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Startup Ideas (ycombinator.com)
614 points by kcorbitt on Nov 16, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 453 comments

Re Smart Bathroom:

Every time I hear about all-knowing toilets, I continue to feel it’s putting the cart way ahead of the horse.

There’s a rule in medicine: don’t order a test whose outcome doesn’t change your decision. That’s not about cost-savings, it’s about avoiding false positives that make no sense in clinical context but raise flags that must be chased down.

This sort of thing is literally promising to just continually run un-merited urinalysis left and right.

“More data” is not inherently good. Without a framework of information for interpretation of that data, it will do far more harm than good.

Honestly, the reason so little tech disruption keeps happening in the provision of medical services: no one trying to “disrupt” bothers asking what is or is not useful. There are just some ideas completely out of touch with what people need or want or have friction over, and they just refuse to die because they’re the most obvious ideas to have if you’re unfamiliar with the territory.

> There’s a rule in medicine: don’t order a test whose outcome doesn’t change your decision. That’s not about cost-savings, it’s about avoiding false positives that make no sense in clinical context but raise flags that must be chased down.

There is also a rule in (system) operations: don't page unless immediate action (from humans) is required. This doesn't stop us from collecting data. If there is an anomaly, then we can look back at the data if necessary.

Alternatively, there ARE things you can alert on. My brother has type 1 diabetes. He got a free urinalysis in the form of ants crawling in the toilet. I expect – but since I don't have time series data from this toilet, I can't prove – that sensors would detect and increasing amount of glucose in the urine over time.

If anonymized, this sort of data would be useful for research as well.

I agree that giving any joe schmuck access to the raw data would result in unnecessary procedures.

There’s a legal context here. Once the data is available, physicians are obligated to chasenit down even if they think it’s unimportsnt. Ignoring data loses malpractice suits; unnecessary and ultimately harmful diagnostics prompted by data does not.

Not all medicine is practised within the legal framework that you labour under. If you are a doctor then you should be able to publish your real opinions here, within reason (prefaced with a short disclaimer if you deem it necessary, I would, along the lines of "I'm a MD, practising in <country> and this my personal opinion") and I, for one, would love to hear them.

I'm an MD, practicing in the US.

I don't know the actual legality. But here's what I do know from attempting to implement multiple projects within the US for clinical care and for clinical research: most providers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies we have worked with have balked at the ability to have high resolution data fed into their medical record or research data systems. In most cases, they are worried that if they had the data, they would have to act on it were something to be concerning. And they do not want that responsibility.

Example: we were in talks to feed in near-realtime blood glucose, activity, and blood pressure measurements from patients on a clinical trial. Surely that would be useful for better sussing out the effects of a research drug than the current process (patient comes in every few months to get measured or have their log data entered or meter data downloaded)? Nope, multiple top 5 pharma companies didn't want the responsibility and liability of seeing their data that often, because what if a patient had super low or super high glucose and they later died? You had the ability to act on it but didn't.

They'd rather just not have it at all. It sounds ridiculous. And again, I don't know the actual legal/liability issues, but based on my experience with malpractice cases, I could see a viable case to be made. And there are certainly institutions out there who believe the benefit is worth the cost of that responsibility for certain use cases. But my experiences have definitely made me reconsider some of these things.

All that said, I am definitely in favor of collecting more health data (somehow), because until we have more data we won't know its utility. So far, in general it has been shown that more testing and more information often doesn't lead to better outcomes, but the cost of data is getting lower -- aside from aforementioned liability cost/fear.

From the situation as you describe it, it'll likely require a government mandate or "Good Samaritan" type of law to resolve the issue since it derives from fear of litigation. Unfortunate.

I imagine getting something like this implemented at a state level in one or two key states could enable collection of large scale medical data for analysis on behalf of the public.

Edit: Question for you, given your experience do you think it might be possible to convince big pharmaceuticals to collect high fidelity data if said data was collected into wearable devices and only processed after the fact? As analogy to use a "black box" recorder approach rather than flight control systems. Though not sure how far to take that "black box" analogy.

@doctoring Do you think that those 5 pharma companies would be interested in the service that would take care of data collection and alerting patient/911? If it is possible I would like to talk to you about this and other ideas. Could you contact me at redant409[at}gmail.com?

Sounds like a bit of a catch-22: you don't want to collect the data until you've collected enough data to know that you're not causing harm.

Not really. We have a system for this: clinical trials. I, as a lone doc, am not equipped to make heads or tails of un-randomized un-controlled piles of data. A clinical trial -is-.

That’s why we use them.

> I, as a lone doc, am not equipped to make heads or tails of un-randomized un-controlled piles of data.

Isn't that a description of literally what every practicing doctors, that isn't involved in research, actually does?

And clinical trials are extremely expensive. Surely there's some utility in gathering data between the extremes of doctor-patient and clinical trial.

No, it’s not.

We use properly conducted clinical science to give us a framework for interpreting the data we see, comparing data we have to studies with appropriate external validity to allow that comparison.

And no, there isn’t, if an RCT is at all feasible. There was a great paper a few years back that reviewed various case-control studies for conditions that were ultimately explored using RCTs (eg, knee arthroscopy, internal mammary artery ligation). What they found was that the retrospective study consensus was basically a coin-flip with respect to the RCT consensus. They just don’t provide useful data - too many confounders, known and unknown, go unaddressed.

> We use properly conducted clinical science to give us a framework for interpreting the data we see, comparing data we have to studies with appropriate external validity to allow that comparison.

I am extremely skeptical that this is in fact an even approximate description of how medicine actually works. Maybe not what you're doing! But what almost all of the doctors I've ever seen? They're not keeping up with all of clinical science. And even if they were, lots of clinical science is not being properly conducted. Just listen to or read the gripes that the statisticians have!

My previous claim still stands; you wrote:

> I, as a lone doc, am not equipped to make heads or tails of un-randomized un-controlled piles of data.

An individual patient, provides "un-randomized un-controlled piles of data" to their doctor – or, rather, not even piles of data. There's the visual evidence available from looking at and watching a patient when they're visiting your office (or whatever). There are sounds, smells, touch too. Then there's the verbal evidence. Then there's the results of whatever tests it is you order. If that's not un-randomized and un-controlled data, I don't know what is.

There's no framework for interpreting all possible medical evidence, even for the smallest professional specialties. There are no RCT for medical expert systems; none that anyone could legally use instead of a licensed doctor.

And there are lots and lots of interventions that doctors perform that have never been adequately studied in the form of RCTs. Doctors, in the real world, exercise an incredible degree of latitude with regard to what interventions they can perform based on their own personal judgement.

This sounds like a really interesting paper -- do you happen to have a link to the reference?

I’m not ignoring your request; in trying to dig up the paper, I came across a couple papers with data claiming to show the opposite. I’m trying to digest it all before returning to this topic, so I can give a more useful response. And I haven’t found that paper yet.

Okay, I really don’t want the data. I don’t want the data because:

(1) if I see something, I have to act on it, despite not actually having the knowledge of whether it means anything in this information-rich context. I just love things that -look- like information but that don’t actually tell me anything.

(2) we have a LOT of data suggesting that we do more harm than good when we try to intervene or investigate everything. For Pete’s sake, hospice patients outlive those who are actually pursuing life extension! Turns out every treatment has harms, and when you’re applying those harms to no benefit (because the patient is asymptomatic, or the anomalous event was never destined to progress to clinical disease), you just accrue harm that -looks- like care.

3) It is not likely to result in useful diagnosis, because catching shit pre-clinically offers little indication of what will or won’t become clinical. We see this in helical CT: a lot of people became “cancer patients” when helical CT came out, before we realized a LOT of growths recede forever without intervention - we just hadn’t seen them before, on the less sensitive tech.

If I see the data I have to act on it to cover my (American) ass, and I know I will do net harm to my patients. Thanks but no thanks. Do your due diligence: collect the data, analyze it, stick it in a properly randomized prospective study to see if you just trawled your way into an overfitted model, and prove that the intervention for it does more good than harm. THEN I’ll be delighted to use that specific data to pursue that specific intervention. Don’t just measure everything, throw it at my wall like hot spaghetti, and expect me to turn it into dinner.

-my blunt anonymous opinion, since it was asked for

You've outlined a cogent rationale for refusing all medical treatment! And there is a lot of evidence that this is in fact not a terrible idea. A lot of medicine is, not just not-beneficial, but actively harmful.

So as someone that would be liable to act on this data, I understand and sympathize that receiving this data would be an unfair burden on you. But what about the rest of us? We're being treated by people that we are expected to trust that actively refuse to learn whether they're actually helping. That seems pretty unfair to the rest of us.

No, I haven’t. I’ve outlined a rationale for helping when there’s reasonable evidence that the benefit provided will outweigh the harm caused. Eg, antibiotics for the average upper respiratory infection vs antibiotics for sepsis. In the context of diagnostics: if the prior probability of disease is such that the outcome of the test doesn’t meaningfully change the likelihood, it’s bad for the patient to create a situation where for legal purposes I must now act as though the probability is much higher than it is.

And no, we aren’t actively refusing to learn if we are helping. We want the data collected in a meaningfully structured way that actually answers the question of whether it’s helping. Garbage In/Garbage Out doesn’t answer that question.

You say it’s unfair, but go reread my post. My concern is that my arm gets twisted into doing things that are -bad for you-, not bad for -me-. Whether you like the reasoning or it’s conclusion, nothing in it is about being unfair to you. It’s about trying to do my absolute best to live up to my ethical responsibility to optimize your health outcomes. The only part of it that’s defensive is the part where I don’t ignore test results, because it will get me sued out of medical practice in the rare occasion they’re true positives. And I would like for that not to be the case, but there we are.

> if the prior probability of disease is such that the outcome of the test doesn’t meaningfully change the likelihood, it’s bad for the patient to create a situation where for legal purposes I must now act as though the probability is much higher than it is.

I don't disagree. I was claiming that both patients and doctors are caught in this trap, i.e. doctors are legally liable for not offering, or recommending, treatment that isn't warranted.

Not sure about the systems you maintain, but mine page for false positives all the time. They're annoying, sometimes they wake me up, but in general they're not a big deal.

A false positive from a medical test is much more costly, both in money for a doctor (or doctor's staff member's) time, and anxiety for the patient.

That said, your brother's case makes some sense. It's targeted, and I imagine the action you want to take after getting an alert would be pretty well defined.

> “More data” is not inherently good. Without a framework of information for interpretation of that data, it will do far more harm than good.

I'm glad people are saying this. I'm in a constant fight at work with people who want "more data." What ends up happening most of the time is it's ignored or people do not interpret it correctly because they don't have the ability or context to do it (doing stats wrong for instance).

Have them read Chapter 5 of this book. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intellig...

"Using experts in a variety of fields as test subjects, experimental psychologists have examined the relationship between the amount of information available to the experts, the accuracy of judgments they make based on this information, and the experts’ confidence in the accuracy of these judgments."

"Key findings from this research are: • Once an experienced analyst has the minimum information necessary to make an informed judgment, obtaining additional information generally does not improve the accuracy of his or her estimates. Additional information does, however, lead the analyst to become more confident in the judgment, to the point of overconfidence. • Experienced analysts have an imperfect understanding of what information they actually use in making judgments. They are unaware of the extent to which their judgments are determined by a few dominant factors, rather than by the systematic integration of all available information. Analysts actually use much less of the available information than they think they do."

But, the main issue is "once an experienced analyst has the minimum information necessary to make an informed judgement" is followed by "they are unaware of the extent to which their judgements are determined by a few dominant factors."

Which implies they do not know which part of the data is most important. No?

disclaimer: didn't click link/read chapter

The authors ultimate solution is to use the scientific method to compare competing hypothesis...otherwise you'll be blinded by all sorts of biases. If you are running an experiment and using competing hypothesis...in theory, you can identify which metrics are best for that test... but if you had much more data, you'll probably end up using every data point past the first 5 as confirmation bias. (I'm no expert though and haven't read the book in about 3 years.)

Depends on the way of consuming that data. I agree it may be counter-productive to feed more data to humans, who are able to hold on only to 7-9 object in immediate memory at a time, and driven by subconscious reflexes hardwired into us by billions of evolution.

AI is not going to "think" like humans. It is not going to be better or worse, just "different". And all experience so far show that the more data the better are the decisions made by AI.

And yet, anybody who actually works in machine learning has repeatedly said "figure out what problem you're solving first, then determine what data you might need - don't just throw a classifier at a data garbage heap"

And the experience doesn't show more data is better, it shows that an excess of features leads to overfitting.

Sure, having more features gives a model more opportunities to overfit. But having more data points has the opposite effect, since they reflect the underlying distribution better and therefore provide a better estimate of actual model performance.

Cart, horse.

People are proposing smart whatever now, and handeaving its value proposition as -eventually- feeding into ML which will -eventually- have benefits to patients.

I don’t think there is disagreement that data + ML is useful, but the value for increasing data because of AI assistance isn’t meaningful in the absence of that AI. Hospitals and insurers have huge data sets available: build a halfway decent AI first, and then argue for the value-add of the data.

Those data sets are not public, hipaa and other issues make it difficult to build any sort of AI for this.

That is technically correct, the best kind of correct!

Except any department in any hospital or insurer that welcomes you to do research can make that de-identified data available to you with a simple contract.

How do you think college freshmen get in the door to work on research with physicians?

No, it’s not public, but it’s trivially accessible.

It's not trivially accessible. It's not impossible, but far from trivial. Startups like Tempus are doing it but I doubt it's trivial for just any startup to get that data

If I hadn’t worked in precisely that field and seen how easily we gave out data sharing agreements to partners, ...

But I did. No, I use the word “trivial” knowingly.

To partners, sure. What sort of partners ? If I start a company and show up at the door, would they just give me the datasets ? Would those data sets be in useful formats ? if you are seriously telling me those data sets are easy to get, let's talk because I know what to do with them.

There’s usually a spot in every insurance company that considers itself the “innovation center.” Basically, if you incur no costs to them beyond getting you the data, and give them a free trial run on your product, you’ll get your data-sharing agreement.

The data for insurers is in the form of Billings (which come with Diagnosis codes!), which follows a federally-standardized format (check out the Medicare website) and you can get a sample of 5% of Medicare subscribers’ data off the Medicare site without any hoops to jump through.

I want to say, “if you actually know what to do with it, PM me and we can talk details,” but the fact that you don’t already know about this sort of low-hanging fruit suggests you’re from outside the hc sector looking in.

I am from outside the hc sector, but I know how to build models on large data sets. So if you seriously know how to get the data, I seriously know what to do with it.

j s at self driving medicine dot com

Reach out, we can talk about what you’re thinking.

Yup. More data is not the same as better information.

Put another way, at the extreme, you can have more and more data but unless you have the right data and are able to interpret it correctly, more data will only blind and confuse.

There is (pretty horrible) joke: "If violence does not solve the problem, you are not using enough of it". It may be the case with data. Put another way, we may be in the uncanny valley of data.

There is definitely an issue of under-diagnosis for many diseases. More data may not help initially but once we are over the critical mass in the amount of data and sophistication of ML algorithms trained on it, it will get over the hump.

We have a much bigger problem with overdiagnosis than underdiagnosis, and the latter is not likely to be solved with this sort of scattershot data collection. The former is very likely to be inflamed.

The difference is that you actually hear about the Diagnosis X That Was Missed, but you never hear about That Simple Blood Test That Should Never Have Been Drawn but that Showed Positive for a Marker Common In Disease But Also Found in the General Population so They Needed a Biopsy to Rule Out, and Spent Hundreds or Thousands if Dollars and Lost Several Days of Work For Nothing At All. The latter is much, much, more common.

The “miss” is usually due to missing something in the modern deluge of data coupled to inadequate appointment time/resources, not lack of data availability.

For a real life example: heard about a patient die the other day. Reviewing his records with a student afterwards I saw his potassium had been climbing in his last two panels (though it hadn’t yet gotten high enough to be a red flag), and he didn’t get the blood gas that should have been done as per protocol. Thing is, the data was there, the rules were there, but someone with enough time to meaningfully review it was not. Would more piles of detritus data to sift through made that more likely, or less?

I also remain an ML skeptic for the time being. ML analysis of patient data is a big sophisticated version of retrospective analysis, which for purely statistical reasons is highly, highly unreliable.

I just finished (the book) Everybody Lies. It seems to me using the doppelganger approach (as mentioned in the book) would at least be helpful.

A couple months ago I spent a good number of hours over a couple week at local hospital waiting for a close friend's mum to recover from a stroke. I could be mistaken but the only "data analysis" I noticed was taking place in the heads of the doctors and nurses.

The same goes for the physical therapy facility. That is, no one - not even the insurance company - was using similar cases as a guide. Yes, at a high general level they were. But using real data didn't seem to be on their radar.

This void made family decision making stressful and difficult.

That is correct: the analysis of large data sets is opaque to patients, and application of the evidence base to specific patients happens in the heads of physicians.

Patients are not part of the decision making process, and therefore not privy to the analysis, unless there is a decision to be made that requires their input (eg, two reasonable roads forward that depend on their preferences, or on their risk-tolerance.)

The process is made opaque to patients intentionally.

Yes. But at no point did I sense the options being offered were based on doppelganger type of data. Or even (the doctor saying) "here's the data...here's our interpretation...here are the recommendations and pros and cons..."

Nothing like that. No continuity between docs or floors/wards. Just everyone kinda making it up as they go.

It just struck me as another reason why outcomes aren't optimized, and costs, relatively, inflating.

I'm not suggesting doctors are replaceable. But the doppelganger approach to (big) data seems to be ideal.

> "here's the data...here's our interpretation...here are the recommendations and pros and cons..."

I understand. That’s part of what is intentionally opaque. We don’t speak like that to anyone but other medical professionals. There’s a lot of Dunning-Kruger in what people think of their ability to parse hc information. As someone who grew up with serious chronic disease, I’ve been on both sides of this fence. It’s not something you really “get” until you’ve had to care for patients.

> costs inflating

Several Health Econ studies have shown that about 70% of hc costs are driven by new technologies (implants, procedures, patented meds.) It has nothing to do with how docs communicate with one another.

And how we communicate is also opaque to patients. Not intentionally, it’s just not a conversation for patients, any more than any two technicians in a software company talking/arguing technical details are having a convo meant for the ears of customers.

I think it is good to remain skeptical about medical ML, but I don't think it should be because of the algorithms or that retrospective analysis is flawed. In most retrospective medical research, the data sizes are relatively small. Likewise current ML needs huge amounts of labeled data to be accurate, and patient data just isn't available to ML experts in the volumes necessary. The question I have is would dramatically increasing the size of available patient data improve ML analysis? Is it the case that some of the flaws of retrospective analysis are actually a result of too little data especially in the context of ML? I don't know the answer, but I do know we need to fix the data availability problem if we want to find out. How do we fix the data availability problem? Not sure either, it a complex problem.

Not sure how this proves me wrong. What it does prove is that analysis of data should not be left (entirely) to humans, who are inherently flaky. Dark irony of this situation is that _more_ data from additional test had a chance of saving the patient.

The way it should have worked: based on previous labeled examples, computer system should have noticed the uptrend in potassium and flag this client for blood gas, and then make classification based on available and _additional_ data.

It’s not the blood gas that would have saved him; just seeing the potassium trending up would have done it. Thing is, there was a context where that mattered. In others, it wouldn’t have. That’s why you need someone capable of interpretation to -look- at it. EMRs have done more to harm patients than help them, now that everyone constantly copy-pastes old patient hx before adding their notes (so nothing can be said to have been missed), people are constantly shifting through piles of be and missing the pertinent information.

To rephrase: algos intelligent enough to be useful in the manner you imagine are a long way off from existing, but data deluge that harms patient care is -already here-. Don’t worsen the deluge until you improve the ability to digest and present it.

That EMR “decision aids” aren’t anywhere near sophisticated enough to tell the difference in the myriad of situations we have is why docs fight so hard against those automated “flags.” We get piles of them, all the time. QI people call it alarm fatigue, they know it’s a thing, and yet... they do it anyway, because it sounds (like in your post) like the obvious thing to flag.

It’s not that AI is inherently incapable of getting there. It’s that when it does is a long way off. Medicine looks a lot simpler from the outside.

I agree with you and are suspicious of the power of increasing raw data in the near term. I think there are a few dumb things we can do that have a chance at being useful. The usefulness of something like this would have to be extremely narrowly focused. For example, it can look at only potassium trends. We would first need to just monitor people for long periods of time and see what happens. We might see certain combinations of simple markers that make additional tests worth the risk and minimize false alarms. After this research, would we turn on the alarms and start worrying people.

Thanks for the insight. I wonder though about the difference between scattershot data collected in a hospital setting, vs personalized data collected over the normal, healthy course of a person's life. Establishing relevant baselines would go a long way towards eliminating noise and flagging real outliers.

I have nothing but agreement with all your points.

> That’s not about cost-savings, it’s about avoiding false positives that make no sense in clinical context but raise flags that must be chased down.

Unfortunately the rule doesn't apply in this case. Your "smart" toilet is not trying to diagnose problems. It is trying to infer which ads you will click on the most, to make money for a surveillance company. A toilet that has a handful of true positives, a huge number of false ones, and doesn't kill too many people is pure win: surveillance and pharma both make money, and it's very hard for a consumer to tell if he never had X disease, or if buying the medicine prevented his X disease.

Moreover, the whole 'smart bathroom' thing has already been pretty much solved in Japan - and more or less keeping in mind the principle that you describe. You can get your temperature, get a warm seat, turn on some ambient music to mask your own, more personal music, flush, bidet, whatever all in most toilets in your average department store.

You can get more complex offerings that do perform some more complicated tests if you really want to.

The 'bath room' itself is also typically a single, self contained unit, often in some kind of mold, and including the shower, accoutrements, and bath in a full space designed to get wet and save/share the clean water in the bath.

The 'bath room' usually has a waterproof, electronic control panel which allows you to set timers for filling the bath, set an ambient temperature to keep it at, set the preferred level of water, set different default temperatures for the shower and bath, and typically also access all these features from other places like the kitchen where a companion panel is installed. This is typical of your average house - I just described my wife's parents' place, which was built 10 years ago.

The whole design thing is completely solved there, and why that approach has not been adopted across the U.S. and Europe by now is completely beyond me.

But the killer thing there would be to bring the Japanese approach to the US and Europe and plug in some better smart access features. Or go to Japan and plug them in there, where the infrastructure and demand is already in place [well, Google is probably on it already but...]

>“More data” is not inherently good. Without a framework of information for interpretation of that data, it will do far more harm than good.

There's an episode of Star Trek: Voyager about this[1]. Seven of Nine absorbs months worth of data (way more than a human could actually process) from the ship's computer, and "discovers" that both half of the ship plans on mutinying and that the Captain wasn't actually trying to get them home. Both of which were false.

1. http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/The_Voyager_Conspiracy_(e...

However she does also make the useful and correct deduction that photonic fleas have infested the plasma conduits.

Why would the data only be used for patology?

* Diet balancig? (Hey, eat more cucumbers)

* Calories? (IANAD)

* Also more serendipiteous opportunities we can't foresee now


(at the doctor's)

t = 0 - Doc - I would need a urine analysis

t = 60s - User - Here you are.


* Huge privacy concerns (Hey, you are fired! btw, you also have cancer)

It's possible that a) diet isn't that hard to figure out and b) gamifying, quantifying, testing, and over-extrapolation from isolated scientific results make people confused and much less effective at making the right decisions consistently, which is the part they really need help with.

Generally speaking the topic falls into the desire to have real-time/always-on data feeds that magically produce value just because they’re always producing data. That said, beyond asking the obvious, why do you need the data real-time and how much value does this produce, I do not know a better filter or means to guide a startup covering this ground.

There is no easy guide. Speak to the people doing the work, and target your innovation to the existing revenue streams (that is, if your product benefits an insurer, why are you pitching it to the patients?).

As someone in the industry I do of course have a wishlist, but, you know.

As to clean: a self cleaning toilet and a roomba living in the corner is a huge step away from treating your toilet as an always-on medical lab.

I'm guessing the big innovation here would be developing useful diagnostics that skew towards high specificity at the expense of lower sensitivity. Additionally, If you're collecting a bunch of datapoints much more frequently than current screening/testing regimes, You would need some smarter averaging to find trends and weed out many, if not all false positives.

I think Reliable, cheap, user friendly medical diagnostics would be a game changer, but of course the data analytics to make good use would be different than how current, one-off, medical testing is treated.

What if ypu use that data to train AI? How many lives saved or serious health issues avoided by early detection?

The applicability of that rule is a symptom of healthcare's overreliance on human judgement. To a rational decision-maker, more data is better. When the problem calls for an expert system, it's a problem well within the domain where algorithms outperform humans.

> don’t order a test whose outcome doesn’t change your decision

> raise flags that must be chased down

If a red flag must be chased down, doesn't that mean it changes your decision?

This reminded me of the urinal in "Benchwarmers"

Garbage in, garbage out.

Wouldn't it be helpful if those were reformulated in terms of the real "problem" being solved, or at least the benificial outcome that they're aiming for?

As a marketer who's always been interested in tech startups and that has dealt with many engineers, those ideas scream "engineering." The problem is finding startup ideas from an engineering point of view has in my experience been the best way to find a solution in search of a problem.

"AI for Communicating with Dogs": sounds like a "hop on the AI bandwagon idea". I don't believe the idea in itself is silly at all (getting people to empathise with animals is probably a net good), but presenting it that way is a guaranteed way of not being taken seriously, and, more importantly, a guaranteed way of limiting your options when trying to solve the actual problem. Why does it HAVE TO be done with AI?

"Smart Bathroom": Why? Why not start from the desired outcome? We're going to collect more data to do what?

Etc. etc. Most of those ideas (there are a few exceptions) are driven by a product/widget-centric vision that doesn't seem to have any deeper justification.

Huh, I half-agree with other commentators that the list is almost like a joke. On the other hand, it’s starting the startup conversation here again. The startup world is not exactly at its peak now; less rags-to-riches save-the-world stories, and more like scandals and housing crises and Juicero-dumbo moments. At least, it’s making me think about what AI can actually be useful for, even though I’m mostly not a fan of it and most certainly don’t see its worth in pet interactions.

OP did say it’s an experiment :x

In my view, it's not at its peak partly because startups have drunk a bit too much of the "Startups are all about execution" Kool Aid and forgot that executing on crappy ideas just produced crap.

To the average marketer, some HN threads are absolutely mind-boggling. Not too long ago, someone posted a thread essentially saying that he had freshly graduated from a top school and assembled a team of brilliant people, but they couldn't find anything to do with all their talent.

How is that possible?

Y Combinator's motto is "Make something people want."

Well? What are startups waiting for?

Mostly, they've again drunk a bit too much Kool Aid here — the "get out of the building" and "customer development" type. These are both good things to do — but if your original impetus is stupid (business-wise), you'll only converge towards mediocre outcomes.

In fact, it's very easy to come up with things that people want. Because people have always wanted the same things, and probably always will. Everything the market provides is there to satisfy basic, universal human needs [1].

Fundamental needs and desires are the magma on which the tectonic plates that define product categories and product are moving. They're the deepest drivers of product adoption.

Current product categories and products are just a byproduct of those needs meeting technological and economic limitations.

Find out how you can satisfy some fundamental need better by leveraging technological changes, and you'll have a good startup idea.

Or so I believe.

[1] http://changingminds.org/explanations/needs/needs.htm

Well, it seems one viable question to ask is whether it might improve the day to day life and experience of people who depend on service animals (https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html). So in that sense, I agree that it is better to start with the problem (e.g. how can I improve life for people who depend on service animals?, or How can the life of service animals be improved?, etc.) rather than the tech.

> Smart Bathroom

Honestly, if there was a way to attach a gas chromatograph to toilet, i’d totally buy it. It’d be nice to be warned of high mercury or lead intake. Also, if there was a way to assess the state of your gut (micro-biome, digestion issues) in real time it would be a big win. So much of my life is dictated by diet (migraines, physical performance, mood), that having additional data points to correlate with, and potentially find causations, could potentially increase my quality of life.

Hey HN! I'm a software developer at YC and the author of this post.

This post is actually a bit of an experiment. We're trying to find better ways to get prospective startup founders (which includes many of us in the HN community) in contact with problems that really ought to be solved. We have lots of different ideas for ways to do that, but a list of ideas seemed like an easy one to try out first. Please let me know if you can think of a better/different way of accomplishing this goal!

As to why we're doing this -- more great startups is good news for YC, even if they don't immediately apply to our program. We'd much rather spend our time trying to grow the ecosystem as a whole and maybe capture a small part of that than trying to immediately monetize everything we build.

I am probably in the minority here, but it seems that the impetus of most of the problems on this list is what would possibly make the most money, written as if that is the measuring stick of the most societally useful startup.

The top 5 problems in my city are more on the level of affordable housing, homelessness, drug use, over-incarceration and mental healthcare. I can't help but feel like we have enough gadgets and data, and there are enough products to buy out there for every single income level. As long as we are only solving small problems and doing arbitrage or rent-taking it feels like making a better society is the last thing on anyone's mind.

Drugs are easy, but you would have to be able to run books to fix it, maybe in Vegas. You set up a site where you post pictures and a bio of the drug addict. People then place wagers on how long you think they will stay clean and build odds based on that. Said drug abuser gets a cut of the house at 3 months, 6 months and a year and has to submit to drug tests during that period. This cut allows them to rebuild their life and gives them a hell of an incentive to get clean. If they relapse the remaining cut of the house goes into a pool and get's distributed to the rest of the drug addicts that are still on the road to recovery and ups their cuts.

It's a win-win, you don't feel like you are gambling if you loose because at least your money is going to a good cause, and if you do win well you still put money towards a good cause. As well you are building an incentiveised safety net for some of the most at risk people.

I'm sure you're joking, but in case you're not, an FYI: this fundamentally misunderstands the reason people use and abuse drugs, and especially why they don't get clean. It's definitely not that they don't have sufficient incentive.

This is an idea that I disagree with so thoroughly that I'm having a hard time articulating why. Every angle I can think of presupposes a world view which would not admit this idea in the first place.

So, to 'win' the bet, you give them drugs.

Could do the same thing for troubled repeat offenders. bet on how long they can stay out of trouble with the law!

This would be a great TV show.

The whole point of venture capital is to make money.

Whatever happened to changing the world :)

Changing the world is great! Just don't expect to use someone else's money if it's not likely to be profitable.

Appreciate the effort. My feedback is that it seems super random. On the one hand, you say that there is an abundance of ideas, on the other hand, you add more ideas, with the goal that more startups are started.

However, YC says that the idea doesn't really affect the outcome of a startup. It just is an indicator if the founders can have good ideas. In that case, giving out ideas and having people start companies based on that gives you zero information about if that startup is going to be successful.

Maybe we need something like a crowdfunding platform, but instead of the campaigns being organized by producers of products looking for customers, the campaigns could be organized by users who are looking for someone to solve a problem they have?

The customers could give grants to developers/entrepreneurs to work on a solution to the problem, sort of like the SBIR process. You'd need some sort of grant proposal vetting system -- perhaps the donors could individually approve whichever grants they want their money going towards, and if multiple grants are approved by a sufficient quorum of donors to meet their minimum funding threshold, then you could have multiple teams working on the same problem.

There would be a lot of details to work out, but this is starting to sound like yet another startup idea.

So, would this be a modification of a bounty system?

Hi Kyle. I agree that startup ideas are not scarce. With this abundance, it would seem like the value of this post is more in the yc-founder endorsements than the actual ideas themselves. I, and I'm sure many others, have dozens of our own ideas which at this level of detail don't seem much worse or better than what you've posted. Maybe a vehicle for rapid, qualified endorsements on ideas would be more useful for would-be founders.

This will fall prey to the fallacy of thinking that because someone is an expert in one area they will be an expert in other areas. Wish there was a formal name for it.

Agreed. The natural followup to the endorsement is the opportunity for advisement, and I would imagine working founders would only care to advise on startup ideas they themselves cared about, taking us back to the original post's strategy.

I don't know about a formal name, but there definitely is an XKCD :-) https://xkcd.com/793/

Thanks for the post, it's refreshing to see some brainstorming being put out there! Along the lines of connecting ideas with prospective founders, I'd like your opinion on something.

A common theme I hear when talking to end users or key opinion leaders is that they don't want to divulge their ideas at risk of it being poached. They may be excellent ideas, or forward thinking individuals, but grow concerned about IP/giving away ideas, etc. On the flip side, they often don't have the time or resources to tackle all their ideas (if any) so things don't get done. I speak in particular from a healthcare perspective.

In your mind, how would you convince such users to participate in brainstorming more freely?

Since I have personally received (unsolicited) confidential pitch decks from several first and second tier VCs who have taken a pitch from Company/Founder A, all the while entirely committed to funding Company/Founder B, ie sending the deck around to their network to gather feedback solely for the benefit of Founder B...I would say the concern is well founded.

That said, I would also say that "ideas" never get funded...only teams/founders get funded. The idea you start with is rarely the idea that makes a business work.

Meanwhile, a good founder/team can take practically any flawed idea ...within reason... and make it work as a business.

For whatever reason, the culture in Silicon Valley has evolved to be relatively open about ideas and business plans. As you've discovered, this is a stark contrast with the norms in lots of other industries/parts of the world.

This culture of course has a powerful pro-economic side effect -- ideas that are shared have a chance to grow, evolve, be challenged and fork, ultimately coming out stronger and better-developed.

To answer your concrete question on how to persuade someone with a different background to open up about their ideas -- maybe share this blog post with them? A little bit of social validation that other successful people are willing to share their ideas can't hurt. :)

> A common theme I hear when talking to end users or key opinion leaders is that they don't want to divulge their ideas at risk of it being poached.

That's definitely not my experience. "End users" and people without extensive startup expertise hold their ideas close, but the genuinely experienced founders and experts I know share freely.

I think this list isn't the way to go -- some (not all) of these ideas seem frivolous to me... solving first world problems at best, and just bad ideas at worst. Judging from the comments, I am not alone. But I don't know if I am in the minority or majority in these opinions... therefore, I think a more productive approach would be a small app for people to vote on ideas, letting the best ones bubble to the top of an interactive list.

If you really want to get crazy, the resulting list could be integrated into your application process -- "We're team A, with a proposal to solve Problem X, but also have ideas for problems Y and Z."

How about giving us a short article on how to propose new ideas to you, and what happens if we do.

Assuming a reader has a usable idea(s) - a best-case scenario but the only one worth providing information for - what would you like them to do to present it, how can they feel safe doing so, and what happens after they do and you like it.

What will you do when you like an idea? Give it to someone you chose already in YC or work with the person that has the idea?

You mentioned "problems that ought to be solved" but the list reads more like "ideas I think can make money".

What is the problem that a "social network for kids" is solving, for example?

I think it'd be much more useful to, frankly, disregard what other similar founders think might be a martketable idea and to instead find professionals in a variety of high capital spend industries and interview them about problems they face.


I applaud the concept of sharing ideas for entrepreneurs to tackle.

However, this list of ideas is dangerously bad, with nearly all of them suffering from either monetization challenges or huge execution issues. Anyone that sets out to solve these as-is will end up wasting a great deal of time, effort, and resources.

It's generally bad form to approach a startup idea from the perspective of "wouldn't it be great if XYZ existed?" Startup ideas aren't simply about identifying a problem to be solved - they are about identifying problems with achievable solutions that will make money. That's a lot harder to identify.

Having founders or investors speculate about "what would be cool" in a problem domain that they don't have much experience in is inevitably going to result in ideas that underestimate transactional costs or the shape of the problem itself.

A better approach might be to create a product similar to HN (or extension thereof), where users can post problems identified and/or solutions proposed, and discuss the issues thoroughly, as well as vote up problem/solution pairs that seem like good ideas.

This communal discussion should, with a broad enough user base, quickly sieve the problem/solution pairs that are feasible from the ones that are not.

I agree and I've wanted to build a dashboard like this for a while. Matching problems & people looking for building business around real problems. I'm having issues about clarity and upvotes though : how do you favor people who know the domain ?

You let the comments themselves have upvotes.

Look at any of the technical subreddits - typically domain experts end up being near the top comments naturally, because they lay out substantive comments.

Reddit "flair" is a solution as well. Ideally a platform like this would be able to connect to a LinkedIn profile, and display some relevant info from said profile.

I find Ask HN good source of new ideas, sometimes Show HN comments too.

Your approach flies in the face of the "scratch your own itch" piece of advice and I think it's time to move that advice to the trash can.

There are lots of non-technical domains that could benefit from the application of technology and if we only going around fixing problems we run into, we are going to miss out on some great ideas.

Might I suggest that rather than thinking about this as "I want to build a company that ___" and then trying to fill in the blank, it would be better to think about what inefficiencies exist in the world that could be improved or eliminated by the creation of a fresh solution. This is really what startups are doing. Without a core inefficiency, there is no need to build a startup.

I agree.

I actually started an Ask: HN thread a while back asking. "What problems in your industry could be a potential startup?"


what I learned from it ended up in this essay:


One of the most interesting things is how hard it is for "us" to focus on the problem and not immediately jump to the solution.

Today I always ask for problems rather than ideas it's much more useful and allow many more people to participate.

Is this a fake list? Several of these ideas sounded like clever attempts at jokes

Hey Kyle!

I have some experience in this space. I run a startup idea repository and newsletter.

In my experience, people really want to be put in touch with their first paying customer. As a rule, the more you can help assess the demand for each idea, the better.

I have some ideas on how YCombinator could do this at scale, and start founders in a more advantageous position, if that's of interest.

We're trying to find better ways to get prospective startup founders in contact with problems that really ought to be solved."

Ought is a loaded term there in my opinion because it depends on who you ask and what your goals are. A VC and a philanthropist are going to have wildly different answers.

80000 hours [1] has the goal of identifying the most pressing problems in the world [2] and then connecting people with jobs around those.

That should be your starting point.

[1] https://80000hours.org/

[2] https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/

> Ought is a loaded term there in my opinion because it depends on who you ask and what your goals are. A VC and a philanthropist are going to have wildly different answers.

Justin Kan's idea for buyer's remorse insurance on fine art really drives home that you're on point. It should speak volumes that YC is publishing the idea that "fine art purchasing sure is a difficult problem" with a straight face. Let’s put half the valley on that pressing issue.

Think about how that went down: oh, hey, Kyle. Great timing on your e-mail! I just bought a Manet and hate it on my wall; I have just the idea for your blog post.

I noticed that, but instead of jumping straight to "why should I make a service for rich fools?" I thought to myself "what other similar use-cases are there?"

If you buy an engagement ring and the proposal gets rejected, you get stuck with a depreciating asset which is hard to sell for anything, let alone for what you buy.

Still too high-net-worth for you? Insurance for used-car problems that you don't have to buy from the used car dealer that sells you the car. There's an inherent conflict of interest in a dealer selling you a car and then selling you the hedge against problems with that car.

I watched a Charlie Rose interview this week with a famous comic writer who was proud to work in comics, as opposed to painting. His logic was that average people feel dumb and that they are "missing something" if they look at a painting and "don't get it". When you look at a comic and you "don't get it", you are more likely to think the comic is trash and that there is nothing "to get". Similarly, I think the pretentiousness of art gallery sales people is a pressure tactic to get you to buy something you don't really value. I don't think insurance-after-the-fact solves the incentive mismatch for fine art.

80,000 hours is a great resource. My personal opinion is that the YC motto of "making something people want" (and will pay for) is mostly a subset of "making the world a better place." It's not a true subset -- there are obviously lots of products out there that people want that end up making the world worse -- but on average I think most good startup ideas end up making the world better.

Of course, there are also lots of problems that need to be solved but that aren't a good fit for a for-profit business. Those ones can be harder to tackle, but we do try -- that's why YC also funds non-profits.

> Social Network for Children

Counterpoint-- this should not be built. Kids already have a social network, it's called the playground at school. Having children engage with their friends outside of school time is a fine goal, but there are plenty of existing after-school activities that encourage this interaction. These activities also don't put the undue stress of having to decipher typed language, nuance, and other online-only pressures that adults can barely deal with, much less children.

Get your kids into scouts. Get them into a team sport. Get them into dance. Get them into after-school STEAM activities. Whatever those activities are, that's up to their preferences, but most importantly they are out and engaging with their peers face to face. That "3pm - 6pm" window of time is important for children to play, and having them spend even a portion of that time hitting a like button or whatever other social network validation activities seems extremely disingenuous to me.

I mostly agree with you. (I have 4 kids ages 9, 11, 13, and 23)

My Counter-Counterpoint is to first consider the following: (a) most kids are using normal social networks like Snapchat and Instagram in jr. high school (age 12+ in the US), (b) children see their parents and older kids using social networks and want to emulate them, (c) a lot of parents are either too busy or too lazy to do what you suggest and that's why so many children are handed a device at way too young an age, (d) helicopter parenting makes c. even worse.

So, given that, I say this should be built–if, for no other reason, than to encourage responsible and empathetic use of social media. Maybe it has time limits and is purposely non-addictive. Maybe it encourages IRL interactions at the park and helps parents coordinate that. Maybe it detects cruel comments and teaches them why its not ok. Maybe it guides kids through outdoor games and educational activities.

I like what you're suggesting but I'm more of the mindset "this is inevitable so i hope someone takes the moral/responsible route with it"

Also, a side note for those that don't have kids and aren't aware, a very large swath of elementary school children in the US already have Google accounts through their school or school district.

Edit: some words

Why not effective Internet safety education and a bunch of apps that block NSFW, set time limit etc? (An AI bot that hovers in one corner and highlights and teaches not-OK content, maybe ..?)

IMO a safe children’s social network is a bit of an oxymoron. You’re never going to make something safe, unless it’s a closed system!

I'm not sure which side (if any) you're arguing.

I don't agree with your oxymoron statement. First, social networks aren't inherently unsafe. Plus, I don't think they are "open" or "closed" in a binary sense. Every system–real or online–with humans is going to have bad actors. You just need varying levels of ID, auth, filtering, etc.

I wasn't really involved with Club Penguin because I didn't have kids using it during the heyday, but my understanding is that they grew it to be pretty big without any major safety issues [0].

I think this whole notion of "completely closed and safe" is what gave rise to the helicopter parenting I mentioned above. That's not a good thing.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_Penguin#Child_safety

> I'm more of the mindset "this is inevitable so i hope someone takes the moral/responsible route with it"

I might have misunderstood but you’re suggesting an actually safe, well-designed social network for kids right?

Agreed, systems aren’t open and closed in a binary sense. But social networks only thrive when the channels for self-expression are flexible, available and lots of people are using them. With kids however, safety is No.1 and as long as the channels are open, it’s impossible to safeguard against dodgy content and (worse) users. Really determined people will always find ways to get around a system, and the more ‘open’ the system is (for example private messages and chat functionalities) the higher the risks. That’s what I meant by “oxymoron.”

Club Penguin is interesting, because imo it’s an example of a fairly closed social network. Kids can only interact via the available set of responses, like emoticons and coins. (At least that’s what it was like more than five years ago when I watched my younger siblings play.) So there’s no way to type in anything, all profiles are avatar-based and they have pretty fierce moderators. It’s very well designed actually. But to use it as a way to educate kids of social media in general, maybe not, just because the major social networks like Facebook etc are designed too differently (i.e. more open.) That’s why I’m an advocate of internet safety education - because you’re right, it’s impossible to shield them!

The only way I can think of implementing a safe social network for kids is within the school itself. Okay you’re with your classmates all the time, but the social network can be more of a democratic educational platform, where kids can access content and discuss topics anytime. In the U.K., there’s a few like that already, though it’s still a bit primitive (Frog I hear is quite buggy.)

Never underestimate the persistence of 4chan.[1]

1: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/purple-republicclub-pen...

I think local social networks are the path forward here. Things similar to mastodon - albeit with some specific additions - because they are already local oriented, just prevent children from having any "federated" interactions (e.g. outside the local instance). In addition ways for parents to observe the follow/messaging behavior of their children, and how their messages are federated (e.g. keeping the data private to the local instance unless otherwise approved). This also works well because it means only the local community will be on the app, and children can only interact with locals. And they could theoretically still be allowed to retweet or discuss federated content in a sort of read-only manner; and the content they are allowed to reach could be on a white list decided upon by the intersection of the community via the school (e.g. a conservative list of content the school will choose for educational resources) and parents (e.g. a more liberal list parents will vet for their children).

Couldn't agree more. Social networks are deliberately designed to be addictive and can definitely cause problems with self esteem - doesn't seem like something kids should be engaged in at all. Additionally, if anything we should be exposing children to less advertisement, not more. This almost sounds like some sick "hook em while they're young" scheme

> Social networks are deliberately designed to be addictive

Social networks are addictive because if they aren't, they fail and cease to be adopted at scale. Somehow we seem to be OK with this happening to ourselves. It is only when it happens to our innocent children that we start to revolt.

Because children are extra gullible. Children will happily sing a catchy tune from a non-interactive, non-personalized TV or radio commercial, even repeating marketing slogans they don't understand. You can win a kid's trust by giving him a candy. Have you ever seen a kid that has to be dragged away from a shop display, kicking, screaming and crying ?

Commercial social media are refined to the equivalent of advertisement cocaine. They are also a con man's wet dream (I refer you to numerous articles about Facebook frauds). It's even more than that, because it's the only drug which changes shape to more effectively get you. You have to be constantly vigilant and watch for new manipulation methods.

Parents watch over children not just because they like them, but because children are not capable of consistently making informed, rational decisions and weighting pros and cons.

I think parents themselves are not adult enough to deal with Facebook and avoid being manipulated or cheated. I think the world hasn't caught up with addictiveness of social media yet. Other drugs are already limited, for example by age. Netherlands doesn't limit access to drugs very much, instead it focuses on informational campaigns and rehab centers, with pretty good results. FB gives people something core to human nature - social contact, so addicts will defend it to the death. Age requirement wouldn't fly, so Netherlands-style approach is the only option left. At least until FB successfully lobbies to ban them or sues for defamation.

The dangers posed by social media are not inherently new, but fraudsters in meatspace have a harder time being completely anonymous, there are witnesses everywhere, your personal profile is not written on your back, and offenders risk local ostracism. FB is more like a private nightclub than real world with laws, courts and police. FB makes it easy to be a creep remotely and anonymously.

> I think parents themselves are not adult enough to deal with Facebook and avoid being manipulated or cheated. I think the world hasn't caught up with addictiveness of social media yet.

I hear this criticism a lot and to me it strikes a similar tone as the 1972 documentary Future Shock. Effectively that the pace of change is too rapid and humans cannot adjust. Its a compelling argument on its face, but its been falsified over much of history.


I think that's fair. It's the same standard we set with alcohol and other intoxicants. I drink alcohol knowing that I can deal with its addictive properties. I don't think kids should be drinking alcohol not only because it could cause developmental problems, but because I don't think they can deal with something that addictive. I think social media is too addictive and otherwise psychologically harmful that we should keep children away.

> Social networks are addictive because if they aren't, they fail and cease to be adopted at scale

This makes it ok somehow?

> Somehow we seem to be OK with this happening to ourselves. It is only when it happens to our innocent children that we start to revolt.

I think you're begging the question on the first point. As for the second, not only is there mounting evidence that giving kids smartphones and constant social network tools is having deleterious effects on their mental health, there are a whole slew of things that I'm ok with adults having a choice about that nobody should be ok with kids having access to.

It really wouldn't matter if it were ok or not. It's just that it becomes a matter of selection bias that you'd see them that way.

Yes. What a horrible idea. I re-read the paragraph to see if by "Social Network" they meant something else, or it was tongue-in-cheek, but no, it seems they meant exactly that: "Facebook for preschoolers, with parental supervision".

That should never be built... and yet, somehow, we just know it will.

Aren't Club Penguin, Animal Jam, etc. social networks for children? You can't collect real info about children or have real photos of them, so giving them a fun avatar and persona to hang out with other anonymous friends seems like the best way of handling the big problem with social networks for kids without getting into trouble.

Many ideas in the list sound pointless, to be polite, but that one is downright depressing. The word "social" got abused to basically mean its opposite.

Social media is to socialization what candy is to food: It's enjoyable and healthy in moderation, but it is amazingly bad for anyone, especially kids, in large quantities. It also doesn't fulfill any fundamental human need that can't be satisfied in better ways.

Not to mention, how would you limit it to children only? Talk about pedo heaven.


How Lego Built a Social Network for Kids That's Not Creepy

Just remove the ability to register fake accounts.

Wow, what a simple solution. Why did nobody ever think of this before?

I bet a person could make a lot of money with an idea like this!

You forgot your "/s"

My mom doesn't hang out here.

Some online games-for-kids don't allow freeform text, so the game can control what kind of communication is allowed. Others are very heavily moderated.

You could also require parents to identify themselves, I guess, similar to how some financial/banking apps do? Not fool proof, but would raise the barrier for predators to enter.

> but most importantly they are out and engaging with their peers face to face

Why is it important? I hated all those things as a kid.

Social Media sites ironically isolate humans and the needed natural interactions. Bad Idea! This will indoctrinate children at a very early stage. The social medium for children should be schools, playgrounds, community events, and other collective activities etc.

So legitimate question. If the social medium of children should be physical, why should adults be virtual? Or more generally why are adults who are supposed to be mature and capable of rational decision abandoning physical interaction for addictive social media?

Right, this applies to all. Virtual is not working out so well in a social sense. We seem to have lost touch with reality.

Part of it is that children are highly suggestible. They're also still mentally developing and learning. Therefore, they are at risk of not developing proper social skills and are more likely to get addicted (possibly at the expense of physical activities). But your point is still valid and both of those things are, for sure, problems for adults too. One would hope that adults are, at least, less suggestible (hope, but in reality, it seems lots of adults are pretty gullible and suggestible too, at least in some things).

What problem would a social network for children solve?

The problem of advertisers not yet knowing how to collect every bit of data about a child's life starting at birth.

A social network for kids is not really a good solution for that, since it relies on kids voluntarily using the social network.

Cerebral monitoring devices implanted at birth would be a much more effective solution.


EDIT: ah, now I see (A)rt


It's ironic: Most of you desperately want to unseat Facebook, and this is a strategy toward that end. What do you think will happen when those children grow into teens?

If Facebook seems draconian, this would be an opportunity to build something better from first principles. It's a positive plan, not malicious.

I'm not sure Facebook has the ability to pursue this even if they tried. They have too much political inertia for people to trust them with a kids-focused Facebook. That means all someone needs to do is build this, then refuse to sell. Checkmate.

It won't be easy, but two decades is a long time. And that's the timeline to slay a giant.

> for people to trust them with a kids-focused Facebook.

Most non-techie people I ask have no idea that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook properties. Even Messenger is being disassociated from the Facebook brand. I don't know if it's a deliberate strattegy to keep the bad reputation contained but I don't see a reason they couldn't attempt that if they were to ever build a kids network.

I don't think it is a strategy towards unseating Facebook. When children become teens, they tend to shun things seen as childish or uncool.

It's sad but predictable that the same people who are suggesting ideas like a "Social Network for Children", are often the ones who send their own children to "tech-free" private schools to prevent them from being exposed to the products that pay their parents' bills.

>As I’ve gotten a bit older and gained more experience, I’ve found that valuable startup ideas aren’t actually a scarce resource. In fact, they’re only becoming more abundant — as the world moves faster and more new businesses are created, more novel niches appear for profitable, productive companies.

If we define valuable as "profitable, productive companies" then I very much agree that there are plenty of niches out there.

However, if we are talking about startups that can actually grow big by Silicon Valley standards, I have personally come to the opposite conclusion. Ideas with the potential to become big are very much THE scarce resource.

I used to think that things like capital and teams are scarce, but it turns out there are a lot of sharp hard-working people with access to cash. By contrast, ideas that can grow to a billion dollar outcome are very few. I remember Andy Rachleff saying a decade ago that each year 10-15 companies are started that will eventually grow to become billion-dollar outcomes. My impression is that this pattern has held.

What does change all the time is where the opportunities are. Some industries mature, thus potentially closing for new opportunities, at least for a while, e.g. until a tech breakthrough. The good news is that new markets develop all the time, and the cycle repeats.

P.S. Thanks for putting this together and sharing with the community. I hope some dots get connected meaningfully.

> Ideas with the potential to become big are very much THE scarce resource.

They're also almost inherently unknowable. Look back at the history of almost any large, successful SV company. Google was a search company taking on AltaVista. Facebook let Harvard students put up personal pages, taking on MySpace. Amazon sold books, taking on Borders. All of their founders got negative responses at early attempts at VC funding from "experts" who had no idea of what they were looking at, because small companies, by definition, make small products, and usually in markets with some competition by strong incumbents. Would Google have become as big as they did without Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Android? Would Facebook have become as big as they did without Messenger, Events, public pages for businesses and celebrities? Would Amazon have become as big as they did without AWS and Marketplace/FBA?

Execution, not the founding idea, is what turns start-ups into giants.

Yes this is the huge disconnect between the "ideas are worthless" and "ideas are everything" camps. Yes "ideas" are as common as muck (and worth as much), but ideas that will build a billion dollar company are as rare as billion dollar companies.

There are hundreds of startup ideas in the Yellow Pages trending section: https://www.yellowpages.com/san-francisco-ca/trends/1

Interesting to look at differences by city: https://www.yellowpages.com/new-york-ny/trends/

Highlights - Jetskis in SF, Escorts in NY

See, I think this comment is far more interesting than the article itself. I'm certain there is a method of finding high value-low effort startup ideas digging thru unconventional data like the link you provided.

I think it’s hard to find startup ideas by reading the tech press and HN. It’s easy if you just look around you as you go about your daily life, then research anything you don’t understand.

A few industries I’ve researched this way:

* Porta potties * Dumpster rental * Bail bonds * Funerals

There are millions of legitimate businesses out there that have hardly been touched by tech.

And what's hilarious is that the top comment in this thread is about starting yet another social network.

Myopic to say the least.

Sure, but if you're willing to do anything to make a buck, that isn't any less myopic.

> Throne Chair Rental

YC, here I come!

>Lamp Lampshade Repair

Our team at LampLampshadeRepair.io will see you there!

.lighting, surely!

That's a fascinating way to think about it

> Renewable Energy from Engineered Microbes

This has been done. Amyris [1], among those that survived the effort, and JBEI from a quasi-academic approach [2].

From first principles, it just is not a good business proposition to compete to synthesize from scratch one of the very cheapest of commodities. Fuels, by volume, are one of the least expensive chemicals one can buy. The biological technology exists, but competing against a few hundred million year's energetic headstart is just not economically viable (unless oil goes above a few hundred a barrel). The same technology can produce fragrances, medicines, dyes, etc, all which go for hundreds of dollars a liter, or one could produce ethanol which goes for less than a hundred dollars a barrel. And so that's why companies like Zymergen tend to not produce fuels, even though they easily could.

[1] https://amyris.com/products/fuels/

[2] https://www.jbei.org/

A side-story related to firefighting, from Wikipedia's History of firefighting:

"The first ever Roman fire brigade of which we have any substantial history was created by Marcus Licinius Crassus. He was born into a wealthy Roman family around the year 115 BC, and acquired an enormous fortune through (in the words of Plutarch) "fire and rapine." One of his most lucrative schemes took advantage of the fact that Rome had no fire department. Crassus filled this void by creating his own brigade—500 men strong—which rushed to burning buildings at the first cry of alarm. Upon arriving at the scene, however, the fire fighters did nothing while their employer bargained over the price of their services with the distressed property owner. If Crassus could not negotiate a satisfactory price, his men simply let the structure burn to the ground, after which he offered to purchase it for a fraction of its value."

Also, as this was featured as a Reddit TIL, here are a few interesting comments: https://imgur.com/a/Fhuc5

Maybe this could work as a B2G route, like the guys making the firefighting helicopters selling to CalFire. But yeah, this smells like they are trying to find a way to privatize firefighting, which is not cool (pardon the pun)

The problem isn't privatization, it's the payment structure. Crassus should have set up an insurance or subscription based system.

I imagine that a firefighting startup would not actually replace the operations of fire departments, they would simply sell products to fire departments.

One example of that is Active911: https://www.active911.com/ They sell a product that allows notifications to be pushed through multiple communication methods, and allows coordination of first response.

Crassus seems like he did just fine as it was. He was the richest man in Roman history (excepting Augustus) :) Then again, he was instrumental in turning the Republic into Empire, so he's a bit of a mixed bag.

Yeah, I think they want a 'greaser' company that will help smooth out governmental workings, FF deployments, and other stuff. Building drones is hardware, and hardware is bad at 'scaling.' Especially, since this kind of hardware is so 'critical' and probably need a lot of testing.

There's a startup in Germany that only has about 20 employees, yet they produce "professional" VTOL fixed-wing drones for businesses and such, and make churn one out every three minutes. https://www.quantum-systems.com/

(Not affiliated, just heard of them in the Omega Tau podcast, which by the way I strongly recommend!)

With that name, you'd think they'd be into quantum computers or quantum encryption lines, not drones.

It seems to me more like they're just trying to build firefighting drones.

It's not clear to me that they have any actual insight into how said drones might help, or how firefighting is done at the moment.

Surely it's simply a question of putting fire on the blockchain?

I volunteered for a search and rescue organization for awhile. There was some interest in drones simply to get overhead video of a collapsed building etc. Currently you are limited to walking over the rubble. If you could have a drone fly overhead and identify victims or unsafe areas, it could really help.

Something on the scale of the Raven UAV would make sense for that application:


Those big super tankers operate at like $1m a day.. drones seem like they would be mosquitos in comparison. Maybe useful for spotting fires but I think satellite are the best plus traditional look outs. AI for sat images to spot wildfires is probably already done. It could track storms (lightning etc..). A bigger issue for wildfires is removing fuel sources which nobody does. A wet winter and spring fuels fire season.

Improving fire code is more likely to have a bigger impact. This is basically all about money though.

Airborne drones can't carry enough water to be useful for extinguishment, but land-based drones could, and a swarm of mini-bulldozers to clear a fireline would be even better. Getting them to work reliably in rough terrain with lots of vegetation would be a big challenge though.

> AI for communicating with dogs

This is borderline satire. You don't need some crazy new idea to do a startup. You need to execute well on something people want, and if you're out looking for ideas, your best bet is probably to enter an existing market and cater to a subset of it better than others are doing.

Most animals are way more expressive that the average person is able to easily understand and pet tech would easily be a billion dollar market.

EDIT: I would also be happy to do this startup if YC adds me to the next batch; already offered to do one for the “Social Network for Children”: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15715865

> more expressive that the average person is able to easily understand

The average person can understand way more than you are giving credit.

And anyway, if the average person can't understand some communication, than it's something completely out the league of current AIs. It's the one thing we are good at.

> than it's something completely out the league of current AIs

I beg to differ[1]. The average human isn't autistic, but there is still significant value in using AI to tell us what we are doing wrong (and wrap the product up so it doesn't make us fell like crap while we are doing it).

Behavior modification bots would be incredibly useful for helping people see their own shortcomings (cognitive science research shows us that we frequently see the flaws in others but are systematically blind to our own).

[1] http://autismglass.stanford.edu/

[2] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609142/andrew-ng-has-a-ch...

There’s a long list of AI that now outperforms humans both at the per task level and at scale.

Beyond that, as defined by the spec for the startup, I have no reason to believe AI built for this would not be able to do the same for this task.

>Most animals are way more expressive that the average person is able to easily understand

Is the market the average person though or the person willing to spend several hundred dollars on tech for their pet?

My guess is the latter would mostly consist of people who have spent decades in close contact with pets and are able to reliably read the body language of a dog with rather extreme accuracy and nuance.

If you've never owned a dog they're rather difficult to read. If you've been around them as long as you've been around people you can almost immediately discern a lot of information about them based on a glance.

People in their 30s without kids are willing to spend considerable sums on their pet.

Real life is not a Pixar movie.

It's not so crazy if you apply it to babies. I'm sure a lot of new parents would very much appreciate knowing why their baby is crying now. What's that old quote about babies and the same error code for many different problems?

Parents usually figure this out after a few weeks. Also kids needs change over developmental time. So crying is just language for communicating based on emotion: Hangry, tired, hurt, potentially dirty diaper.

While not babies, a lot of parents have problems communicating with pre-verbal and basically non-verbal infants... but it's also been found that infants can actually learn and effectively use signs (not to be confused with ASL or a distinct sign language) to communicate.


We did this with both our kids. Our youngest, who is only 8 months old, can already sign in makaton for 'more', 'milk' and 'finished' - and we only started teaching him a few weeks ago!

It really is incredible what they are capable of at such a young age.

Other parents tell me all the time about how their kids are getting frustrated because the can't communicate verbally - I really don't know why signing for babies isn't more popular.

How do the other parents react when you tell them about signing? I wonder if it's related to a perception of signing as "for handicapped people" or something, or a worry about it replacing speech.

People's first reaction does indeed tend to be worry that it would somehow delay their childs' speech. I have to admit that, out of ignorance, that was my own first reaction too.

However, it's been the exact opposite, signing has only reduced frustration, taught the benefits of communication, and encouraged spoken language.

"Blah blah, Ginger. Blah blah blah Ginger blah blah..."

"It's like Facebook, but for dogs."

This is something people want. With the right approach you could actually improve the happiness of hundreds of millions of people. The existing market is tremendously huge.

Pretty much anything with AI mentioned in the first line is an eye-roller. Then the dogs part... wtf

I'd like to see the social stigma around mental health eliminated. It's commonly viewed as a positive thing to care about, and work toward, better physical health. I wish that were true for mental health. I wish improving your mental health was as normal as going to the gym.

Somewhat controversial opinion ahead:

I wish the focus were on treatment and compassion rather than awareness. What I fear happening, and think we have already started taking steps towards, is normalizing mental illness to the point of carte blanche acceptance. I had depression for many years and still have my bad days, but I don't want to live/work in a society where you can use mental illness for excuses. The focus should always be on getting help and coping as best as you can.

What should become destigmatized is saying "I have condition X" or "I'm getting treatment for condition X and it's really helping", not "I did Y because I have condition X, my b".

I also think that while mental illness should be destigmatized, it's still ultimately a private matter. People should feel like they can get help and receive support, but there are a lot of good reasons to not share with family/friends/coworkers about your mental illness. If I had ever told my parents about being depressed they would have lost thousands of hours of sleep worrying about me, and would spend a lot of effort trying to help even though they really couldn't. I also don't want my boss or coworkers to know simply because I don't want to be held to a different standard / treated differently from others, nor do I want any failure of mine to perform or meet commitments to have the (implicit) excuse of mental illness.

> but I don't want to live/work in a society where you can use mental illness for excuses

Accommodation is often quite possible and is a net gain for everyone involved. Yes you don't want the guy piloting the airplane to have hallucinations, but forcing someone with social anxiety into a cramped loud office when there's no need should be doable.

> , but there are a lot of good reasons to not share with family/friends/coworkers about your mental illness.

The main reason for not sharing is because of the stigma involved. As for coworkers holding you to a different standard, well after any period of time, most coworkers know what you are like, despite any labels that are used. My thought on the matter is to use the words Neuro-typical and ! neuro-typical. I feel that a fair amount of what is called mental illness is actually just part of the spectrum of how a human mind can work. I think we lose a lot of human potential because most large organizations try to get all their "resources" to function together in pretty much the same way. If the time was taken to understand the optimum conditions for individual types of mental functioning there would be a large increase of productivity and satisfaction in the workplace.

I understand what you're saying. I think focusing on treatment (especially making it more accessible) and compassion are good things, too.

I think many people don't get the help they need partly because they feel embarrassed (as well as other reasons). I think that's what the stigma has caused. There's a negative connotation around talking to a professional about things going on in your life or mind. Often times, jokes are made about "shrinks" and such, which I think only exacerbate the situation.

And I'd like to comment on your last paragraph. While I think it's fair and up to the individual to keep whatever they want in their life private, I also think in many cases talking about it out in the open, in environment that not only supports it, but where it also feels normal to discuss it, is the ultimate wish.

I'm of the opinion that I think most everyone would benefit from talking to someone good* about things that are going on in their lives. While there's a spectrum to mental illness and health, I'd like for society to get to a place where discussing those kinds of things is as normal as discussing a movie you just saw.

To get to that point, I think the stigma around mental health will need to change. Talking about something like a breakup with someone is a common experience. If you tell someone you've broken up with your partner, then people don't judge you in the way they judge you for improving your mental health by, say, seeking professional help. In fact, with regard to the breakup, many people offer to listen to you or to make time for you - to help you.

That doesn't seem to normally be the case with mental illness or health (and yet I think it's all related). And I hope that changes.

And I think one of the best ways for that to happen is to have more-and-more high-profile people talking about it out in the open - even just challenges they've faced personally - from something like a breakup to extreme mental illness.

I wish for this partly because I think it will make people more empathetic and understanding toward each other, which I think will make the world a better place.

*Like teachers, not everyone (professional or not) is good at it, nor the right fit.

I work for Big-Co, and that has become one of our goals.

I've thought about the firefighting idea as well, especially after the recent Sonoma and Napa fire.

Sprinkler systems for indoor fires are not that uncommon now. Why aren't there sprinkler/fire retardant systems for the perimeter/external part of a house?

In a wildfire, I can't imagine a better way to fight the fire from spreading through a neighborhood than a system that auto-deploys when it senses smoke on the periphery of a house/neighborhood, instantly killing the flames. A top-down approach to fire-fighting is expensive and in a raging fire, not so effective from what we've seen so far. Perhaps, we need to adopt a more distributed approach (ie individual homes and localities protect themselves).

Of course, it would have to have broad adoption, but I bet if it's proven to work well, some homeowners would just install it on their property, especially if the property is close to areas more prone to wildfires.

You could probably even get a discount on your homeowners policy.

If anyone wants to brainstorm this, do email me at vintya9@gmail.com.

You may be coming at this from the wrong direction. A really effective way to fight fire is, ironically, with fire. Controlled burns used to be a big part of the national park service's budget, but has since dwindled (perhaps because it's hard to measure performance?).

Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, and by controlling when and how it burns, we help keep it in check instead of it turning into mega fires.

Here is an article to get you started, https://www.npca.org/articles/819-fight-fire-with-funding-an...

> Why aren't there sprinkler/fire retardant systems for the perimeter/external part of a house?

There are. Google "external bushfire sprinkler systems" and look at anything from a .com.au domain. These systems are as much a startup as HVAC (i.e. not really), but they still rely on software control, because owners need reassurance that the sprinklers will activate automatically even if they have already evacuated.

Detecting the appropriate activation circumstances is a high-stakes decision to hand off to a machine, and thus a potential goldmine for anybody who gets it right.

It's complicated too. For reliability, you need an independent cache of water that can last X hours (like a swimming pool), and an independent energy source to pump it.

The city of Oakland has not only has a wildfire problem, but an arsonist problem. This summer a construction site with a 7-story structure (196 new apartments) was burned to the ground in just a few hours allegedly by one person. I didn't think that was possible in 2017.

Is the issue with fire-retardant wood/framing materials that it is too expensive, toxic, or doesn't help once a certain temperature is reached ?

Under-construction buildings are very flammable. They're just pure fuel. No drywall, concrete or marble to slow down the fire.

I've thought about this as well. My idea was to bury a 10k gallon tank in the yard along with a compressed air tank. Run sprinklers around the perimeter of your house and drip lines across the eves of your roof. When a fire is near you turn a valve that pressurizes the tank and pushes water out to the sprinklers for ~8 hours.

Most houses burn down due to embers igniting in the roof, subfloor or against the side of the house. You need to actively protect the roof with sprayers. There are systems that already do this, as well as ember-proof subfloor vents.

What if it was fire retardant instead? I haven't thought it through, but probably more effective and easier mechanism of delivery than water?

This is naive. A bushfire is huge, hot, and fast-moving, consuming entire trees in seconds. Your mains-pressure water sprinkler will not deter an onrushing wall of flame in the least... and worse, an automated system would take water away from where it's needed.

It won't save the house if everything around is afire, but pictures like the burnt-down HP historical archive building[1] look like it could have been saved with a sprinkler wall. (For god's sake, the trees next to it are perfectly OK.)

[1] http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/7559762-181/hewlett-pa... (see picture 3)

Indeed, some people in the recent fires were able to save their homes with a garden hose (!) depending on the intensity of the fire in their area, particularly when the fire was spread by flying embers. That's not unusual in wildfires, though only some fraction of buildings can be saved this way.

> only some fraction of buildings can be saved this way

In Australia, ember attack is responsible for 90% of the houses lost to bushfires. If you can prevent flying embers from igniting a house, you eliminate most of the risk to the building.

Embers are a big problem, and another one is vegetation near your house. If you have a big dry bush just outside your patio door and it starts to burn, the infrared coming off it can go right through the glass and catch the inside of the house on fire before the outside starts to burn. This is why we preach defensible space (no vegetation within 30-50 feet of the structure).

I'd argue some fraction is enough. It still represents millions saved in damages.

Yeah, I think it could be a very valuable precaution!

Here in Australia, external bushfire sprinkler systems are becoming more common. Their main purpose is to defend a house against flying embers, which are the most common way that homes ignite during a bushfire.

They are pressurised using a diesel generator, and each sprinkler head consumes 6 to 20 litres per minute (a typical installation will include 20-30 sprinkler heads) from an independent water supply (not mains - you can rely on that failing in a fire).

A bushfire front will typically pass within five to ten minutes, because as you pointed out, they are fast-moving. This limits the amount of radiant heat a sprinkler system has to cope with.

While fire suppression systems don't seem to me like a good startup model (more of a small-to-medium business), there are good software opportunities for automated and remote-triggered sprinkler activation (because people still evacuate hours earlier, and need a way to turn on the sprinkler system remotely).

Perhaps. But does it have to be water? How do you know something won't work until you try it?

Even with all the fire retardant sprayed onto massive wildfires from the sky, we're unable to stop them. Why wouldn't a different approach work?

If you read about the Napa fires, some neighborhoods in Santa Rosa were entirely burned to the ground not because of a wall of gushing fire, but because some embers from further away landed on dried up brush and leaves and started the fire in that area.

For low, slow fires like grass fires, it does not have to be water. Watery foam with bubbles of CO2 or another fire-inert gas can work well for smothering the fire. But the equipment to make foam properly is expensive and finicky and not all fire departments have it. And foam won't help much as a heat sink which is where water really shines. Heat sinks are what you need for big fires. Lots and lots of water.

Forest fires are never put out with water--you just can't get enough water where it's needed. Instead, you use small amounts of air-dropped water and fire breaks to steer the fire where you want it to go and let it run out of fuel.

>Low-Friction Lending Library

I think public libraries should start to serve this role. My local library (Calgary) has started to build up a collection of musical instruments that can be borrowed [0]. I'm sure there are other examples out there. I can see libraries expanding into tool libraries (drill, saw, hammer etc).

0 - https://calgarylibrary.ca/borrow-a-musical-instrument/

Check out Selfless!

Lend/borrow from people around you.

Lending libraries are great but not every city commits resources to support them or they restrict access to the citizens (eg: Oakland,SF,Alameda,etc cannot borrow from Berkeley tool lending library).

We’re still very young but would love your support! ️

Web — https://selfless.io

iOS — https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/selfless-love-something.-giv...

Android — https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.selfless

How long have you been at this? This is an idea that I've also heard thrown around. You guys will not be the first nor the last to play with the idea. Did you find any clues as to why others abandoned the idea? Good luck!

Your contact link doesn't seem to work

Berkeley has a tool-lending library which is useful for the once-in-three-years that you need a ladder or a belt sander: https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/locations/tool-lending...

Maybe. But when I need a hammer or drill or saw, I need it now. If I have to go to the library, which may be closed, or may be out of what I need, that won't do it for me.

Libraries work for books because they offer a large selection of items you may only use once, or just browse over. But (inexpensive) tools? You wouldn't rent a dictionary for example...?

Perhaps hammer and drill were a bad example. Think more of things like a ladder. Ladders are expensive and likely won't be used that frequently. You usually know ahead of time when you need it (going to wash windows on the weekend, put up Christmas lights, paint your house).

It's a fine example. I was a poor student and now I'm a minimalist. I can't imagine owning tools when I can borrow them. I've also never had a tool emergency that couldn't wait until the morning -- or maybe just a couple times in my life.

Tools aren't like a dictionary because there is no digital/online replacement for a saw.

A lot of cities have tool libraries as well. I think the author hits the nail on the head though with "high-friction" being the problem.

When I rent a tool from the tool library, it puts me under a lot of stress to finish the job before I have to take the tool back. Furthermore, some tools are hard to pick up from the library without a truck.

If you don't have a car, forget it.

The other thing about tools as well is that in order to use them, you have to know how. If you don't own the tool, chances are pretty good you won't know what the heck you're doing.

After saying all that out loud your idea starts to sound pretty good. There needs to be a community center where you can learn how to use these tools, and borrow them when you need them. The library sounds like the perfect place. If only we could easily add low-friction on-demand services to that equation.

TechShop was addressing that issue about needing to learn how to use a tool that you don't own. Then you would use it on-premise, which seems like a better idea than borrowing it to use at home (for those projects that are portable anyway). Great concept, but turns out there wasn't a real business model there since they recently shut down.

I agree that public libraries can help fill this role, especially as traditional book lending becomes more digital. I also live in Calgary so thanks for the tip!

There's also this in Canada: https://sharingdepot.ca (I wish they'd build one of these in my city.)

Toronto has the tool library:


That's great, but part of me thinks this should be a public service as well. Not everyone can afford a $60/year membership for a tool library, and there's probably an overlap with those that can't afford a $100 drill they are going to use 2x/year.

I believe most public libraries are free to join nowadays. It would be great for low SES people to have access to tools.

The Smart Bathroom idea seems beyond parody. See the Smart Pipe satire infomercial comedy channel Adult Swim produced in 2014.


No offense to Mr Friedman, but almost everyone that works in marketing and tech has had the adwords for billboards idea, or tv or radio for that matter. I once upon a time played with an adwords for trade magazines idea that went nowhere. This is one of those things where almost every single entrenched player has incentives to keep this from becoming the reality, and outside owning the inventory outright I don't think its possible to change this system. (As a note someone please prove me wrong)

We're working on it for billboards:



We still have a long ways to go, but I think there's a good chance we'll prove you wrong :)

Do it. I want it badly. How are you getting around the problem of sales people guarding their inventory so closely? In addition, how are you coordinating with media companies to make sure that the brands advertising are within their guidelines?

Also co-founder at AdQuick here.

We work with sales people daily and getting their inventory to our customers. They love that we are bringing them new business. As for brand guidelines, we're in constant communication so this isn't much of an issue.

> They love that we are bringing them new business

If that's true that's great but it's the opposite experience of what I've experienced with large media companies. They pretty jealously guard their inventory and hate the idea of transparent pricing. That's great if you haven't experienced it yet, but I suspect you will at some point. Best of luck to you regardless. I'm rooting for you.

We don't list their pricing publicly and only share inventory on a per-campaign basis similar to how they currently sell using PDFs and Excel files.

So my buddy and I have had this idea for years, but have consistently hit roadblocks for an adwords-like product with billboards. To my knowledge, outside of Lamar, every major player in the outdoor advertising space doesn't even have the technology in place to allow for a more granular pricing model (i.e. ads by the hour). And when talking with them, they were not keen on allowing such a thing to exist even when we tell them we'd fill their entire inventory. Maybe you've had a different experience? If so, I'd like to chat with you.

As for AdQuick (and Fliphound for that matter), it seems like you're just another middleman. There is no bidding. Am I missing something?

This is great, I've been thinking about this idea for years (as an outsider) and I just love that you've brought the challenges to this idea front and center.

Google in the past had Adwords for magazine and radio ads built into the product. It wasn't a bad idea, it failed because the timing was completely wrong. In those days, online advertising was super cheap and print/radio was expensive. We performance advertising guys were making $50 in profit on a $10 online ad buy. Print was so worthless at the time there was the saying: What is the difference between buying print ads and setting money on fire? Burning the money provides some heat.

Now that ad prices have more sanity and relative value across mediums, now may be the time to do this.

I see this as an idea that will happen, it is just a matter of when.

I'd start buy building a big data model to value billboard space. Estimate the eyeballs using traffic data, size, visual competition, etc. Sell the analysis, broker space, and then in 5-10 years you could build the Adwords model and eventually own the whole damn industry. You could also sell the company to an Ad Agency at any point.

I’ve worked on this in London recently, presenting my working concept (and months of data in tableau by location behind it) at a few events. The industry is a few years off it, particularly the physical tech, which would require digital screens to be hooked up to an ad server of sorts (that doesn’t really exist programmatically either) and then serving custom ad formats (non IAB format) in real-time (taking in variable factors that could effect the demographic and/or volume of eyeballs). Measurement of the eyeballs and said demographic is the gap, though that’s more than currently exists in the Out of home market right now(nothing!).

It has legs, you just need serious commitment from an owner of inventory (physical boards), which are controlled by 3 or 4 organisations.

Smart bathrooms are an excellent idea, particularly in the case of seniors and the aging population. There's interesting research being done from University of Toronto [0]. For those suffering from Alzheimer's or challenges that impact their day-to-day, the smart bathroom may be a way to improve their quality of life and give them back some independence.

[0] 2008 Toronto Star article on Prof. Alex Mihailidis - https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2008/09/01/u_of...

That does sound like an excellent idea.

Many many informations about one's health are found in feces, and yet collecting them to give them to a lab is, well, repugnant. If we could somehow have a sensor in the toilet that would scan them every day, that would be invaluable (and probably save lives).

I was also intrigued by this.

You could probably sell a lot in Germany too. Germans are crazy about analysing their own feces.

Yes! Their toilets have a special shape so that one can look at their own poo before flushing it.

I found that out the hard way when I went to the Czech Republic.

Hmm it’s true that we’re mostly familiar with what problems need to be solved. And yet it’s either high failure rate or too little effort to address them. So I see the key being the founding team. I know that that is repeated ad nauseum, but it’s often as an instruction and no more (”Find a great cofounder!”)

Well, in real life, it’s hard to find a truly complementary cofounder - let alone a team - even if one has a great network. It’s not just talent, it’s other things like personality traits and leadership styles. The greatest ones like Jobs/Wozniak only comes once in a while, and that’s thanks to luck. So why not frame this as an actual problem statement? For example, for problem x, what’s the ideal makeup of the team to solve it? How do we find brilliant and passionate individuals and bring them together? How do we sustain that team energy and commitment to the vision?

So maybe, that’s something for startup incubators to think about. Basically a sort of recruitment, Avengers style.

`Accounts Receivables as a Service`

Does invoice factoring not exist in the US? It's a fairly run of the mill concept in the UK, and it's nothing like debt collection.

Invoice factoring is lending . . . this is the actual process of collection. Two different approaches, I think.

Yes. It is a multibillion dollar industry. Also a relatively quiet one so I understand the confusion.

I don't think a factor in the US would ever take the receivable from a typical YC startup...ie no history, no credit, and suddenly a $50K PO...possibly from a unicorn company with little/no operating history, profit, or cash. Maybe you could get $.10 on the $1...

I can only assume that they are looking for some sort of automated turk that would call and call and call until the check is cut. Like a nag bot.

And/or, instead of high factor costs, my guess is they want this <1% of the receivable amount.

I know at least one company offering this in a modern package.

Which one? Paid labs? This is a big problem we've faced too, currently our bookkeeper does it for us, which can get expensive as they charge by the hour.

Thanks! paidlabs looks useful if not a magical silver bullet...will definitely check them out.


I looked at them [0] but I don't see anything to do with "get me paid faster" (aka collections or factoring) but they seem to have a "demo wall" to get any meaningful info.

I assume what they do is show you data you already have but maybe don't appreciate fully, e.g. if BigCo pays you on average 30 days late you can see that before you embark on some new project. Cool, but not necessarily getting me paid faster. Helping me avoid risk perhaps.

Maybe I missed it but if you know more, maybe you can give some examples of how they solve this? Genuinely interested since I too have this problem on occasion.

[0] https://www.tesorio.com/

Thanks for the shout-out brianbreslin. I’m co-founder & CEO of Tesorio (YC S15) and in the past I founded a factoring company. Factoring solves the collections problem in a way but it can be expensive and may send mixed messages to your customer that your cash flow wasn’t strong enough to wait for payment. We started Tesorio because we kept seeing folks misuse factoring as a source of financing, not as a point in time solution to a working capital gap. It gets expensive fast, it’s like payday lending for business.

Collections in the B2B world is more broadly defined as the process of reminding your customers to pay you, not so much the breaking knees part. Most companies over $15MM in revenue have at least one person doing this.

We see the collections process as the final step in a good customer experience… so we’ve built a product that combines the best parts of sales CRM and customer engagement tools. Our website showcases our active products (Forecasting, Forex, & Analytics), but we’re currently in Beta with the Collections tool and would love to show you it and get your feedback.

Feel free to reach out to me directly: carlos[at]tesorio.com

All great points, and to the meta discussion here of whether ideas are sufficient, I think you just demonstrated that ideas need experience and experimentation more than they need funding :)

That said, I think the fact that some folks misuse factoring in some industries doesn't mean it cannot be correctly used by many folks in other industries, even alongside other capital sources. Lowering the expense could be one way to innovate. Reducing the chagrin factor could be another.

FWIW, I have been at several >$15MM tech companies and in most cases worked directly with the CFO and team, and I don't recall having a FTE doing collections in any of them; sure it was a problem on occasion. The bigger problem was the routine elongation of the receivables cycle. We got paid in full 99.99% of the time - but slowly. We didn't need collections, we just wanted cash faster. Even at >$15MM...in fact more so!

Reminding them wasn't the problem in my experiences - though I'm sure there are many who have this problem - they deliberately engineered delay into their system. They were rewarded to delay. I have been on the other side of that table, doing the exact same thing admittedly, so I know.

Would love to chat 1:1 too, just keeping the ideation here on the thread in the spirit of the OP's goal.

Um...it is everything like debt collection because it is...debt collection.

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