Category Archives: Business_Ideas

a service to help you understand all the products and services your friends use

Enter: UltimateReviewer!

If you’re a company and want to pick a vendor, you can check out what products companies you admire use (see SafeGraph’s list of vendors on Siftery (a service of G2 crowd)). You can browse tools they use and discover tools that make sense for your company.

But there is no way to do this in your personal life.

Want to learn what the best mattress is? The most efficient way is to either go to a definitive review site (like WireCutter) or poll your friends on Twitter/Facebook. It would be a lot better if many of the people you know have already logged what mattress they use and what they think about it.

Of course, this is true for everything you use. What to find a plumber? What about a good tennis racket? How about where is a good kid-friendly resort near Tampa?

Note: This is a series of my free open-sourced business ideas. Feel free to copy, fork, use them, etc. All I ask is that if you become a bazillionaire, you must take me to dinner.

Getting a graph of your friends and colleagues today is cheap. It is easy. You can pull down graphs from Facebook, Twitter, and your mobile contacts.

But 15 years after the social networking revolution, it is still amazing that most of these services are 100% aligned to get you to spend massive time on the site (all about user engagement) rather than focused on giving you more value. Most social graph services are just about time wasting rather than making you much more productive or knowledgable (which is where their real power comes in).

There should be a service to help you understand what you want to spend money on and giving you tools to more quickly and efficiently make purchases. This is still a holy grail of the Internet that has not yet fulfilled its promise.

You can get a full list of someone’s purchases or actions by asking them to auth their email (or credit card or physical location). You can get a graph of their friends from email mining, Facebook, Twitter, auth’ing contacts, and more. Combine what you bought and who you know and you have real power to help people!

People spend a crazy number of hours researching things to buy. They research and research and research. And then research some more. Sometimes it is a local search (like house cleaner, plumber, doctor, dentist, or car repair). Sometimes it is more of a global search (like the best bluetooth earbuds). Many people spend more time planning their vacation than actually being on vacation.

Imagine a service where one can put in past purchases and it uses that data to recommend products (purely unbiased). The service should be acting in the REAL best interest of the consumer (not like most recommendation services which are specifically designed or gamed or hawk specific higher margin products) so one can implicitly trust the service.

Purchases can be anonymized for privacy reasons (so the service does not broadcast to others that “Auren Hoffman” bought the headphones … but instead it aggregated to give real value AND protect sensitive information.

Of course, the simple revenue stream is affiliate links. But once you get the trust of the buyer, you can also add an ad-words-like feature (which would be incredibly compelling to an advertiser to get in front of a person right at the time of purchase).

Summation: UltimateReviewer is another billion-dollar idea that I will never do … so offering the idea up for free to all of you to take on.

The Dinner Party — restaurant for engaging discussions

So you and your significant other are headed out for the night. You want to do something intellectually interesting … but going to a lecture can be so boring. Plus, there is no good food at a lecture. You could go to a movie but the only thing playing is Transformers 8. So what to do?

Enter a new restaurant theme: The Dinner Party.

Note: This is a series of my free open-sourced business ideas. Feel free to copy, fork, use them, etc. All I ask is that if you become a bazillionaire, you must take me to dinner.

Buying a ticket (pay-up-front to prevent no-shows) is required for to The Dinner Party. You arrive at a designated time (like 8p) and you sign up for the type of discussion you’d like — from religion, art history, sports, entertainment, modern history, physics, bio-ethics, book discussions, or even U.S. politics. You also choose a knowledge level.

You can come single, with your significant other, come with a sibling, or arrive in a big group. You get assigned to a table of the topic of your choice. The table has up to 8 people and is very small so you can hear everyone at the table (ideally the room has a series of small sound-proof booths) complete with question cards to pose to the table.

The Dinner Party would be a marketplace for dinner discussions. It can help create a better world by allowing people to change their mind.

It is simple and fun. But it is work. And it is run as a “private club” so you can readily exclude “members” that are jerks or not respectful of others (or people that get insulted too easily). Everyone rates their table mates and The Dinner Party keeps tabs of everyone’s ratings. Want to be at the big kids’ table … you have to prove yourself over time.

It is like having a built-in intellectual Dialog any night of the week. And if you are on a business trip in Kansas City and do not know anyone there, this is a great place to have an interesting discussion, learn a lot, and meet super interesting people.

There is a real need and desire for people to learn and to engage with others. But most smart people do not want to just be talked to … they want a real participatory discussion.

Summation: count me and my wife in as regular customers when you create The Dinner Party.

selling the ultimate pill – the “Placebo”

The most effective drug in the world is “Placebo.” Placebo is more effective than most of the drugs on the market. Placebo cures the flu, fever, the common cold, and is even more effective at fighting cancer than most drugs.

Yes, Placebo is the wonder drug.

It is usually made of the compound C12H22O11 which is abundant in the Americas. When taken orally, C12H22O11 is very sweet and delicious. It is often used as a sweetener in cookies, baked goods, and candy. So next time your mom tells you that candy is bad for you, tell her it is full of Placebo.

For this free open-sourced business idea, I’m offering you the wonder drug of all wonder drugs: Placebo. All you need to do is market it and get it on the shelves of Walgreens (alert: there is already a whole load of candy on the shelves of Walgreens).

Talking Placebo will cure your pain, combat your depression, and even marketably improve your sex life. It is just that good.

Placebo is also getting better and better over time. And, even crazier, the more you charge for it, the better it works. As Dan Ariely says, “drugs are are effective because people believe in them.” The more you believe, the better it works. It turns out the mind is truly powerful.

So take two Placebos and call me in the morning.

kickstarter for real estate development

Note: I’m spending much of this month open-sourcing business ideas. Feel free to copy, fork, use them, etc. All I ask is that if you become a bazillionaire, you must take me to dinner.

One of the interesting things about new destinations is that they become more valuable as they become popular. If you could get together with 100 of your friends and all decide to buy a lake house on the same random lake in Minnesota, you’ll find all the property on that lake and around that lake will likely triple in price really fast.

People don’t go to Aspen or the Hamptons just because they have great mountains or great beaches. There are plenty of places that are beautiful. They go to these well-known destinations because everyone else wants to go there.

Places are popular purely because they are popular. There is a recursive loop. Popularity breeds investment which breeds exclusivity which breeds more popularity.

So let’s say you find a really beautiful lake in Minnesota. It is gorgeous as a summer destination. It is close enough to a major airport. It has natural beauty. It is close to some amazing restaurants. The people are really friendly. And, oh yeah, you can buy two lake-front acres for $100,000.

How do you profit from that?

A traditional real estate developer will buy up a massive amount of property on the lake, build a community, and maybe some shared tennis courts and a golf course. Then the developer would market it as “Lakeside Commons” or something trendy like that and target rich people in Chicago or Houston (to escape the summer heat) to buy into the community.

Traditional real estate is very risky so it is in the real estate developer’s best interest to reduce those risks. Things are kept cookie-cutter. Things don’t deviate much from the tried-and-true approach.

enter kickstarter for real-estate

Now let’s revisit a new business idea. A community that forms online that wants to start a in-real-life community together. 50 to 250 families getting together to use their joint buying power to purchase a place. Each person is committed to marketing and building the new area so they see price appreciation (and a community that they want to spend time in).

Envision an entrepreneur scouting an amazing place and creating a vision for what it could be in the future. She negotiates to buy it. Then she recruits people to her vision and, if enough of them commit their dollars, they buy in. But not buying in just as investors … they buy-in as members of the community.

“We will buy this property if we raise at least $10 million from 100 different families.”

And sure, some of the community members will flip their holdings and make a quick profit. But most of the community will be formed with committed members that want to invest the next decade into seeing it blossom (and then benefit from the real appreciation).

Just think about getting together with your 20 best friends from high school and all deciding to focus your energies on owning a second home in the same place. You’d have an instant community.

Summation: if you start a kickstarter for real-estate, invite me to join your community.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

the ultimate combination: doughnut and mochi – the Doughchi

Note: I’m spending much of this month open-sourcing business ideas. Feel free to copy, fork, use them, etc. All I ask is that if you become a bazillionaire, you must take me to dinner.

We’ve all heard of the cronut — the croissant crossed with a doughnut that is yummy delicious. (I have not yet tried one myself, but I 100% take for granted that they are amazing). I have had the pretzel croissants at The City Bakery in New York which are out-of-this-world good.

That got me thinking … the doughnut is amazing food. It represents much of what is great in life. The doughnut crossed with lots of things is almost certainly going to be really good. And lots of people have already tried. (though not sure I would recommend the pickle-doughnut).

One thing that is super over-rated is the jelly doughnut. Jelly is just not a good filling. Jelly isn’t really tasty.

But other doughnut fillings ARE really good. Nutella-filled doughnuts are mouth-watering.

So started to think … what would be an even better filling for a doughnut???

Well, the only thing that is better than a doughnut is mochi. Mochi is amazing. And I’m not talking about crass ice-cream filled mochi. I’m talking about pure rice-and-sugar mochi.

only mochi is better than a doughnut

So pretty much the best dessert in the world would be a mochi-filled-doughnut. Whoa … my mouth is watering just thinking of it. I’m about to fly five Chicago police-officers (the best doughnut experts I can think of) to Tokyo for a taste test.

Just think … you bite into a doughnut and have a delicious chewy middle.

Yum.

And yes, you will have a 18% chance of having a heart attack.

But … yum.

Ok … the next thing is marketing. We need to market this invention really well so that everyone remembers it and forms crazy lines around the block hours before the Brooklyn bakery opens (yes, this is mostly likely to happen in Brooklyn … or Portland).

Originally I was thinking of copying the “Cronut” (which is actually trademarked) and calling this the “Monut” or even the cooler “Moghnut.” But besides for worrying about trademark violations, that name might be selling this creation short.

First, this creation would not have a hole in it (because it is a filled doughnut). Thus, no “nut.” Plus, who cares about the “nut” part of the doughnut anyway. The “dough” part is what everyone really likes.

So I give you (drum roll please): THE DOUGHCHI !!!

Enjoy the doughchi. And if you are lucky enough to create one, please consider me to give you needed product feedback. I will also offer up my kids and wife as beta testers.

Summation: enjoy this free business idea.

Tipping for is popular in B2C … could it be a new trend in enterprise software?

Have you noticed that there has been a proliferation of opportunities to tip people? Tipping has become ubiquitous. It is everywhere. Well, everywhere in B2C. But I have not yet seen it in the B2B world.

Backstory: I absolutely hate tipping.  I have tipping anxiety.

Tipping is an awful thing. I’m the sucker that always gives a 20% tip (it is much easier math than 18%), even when the service does not warrant a tip. When I go abroad, the servers are shocked at my “American tips.”

Random questions:

  • Why are tips a percentage of revenue?  (The rich just get richer)
  • Why tip at all in a restaurant? Even worse, tipping at checkout counter.  Square has massively increased my tipping anxiety.  It is just a way of squeezing an extra 20% out of suckers like me.
  • Why isn’t tipping just included in the price? You don’t (yet) tip when you buy an airline ticket or buy a book from Amazon.

Tips used to be for showing appreciation but today they are usually just to avoid embarrassment.  

Tipping in the enterprise

In my almost 20 years of selling software, I have never been “tipped” by a client.  

But that got me thinking, maybe SafeGraph should start asking for a voluntary 15% “tip” during our quarterly-business-reviews (with customers).  Maybe 25% of clients would pay (if they had a way of doing it).  
I have no idea how these customers would pay … but wanted to put it out there to some of your smart readers can figure it out.  

Summation experiment: next time your lawyer does an outstanding job, try to tip her.

Photo by maitree rimthong on Pexels.com

child care in San Francisco needs help

Many working parents in San Francisco have to move for one simple reason: they cannot find child care.   In the most liberal city in America, getting your kid into a child care program takes nepotism, bribery, some luck, and a whole lot of headache.

One friend of mine has been on the waitlist at five different locations for over a year.   And they put their current odds of getting into a program at less than 10%.   It is a shame.  

not knowing anything about caring for children (i'm still struggling with caring for my plants), it seems like there is a big business opporetunity to provide affordable, yet quality, childcare for working parents.

Productivity gains in software engineering are powering innovation

Engineers are the best deal – so stock up on them

Everyone is more productive these days. This has been a consistent trend for at least the past decade, where productivity gains have been particularly strong within the business sector.  According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s business industry workers are on average 30% more productive than their 1998 counterparts (productivity growth of roughly 2.6% per year).

Growth chart  
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Within the technology industry, productivity has increased more.  Thanks to smartphones, improved search engines, better CRM software, and ever-increasing bandwidth, salesmen and marketers can find, receive and process information faster than ever. 

The most dramatic gains, however, have occurred within software development.

Software engineers today are about 200-400% more productive than software engineers were 10 years ago because of open source software, better programming tools, common libraries, easier access to information, better education, and other factors. This means that one engineer today can do what 3-5 people did in 1999!

3589792404_65192f9038 The advent of open source software makes engineers particularly efficient.  One VP Engineering that I talked to gave me an anecdote about one module where they used open source files with about 500,000 lines of code and then wrote 7,000 lines of code to stitch it all together.  Open source software is also free.  In the company I was running in 1999, “software” was a huge budget line item – we had to buy databases, testing suites, libraries, and more.  Today all that stuff is free … a start-up might spend more money on sodas for the office than it does on software. 

We’re all familiar with Moore’s Law – that the power of computers doubles every 18 months.  In my 15 years of software development, I’ve seen 5x-10x productivity gains in engineers.  Which could mean that the productivity of a well-trained engineer doubles every five years.  (note that this Law is much harder to prove than Moore’s Law – but potentially just as profound).  That would mean that the productivity of an engineer is growing at roughly 14.9% per year!  That’s fast … really fast … much faster than the 2.6% yearly gains the population as a whole is making. 

This means that today’s companies are able to do more software engineering and build more stuff with fewer people.  But should they do more with less? It could be much more prudent for a company, especially for a small company, to do the opposite … and to double-down on engineering.  You can use the productivity gains in software development as a strategic advantage and invest aggressively in engineers. First, doing so contributes the most to progress and also increases the chance for breakthroughs in innovation. Second, engineers – as opposed to salesmen and marketers – can often hit the ground running (assuming you have a good on-boarding system) and have a positive impact within a few weeks. 

Alternatively, many large traditional companies might be able to get by with FEWER but DIFFERENT engineers.  These companies might need to change their approach to engineering to take advantage of the new tools.  The companies that can benefit from fewer engineers are likely ones that haven’t changed their technology platforms radically in the last ten years.

Although engineers contribute more to an organization than ever before, their pay – relative to other functions in a company – hasn’t followed suit.  I’ve polled a few dozen companies and have found that over the last ten years, an engineer’s pay has held the same relative salary to marketing and sales.  This is odd behavior … usually when something outputs more, its cost goes up.  So why have engineers’ wages in the U.S. stayed constant relative to salespeople and marketers?  Here are two contributing factors that lower demand:

1.    Off-shoring.  Because of new technology and higher bandwidth, more companies are off-shoring their software development.  But this does not fully explain the flat salary phenomenon since firms are also off-shoring sales and marketing (though to a lesser degree).

2.    Need for software engineers has decreased.  Because software engineers are so much more productive than they were ten years ago, many firms are opting to hire fewer of them.  If a company is not doing hard-core engineering, it actually needs fewer engineers as a portion of its total workforce than it did ten years ago.  (I personally think this could be a big mistake … but I will get to that later). 

Both the off-shoring and the decreased need for engineers has led to a lowering of the demand which has likely put a check on wages. 
 
One problem, of course, is that measuring “output” of an engineer is a really hard thing to do (as opposed to the output of a salesperson) … so it is really hard to quantify the productivity gains.  And even if you can measure output in engineering, it is sometimes hard to tie that to an increase in profitability.

And, like sales, the quality of engineers varies wildly.  A great engineer is potentially 2-4 times more productive than a good engineer.  Ben Ling from Google pointed out to me that some great engineers are massively compensated – because they tend to be the early hires at a company and get lots of stock (most of Google’s first 50 employees were engineers). 

Let’s recap:  The productivity of a software engineer has increased 2-3 times that of a marketing person in the last ten years.  Yet their relative compensation has remained about the same.  That means if you are a savvy company, you should stock up on engineers.  In fact, you would want as many great engineers as you can get a hold of. 

This engineering productivity boom will only increase and continue to create dislocation and creative destruction.  While the extent of growth and industry makeover are hard to gauge, what is certain is that corporations relying on technology and engineering paradigms from the 1990s or before will find themselves hard-pressed to compete with the new and nimble movers. 

(special thanks to Jonathan Hoffman, Michael Hsu, Ben Ling, Jeremy Lizt, Naghi Prasad, and Dave Selinger for their feedback and edits).

Biz idea: Background check yourself and publish

(another free random business idea worth what you paid for it)

There are a bunch of background check services but very few that encourage you to background check yourself. And even fewer that give a potential employer the opportunity to access your verified information.

There should be a business that allows consumers to pay for a resume verification service (verifying that you did get an MBA from Stanford, a computer science degree from Georgia Tech, worked for Goldman Sachs, etc.). Then the consumer can put a unique URL on the bottom of his resume that takes potential employers to a trusted page, with a trusted brand, that lists which of the items on someone’s resume the service was able to verify. It is that simple.

Of course, the economics only comes with building large-scale relationships with employers and universities as I doubt you could charge more than $100/person (plus $20/year to maintain the record).

Paying famous people for their time

Another business idea you are free to steal … paying famous people for their time. Let’s say you want to talk to P-Diddy, Bill Clinton, or Warren Buffett. Pay them for their time.

I’d like to see a business with a directory of famous people who all have a rate per hour that they have specified (kind of like what Ether does with knowledge professionals). Then, through the site, you can schedule a time to talk to your favorite person by phone. Would it be worth it for you to pay $1000 for 30 minutes of Sean Connery’s time? Maybe. Maybe you have something to pitch him … or maybe you just want to ask him an question about what it was like to be James Bond.

And it could be an interesting academic, a great researcher, or someone you want to talk to about roofing.

Regardless, for the famous person it could be fun, easy to schedule (could do it while in the car or at a convenient time for them), and could be a good side source of income (and the target could decide to donate all or part of it to charity).

practice being an entrepreneur

I know a lot of people who want to be an entrepreneur, want to open their own business, but their not sure if they are right for it. They’ve been at a large company or have been in government.

My past advice: do it.

But I have been thinking about it more and realized entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It is for a lot of people and maybe even most people, but not for everyone.

My new advice: practice.

Yes … practice being an entrepreneur.

Before having kids (which are a lot of responsibility), many couples first might try getting a plant. Then seeing how they handle the watering responsibility. Then they might get some fish. And then a dog. And then, after they get a hang of it, they might chime in with some kids.

Practice first

That same concept could apply to being an entrepreneur.

Maybe you’re in school — start a small student club. If that goes well, start a student movement.

Or you’re working full-time … so start a blog or some small web site. See how it goes. See if you like the responsibility of constantly adding to it and marketing it. Then maybe put advertising on it.

It is a good idea to try to walk before you run. For many people, you might want to practice being an entrepreneur by doing something small yet tangible before jumping into it.

Biz idea: Stop smoking, help society, make money

PirateIn theme of putting up crazy business ideas … here’s one … Let’s create a new cigarette brand.

I know what you’re thinking … ehhh Hoffman, you’ve got a few loose screws. And while that is probably true … indulge me for a second …

We’ll call our brand of cigarettes “Death”

The slogan will be “smoking WILL kill you.”

And instead of a cowboy or a hot model or a crazy cartoon camel, this cigarette mascot will be a skull and cross bones. Yes, stay away. It is Death.

We’d put something like this on the packaging: “We suggest you do not smoke. All the executives at Death do not smoke because we know smoking will kill you and it will kill others around you.”

792Would this sell? Not sure. But my guess is that there is a large enough audience of smokers out there who are tired of big tobacco lying to them and pushing cigarettes on kids. Death would be just the opposite. We’d be very up front with our customers — we will probably kill you and we don’t think you should buy our product.

“Death” might encourage people not to take up smoking or to quit.

Truth in advertising might actually work.