Startup Ideas

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Between working on my own startups and a book about how startups get traction, I’ve been thinking about startups and problems they tackle for a little over 2 years now. A byproduct of working in startups is coming up with plenty of ideas for other companies – in my case, over 200 I’ve taken the time to write down. Of course, I can’t implement every idea I have (nor would I want to). But I do believe that getting feedback on ideas is valuable. In fact, it’s what led to every company I’ve ever started.

Below are just a few ideas I’ve been thinking about lately. The list isn’t in any particular order. I’m also sure some of these exist, but I just haven’t heard of them – if that’s the case, just let me know in the comments. Replace the Pharmacy
Tagline: Redbox for pharmaceuticals

My roommate in college was in Pharmacy school, so I know a little bit about how the Pharma industry works from the employee side (community, hospital and primary care). The average salary for a pharmacist is $115k, and most of what they do (especially on the community side) involves looking at a patient’s scripts and determining if there are potential negative drug interactions or side effects. It seems to me that you could program a machine to algorithmically determine these potential negative interactions and automatically dispense medications to customers (and potentially integrate with Surescripts or Express Scripts). With many big Pharma companies hitting a “patent cliff” between now and 2015, many of these companies will be looking for ways to save money and distribute their drugs more cheaply. I think automating the pharmacy is a likely step in that direction. High-Quality Mechanical Turk
Tagline: Mechanical Turk for ___ problem

There are certain tasks that are pretty well-defined (running a statistical analysis on a data set, installing WordPress, setting up KPIs on Google Analytics) but still require a bit of research and work on your end to accomplish. It rarely makes sense to outsource these small tasks, as going through 40+ applications on Odesk takes time and isn’t much fun. If you’ve never done it before, learning to install WordPress can be difficult and still take up a lot of time. This service would allow you to buy services like splicing an audio and video track or setting up a hosting service, all for a fixed price. You pay a reasonable rate, this company would take the difference between that price and the person they sourced it to. For anyone who’s not super technical (or even someone who is, but has better things to do), this would be a quick and easy way to save time and money.

Market Research as a Service
Tagline: Odesk for market research

Large reports on market research cost thousands of dollars and only give you a sense of the market at a given point in time. Why isn’t there a company offering market research for a lower cost? By hiring a few researchers, you could pull together a report for several thousand dollars and sell access to it at lower cost. In addition, you could offer ongoing research as a subscription service – pay $20 a month and we’ll send you all relevant updates on your industry/other companies in a nicely packaged format. This would be great for busy professionals (especially in larger corporations) who want to stay up to date but don’t have time to read through industry journals.

Hands-off Accounting Service
Tagline: H&R Block meets Yodlee 

Accounting is still a huge pain. Tons of services (Wave Accounting, Xero, InDinero) have made this easier, but it’s still a painful process that takes up time. Why isn’t there a service that allows your accountant to log into all of your business’ financial accounts and do your taxes without any input from you? I’m imagining a service that you provide your bank passwords to, it logs in for you (using Yodlee) and then allows your accountant to see to your financial accounts – all without actually sharing your passwords with anyone but the service. I can’t really imagine making accounting any easier. This type of site could also work with things like hiring a freelancer to fix up some code, etc.

Decorate My Apartment
Tagline: Dribbble for interior design

I suck at anything resembling interior design or decorating. This type of service would allow people like me to post pictures of your apartment or room, and individual designers could then recommend certain posters, furniture or decorations to make the place look nice. You could also build some cool imaging technology where you superimpose images of furniture/art on top of the pictures of your apartment. Designers could take an affiliate commission when users buy things they suggest would look good. You could also hold contests for the best interior designers, much like 99designs.

Inexpensive Legal Documents
Tagline: Mechanical Turk for legal drafts

Law students need experience. I want (most) legal documents as cheaply as I can get them. This service would connect you with law students who could pull together a basic legal document for cheap, which you could then give to your lawyer for a quick review and touchup. I think this would work especially well for startups, who often don’t have a ton of money but need to create basic legal agreements (NDAs, partnership terms, etc.). Minimizing the hours required from real lawyers would save hundreds of dollars for each document that went through this company.

Drone-based Shipping
Tagline: Matternet for localized shipping

Matternet is doing some cool things with drug delivery in rural areas, but I think the commercial potential of drones goes much farther. Drones are likely perfect for local deliveries of physical objects or documents that weigh less than 5-10 lbs. They have a short range, can be tracked with a GPS, and are relatively cheap to build and operate. A drone delivery network could be used to deliver things like food and important documents, and would never get caught in traffic. The downside is that drones are likely to become very heavily regulated in the near future. I think this idea has potential, but would be really difficult to pull off.

Real-Time Betting
Tagline: Watch TV, make money

This would likely work best as an app, but basically something that would allow you to create mini-bets with your friends about things that are happening in real-time. For example, you could bet that LeBron would make a free throw during one of the NBA finals games, or which contestant on Jeopardy would answer the next question correctly. This app would make watching TV a lot more engaging and fun, and would be a way to control those smaller bets you make with friends.

Injury-free Lifting
Tagline: Lifting coach in your pocket

So many injuries at the gym occur because people don’t realize how to properly do certain lifts. Doing a deadlift wrong can have very serious consequences, and without a trainer or coach to watch you it’s very difficult to tell when you’re doing something wrong. With the iPhone’s accelerometer, I’m betting you could detect when someone is doing a lift improperly, and have suggestions to improve it. For example, if you strapped the iPhone onto your thigh and turned this app on, it could tell if you were out of alignment or overcompensating during your lift, and show you how to improve your form. You’d have to build a few different algorithms here, but I think it’d be very doable. It could also track your lifts, and show you how you’ve improved over time.

Hackable Hardware
Tagline: BugLabs for the iPhone

One of the constraints with hardware innovation is the lack of platforms that people can develop on. Apple’s hardware is entirely closed, and Google’s isn’t much better. There’s a major opportunity for startups that can build hackable hardware platforms that interface with consumer electronics like the iPhone. This idea is less fleshed out, but I’d imagine you could build a lot of cool stuff on top of an iPhone case that interfaced with the phone (whether through the iPhone’s ports or some sort of Bluetooth). Things like LittleBits, RaspberryPiSifteo and Twine are a step in the right direction towards more open hardware, but there’s a lot more to come.


That’s it! Glad to get some of those off my mind. Hope some of these are interesting, and I’m happy to hear any feedback.


One response

  1. Great ideas!  On the legal tip, you aren’t too far off:  I was in a training session by a major legal research company recently with a number of young attorneys.  The trainer was showing them a new feature included in the firm’s subscription that basically offered a “paint by numbers” way to practice law, complete with forms and check boxes.  Think “Legalzoom.”  They were more than a little agitated at the implications…

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