Stupid Startup Ideas
CB Insights recently published an article entitled “Terrible Startup Ideas”. It included the following less-than-great ideas:
Curated news recommendations,
Personal trainer marketplaces,
What are my friends up to apps,
To-do list tools, and
Glassdoor for VCs.
The article expanded on another one from earlier this year entitled “Dumb Startup Ideas.” That piece included a top three dumb ideas list: (1) Designing business cards, logo, etc. — aka branding; (2) Trying to get articles ranked on Hacker News, and (3) “Doing payroll on my own”.
These magnificently moronic ideas reminded me of other startups I’ve encountered in my travels. Below are some of these stupid startups and the laughably ludicrous ideas underlying them:
AirDates – Tinder for people who want to meet people on planes while flying (read: to join the Mile High Club).
Blackmail – A website designed to enable you to blackmail your friends by sharing their secrets and reveal small bits of information about them until they pay you to stop.
Concrete.com – from the original business plan (circa 1999): “If Pets.com can ship 50-pound bags of pet food, why can’t we do the same with concrete?”
OvernightCaskets.com – same basic rationale as Concrete.com. (above) Headstones also available.
Loonie – A social network that allows you to keep track of your favorite cartoon and graphic novel characters, movie and TV characters and other looney friends.
LoveNuts – A combination sex toy disguised as a big nut and flashlight.
MyFuneral – A website that lets you pick who is invited and not invited to your funeral, and even lets you choose the DJ for the day.
Potato Parcel – a Shark Tank company – ships a potato with a custom message and/or photograph anywhere in the United States … because potatoes are funny.
Reefill – An app-enabled network of water refill stations located initially in NYC where members can fill their reusable bottle with cold, filtered *tap* water while on the go.
SkunkLock – the first ever bicycle, motorcycle, scooter, and moped lock to "fight back" against thieves using noxious, vomit inducing chemicals. The company’s co-founders hope they can make an impact on the stolen bike problem and bring a product to the market that can actually stop thieves in their tracks, and empower current and future cyclists.
My favorite response when I queried friends about this subject came from Michael Cusumano, Distinguished Professor of Management and Deputy Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management. He said: “Uber! Or at least the way it has been managed.” He also thinks Lyft, Airbnb and WeWork are bad business ideas too. For more details, read his article about “platformizing”.
CB Insights studied startup failures and concluded that nine of the top 20 reasons for startup failures – and five out of the top 10 – were related to customers. In sum, startups that failed did so because they did not meet customers’ needs, did not listen to them, or even completely ignored them.
As Michael’s response and the CB Insights piece make clear, there are many ways for founders to get their startups into big trouble – even when the core idea is a good one. When a startup’s central premise is obviously obtuse, the chances of driving it into a ditch increase exponentially.
The goal, therefore, is to steer clear of stupid startup ideas, and only move on an idea that’s truly compelling. But sometimes, there’s a fine line between a great (even if quirky) idea and a guaranteed failure. So, how can one tell the difference?
There are many ways to arrive at your ‘non-stupid’ startup idea. Testing it with your friends and other contacts is certainly a way to determine whether it’s likely to fly. Talk to some industry analysts. Better yet, conduct a customer or market survey. It’s harder to accomplish but well worth it for many reasons. One of them is that it might save you and your idea from being included in some ignominious list that appears in some hack blog one day.