Don't Do It Yourself

My Unpursued Start-up Ideas

I’ve decided to share some of my start-up ideas that I never had the time or will to execute.  It’s taken a lot of courage to share these babies publicly (and a small dose of shame), but this is a therapeutic exercise for me.

You’ll notice a few of the older ideas below have since been implemented by other entrepreneurs.  It’s fun to see a concept validated, but sad at the same time to know it could’ve been you.

Even more of these ideas were DOA, but mildly entertaining to read and shoot down because of a fatal flaw.  And lastly, the right person could still execute a few gems in this list.  If that’s you, let me know how it turns out!

In no particular order, I proudly present my list of neglected start-up gold.

  1. General contractor tool tracking: If you’ve ever had a handyman or plumber work on your house you know they usually show up with a war-chest of tools.  I’ve often had to call contractors back to retrieve some smaller tools they left behind.  A handyman would never lose their tools if they used an tool inventory system with barcodes or RFID tags.
  2. Animated USB drives: You’ve probably seen the crazy USB drives in the shape of Yoda, Spongebob, or a human thumb. But I had the idea years ago to create flash drives that used USB power to do wacky animations like this one and this one.
  3. Voice recordings in greeting cards:  Yup, hallmark beat me to the punch, but I can remember talking about this idea back in 2000 (although I later found a patent filed by Kodak in the late 90’s).
  4. Smart gift cards:  At Home Depot they use a thick permanent marker to write the remaining balance on the back of your gift card after a purchase.  How silly is that?  Why can’t this be automated?  A gift card should have a digital display with your remaining balance.  Heck, regular credit cards could show your account balance, your spending limit, and frequent flyer miles.
  5. A travel soap dish with a power suction cup: (yes, there is such a thing as power suction). You take the soap container right out of your bag and stick it to a shower wall.  The container would seal shut when closed, but when opened the grates would allow water to flow through.  This one still has legs. I even spent a couple hours one Saturday to submit the idea on Quirky (see the design above).
  6. Tub spout (or shower head) thermometer: A tub spout that contains a digital readout.  You could set it to a desired temperature and it would beep when the temp is reached.  This could work great in hotels or other unfamiliar settings or for parents bathing small children that fear having the water too hot or cold.
  7. Find a cheater website: A website where people post pictures of couple in bars they think might be cheating.  Women (or men) can view photos and tag the people they recognize.
  8. eBay estate sale service: A rep would come to your house and take inventory of everything you own.  They would post everything possible on eBay or Craigslist and hunt down specialty shops for high value items.  The whole business would run for a set commission % so the provider would have the incentive to sell your stuff for the maximum possible.  This would be ideal for folks that inherit a house or have to move in a hurry, don’t have time to get rid of valuables, but want their full worth.
  9. Door-to-door baseball card buying: Related to the last item, but specifically for collectibles.  Order a collectibles expert from a specific niche (like baseball cards) to come by your house and appraise and buy your collectibles.
  10. Door-to-door Coinstar: Similar to the failed startup Webvan, you could go online and schedule a truck (preferably armored) to come by your house and cash in your coins for a 10% fee.  The coin counting machine could sit in the truck and the driver could print out a check for you.   The Coinstar model is brilliant, “give me money and I’ll give you less money back that’s easier to carry”.  Of course, transporting large amounts of coins around in a truck present all sorts of logistical issues, the worst of which would be trying to avoid the criminal element that would request pick-ups at shady locations.
  11. A service to replace “at risk” photos on a website:  The service would search through your site for all photos that are not legally obtained or have attribution.  It would then replace all of them with legal substitutes automatically or give you suggested replacements through a simple reviewing app.  Cost to the site owner could just be the purchase of the new photos. A great way to resell (and mark-up) stock photos.
  12. Expert image finder: Similar to the last item, but a human run service that accepts draft blog posts and suggests suitable images based on a prefilled survey you answer with your likes, dislikes, and preferred style. This service would need to be able to make good decisions to differentiate from low quality auto-recommendations from some plugins.
  13. SpIce cubes: Have you ever heard about taking fresh spices from your garden, putting them in an ice tray, filling with water and throwing in the freezer?  During the winter you can thaw out your spices or drop them in sauce or something hot.  Well, ice trays are kind of awkward so this would entail a sealed tray (so nothing spills) and labels you could put on the outside to indicate what types of spices are inside.
  14. An ergo-dynamic toenail cutting stand: Admittedly, an unsavory topic.  But how many of you try to lean your foot on the lip of a trash can and awkwardly balance your weight as you move forward to cut your nails?  Or do you just cut ‘em on the floor and sweep ‘em up later?  Again, gross.  So what about an angled foot stool with a receptacle built in to collect clippings?
  15. Baby bottle with upside-down diagonal measuring lines:  All the parents out there know what it’s like those first couple weeks of a baby’s life.  You’re super anal about everything that might help keep your baby alive.  Doctors tell you to record exactly how much your baby drinks from a bottle, but do you know how hard it is to see what’s left in the bottle while it’s inverted and in the baby’s mouth?  They have measuring cups with diagonal lines for pouring, so why not on a baby’s bottle?  New parents will spend money on anything, and this one is still a killer idea, but too easy to replicate.
  16. Diaper Dashboard: Embedded diagnostics in disposable infant diapers.  A tiny, paper-thin diagnostic device could be inserted into a diaper with a special sleeve to monitor the baby's heart-rate, temperature, or even let you know if the baby rolled over (to help prevent crib death).  All this could be fed to a hand held baby monitor, just like the monitors parents like me carry with us everywhere we go while the baby is sleeping.  You could charge 2-3 times as much for these bad boys, plus expensive monitors.   Trend data could even be stored and provided to doctors for analysis at check-ups.  This is well beyond my technical chops (and perhaps current technology limitations) which is why I never followed up on this one….but probably my favorite from this list.
  17. The Power Mill: A gym fueled by members.  Fairly self-explanatory.  Members could swipe cards and have monthly electricity generation goals.  When goals are met small credits could be made to monthly gym fees (more of a status thing than money savings).  This one was a joint idea with a friend of mine (thanks, JD).  His main contribution was a Conan the Barbarian style wheel of pain as a centerpiece in the middle of the gym with instructors walking around yelling at you.  Very medieval, but I can see it doing very well.

Again, if you like any of these start-up ideas, please feel free to use ‘em (if you’re not too late already).  Just make sure to drop me an email with your success story!  And rest assured, I still have plenty more in the hopper that still have legs that I’m not quite ready to share yet.