Writing by Peter Hilton

Start-up company ideas are cheap

A good team that executes well matters most - 26 December 2014 #startups

Light bulbs are cheap

Entrepreneurs occasionally succumb to the illusion that their startup idea is worth something. An idea for a business or a product, however inspired, won’t get you anywhere without a team that can pull off the hard work of executing the idea. You’ll probably need some money too.

It’s fairly obvious that an idea by itself isn’t worth much, especially to every entrepreneur that ever tried to sell one. What is perhaps less obvious is that new ideas are easy to come by. After all, most start-ups - even successful ones - are based on fairly straightforward ideas, often a variation on something that already works. Only rare exceptions are something nobody else could have come up with.

The fundamental theorem of app design

In case you didn’t already know, there is a fundamental theorem off app design: given a few pints, every conversation in a pub will result in an idea for a mobile app. How often have you heard someone say ‘there should be an app for that!’?

To illustrate, here is a selection of start-up ideas that occurred to me recently. They are all flawed, one way or another, and some of them aren’t even funny. However, the point is that many equally stupid and boring that have been successful in practice, and there are more ideas where these came from.

Worthless start-up ideas

Code Surfing - I turn up at your place with hipster craft beer, do awesome pair programming, and sleep on your couch for free. This is simply a hipster-programmer variation of Couch Surfing. Kate Howlett suggested another variation: Chick-Flick Surfing - turn up with chocolate and ice cream, watch chick flicks, sleep on the couch.

The Metaphor Store is a shop selling stuff with the canonical designs featured in operating system icons. Choose between a trash can that looks like a proper OSX trash can, or a retro System 7 design. There’s a fortune to be made just by adding a mark-up to ‘plastic save icons’ - available in several colours, approximately 3.5 inches wide.

Agile or not allows agile software development coaches to rate organisations’ agile maturity for potential team members who aren’t into change management. Despite the obvious issues, there must be a way to encourage companies to shine, without anyone shooting the messenger.

Hot Dinners publishes real-time live temperatures of restaurant interiors, so you can avoid (or seek) the ones with gratuitously aggressive air conditioning. This is obviously cool, because B2C Internet of Things is so hot right now.

Cockroach is a mobile app that warns you if you enter a restaurant/takeaway that recently failed a hygiene inspection. Actually, given the UK’s public Food Standards Agency data, this has probably already been done.

Dining Lingo provides country-themed restaurants with sound systems that continuously play language lessons in the toilets, so that customers get added value from an additional ethnic flavour and a little education. There are a few bars and restaurants that already do this, but few mainstream products, if any.

Trade Unfair provides packs of 100 fake business cards that sales reps who go to trade fairs can use to make it look like they got lots of sales leads when they were really in the bar all day. The obvious pricing scheme attaches a premium to C-level executives’ cards and certain industry sectors.

Manual Code is a web service that links QR codes on the back of consumer products to online instruction manuals. Not only could this be a killer app for otherwise uncool QR codes, but could be added anywhere in the supply chain from manufacture to point of sale, and connect whoever hosts the manuals to consumers.

Swag Drop is service to deliver conference swag to your hotel so you don’t have to carry a heavy backpack around all day.

Man Scan is an app for men who hate clothes shopping, or are too busy being successful. It identifies menswear in a photo of yourself and tells you where you can buy exactly the same clothes again, so you don’t have to be bothered with new things or waste time hunting for old ones.

Beautiful Box reinvents ugly takeaway food packaging so that it looks good enough to take a picture of, taking fast food upmarket. The obvious viral marketing angle is to promote this with a photo-sharing app.

LifeOS Tips extend the iOS Tips app so it gives you advice for life, instead of just for using your phone.

Appliance² puts wifi, a web server, and a responsive web design user interface, in your oven, so you can use any device to control it instead of four tiny front-panel buttons. Bonus points for an API that enables custom apps. This is Web of Things, which is Internet of Things for beginners.

NoLuggage is a frequent traveller service - pack ‘your’ suitcase online with new gear, and have it delivered to your hotel room to use for the duration of your trip. Personalise the service with custom packing lists for ‘beach holiday’, ‘New York business trip’ and ‘dirty weekend in Paris’.

Sun Spot is an app for finding sunny cafe terraces for your r location and its weather forecast, with a sunlight hours schedule and planner that you can use to get a table just before the sun comes out. 123terrasse partly does this in France.

20Q is an app that identifies anything whose name you’ve forgotten, by asking you 20 questions.

Scrawl is a retro social media app - like Twitter but with posts in your own handwriting on a fixed-size ‘piece of paper’.

Functional Chocolate Dutch chocolate letters (traditional St Nicholas gifts in December) in the Greek alphabet, so you can get lambdas for your functional programmer friends. Similarly, for early music nerds, chocolate ficta (♯♭♮) to hand out as prizes for spotting errors in music scores during rehearsals.

Codebox packaged/branded Raspberry Pi (or similar) that boots into a Scala/Clojure/Haskell REPL and serves docs from a web server.

Talking Points is a conference presentation app that calculates the minimum font size (in points - geddit?) for text on presentation slides from the room and projected screen size. For bonus points, crowd source venue dimensions by analysing photos of slides taken from the back row.

Photo: Paolo Martini / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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