9 Startup Ideas I (Probably) Won’t be Pursuing

I’ve used a few “rogue” customer development tactics to determine the starting points of these. I haven’t done much (any) customer development to prove that these could actually by businesses. I’ve used secondary strategies to gain customer insights to inform a general offering – specifics and features would need to be shaped based on primary customer feedback. The strategies I’ve used to generate these ideas are generally based on:

a. Solving validated needs with superior solutions by taking advantage of new technologies. For example, Uber is solving for the basic need of transportation but taking advantage of mobile to provide a superior solution. You’ll notice the value propositions of most of these products are very basic, age old, human needs.

b. Providing validated solutions to needs of new markets. For example, many of the solutions needed on desktops are now needed on mobile. You’ll notice that most of these are based on bets that the markets will grow.

You’ll also note that I don’t fear competition, and rather see that as validation (a customer development “shortcut”), and that I’m targeting large and/or growing markets.

Here’s my list. Let me know what you think in the comments.

1. Goldman Sachs for Private Company Stock


People invest lots of money in public markets. The services that support those investors include stock exchanges (NYSE), brokerage (banks and brokerage houses), discount brokerage (Fidelity, Scottrade), research (banks, boutique firms), managed funds (hedge funds, mutual funds, etc.), and more. There are many massively profitable companies in each of these sectors. I see no reason why that same services couldn’t be provided for private company shares investing/trading.

Companies like SecondMarket are making inroads here, however, if you believe demand for private company shares will increase, and that trading will become as liquid as public markets, then there’s still a ton of opportunity here.

Discount brokerage seems like the most plausible opportunity with equity research being a close second. An ETF or mutual fund of startup shares also seems plausible.


2. FINRA for Collaborative Consumption and P2P Marketplaces


FINRA is a “self regulatory organization” for the financial services industry. According to Wikipedia, “A self-regulatory organization (SRO) regulates an industry or profession. The regulatory authority could be applied in addition to some form of government regulation, or it could fill the vacuum of an absence of government oversight and regulation. The ability of an SRO to exercise regulatory authority does not necessarily derive from a grant of authority from the government.”

One of the concerns people have over p2p marketplaces like AirBnb or even Udemy, is quality and safety control. How do you know the person you’re buying for is qualified enough to deliver…and not an axe murder.

AirBnb and Uber have faced resistance from government who worry that people could be at harm. A regulatory authority would help reduce those concerns. As a result, the company would have potential to get “mandated” by the government and become a “monopoly.” However I think would be best to serve, and be paid for by, buyers on marketplaces exclusively, so that incentives are mutually aligned, and so that markets can function properly.

Existing structures for the industries that p2p marketplaces and networks are replacing have consumer protections and regulatory authorities. For example, the food industry has the FDA.

I think improved quality assurance would help peer networks prosper. Many marketplaces have some form native review systems, but they can be biased because the companies need to serve the needs of both sides of the marketplace. They can also in some cases be manipulated by the supply side.

FINRA is generating almost $1B per year in revenue to provide consumer protection. If you believe peer networks are the future, I think this could be a great way to ride the wave.


3. Credit Card Company for Bitcoin


People use credit cards for fiat currency, why not for bitcoin. Credit companies are huge. Bitcoin is growing and enabling credit transactions would make it more usable.

Credit cards allow cardholders to pay for goods and services based on the holder’s promise to pay for them. The credit card company grants a line of credit to the cardholder from which the cardholder can borrow.

For merchants, a credit card transaction is often more secure than other forms of payment, such as cheques, because the credit card company commits to pay the merchant regardless of whether the consumer defaults on the credit card payment. Prior to credit cards, each merchant had to evaluate each customer’s credit history before extending credit. That service is now performed by the credit card companies (who also assume the risk). In addition, credit cards can also increase sales if the customer does not have enough cash.

Credit card companies can make money by charging interest to cardholders or charging merchants a transaction fee. If Bitcoin becomes more widely adopted as a currency, then many of the solutions needed by fiat currency holders would probably also be needed by Bitcoin holders (like web—>mobile).


4. Operating System(s) for Mobile


Everyone knows mobile usage is skyrocketing. As desktop usage skyrocketed a plethora of products made it more usable. I don’t see any reason why the same products needed to use a computer and the web wouldn’t be needed to use the mobile devices and the mobile web.

OSs have been hugely profitable on web. There is competition for both web and mobile OS but that’s ok, and they’re still not that great IMO.

A mobile first web browser is one of the first that comes to mind. An OS/web browser that reduced the need for apps could be valuable. I don’t have to download and store all the web services. For example, I open my web browser and can navigate to Twitter.com, Gmail, the news, etc all at once. In addition, web apps are more ubiquitous – I can quickly navigate between them. For example, I can browse something on Twitter web and then bookmark it to my web browser, but using the Twitter App, I have to open the mobile app, open the link on my mobile browser, and then bookmark it.

It would be nice if it was as easy to use mobile apps as it is to use web apps. Smaller products like password storage could also be valuable.


5. Real Money Gaming (possibly with Bitcoin)


People love gambling and gaming. They’ve been doing it forever. There are several publicly traded casinos and many successful companies in the industry. There are several successful gaming companies too.

Gambling and online gambling, is slowly becoming “more legal.” If it becomes legal to gamble online across the US, this opportunity could be huge. You can learn more about the real money gaming market in a post I wrote here.

Bitcoin could make it easier to gamble online just like Silk Road make buying drugs easier. So perhaps an online casino run on Bitcoin is the right play.

Why I’m not pursuing it: too much regulation. I actually looked in to getting a license and it’s a nightmare. With challenge comes reward though so if I had the time/capital I would.


6. Etsy for Food and Beverage


Network based models are replacing traditional bureaucratic models in many industries. For example, Twitter-News, Soundcloud-Music, and Amazon-Publishing. Read more about it here.

The food and beverage distribution has an extremely bureaucratic structure with many layers, similar to the publishing industry. A network based model would make it easier for for producers of food and beverage producers to distribute, and for consumers of food to buy the food they want from niche producers.

We know there’s demand for food (Kraft), we know people like buying small batch (Etsy), and we know people like shopping online (Amazon), but we don’t know if they like buying small batch food online. So this one is risky. However, food and beverage, despite being one of the largest retail markets, has lagged in ecommerce penetration. Read more about that here.


7. Teach Kids How to Code


If you believe “software is eating the world” then you would believe that there is an increasing need for software engineers. Per Fred Wilson, “There are more technical jobs open than qualified candidates to fill them. It is the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak employment picture. We need to be investing in our engineering schools and we need to be investing in a K-12 education that gets our children ready to go to these schools.” Millennials may be the first generation to widely belief that this is true. Therefore they may be more motivated to have their children learn programming.

A lot of people teaching entrepreneurs and job changers how to code. And I like those companies. However I think there’s also an opportunity in selling code school to parents for their young children. Schools probably aren’t fast enough/don’t have enough incentive to adapt to it.

Why I’m not pursuing it: Well, I might ;-). But I’ve got a lot on my plate now and it would be a lot easier for me to do once more of my friends and colleagues have kids…so maybe in the future.


8. Search Engine Based on Reviews


Clearly there’s demand for searching the web. Google has obviously been widely successful, Yahoo “was?” successful, and Bing seems to be growing. DuckDuckGo, a relatively new startup, comptes based on transparency and seems to be growing too. A company called Aardvark provided search results based on “social” and got acquired by Google.

Google’s solution plugs data such backlinks, Google +1’s, etc. into an algorithm  to determine which results to display, and adds some personalization. It’s getting complex, opinion based, may be susceptible to biases, and search rankings can be “gamed” by marketers using tactics like backlinking.

This company would provide search results based on peers reviews/ratings of pages. The company would therefore need to get people to start rating/reviewing pages, which I imagine would be extremely challenging. But harder = more upside hopefully.

Why I’m not doing it: because Google could do it better if people really wanted results based on reviews.


9. FDIC for Bitcoin


Insurance and warranty markets for various products are huge. People like reducing risk. We have insurance for other assets, why not one tailored to the needs of bitcoin owners (exchanges or individuals). This is already starting to happen but it’s still early and I think there’s enough upside.

According to Business Insider, “One of the reasons that people trust retail banks for storing their money is that in the United States, those institutions are backed up by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Even if a bank collapses, customers can be reasonably sure that they won’t lose their full deposit.”

Many bitcoins are stored offline for safety. The term used for this practice is “cold storage.” I imagine there could be demand to insure bitcoin stored in cold storage. Again, there’s demand to store many other things.




What do you think of these startup ideas? Would you start and/or invest in any of these companies? Let me know in the comments section.


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  • http://www.wanderandtrade.com/ Brandon Burns

    I’m not sure sure about 6, 7, and 8.

    There are a lot of examples of small batch food sold online, from Etsy to Amazon. However, I’m not sure there is a single platform that consolidates just packaged foods (Goldbely does it for prepared foods). But fragmentation of a market is usually a good indicator that a marketplace bringing those goods together would be successful. That said, I know that on most horizontal ecomm platforms, food items are among the lowest sellers next to home goods, apparel, etc (can find support for this on fab.com’s blog, including data). So, there’s that.

    Teaching kids how to code… there are also tons of businesses already doing this, too. I feel like half the ed tech sector is this. I’m not so sure….

    Search engine based on reviews = Bing, powered by Facebook. So, yeah, I guess I wouldn’t rebuild Bing or Facebook, but I also wouldn’t say the business isn’t viable.

    But I agree with the other 6! Though, granted, I don’t know much about those sectors.

    And I also think this shows that while lean validation methods are awesome, they’re not full proof. Lean can’t replace a category experience and a good gut for product strategy.

    • MFishbein

      You might know a bit about 6 (food marketplace) so I’ll definitely take your point there ha.

      Re teaching kids to code — yeah definitely competitive. I think it’s a big enough market though.

      Search engine would definitely be extremely hard to pull off. That’s the one I’m probably least likely to pursue. But based on market size, seems worth the risk.


  • MFishbein

    You might know a bit about 6 (food marketplace) so I’ll definitely take your point there ha.

    Re teaching kids to code – yeah definitely competitive, I think it’s a big enough market though.

    Search engine would definitely be extremely hard to pull off. That’s the one I’m probably least likely to pursue. But based on market size, seems worth the risk.


  • Brandon Smits

    In a failed startup I worked on we tried building our own mobile OS, and it actually worked out because we built it on top of webOS, right when they open sourced it. The harder part to me seems to be changing user behavior to use the system on every device, i.e. your computer lives in the cloud and is built mobile upwards so you have the same computer always at your fingers. I would give this kind of thing another go if I had the bandwidth.

    • MFishbein

      Very interesting insight. Makes it quite challenging. Thanks Brandon!

  • Kacper Wikieł

    @MFishbein:disqus I made FINRA for p2p lending in bitcoin. I am thrilled by your insight – i would make similar list with learning to coding as my second thing to do.