A short post about interesting business ideas, I came across in the last week or so.

Lost-key drop service

A service, that sells numbered key chains, which has something like this written on it:

When the key is lost, the owner will contact the service hotline to ascertain if the key, with id number 123654789 in the above example, has been returned. If yes, he can pick it up or have it mailed for a fee. Works best if the operation is distributed having franchise operators in each city. Thus the turnaround time between losing the key and regaining it can be minimised.

A customer can register the key code online, to get an email / SMS whenever the key is returned.

Help and advice to DIY farmers

About 6-months ago, I discussed with a friend on, how I am interested in growing a vegetable garden, but have no clue where to begin. I was interested if someone will give me advice on what to grow, when and how as well as supply the needed materials. Six month later, I read about sproutrobot, on techcrunch. Sproutrobot, is a US based start-up, pretty much doing what I described above. Now if someone can replicate this for India.

DIY greeting cards

Create an online service that allows users to create a greeting card selecting the paper, design and wordings. This is then handmade and either mailed to the user or distributed to the list provided. There are a few similar services, but none having the refinement and social integration of the “new web”.

This is the one I am most likely to try out, just for the technical kick. I also intend to concentrate on a very specific niche to be able to provide templates to best match what the user might want.

and pencil for jotting ideas

Visual Note-taking Conference Call Notes by Austin Kleon.

Try that electronically!

A quick list of advantages of the good old way of taking notes:

  • When ideas flow, only pencil can keep up with their speed.
  • Doodling actually helps with the idea flow.
  • Ideas are random, typing is linear.
  • You can get away with drawing something on paper to depict a long sentence. Doing the same on a computer will mean sidetracking into finding a clipart.
  • No pesky distractions, including those from the spelling or grammar checkers.
  • My best UI design always starts on paper
  • Easy to create mind maps.
  • Paper is truly portable, I can take it anywhere.
  • Only once I have all the thoughts on paper, do i try to organise them and make them electronic

How about you? What do you prefer, electronic or paper based note taking?

PS: I do like freemind when I am in mood for electronic note taking.

Hausmeister Service Tauer in der Allinger Strasse, 2006 by gumtau.Thanks to the company I keep, online and offline, the only entrepreneurial ventures I see are tech related. Everyone wants to be the next viral sensation and make pots of money. Hardly anyone wants to add real value to the life of others and improve the community as a whole.

Rant aside, I recently came across a very interesting piece from Vivek Wadhwa titled Replicators, Innovators, and Bill Gates. The form of ventures I described above might be of innovative type, but there is no harm in starting a replicating venture. Especially if it brings in a steady stream of income and gives stable employment to a few people.

One such service I see in Germany which can be easily replicated in India is the ‘Hausmeister’, literally a house master service. For a fixed fee from each resident, a company takes care of all the common issues with a housing apartment. Whether it is cleaning, sanitation, repairs and other forms of maintenance.

With the several million apartment complexes in India, this service could organise and streamline the ‘building maintenance’ nightmare and make decent money, while generating employment for several people of varied skills. People who desperately need a job that they can do with dignity.

The occupants also gain as they have one throat to choke and do not need to deal individually with a number of service providers. The last such venture I saw, was the greatly successful cable wallah. No reason similarly spirited individuals can’t make this service a success too.

Ever since the iPad was announced, the internet is clogged with updates, analysis and impressions on iPad. But I saw very little talked about what this means, or how this could affect the way we do business. The guys with the biggest megaphones are either reporters or tech gurus, who are far removed from the trenches of enterprise application development.

Full disclosure

The only Apple product I own is the iPod touch. It rocks, itunes sucks.

Initial impressions

I was a bit underwhelmed and I doubt I will acquire an iPad. But that does not stop me from believing that it will be a big hit.

What could be better?

Personally, I would have loved the device if it came with multi tasking and maybe a camera. But this post is not about it.

Then what is it about?

This is about the big disruption the entire tablet computing movement could cause to the current state of art. How the relatively low price, the interactivity and the right size makes it suitable option in a lot of never before situations. And about how, Apple could leave a gaping hole for another Microsoft to capitalise on.

How so?

By not allowing custom built apps from being installed on the iPad. This will rule out iPads adoption in the enterprises and also cool new ideas and mashups. Large companies could use an iPad for several clever niches, but needing to install custom IP on to the iPad via the app store is out of question.

Are there any examples?

Sure, several.

  • Team of financial advisors carrying a tablet for explain various insurance or investment options to average Joe. Imagine how good the apps could be made to look and how interactive they could be. It would go a long way in closing the sale.
  • A restaurant replacing the boring menus with interactive ones on a tablet. Hell, they could even just ‘add to basket’ then and there. If there is a waiting time, people can pre-order their food and also surf while waiting.
  • Replacing the dull and expensive kiosk with a 350$ tablet. This might still happen, but by playing a keynote presentation.
  • How about the classic ‘travelling salesman’? Does he really need a laptop?
  • Medical staff carrying a tablet instead of the physical patient files.
  • I haven’t even begun to think about industrial applications

I think you get the picture. Not only can the tablet replace a laptop, but also paper in several cases. People more creative than me will find several more creative uses of a tablet. This brings me to mashups.

What about them?

The thing about mashups, they are obvious in hind sight. But it takes a creative mind and an open ecosystem to dream and create one. But I can imagine a few hacks / mashups surly.

  • How about a tablet controlled robot or speed boat?
  • A tablet replacing the entire instrument panel of a car
  • Tablets used in performing arts
  • Tablets used in science and education
  • Tablets used by NGOs in rural upliftment

The possibilities are limitless. But the artificial limitations imposed by Apple, will leave the door open for a highly hack-able, maybe android based, tablet provider. Whether that’s a known brand like Asus, who spearheaded the netbook revolution; or an unknown startup like NotionInk remains to be seen.

Sure, Apple will sell millions of these devices and make tons of money, but saying that there is no room for another player is a false assumption.

I am surprised that I haven’t come across a voice based classifieds system. Well creating one from scratch and reaching critical mass is difficult, but leveraging social media and Craig’s list should not be difficult at all. So, here’s the idea.

  1. User calls a premium number and speaks the advert.
  2. The server processes the voice and tries to understand the message.
  3. If the message is correctly understood, it will post an appropriate ad on Craig’s list, with the user’s phone number and an auto generated email id.
  4. If the message is not fully understood, it is passed to a call centre for transcription.
  5. The message is then transcribed and posted to Craig’s list.
  6. Any email received on the auto generated email id is sent as text message to the caller.

The above set up allows the user to place a classified ad in under 2 minutes with no unnecessary steps required. The calls are placed to a premium number thus generating revenue.

I am surprised no one has thought about it or maybe I didn’t dig into it enough.

photo_verybig_110295[1]With Copenhagen behind us, it makes me wonder is there something we as individuals do to help the climate? On one such thought tangent I wondered if it possible to teach kids about climate using a simulation game like Civilisation? On cursory search I could not find anything that could entertain and educate kids.

What would it be?

An empire building game that needs to balance technology, way of life and climate to achieve sustainable conditions. The players will need to move from stone age to iron age to industrial age to knowledge age. All this is well covered by games in the Civilisation series. The difference is, to advance in the technology tree, they will need to consume resources and they need to understand that resources are limited and that consuming them is not without consequences.

Learning

A game that will show the interdependence of several factors like:

  • Exploitation of natural resources (wood, coal, oil, gold, diamonds, animals, fishes etc)  for technical progress and their costs in terms of environmental impact
  • The long term implication of the such impact
  • Investing in technology to achieve sustainable development
  • Also the flip side of not consuming natural resources and it impact on growth and empire building
  • The need to consume resources to ‘unlock’ next levels of technical innovation
  • Trading of resources amongst empires which have surplus of something
  • I would probably underplay the option of war and more of foreign trade as a means to acquire scarce resources.

What next?

I am not a game developer so wouldn’t know how to get about doing it. But may be some like minded people will come together and look at it. Maybe Freeciv can provide a starting point. Maybe it even becomes successful and makes some money for the creators.