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Startup Ideas Every Nerd Has (That Never Work) (eladgil.com)
313 points by eladgil on Nov 30, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 210 comments

It's true that such ideas tend to be magnets for sloppy thinking, but I think most if not all of them could be pulled off if done right.

I totally agree. The premise is not that they can not work - rather, that many people have tried them, or thought of them, but they have not worked as of yet. Even more importantly for the article, the really do come up in every brainstorm I have ever had :)

I think social news (Reddit, Twitter) and Cloud based file sharing (DropBox) are two ideas I would have put on my list before that have been addressed in some good way....

Shouldn't the parenthetical note in your title be (That Haven't Worked Yet)?

Indeed. Reminds me of Jerry Weinberg's story of the Nebraska farmer who was interviewed by the local paper when he turned 100. "Have you lived in Nebraska your whole life?" they asked. "Yes I have," said the farmer, and then added: "So far."

This just got me thinking that dating sites definitely fall into this category. Perhaps the answer is not a dating site but a dating tool, much like Facebook does not try to make you social connections, but facilitates the social connections you already have. You could write down the dates you have already been on, what you did/talked about, and compare notes with other people. Anyways, just a thought.

You mean like the whole pick-up artist community? Most girls aren't that interested in recording details of their dates, and definitely don't want other people knowing about their dating life (unless they're really young and want to brag that they're dating a football player, or in one recent case, have had the discriminating taste to sleep with half of the Duke lacrosse team).

> Most girls aren't that interested in recording details of their dates, and definitely don't want other people knowing about their dating life

Publicly, I assume you mean. As far as I can tell, women talk with their friends about their dates and their dating / sex life in far, far more detail than men do.

Talking about it and writing it up are very different things. The reason has to do with later deniability (sometimes things are better forgotten; a lot of women feel that way about their ex-boyfriends). There's a reason why the few girls that keep them are very protective of their diaries.

Actually, a tool bringing pick up artist techniques to the masses might be useful.

I know a guy who does record assorted details of approaches (various sketches/openers) and outcomes (dissed, phone number, base #, etc). He records them on paper, puts it into excel the next day and A/B tests. He is very successful.

A tool that automates all this could be very useful for those of us less willing to devote large amounts of time to picking up women.

The amount of time it takes him to put this into Excel is miniscule compared to just having a conversation with a single woman. What's really driving his success is his persistence (it's a numbers game).

The problem with "bringing pick up artist techniques to the masses" is the same as the guy/girl ratio notification tools. We're very poor in making comparisons based on absolute factors, so we make our decisions based on relative comparisons. This includes the decision of who, if anyone, to sleep with.

It's a zero-sum game. Anyone who realizes this realizes that it's in his best interest not to tell everyone about his pick-up technique or the large number of girls in the bar he's at, and anyone who doesn't probably doesn't have the social intelligence to sleep with those girls anyway (that's where the absolute factors come into play).

But I hear Mystery is a multi-millionaire, so there's probably a market for such a tool.

I agree that data entry + excel time is not a lot. But coming up with sketch material and gathering enough data points for an A/B test to be statistically useful is a huge investment.

Success = P x A, with P = probability of success and A = # of approaches.

When A is large, it's a no-brainer to gather data and crunch numbers to improve P. Unfortunately, you can't improve P without a large A since your numbers won't be statistically significant.

A tool which crowdsources the data gathering/content creation and delivers modest improvements in P would certainly be worth $2.99 to me.

That's totally missing the point of the zero-sum thing.

I watched a few episodes of the VH1 show The Pick-up Artist (reality TV where Mystery teaches a bunch of guys to pick up girls). They constantly used corny lines like "I need a female opinion on _"

Any girl who has seen the show is going to respond with "OMG are you one of those pick-up guys?" if she hears a similar line (if she really likes you then she'll ignore it and pretend to play along, but then you could have said anything and it would have worked).

I hear that's exactly what happened with all the lines/techniques in Neil Strauss' book The Game.

The whole point of lines is to show the girl you are articulate and intelligent enough to have a good sense of humor. If everyone starts using the same ones girls will catch on, and the lines will stop working.

You don't believe that a sufficiently intelligent computer system can coordinate to reduce overuse of lines? I.e., deliver line X to 10,000 geographically separated people?

As for dating/pickup, I don't believe it's zero sum. It's not a competition for a fixed set of prizes, i.e. 5 girls at the bar, all of whom will go home with someone.

f she really likes you then she'll ignore it and pretend to play along, but then you could have said anything and it would have worked

I have it on good authority (read: "spreadsheet pickup guy", who's name I'm hiding for obvious reasons) that this is false, and conversion rates can vary 20-30% (sometimes more) based on approach and profile.

"You don't believe that a sufficiently intelligent computer system can coordinate to reduce overuse of lines? I.e., deliver line X to 10,000 geographically separated people?"

Pickup tricks are like financial arbitrage. Once enough people learn about what works and do it, it stops working.

I'm not saying that this idea won't make money (like I said, Mystery seems to have done well for himself selling advice), I'm saying it likely won't accomplish its stated goal of getting you laid more often by giving you the "winning" pick-up lines. Any effect is more likely than not going to come through playing the numbers game.

"As for dating/pickup, I don't believe it's zero sum. It's not a competition for a fixed set of prizes, i.e. 5 girls at the bar, all of whom will go home with someone."

It is in that no one wants to make a bad choice. People (at least girls) would rather not sleep with anyone than sleep with someone who is relatively less attractive than the possible alternatives. It's the paradox of choice.

"I have it on good authority (read: "spreadsheet pickup guy", who's name I'm hiding for obvious reasons) that this is false, and conversion rates can vary 20-30% (sometimes more) based on approach and profile."

Obviously there are some things you can do that will turn a girl off less than others. But how does that negate my point? Girls will sleep with guys they think are hot even if they don't think those guys are particularly intelligent or humorous.

This has been a running joke among friends for awhile: a Foursquare for girls. Checkin to girls and see who else has as well.

Out of curiosity, what do you dislike or think can be done better with Craigslist?

In other words, if you were going to build a Craigslist competitor what would you focus on doing differently?

Craigslist got buying and selling and job hunting pretty much right.

The Craigslist personal sections suck. If you want something closer to the traditional newspaper ad online ("Anyone free Friday night?") and not the experience that today's dating sites give you (create an account, personalize it, finally find someone, realize that your profile is still up and creepy guys are still hitting on you....) there's not much out there.

(I'm not pg, obviously.)

I've found the scantiness of information in Craigslist posts a weakness. I have no idea how to fix that, but I rule out a large fraction of ads based on "Not enough info to know what this person is selling." For example, many ads don't have pictures, and many that do have pictures that are tiny and inscrutable.

I'd argue that's a strength for Craigslist. The fact that you don't need pictures (or even content really) lowers the barrier to posting.

What craigslist gets wrong is the posting procedure. It's arcane. My in-laws can't figure it out with the email responses and what-not. Better would be some way to submit posts by email (or mobile app) and have them automatically posted to the site... like posterous.

Location: I live in a rural area and while CL has a section for my county (grouped with two others!), it's still flooded with ads from large cities 40 miles away.

Niche: CL for antiques, or used musical instruments, or used books or for special collectible classes of items

Jobs: specialized job types. CL for nannies or other household services: housecleaning, carpet cleaning, window washing, pet sitting etc.

Every time I use craigslist I'm overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have to wade through to find the few items I care about.

better fraud control...my sister was looking for an apartment in Manhattan, and out of ~20 people she contacted, only 4 were real people.

This is a very real problem, especially in Manhattan, and especially at the lower end of the price spectrum (that's where the scammers are all fishing).

I think the fact that many tried and failed could be explained that these are "iceberg problems":


It's not impossible, just much much harder than it seems.

In my day (I'm only 32), the startup ideas everyone always wanted to do were:

1. A better bug/issue tracking system

2. A custom CMS

3. A code library/platform for easily building Business CRUD apps.

4. A word processing app that has only the 20% features that 80% of Word users use.

5. A better classmates.com

It seems like someone did do them! Obvious examples include:

1. basecamp/fogbugz/jira

2. Confluence/Sharepoint

3. django/rails

4. Google Docs

5. Facebook

I think there is a lot further someone could take #3 (crud apps for business). While django/rails are great, I think you could build some more specific tools that would provide a lot more leverage in some cases. (Maybe something like DabbleDB but with some more specifics built in.)

I think #3 very quickly very quickly merges with #2. Specialized crud applications start to look a lot like CMS's with well defined content.

I am working on such an app, over Google App Engine.. http://creator.ifreetools.com

Sample walk-through :: Building a Store Locator type Google Maps app over GAE, using iFreeTools : http://blogs.ifreetools.com/2010/11/building-store-locator-t...

Maybe? I don't know - the linked page doesn't really have any information.

Like what cases?

Both frameworks support plugins you know.

Sure, but do you really want to mess with low level things like html (or even haml, etc) when all you care about is business logic?

Not saying you are wrong, just saying I think there is room in that space for some innovation.

There are a couple of CMS modules for Django. For Rails there are a couple of good open-source shopping carts that you can customize (quite nicely actually, if you know Rails, since all Rails projects have a standard layout). And I think such projects will migrate to being plugins (which are fairly new in Rails).

Sure, HTML editing is still required and can be painful, but it is an effective way of branding the final result. I think clickety-click interfaces where you modify the interface through various selections / drag-n-dropping are seriously flawed.

Yes, MS Office is a nice example of what a WYSIWYG interface can do, but that's just for standard documents. As soon as you want to get creative in Word, you'll feel the pain and start wishing for HTML.

Besides ... design, other than replacing a logo / playing with colors / choosing a layout from a predefined set, should be left to people that know what they are doing and there is no way around that, because IMHO the hard part is not the HTML language itself, which is included nowadays in high-school curriculum.

No. People still haven't done #3 right. Alpha five comes closest, but apparently nobody has heard of them.

It should be built on top of SQL server, or Oracle. People are using it already. It should have a subset of Crystal Reports, with an easy way to develop simple entry yet let you override the business logic if necessary.

Essentially, combine ext-js with django's administration, with a marketplace of addons for various verticals.

Have you used Alpha Five? Any comments on it? Glancing over the page it looks like it might be in the realm of what I am thinking of.

As an aside, one thing that these type of tools often lack is integrated testing. Which is a shame, because it seems like it should be easier in these tools, as the tool can have a lot of context about what the fields, etc, mean.

I had an evaluation copy on my desktop, but didn't play with it. There were others when I was looking; I went the traditional development path for the project instead. http://www.infoworld.com/d/developer-world/infoworld-review-... has some of them.

I read the same article looking for alternatives. Did a little sleuthing and found something called ironspeed. Looks like a competitor. It builds everything in C# or VB from an existing database. I'm working with their trial now but there jury's still out...

... While we were all sleeping.

The difference between your list and his is that some people have actually succeeded with all of the items on your list.

But you've still hit the nail on the head with your list: there are vast numbers of failures and uncompleted projects for every success.

That's the point of parent's post: that everyone on the old "stupid repeat ideas" list has now been successfully executed.

Don't forget about 'better' ebays. I've seen serious money wasted on people thinking they could out-do ebay 7 or 8 years ago. Usually by companies already in the auction space who thought they could bring their experience and contacts to the game and win.

Nowadays nobody bothers, but the online auction space was very attractive for a lot of people.

ebay still has a lot of flaws but the name is a verb for selling something online. You don't see many people trying to take them on anymore.

counterpoint: trademe.co.nz - started up in 1999 and pretty much owned the NZ auction space because eBay didn't have a presence there at the time. Sold for 3/4 billion NZ$ in 2006.

Being a big fish in a small pond can be profitable - these days, its Groupon clones setting up outside the US. I think this stands a higher than average chance of working - simply because the model does require direct interaction with businesses, and therefore local operators are going to have an advantage in terms of cultural/local knowledge.

If you're lucky to win your local market, you'll probably end up getting acquired by Groupon itself.

trademe.co.nz is the poster boy of ebay killers. There is always an exception to the rule. I know of several other countries were ebay has no traction and there is a local alternative.

It is a valid strategy to get in and own a regional variation before the bigger players move in. But you have to move very fast - so fast that the 'big' player hasn't really been noticed yet, or bothered with the local market.

There's still plenty of countries with no real craigslist implementation. But for some reason nobody seems to want to do it.

So you're correct, you can early-move-copy on a big idea, but you've got to have the conviction to move early, and your idea must have ties to the locality through real life goods and businesses (or, I suppose, languages).

People do what they know witness books about authors/publishing, movies about making movies, and yes geeks writing bigger, better programming tools.

Its not wrong, its just not a very big market. Especially when Microsoft et al are nearly giving such things away.

It reminds me of the Joelonsoftware community. When the forums were actually active, there seemed to be another time tracking app popping up every few weeks.

Here are some of the other common one's I've heard:

- A social-networking site that totally respects my privacy and lets me own my data!

- An app store that lets anybody sell their digital stuff to anyone, not in some walled garden!

- A drag and drop interface that lets you make any program you want...totally code-free!

I could go on and on...

As a founder of a startup doing #3 (Stencyl), I can attest to that idea being an enormous time sink and risk. I can name at least 10 startups or larger companies that went after that idea and either died or pivoted.

What we have is working, and it's working well, but as we press forward, we find that our strongest value proposition is no longer the code-free aspect, which turns out to be just one small part of a larger puzzle. Once you remove that roadblock, other pain points come to light that are far more difficult to solve.

any chance we might be able to read about what some of those points are?

Sure, I'll list out some of the pain points we're aware of and have tried to address.

- Not able to think logically. There's only so much you can accomplish if you take logical thinking out of the equation, and when you do, the creations are underwhelming. Many startups set out to make creation easy, and that works to some extent, but the real solution to the problem may be to try to educate users and bring them up to a minimum bar (learn how to fish), rather than trying to lower the bar to the floor (give them the fish). This would be suicide for most startups, but the users of creative apps are more patient and more willing to learn and grow with the app. Sure, we'll shut out some people this way, but we want to lift up the right, motivated people, rather than trying to lift the entire world up.

- Can't draw/other artistic skill. Shockingly, this ends up being a big problem, and people absolutely hate using placeholder art if they can't draw. We've addressed this by integrating a marketplace for pulling in all kinds of resources.

- Can't work with other people. Many game projects fail due to bad communication (if you're not working solo). They start out strong when brainstorming and then die somewhere in the middle, usually when the members fall out of regular contact or don't know what's going on. We've integrated some features into our app to directly address this after observing how our users interacted with each other on several group projects.

- Set their sights too high. No, you're not going to create an MMORPG or RTS as your first project. ;) This one isn't directly addressed by our app right now and falls more under the umbrella of general user education and progression. One idea we have is to incorporate game elements (turning game creation into a game?) to nudge the user towards making baby steps towards completing something through a quest structure, rather than trying to let them go free from day 1.

The take home point is that like any startup, what you set out to do ends up evolving as you move along and that the problem you're solving turns out to be different and sometimes larger than what you originally expected.

> A drag and drop interface that lets you make any program you want...totally code-free!

This is an idea that was hot way back the 80's and early 90's in the era of CASE tools. There was some limited success but only in very limited domains such as signal processing and to a lesser extent building data-driven, object-oriented systems.

You mean labview? Labview succeeded despite its drag and drop interface. It succeeded because its extensive domain specific libraries. Labview code is horrible to write and even worse to read. /physics student hating labview point and click interface

#3: National Instruments' LabVIEW is the best example of graphical programming I have run across. But after I used it for a while, it became clear that text-based programming is denser; I can see a lot more C++ code than LabVIEW code in one screen, and that makes me more productive in C++. LabVIEW is awesome for a quick app, but for something more successful, I don't think any form of graphical programming is going to be the best tool. Computers don't think in icons.

I agree that text is probably going to conquer programming for quite some time to come. It is no accident that mathematics is done with text, even though connecting boxes and lines of paper is a lot easier than on a computer. However, like in mathematics, the occasional diagram or graphical notation is helpful.

I would argue that text will always be more effective that dragging icons around for similar reasons why C++/Java/etc are more effective than COBOL: C++/etc is closer to how computers think.

But don't get me wrong, LabVIEW really shines for its original purpose (Laboratory Visualization and Engineering Workbench, hence LabVIEW): quick data acquisition and visualization. But large programs just get tedious to read and debug. And I'm OCD about getting my wires looking nice :) which slows me down, obviously.

> - A drag and drop interface that lets you make any program you want...totally code-free

Many electronic music artists create enormously complex applications with visual drag and drop languages, doing everything from sound synthesis to video processing to interfacing with microelectronics, with complex user interfaces recently moving to multitouch.

The main two languages are Reaktor and Max/MSP

Yeah, there are tons of social networking sites that protect privacy. My question is, I know people aren't satisfied with Facebook's news feed, but with the introduction of Facebook Groups are people still complaining? Isn't it easier to make a few groups and manage some privacy settings than set up an account on Frid.ge or Diaspora and convince your friends to join?

- A drag and drop interface that lets you make any program you want...totally code-free!

Xcode and Interface Builder, using Core Data and Bindings. Don't expect to make a full-blown 3D video game doing that though. ;)

That will let you make any program you want, as long as it is a simple CRUD app with nothing but text and no processing of the data entered. It will get you about as far as Rails' scaffold generator.

The drag-and-drop interface reminds me of 280 North's Atlas. (and Cappuccino to some extent) I guess it falls under pg's "could be pulled off if done right", since they were acquired by Motorola for $20M :)

I hope I don't come across as negative here, but I hate lists like this.

Peopel are always raining on each others' ideas

"Oh, what, you're going to make a myspace clone? Bahahahaha." (facebook)

"Oh, what, you're going to make a facebook clone? Bahahahaha." (twitter)

"Oh, what, you're going to make another dating website? Bahahahaha."

(Okcupid, plentyoffish)

"Oh, what, you're going to make another social bookmarking website? Bahahahaha."

(Reddit, digg, hacker news, etc.)

This sort of "You can't improve on an existing design" rhetoric is usually coming from the same people who champion companies like netflix and say things like "The RIAA suing downloaders is like wagon wheel manufacturers suing car tire manufacturers! GET WITH THE TIMES, HELLO!"

You want to make a better dating website? Awesome, I hope you do and I hope it's better than okcupid! If it fails, guess who's going to come out the other side better than they were when they started?

You want to make an abstract machine learning system? Good! I hope you do! Guess who's probably going to be learning a lot about ML when they come out the other side?

You want to make a craigslist/ebay mashup? Good! Do it today! Start it right now and, if it's better than craigslist, my friends and I are all going to use it! How much are you going to learn about interface/UX design in the process?

You want to apply gaming mechanics to exercise? Good! Do it and tell me about it! That sounds awesome! Make an iPhone app for it, make a facebook app for it, let me pick random strangers across the internet to challenge at it. Make leaderboards and lots of badgers, and blog about it. If you fail, write more blog posts about why you failed.

I'm sorry, I'm sure the author of this blog post had good intentions; trying to help other geeks, but I find this sort of "don't even try this because it's a stupid idea and you're going to fail" attitude extremely harmful.

The first project I ever did was called http://newslily.com it was a fark/reddit/hn/digg clone. Did I sell it to google for 2 billion dollars and retire to a yacht somewhere just east of anywhere on the planet? No. Did I go from knowing absolutely nothing whatsoever about web development to being able to turn ideas into things? Yes.

My current project is called http://thingist.com . Have people said "oh, psh, you're making a twitter clone...boorrrrriinnnggggggg."?

Guess who doesn't care? My daydreaming about having 50 millions users is forcing me to learn about scaling, and how to use mod_python (oh, and if I get super crazy, maybe nginx as a web cache for my 10 users!). In a year, or two months, or six weeks, or however long it takes me to decide that, yeah, well, it's just another twitter clone and isn't going to get more than 10 users, I'm going to be 1 twitter clone closer experience wise to making something people love. (Although I still think that thingist isn't a twitter clone).

My advice: make 10 twitter clones and 20 abstracted ML frameworks. NOT doing this is like a running coach advising their runners not to waste their time jogging around their neighborhood because they're really not going anywhere anyway.

Life is very, very short. Given the choice between building yet another Craigslist-killer that nobody will use and anything that people will use, choose the latter. You will never get the most productive years of your life back. Knowing SEO, web dev, and a lot about classified ads is cold comfort.

At the end of each failed company, you are going to feel like "well, at least I learned a lot". I know, because that's how I felt. You feel that way because your brain is insulating you from the real loss. You have indeed learned things; that's what makes this particular rationalization so powerful.

Many, many people tried making Myspace clones. Many, many more will try to make Facebook clones. Inevitably, one or two people will be successful, just like people will occasionally win the lottery.

Other people will succeed with companies that contain elements of Facebook, or OK Cupid, or Twitter, or Craigslist. But their businesses won't be "better Twitter" or "better Facebook"; they'll be distinct, unique, interesting businesses that learned lessons from earlier successful companies and applied them to do something different. Some of these companies may grow to challenge Facebook, just like Twitter did. But they won't have gotten there by pointing a finger at Facebook and saying "you're going down".

My advice: learn everything you can from Twitter, and then use the ideas to come up with something you can build and get money from.

How many of these bad ideas are simply nerds looking at facebook saying "you're going down"? I doubt twitter was, and I doubt that whatever eventually topples facebook will be.

My point is that this sort of philosophy helps nobody. People who are already successful already know this stuff. At least to me, this sort of list feels like it's being aimed at people who haven't "made it" yet and are still trying to figure "it" out.

When I was in High School a friend of mine named Steve Fisher said something that I doubt he remembers, but has stuck with me. He was trying to teach me how to skateboard, something that was totally not the type of activity that a nerdy, awkward, 15 year old Ryan thought he could do. So we're sitting at the skatepark and there are lots of other people around doing what I thought were difficult tricks. I was sitting on a bench just watching and trying to think of a valid reason not to ride my skateboard around because I was 100% positive that I was going to fall flat on my face and that all of the other people were going to laugh at me.

My friend comes over and says "What the hell are you doing?" "Oh, I was, err..just, uhh, tightening these bolts." "Bullshit, did you figure out how to ollie it yet?" "No, dude, I'm just going to practice at home in my room more until I can figure it out, I don't want to get in everybody's way."

He told me that I had to just go ride the thing in circles until it felt natural, and that if he saw me sitting on the bench again, I wasn't invited to the skatepark anymore. I rode my skateboard around all afternoon, probably fell on my face a few times, but didn't get laughed at even once.

A stupid story, probably.

How does this apply to startups?

Maybe it's just the communities I hang around in, but many coders are really really not like the skaters in my story. They really will laugh at the kid riding his skateboard in circles (writing twitter clones and craigslist mashups) like an idiot. How many designers have posted tirades to their blog talking about how everybody is stupid, and how they're sick of all these stuuupid people asking them to do designs? To me, lists like this are exactly like telling a kid that he's riding his skateboard in circles and to stop wasting his time doing that. If you can't show up and start doing backflips, then don't waste your time even coming. People have already figured out how to ride in circles.

Anybody whose time would be wasted writing yet another dating website doesn't need a list like this to tell them that. They know.

I don't want to make people feel bad any more than you do. But there are good business ideas and there are bad business ideas, and life is tough that way, and starting a head-on competitor to Facebook with nothing but your ability to learn how to represent a graph in MySQL is a bad business idea.

I guess my point is that it is sortof self-validating.

If you need somebody to tell you not to build this stuff, then you probably aren't yet at a point where building one of them wouldn't be a learning experience for you, even if that learning experience is just "stop building twitter clones".

You see how your cheerleading has actually become toxic for the people you want to be helping? "If they need someone to tell them this"... then they should be penalized by being led to waste up to a year of their life? How about you lead them somewhere productive instead of into the tar pits?

I'm sorry, but no. Absolutely not. This is not "toxic" for anybody. "Waste up to a year of their life?"

When I was 16, my friends and I thought we were going to take over the world by starting a "tech company". We knew we were all nerds, and we knew we wanted to own a "tech company". We got together, thought up a cool name, made a cool website, and got some cool business cards.

Was this a stupid idea? Yes.

Did I learn a lot from it? Yes.

Do you consider 4 years spent in business school a waste of time? Toxic? Do you consider time spent going to school for computer science, learning to program a "waste"?

How many times have computer science students written "cash register" programs in java? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Was this time all wasted?

I would say no.

Yes, business school is a waste.

Yes, Java cash register programs are a waste.

Yes, doomed Craigslist competitors are a waste.

People too young to go to business school have cashed out of YC companies. Aspire to that, not to rationalizing very expensive learning experiences.

>People too young to go to business school have cashed out of YC companies.

Did these people crawl out of the womb with a keyboard in one hand and an apache server in the other?

How do you suppose they learned how to program?

Not by trying to turn a Java cash register into a business. There's nothing particularly wrong with writing a Twitter clone as an exercise (although I could think of more interesting exercises), but trying to turn it into a business - with everything that entails - is such a large distraction from coding that you'd better skip it (if your goal is to be a good programmer; I'm certainly not a sufficiently good businessman to judge whether it's effective training for that, although I would go to work for someone else and observe.)

Presumably the same way I did. I have 1 semester of school, and I took liberal arts classes.

This has turned in to a strange discussion :|

I have never had a class on apache server, nor on keyboard and still I know how to use both, so the desire to learn is much more important than attending classes.

So basically you are trying to say any kind of education and learning process is a waste unless you go and aim straight at multinational multibillion dollar success or what is your point?

Yes, that must be exactly what I'm saying; the only other alternative would be that a 4-year education in computer science followed by a 2-year business school degree is the only authentically valid way to commence a career in software development. Right?

How about being both right and wrong and having other options in the middle too? (like most things in life)

Maybe my sarcasm detector is off but to me you are not making any sense at all in this whole thread here but you sound a lot like you are on a very special quest of altering the way people think about education and programming so good luck, I'll just forget whatever it was you were trying to get into people's minds.

Your sarcasm detector is off. Sorry.

Just to put this into perspective a bit: I doubt that any of those "awesome" success stories like facebook, twitter or whatnot would have ever been found a "really good business idea" a few years ago; go back 10, 20 years and offering ANYTHING like storage for free on the intarwebs was most definitely not just a bad but a stupid business idea.

Like you said earlier, a lot of it is luck, just like winning the lottery. By not playing/trying at all you will most definitely not win any lottery.

Doing exactly 100% the same that is already existing anyway (facebook,twitter,myspace..) doesn't sound like a great idea but improving on that, well why not?

"... He told me that I had to just go ride the thing in circles until it felt natural, and that if he saw me sitting on the bench again, I wasn't invited to the skatepark anymore. I rode my skateboard around all afternoon, probably fell on my face a few times, but didn't get laughed at even once. A stupid story, probably. ..."

Great analogy & why I keep reading the comments before the story.

Life is very, very short. Given the choice between not building anything at all and building a "Craigslist killer" that no one will use, I absolutely agree - go for it!

Given the choice between building a cliche project and something a bit more off the beaten path - you may as well put a few extra days of thought into a project before you start, and come up with something unique (as long as you don't spend all your time thinking and none of your time doing).

The problem with the ideas listed is that they're obvious - both myself and my friends have talked about/wanted to approach almost every single one - but it's not obvious how to actually build a better mouse trap for each of them. It's useful to realize when you're trying to attack a generic problem (that has already been solved) with an equally generic strategy.

The ideas are obvious because people want them.

Lots of people want a Craigslist alternative that doesn't have the shittiest search interface this side of 2004. Lots of people want a dating site with a 'market' that doesn't heavily heavily favor women. Lots of people want to exercise/lose weight in a fun game-like way. Lots of people want the concept of TripAdvisor but don't feel like they identify at all with the typical TripAdvisor reviewer.

It's hard to learn about why these things are difficult without actually trying to do them.

"Lots of people want a dating site with a 'market' that doesn't heavily heavily favor women."

Yeah, they're called men. And given that history tells us that attracting men to dating sites isn't a business-limiting problem, it follows that building a (heterosexual) dating site that appeals to men is not a good business idea.

I think what he meant was dating sites suck if you're a man since: 1.) Men do all the chasing/initiating contact. 2.) Women get inundated with a lot of messages from a lot of other eligible men that you're competing with your entire neighborhood for a single girl. 3.) Hence women tend to be really picky and chances of her noticing/replying back you are incredibly low.

how is this different from real life?

I'd say just the opposite. Life is very short so don't attempt to compete with Craigslist unless your site is based on A) different assumptions about what creates value for your users and B) a different worldview concerning human values, the economy, the future, etc.

The problem with most Craigslist competitors is that they are designed for mainstream Craigslist users. This indicates that the people doing them usually don't have the level of thoughtfulness that's needed to succeed. And while it's certainly possible to listen to your fans and make changes as you go, it's too hard to succeed this way against an already entrenched competitor unless you have at least a little bit of an ideological advantage compared to the existing platform. For example, if you want to start yet another fitness company based on game mechanics but you haven't read Punished By Rewards then you are probably pretty screwed.

Lots of people talk shit, very few people do shit.

> The problem with the ideas listed is that they're obvious

It is surprisingly difficult to tell if an idea seems obvious because it is just, well, bloody obvious, or because it is a really good one.

A surprising amount of great, original ideas seem obvious with the help of just a tiny bit of hindsight. Or foresight, for that matter.

If an idea seems obvious, and people keep failing at making that obvious idea work, then you better have a damn clear idea of why all those other people failed and what you'll do differently to succeed. That's usually the non-obvious part hidden under an obvious idea.

Reminds me of a quote, akin to: Sometimes, we reinvent the wheel not because we need more wheels, but we need more inventors.

If you see your project as learning about tech, then awesome. But I think the OP was warning against those that see their projects as paths to riches with those ideas. There are certain startup ideas that are perennial tar pits with good reason. There's something specific about the problem area that everyone's banged their head against, and often times, it's not a tech problem.

It'd be worth your while to understand it first.

Just one advice: mod_python is more or less dead (Last Release in 2007) you should probably switch to mod_wsgi.

Thanks for the advice, I'll try that instead :)

Out of interest, are you on Twitter? I found your above post pretty insightful, like that you work on a whole bunch of stuff - I'd like to add you my list of cool people who hack Python and keep in touch.

Sure! twitter/blhack (although I don't really twitter much)

Thank you for the kind words :)

"NOT doing this is like a running coach advising their runners not to waste their time jogging around their neighborhood because they're really not going anywhere anyway."

That, sir, is a brilliant summary. I have the feeling that I've been running around the neighborhood a lot recently, but I can also detect my legs getting stronger, so to speak.

Actually the author of the original article is not that negative about the ideas he mentions: "This suggests that either all nerds think alike, or alternatively, that they are unsolved problems that someone, someday, somewhere, may actually come up with a variant that hits big."

I have no doubt that all your examples can be improved upon. The problem is that you then need people to use your new and improved twitter/foursquare/facebook/mysqpace/digg, and the market is already saturated. So, to get the users you need to improve on the idea so much that you disrupt the market. Don't get me wrong, it's all in good fun, but there is a difference between a weekend pet project and a funded startup: the funded startup needs to think about where the final product will end up.

You make great points for the engineering minded, and the original article was about nerds, so that's all grand.

However; when I inwardly cringe at these ideas being rehashed (possibly not the machine learning one), it's when someone non-technical is eagerly pitching me their Facebook for Dogs idea and trying to get me to code it up for free, it'll be the Next Big Thing, just you wait and see...

I think it's worth highlighting that none of these are new and unique ideas. If you honestly believe that you have a fresh approach or a new innovation to apply to any of these fields, then by all means go for it. But if you have one of these ideas, and you think that that idea in and of itself is going to get you somewhere, you need a wake-up call.

wow. that's really insightful. thanks for the post. I guess you're right, there is room for improvement, but . . .

I wonder if the failure rate is higher, because those ideas are common, and everyone tries it. Yeah maybe the same number will succeed, but since everyone and their mom is doing it, it probably won't be you . . . dunno.

Btw, a news site should be on the list too. Even I have one of those: http://tech.rawsignal.com.

I always thought a sports version of techmeme would be useful. Voila! http://sports.rawsignal.com

haha thanks. yeah, we built this product for ourselves and friends. it's kind of a passion product that we're constantly working on.

sports was for my brother, but then he wanted college football specifically, so we rolled out this for him: http://collegefb.rawsignal.com/

will we become huge, who knows. who cares really, we love what we do.

Yup, totally. I have one of those as well: http://cooln.es

>> You want to apply gaming mechanics to exercise? Good! Do it and tell me about it! That sounds awesome! Make an iPhone app for it, make a facebook app for it, let me pick random strangers across the internet to challenge at it. Make leaderboards and lots of badgers, and blog about it. If you fail, write more blog posts about why you failed.

We just did that for Medical field - "Prognosis", currently at 5th position on iPhone medical apps (after 15 days).

http://www.prognosisapp.com/ http://blog.medicaljoyworks.com/

Did you just show this app off on HN the other day?

(Just installed it. Was this supposed to be only for doctors...or?)

Yes, posted on HN about 5 days ago. Our main user group is doctors and medical students (or any healthcare professionals who are familiar with little bit of medicine).

Take a look at iMedicalApps review for detailed analysis (good and bad) : http://www.imedicalapps.com/2010/11/prognosis-your-diagnosis...

Huh. My sister is a med student. I'll forward this on to her :)

[...] I find this sort of "don't even try this because it's a stupid idea and you're going to fail" attitude extremely harmful.

That's not what the author had in mind. In fact, it's explicitly written: "[...]or alternatively, that they are unsolved problems that someone, someday, somewhere, may actually come up with a variant that hits big."

So, it's rather "If you invest serious resources in that, you better know why exactly you're better than the gazillions other guys who had tried this." than "Don't try at all".

And yes, trying those ideas as a sort of training is a brilliant idea in itself.

This wasn't meant of a critique of the author, it was meant as a critique of a lot of geeks (self included) feelings overall.

Best comment on the site (by RFarahmand): All of these ideas seem perfect, and yes, we know them all... its all about execution. The fact is most of the nerds like myself ( 99.99%) don't get operational and don't execute. The 0.01% who aren't afraid of failure go to silicon valley and fail - maybe many times, among them lucky ones with better execution are the ones who make billions! with a bit of luck The harder you work, the luckier you get!

Like others have said, life is too short to work on bad ideas. This list isn't saying that these ideas are necessarily bad, but that they're too common. So you should think about what makes your idea sub-variant different enough; if you can't, that's a sign your idea may be bad.

Frankly I wish more people would say 'your idea is bad (because of X)' because that's useful feedback, rather than the usual feels-good-but-useless 'good idea'. You can always choose to disagree with X; or maybe you'll find a solution for X.

Versions of #4 have worked, though not usually structured as X% of all future earnings. The most common version is the group-of-freelancers variant, where a group of people are really working independently, but do it legally via a partnership, which pools income to reduce risk, share upsides, smooth cash-flow bumps, etc.

It's pretty well-established in a number of professions outside tech, e.g. in law, a partnership of four or five lawyers will all get rich if any case that any of them took hits the giant-settlement jackpot.

A workers co-op is a good alternative to a partnership if your jurisdiction has sane laws. (in other words if you're not in the United States).

The big downside to partnerships is that you're exposed to unlimited liability.

The exact terms vary, but in some states an LLP or LLC is a good alternative with limited liability (just how limited the liability is also varies).

I think that all of these (or at least most of them) are reasonable ideas that could work. I think the biggest problem is that a lot of them are either technically difficult or involve entering crowded markets.

For example, the Craigslist killer can and has worked. The guys at RentHop and AirBnB are both attacking pieces of Craigslist's functionality.

The problem is that most nerds don't have the ability to pull these ideas off. Heck, most people in general don't have what it takes to build a successful company. There's a big difference between hacking on something for a weekend and building a company out of it (although you can't build a company without starting somewhere).

Overall, a lot of people (including many successful YC Founders) start out with stupid, unfocused ideas, and morph into something that's focused and solves a problem that people need solved. It's all just part of the process - if you wait for the perfect idea to hit you, you might never get started.

There is something common with some of these ideas worth noting:

Dating sites, social travel (social anything), and Craigslist killer all depend on network effects.

A common argument for starting a new business is that "hey, someone else already has this idea, they've mapped out the market and proved it can make money." This works really well for things like restaurants where there is no network effect, no incentives for new users to go with well-established providers or disincentives for existing users to switch providers.

In the social/dating/craigslist space, you don't just need to build a better X, you need to convince people to leave the old X (or pray that they've never heard of the old X before and won't consider it) and sign up for your new X.

In terms of dating, social and craigslist at least you're only dealing with one type of customer. As soon as you turn to local events/businesses you needs to do this for two (the people looking for events and businesses, and the promoters and business owners).

Cable networks are similar businesses, but I think the key distinction is that they charged money for their services. Somewhat paradoxically, I think this makes it much easier for people to switch than if all the services are free - there is the immediate incentive of "save $10 a month!"

I think this is why AOL and Prodigy managed to make so much money. Then all the free (ad-supported) online services came along and basically wiped out the paid services, and intensified the network effect and its disincentive for switching to better services.

> Giant, Purposeless, Unfocused Machine Learning System.

There's a YC company that does this in a general way but I would not label their use cases as "purposeless".


You could even argue that is what Amazon.com did with their recommendations. And the main reason I signed up for netflix was after working on the netflix prize. And I have been rewarded by buying things I wouldn't have otherwise and watching movies I had never heard about, but loved. There is $$$ in recommendations and selling solutions.

Directed Edge has some really insightful technical articles on their site. I did not know they were a YC company -- awesome.

why is directedge a better alternative to hunch?

I feel like this misses a ton of apps. In chronological order:

textbook swap todo list dorm rating apartment/roommate rating/review local business rating/review something to hack the stock market better pet site better dating site better wedding site

I agree with your list, but could you please format it for better readability? Each of those on a separate line would do wonders.

Amen. Definitely been sucked into and subsequently failed at Social Travel big time. I think that's a sexy one, there is an unsaid allure in it of being able to mix travel with running a startup. Such a crowded space, and most fail out the gate. Once you do the math you realize there is far more travel media out there than travelers, especially in a down economy.

Anyone who loves to travel and wants to get out more, but is stuck inside writing friggin code all day gets this idea at least once. "Wait! How would I combine writing code with travel? I know, I'll make my own travel recommendation site." The irony is in reality I traveled wayyy less as a result of committing to this idea. Bummer

"Once you do the math you realize there is far more travel media out there than travelers, especially in a down economy".

I recently shut down my travel startup - a site that offered tours and excursions in many of the world's greatest cities.

Why? The VC-funded big boys have 2,000 affiliates and many thousands of inbound links to their site. This bumps them up in the organic rankings which sends more traffic to their site - enabling them to gather more conversion data. As conversions gradually increase, their product becomes more attractive to other affiliates, and more sign up, thus perpetuating a positive feedback loop.

Learned a ton during the process of building the company, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

To all prospective founders out there - really do your homework and understand the competitive advantages held by the top competitors in your market - things that are very difficult, time consuming, and/or expensive to replicate!

For example, 37 Signals now has a passionate fan base of hundreds of thousands of people based on years of teaching and writing opinionated rants. Nearly impossible to replicate for a new startup trying to market simple project management software.

Also, realize that cute innovations and a great user experience might not overcome the massive reach held by existing companies.

One idea I hear all the time: Better agile/project management software. I've never met a nerd who liked what they were using (myself included).

This is actually an interesting one, because I think it falls into its own specific category: workflow-specific startups. The reason no one is ever happy with project management software is because everyone works slightly differently, and every nerd will occasionally have the urge to write one that matches the way they work.

It's likely there are other startups that fall into this category. Time management and to-do lists seem like fairly obvious ones.

This is definitely a huge problem in project management tools. I don't mean to spam, but with AgileZen (http://agilezen.com/), we're trying very, very hard to create a project management app that isn't workflow-specific. I'd be very interested in knowing how we could make it even more flexible.

I dunno, I agree that everyone and their brother has these ideas, but it's like writing a novel. In literature there are a bunch archetypes (hero, heroine, Christ-like figure, etc), it's the nuance the author brings to the new iteration . Your right in that everyone has these ideas, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't think about ways to do them in a different way!

He forgot the data synchronization system, except that Dropbox pulled that off. Also the "social browsing", "see who else is visiting this webpage", except that Facebook is after that one already. Also the "alert me if a website has changed", well, I don't know if that really exists in a usable way or not.

"Gaming Mechanics Applied To X Vertical"

I have seen real money spent on something along the lines of "Hey, we're in accounting business! Let's make a Facebook of accounting where accountants will create profiles and publish their annual and quarterly reports." (details changed to protect the guinnocent.)

Favorite comment: "You should have made us sign an NDA before reading this post."

I'm pretty sure that "Better Search Engine" was on the list when Google, Cuil, Bing, and DuckDuckGo were founded. SOmetimes you win, sometimes not so much.

Let's get empirical for a moment. If we are sifting through applications for funding, do you think that there is a significant correlation between whether a business is on this list or not and its eventual success or failure?

If the other factors driving outcomes--founder quality and so forth--have higher confidence levels, this kind of list isn't very useful.

Never say never. Ramit Sethi, a smart writer and generally perceptive entrepreneur, highlighted textbook exchanges in May 2006 as his top "stupid frat-boy business idea". He wrote: "NO BOOK EXCHANGE HAS EVER REALLY SUCCEEDED. I HATE TO CRUSH DREAMS BUT PLEASE FORGET ABOUT THIS."


But now there is Chegg.

And Chegg is not just Sethi's despised textbook exchange idea -- it started as a Craigslist competitor for campuses! And when it pivoted to its current model in 2007, it first used the name textbookflix.com! And it competes against others on price! So it fits multiple categories from these Ramit Sethi and Elad Gil 'never work' lists.


Estimates are that it'll have more than $100 million in revenue this year and is growing to a dominant position in a large market.


Chegg's final success isn't assured -- especially given the rise of e-textbooks -- but it's passed the point of "tempting but foolish nerd/frat-boy startup idea".

I think the point this author is making is not, "These ideas won't work, so don't do it." but rather, "You might think these ideas are unique, but they're not." So he's not shooting down the ideas per say, but warning people that if they undertake such a project they need to be honest to the fact that your "variant" needs to be something special and/or you have to execute seamlessly to get ahead of the crowd.

The stereotypical "never gonna work" idea that I always see is this:

* There's a sort of thing that there are many implementations of (website logins, say)

* Having many implementations is confusing, one canonical one would be better (Hey! Let's make OpenID!)

* They make a new one, announce it, everyone sees that it's not as mature as what they already have (Provider? XRI?)

* Nobody else adopts the new one, now there's one more competing implementation for the next never-gonna-work idea to contend with.

Note: I don't want to pick on OpenID, it actually works pretty well, but I needed an example.

Once you start looking for this pattern you see it everywhere: Linux distros, OpenSocial, OS X package managers, etc.

I imagine "social networking site"/"myspace killer" would have been on the list five years ago.

The article sketches ideas that have promise and long odds. Five years ago, most people who were trying to create "yet another social networking site" looked dumb. One doesn't now.

There is are many reasons that most of the cool ideas people come with brainstorming late at night don't work. But it's not that they are bad ideas. The factors for failure include the distance between idea and execution, competition, the need for good design, etc..

It's just a question of whether you want to make an easy bet or a hard bet.

He forgot the 3D window manager.

Speaking of which ...I wonder if we will hear anything from http://bumptop.com/ via Google soon?

Another one he's missed : Algorithm to predict stock market movements.

And another: Algorithm to predict football scores.

This reads like a list of the Montreal startup scene. So far I've met people working on dating sites, purposeless recommendation engines (to be fair, in one of those startups two of the guys were part of the team that won the Netflix prize, the other one is headed by someone who placed second in the GitHub contest, so they're not dilettantes at least), social travel ("we'll get film students to make videos about restaurants... for free!"), I'm pretty sure there was a Craigslist killer there somewhere.

Other hard things of dubious utility people work on:

1. Local events

2. Local business directories (I was once removed from this space by working at a company that provided an integrated directory/SEM buying product to various Yellow Page companies around the world; the cynic in me thinks this is a great way to fleece small businesses, although if you try it really can drive a lot of business)

3. Microsoft Access for the web. Dabble DB tried (acquired by Twitter), I tried, http://formlis.com/ (HN user warrenwilkinson) is trying. There's probably a bunch more. Google Forms and Wufoo seem to be the most successful with the least functionality. The hard part here seems to be getting people to know about the service. Companies typically contract these apps out, and the contractor companies are more interested in $30k contracts to build custom form apps and making busywork for PHP drones than reselling a solution where the customers or other contractors can cut them out as middlemen. Actually the more I think about it, the more I want to try this again.

Local events

This is my "Dream Project" - i.e. the one I'll build when I have endless free time that I'd like to devote to working.

I'd love to know why you think it's of dubious utility. (Aside from movie times, I've never discovered an event through an "event site" - but I feel like I could...)

The most common thing I see from such people is a desire to break off and do whatever is being done at their current company, but to do it right instead.

Dating sites still kind of suck.

If I were building a dating site, it wouldn't be anything like what the original author suggests. Rather than focus on matching algorithms or ways to stimulate initiative (okcupid is already reasonably good at that), I'd focus on providing value after the initial connection has been made. I don't know of any dating site that does that well, at the moment.

I would also like to submit a whole spectrum of ideas that have a huge bootstrap problem and that problem is often hand waved away.

I think the wrong-headed idea that many nerds have is that creating a startup is mostly about having a brilliant idea. If someone comes along and creates something similar to their idea, they think "that could have been me."

I suspect that the real value comes from execution of the idea, perseverance, and willingness to let your idea evolve until you've created something that people want. Often folks fail to recognize that the ability to execute and evolve (and be willing to fail) are traits that we don't all have, and so it's very possible that it couldn't have been them.

While there are probably some ideas that are doomed to fail, I don't think that label applies to any of the ones from the original post.

Does this mean I should stop working on www.craigsmatchsquaretravelocifund.com?

there's already an app for that

I wish somebody would actually make a better Social Travel website. TripAdvisor is exceedingly unpleasant to use, despite the solid content.

I keep hoping that wikitravel will thrive but it's never very good...

I'm working on a niche social travel website that's currently underserved. Launching next week; will share on HN!

Would love any feedback: parkgrades.com


All of those ideas have clearly worked.

Of course they all worked at least once. Otherwise the siren song wouldn't be so seductive.

Often half the problem with an idea is that it has already worked once. In a world where you're allowed to assume away Craigslist, cloning Craigslist would have a much better chance of working.

Kijiji and Gumtree have also succeeded in this space (albeit in different countries).

What's killing Craigslist/gumtree/etc in practice is their generality, they're no longer the dominant player in their most profitable markets (jobs, dating, housing) all of which are being carved away by specialist sites.

If Craigslist is getting killed, they sure are making a lot of money doing it.

TV killed the Radio, doesn't stop radio being a big business.

It should be a one-item list - craigslist killer.

I've tried it as well with http://ForeverList.com. It's essentially a clone of Craigslist that isn't free, has better images, no expiration date, integrated geo-location/maps and user comments.

I didn't try the "drain all their inventory onto our own site" thing though. I found evidence of at least 20 sites that had done that and been cut off. Frankly, I wasn't interested in most of the crap and terrible images from craigslist anyway.

I'm targeting high-ticket items like classic cars and boats which typically take a long time to sell and high quality images matter.

If I get some traction, my plan is to implement a "trust" system to weed out spammy listings. A users's trust rating would be increased by linking their social media accounts, responding to text messages, upvotes from users etc...

I made listings free temporarily in order to get more content, but of course all the additional listings are very spammy. Marketing a classifieds site is an exercise in frustration to say the least.

Best of luck, beating craigslist is akin to proving P!=NP

isn't hunch an example of #2?

as an outsider, with many west coast friends, it appears that both start-ups and investors move in herds. for example, six months ago it was location-based check-in services?

It boils down to the cliche "if you think you are unique, you are probably an asshole". The mere fact that you manage to find a co-founder in your own country/city is enough to prove that there are lot of other people in ROW going in the same direction where you are headed. It's not about doing things uniquely, its about doing things in a better way or at least trying to do it in a better way. So, I should get back to work now.

Meh, these are more like ideas that nearly every person has, and then wants a developer 'nerd' to implement (for free mind you, for x% of future profits).

I'm guilty of #4.

Made this but never followed through with it. http://brandonpaton.com/demo/

I don't see why 1 to 4 shouldn't work. How many failed dating sites are there? Also, many dating sites seem to simply be a matter of efficient advertising - even if you are a newcomer, if you can pour enough money into advertising, you are all set.

Machine learning: I hope Directed Edge is doing well (YC startup).

Social Travel: what are some good social travel sites? I don't know any.

>How many failed dating sites are there?

That's the problem, we don't know, do we?

I know a lot of successful ones and no failed ones. But asking here, maybe somebody who knows a failed one could speak up.

"Social e-commerce". I get a lot of project bid requests for variations on this theme. Especially when the economy really tanked every panicking startup tried to pivot their business plan to be shopping related for a while. Very difficult to implement, people are much less amped about sharing purchases than nerds would expect

Take-out services / services for restaurants.

I know of companies doing well in at least 5 of the 6 spaces listed here. (Future success of friends being the missing one, and there very well may be companies doing well there, and you could almost consider the fact that prominent angels often raise money from other prominent angels as an instance of such.)

Ah wheels, I saw #2 and I thought of you. ;)

Don't forget MMORPG!

Which is often "just like game X, but more complicated."

I think that's the route of most startup pipe-dreams: Take a successful site or product, and make it more complicated.

Quite pleased to see none of these are on the list of ten startup ideas I released a few weeks ago: http://www.puremango.co.uk/2010/10/ten-ideas/

This site is hilarious. Every successful business idea I've had was met with derision by every respected professional I encountered.

#2 works and is a profitable company called tellapart (http://tellapart.com).

#2 reminded me of Directed Edge's generalized recommendations engine (http://directededge.com/).

Cool, didn't know about directedge. Any idea how profitable are they?

[edit] Crunchbase says they only received YC's $15k in seed funding. That's weird for a B2B company.

is anyone still trying to innovate in the online dating arena? i thought okcupid has had it pretty much locked for a while.

3 years ago I built branddating.nl for a client; it was pretty innovative but not particularly successful (which was okay because it was intended to appeal to a niche). And right now the company I work for is building another innovative dating site for a different (bigger) client. So yes, I'd say there's still innovation in this space, just perhaps not at the scale of OKcupid, or necessarily with the same amount of attention startups in the US get (the above two are both Dutch).

OkCupid still has a bunch of problems. Less experienced men don't get any replies, experienced men get replies but often struggle to find interesting women and women, especially attractive ones get so many messages (many of them really disturbing) that they just can't keep up with them. In fact, a very attractive female friend of mine went back to one of the paying dinosaurs sites after trying out OkCupid for a week because no matter how many messages she got, she couldn't find any men she was even remotely attracted to. It seems that there's an awful lot of potential in creating a dating site that alleviates these issues, although it is a hard problem to crack.

Anyone tried a dating site that works more like a deal-a-day site? I've had that on my list for a while. Figured that if you give people 100+ prospective partners, they will hunt for the best (who might be out of their league) and get nowhere. If you show them one at a time, they might make a "would I go on a date with this person" choice.

HotOrNot tries throwing people at you in a sequence, but do you really make a proper decision when you know there are countless more around the corner?

Could work. Okcupid actually offers this feature.

On the other hand if the person is picky enough, they'll just be rejecting everyone they see and give up on the site after a few days.

i am! i was pleasantly unsurprised to see dating as number one! (read as "i thought it would be, and laughed when i saw it was"). the reason most dating sites fail is that people keep building the same site again and again but with different branding. i think the problem can be solved by completely changing the experience. that's what i'm staking my savings on anyway.

I've tried a few niche dating sites. I think a new dating site can work. However, you will always have the problem in the beginning of not having enough profiles.

For a dating site to be successful, you need to have lots of startup capital for marketing.

From what I can tell old dinosaurs like Match.com continue to dominate this field. OkCupid was the last site I heard of that people found unique in approach, but even that was mostly used for the fun tests and quizzes rather than dating.

I'm shocked that OkCupid hasn't been more in the discussion here. It's one of the sections on the OP's list. OkCupid not only found traction, but success in a vertical long thought dead. I have absolutely no doubt that something else will come along and do the same

The idea that just because a category has competitors means it's "dead" is quite wrong on a lot of levels. That's the beauty of the internet really. New ideas will come along and trample the old, and usually on a much shorter timescale than anyone expects.

Dozens of major dating sites have launched post-okcupid.

... until they do

The idea for building a better search engine and a better social network was on a list like that, once upon a time.

Social network. That tends to be a common one.

(yes, I spent a long time creating a social network, no it went nowhere special :))

How about the best to do list ever!

Geeks are so incredibly negative it's why I end up trying to convince friends to find a better career filled with happier people whenever they ask how to get into the tech field.

There's nothing more pathetic then that guy who is the born skeptic and can't see beyond his own inability to find success, constantly putting down every idea his friends give him. I'm told that's what it's like trying to do a start-up in England.

That's a very good point; I'm very much that way myself, and more so every year.

Part of it is cynicism from being at the bottom of a pecking order that puts the braying salesman and architypal PHB at the top and consistently having advice and ideas ignored, while given impossible deadlines because people don't know how to manage a development process properly.

However there is also a very negative vibe among geeks in general, especially (but not exclusively) in the UK. No doubt American geeks suffer from the same idiots in charge, but say the hell with it, and go start their own companies. Here there is more of a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

It's not a univeral British trait; people in other walks of life seem to have a more positive attitude.

I'm told that's what it's like trying to do a start-up in England.

That's what it's like trying to do anything in England.

Is this is general geek trait? I have a (very good) friend who always rubbishes my ideas as unworkable, impossible, idealistic, or whatever. He earns a much better salary than me but the funny thing is, I got him into tech and taught a _lot_ in the beginning. He gravitated towards the Microsoft ecosystem and I gravitated towards open source so that whenever we find something we would both like to work on we can't agree on the tools! Groooan. He's one of the smartest guys I know and he's always coming up with ideas (as am I in my own way) but whenever I say, come on, let's do one of these he always demurs. (Not that I'm much better.) I love tech and coding but I'm in the process of giving it up to a certain extent for a stint in academia.

That was a sly dig at Engerland, right ;-)

I was honestly expecting to see something about a bar revolving around gaming. I've heard it proposed by at least 4 seperate nerd friends.

This is definitely an idea lots of nerds have, which is exactly why it shouldn't be shrugged off. There's a desire for nerds to socially interact with similar nerds, and by and large this has been accomplished by adding social features to the internet.

Well, why not add social features to a game stop? Why not add nerdy features to a bar? A barcade doesn't need to be the last stop. Why not take what we learned about online dating, and use it to improve offline dating?

Maybe people don't want 'a bar revolving around gaming', but it's a thought in the right direction. Barcades and shared hacker work spaces are an actual step in the right direction.

Yeah, and he's opening another branch soon in Philly.

I think they're also doing a joint venture with some big restaurateur in NYC for something not quite related.

They're certainly doing great, as they should; it's a great idea.

In Portland, OR, it's Ground Kontrol (http://www.groundkontrol.com)

http://manabar.com/ (Zero Punctuation guy)

The site you linked to is for another bar(and a page with a Flash intro that pumps Jennifer Lopez into your ears, I should add)...

This is the correct site: http://www.manabar.com.au/

I know you don't really think that's the website for his bar.

Add to that a coffee shop around thinking/debating... It's on my friends' lists.

This would have been better with at least a little explanation for why each idea wouldn't work (other than a Nerd thought it up).


> driverless cars

Why not? Technologically, or socially?

It's hard. Just the technology is hard. It would be something on the scale of Federal Express to launch. I am glad Page/Brin/Schmidt are working on it. I can't see too many other people succeeding.

Oh, I see -- in the context of a startup.

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