shipped or picked up at a depot, smaller items go into a front store at the depot, everything not sold is donated.

Risk: Capital intensive to maintain and operate warehouses, trucks, and people. Very thin margins.

#16 — Geocities for VR

Setup: We are entering a new world with VR. When the Web came about, it felt like this. Geocities was the first place on the Web a non-coder could establish a creative presence for whatever purpose.

Product: The VR equivalent of Geocities, where people using Oculus, Vive or Gear can go and explore the world and enter into someone’s “room” to see their notes, videos, messages, pictures, etc. Giving people enough creative controls on how to create these rooms to make it cool.

Risk: It’s a consumer play, possibly with a SaaS or ads model behind it, so it only works if it reaches millions of people creating and visiting each other “rooms”.

#17 — Automatic to-do list for house maintenance (time to replace air filter, …)

Setup: Taking care of a house is death by a thousand cuts. Clearly, if there is a major issue with like a broken pipe you deal with it, but there are dozens if not hundreds of little things you need to do to make sure the house is well-maintained. Busy life with an ever-growing “to-do” list and lack of knowledge and skills is just part of the problem.

Product: An app that allows you to enter information about your house, type of appliances, construction information, etc., that automatically creates a to-do list for you as more things need to get done, gives you guidance on how to get it done or who could get the job done.

Risk: Customer acquisition. How do people learn about this app?

#18 — WebRing for Podcasts.

Setup: The people more likely to subscribe to a podcast is people listening to another podcast and hearing about it there. Ask any podcaster about it and you know how much they prefer to be mentioned in other podcasts than in any other medium. Besides the emotional endorsement, the fact that you are already in the podcasting app of your choice makes adding a new one a breeze.

Product: A server-side service that stitches podcast advertisement and creates an exchange for podcasters to promote each other. If podcast A has 10,000 listeners, it gets 10K credits for each stitched ad and gets 10K impressions on different podcasts to promote itself.

Risk: Can you convert this into an ad network? Are there enough podcasts being created right now?

#19 — Peer-to-peer energy (solar/wind) sharing.

Setup: More and more homes and office buildings are setting up their renewable energy source, primarily solar and some wind. They sell the oversupply back into the grid to the power companies. It’s a process that’s economically inefficient. If my neighbor wants to buy some Apples and I grow apples, why sell it to a local market and not directly to her?

Product: The hardware and the exchange marketplace necessary for you to buy or sell energy to neighbors on your block.

Risk: Regulatory. High upfront initial costs. Potentially, low margins.

#20 — Ads on AirBnB properties for local businesses.

Setup: A lot of people travel for tourism and stay in AirBnBs. One thing hotels do is to provide all those flyers and magazines with coupons of things to do in the city. When you stay at an AirBnB, you get none of that.

Product: Could be a mobile app AirBnB hosts ask you to install or an AppleTV app when you get to the condo, or something hosts print and leave in the room/condo when you arrive with deals and recommendations from local businesses.

Risk: Two-side marketplace, requires lots of small businesses and lots of AirBnB hosts to kick start this business.

#21 — Alexa for business conference rooms.

Setup: Two typical problems when you are sitting at a business meeting. First, is the functional aspect of a meeting: closing blinds, turning on the projector, turning lights on/off, or even re-supplying the room with markers, erasers, coffee or pastry. The second problem is the need to quick-fire answer to things when the person holding the knowledge might not be in the room: What was the revenue for X last year? How many users visited our site yesterday? What’s the status on project X?

Product: An Alexa AI agent that’s the “secretary” of the room and can manage the space, get data, call people, etc.

Risk: Huge technology hurdles to make this impressive. 95% accuracy is just not good enough.

#22 — Real-world crowdsourced experiences testing (restaurants, stores, etc.)

Setup: In tech world we are used to having this constant stream of data that we can use to measure the quality of our product, alerts to know when things are going well, and tests that help us optimize the business. If we are launching a new feature or product, we conduct focus groups, release in Beta to a small portion of the audience, or have a team of crowdsourced tests from UserTesting or Applause. What about a restaurant, a coffee shop, a theater, a clothing or furniture store?

Product: Hire real human beings trained to collect, observe, and provide feedback on the experience, content, quality, courteousness of staff, knowledge, etc. It can be done once or twice just after launching a new store, or on an ongoing basis to detect trends.

Risk: This won’t be a cheap service and finding the store owners, franchisors or corporations that will be willing to pay will be an uphill battle.

#23 — Google Analytics for your life.

Setup: So much of our life is already in digital data format. Our finances, health, fitness, genomics, social media influence, career, home value, products we buy. How do we know if we are deviating from benchmarks? Or improving? Or being blind-sided by a slow moving trend?

Product: Business have their BI dashboard, how about one for your life, that you can check once a week or once a month and see trends, compare (anonymously) with other people like you, and set personal goals?

Risk: Monetization. Who’s going to pay for that? Market size. Are there enough people that would be interested in something like this?

#24 — Personalized fitness plan using predictive analytics and big data.

Setup: If you’re training for anything, from losing weight to run a Marathon, you have two options: Get a personal trainer who each week will tell you what to do and adjust to your schedule, needs, and performance, or get a plan out of the Internet (or some app). Neither is using the billions of data points being generated every year by everyone else trying something similar.

Product: A training plan that’s using big data to tell you what to do next based on your current performance, schedule, and goals.

Risk: Likely people won’t pay for it.

#25 — Political Initiatives campaigns as a service (marketing, web, mailing, etc.)

Setup: I can’t speak for other cities, counties, and states in the US, but in Seattle, every year, there are anywhere between 10–20 initiatives on the ballot. The YES and NO campaign set up websites, mailing lists, fundraising events, etc. The tools and knowledge they acquire are mostly lost because once the managers and backers of an issue are done, they might not be involved in another initiative and new blood comes in.

Product: An “Initiative Marketing in-a-box” service, that provides all the necessary tools to easily setup your website, create collateral, apply best practices for fundraising, integrate with SMS, provide signature collection tools, feedback tools, the whole nine-yards.

Risk: There are that many initiatives every year to begin with, so unless you can make $100K+ per initiative and capture 50% market share, this won’t be a big business.

#26 — Jiffy Lube for your house

Setup: Did you read #17 (Automatic to-do list for house maintenance) above? What if you don’t want to or don’t have the time to do it and prefer to pay someone? On top of it, what about all the little things that break on the house and they keep accumulating over time: a loose faucet, a broken light bulb that requires a tall ladder, a cabinet door that is tilting, yada, yada, yada.

Product: A handy-man on demand that spends half-day or a full day at your house and fixes a dozen things for a fixed price. Anything that requires more work or additional parts is done by a partner provider (a plumber, electrician, etc.).

Risk: It has been tried in a form or another by many startups, and no one seems to crack this code. Customer acquisition is a problem.

#27 — Parents group messaging (PEPS) & activity coordination (w/ events calendar)

Setup: If you have young kids (age 0–6) the weekends are filled with activities, preferably coordinated with another family (or families) with kids in the same range. Finding what to do and getting a group of moms and dads to agree revolves around a lot of email and text exchanges, and, often, you learn afterward of a great little thing that was happening just a mile from your house that didn’t even show up on your searches.

Product: A mobile app with a calendar of activities, events, and places to go with kids that lets you view reviews, ratings, pictures and videos (and live streams), and integrated with a messaging platform to invite other families, pool their suggestion, and coordinate things — maybe an FB Messenger bot-like system, although bots are not great for browsing ideas.

Risk: Create an experience compelling enough to replace SMS, Email, WhatsApp, FB Groups, … and make sure it’s viral.

#28 — Concierge service for billing support.

Setup: You love spending time with AT&T dealing with a billing issue don’t you? How about your Health Insurance company? And upgrading that Cable package to add HBO to it? It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 or 50 minutes, our expectation has come down to instantaneous. Don’t waste my time, just make it happen. It’s also frustrating that each provider uses a different system, requires you to remember a different type of way to contact and identify with them, and have different flows that you don’t use enough to get used to.

Product: A service that you can email, text, chatbot or call that interfaces between you and all your providers. To sweet the deals, it also monitors all the billing and account information and notifies you of mistakes or suspicious activity — e.g. “strange; you don’t have a telephone line at this address, but they are charging you the 911 Fee on this bill. Did you add a line or do you want us to dispute the charge”, you: “dispute” — done.

Risk: Will people pay for this? Will there enough people who want to pay for this?

#29 — Crowdsourced Packing List Generator for travel.

Setup: You and your family are traveling to Iceland. Do you want to know what to pack? Your first instinct is to check the weather, but that won’t be enough for you to bring exactly what you need. How many times you come back from a trip and say to your travel-companion “next time remind me to bring X.”

Product: An online tool that allows you to generate a packing list based on where you are going, for how long, who you are going with, what kind of activities you’ll be doing, and your style (backpacker, light-packer, ultra-prepared, etc.) People can comment and augment the engine, and it gets better over time.

Risk: Where’s the money? Are there enough people that care about this

#30 — Priceline for restaurants, theater, movies, etc.

Setup: You are looking for something to do on Friday night with your partner, but you are on a budget. What’s the best thing that you can do for $50 or $75? A few hours later you give up researching and just stay home watching Netflix.

Product: A service that allows you to “name your price” for an activity (steakhouse, 4-stars or better) and matches you with a place willing to provide the services at that price.

Risk: Too much attention competition in this space, including GroupOn, Costco gift cards, promotions (“30 for $30” in Seattle), etc.

#31 — Reddit for short-stories, novels, poetry.

Setup: It’s tough to monetize any art form, and we all know (most of us, anyway), that art brings social and culture values. But who pays for it? Or, how do you “test” art for its potential monetary value? Can you A/B Test chapters of a new book and see which direction seems more interesting?

Product: A combo of Reddit + Kickstarter for writers to put out a call for comments, share their creations, create a following, get feedback, monetize and fundraise their projects.

Risk: Will people pay? Will writers come? Isn’t Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patron already owning that space (although not verticalized)?

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.