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Ask HN: What is the stupidest startup idea you ever had/heard?
38 points by plaban123 on Sept 12, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments

Crowdsourcing vigilantism (or random violent assault) - whoneedsabeating.com - snap a photo with your phone, location is tagged and timestamped, optional tweet with why the subject needs a beating.

For free subscriber's beat-down requests are published only with city, photo and reason. Paid subscribers get street address published with beat-down request.

How would you know who delivered the beating? Was there supposed to be a reward for that person?

On a related note, has anyone actually tried building a cypherpunk-style assassination market?

"Happy slap" style video clips with some kind of cryptographic signing?

I had an idea for single mothers to post info about deadbeat dads for others to avoid. However, after thinking about it for a bit, I realized it would turn into what you were proposing and decided against it.

hehe, I actually did build that... it was called exes4all...

Why not allow beating requesters the ability to offer a reward to be split by all those who accept the assignment?

or you could have beaters bid on the job...

this could be bigger than eBay!

The stupidest idea I have heard was Twitter.

After that, I changed the way I thought.

Considering the amount of stupidity on Twitter, I'd say you weren't too far off the mark.

That's just a reflection of the average human, not Twitter.

Twitter just allows them to communicate publicly.

What people do with X, has nothing to say about X.

People use knife to cook food, but also use to same to commit murder.

Same here.

It never occured to me that celebrities would start using the platform. I still don't think that Twitter would be anywhere near where it is now if not for the endorsement by many celebrities.

Followed closely by Facebook.

How do you think now?

It's hard to explain. I try to understand why the person thinks the idea is good rather than try to figure out why the idea is bad. The realization that most ideas evolve over time also means that the initial idea you dismiss will most likely change.

It's really just about taking the time to better understand an idea, and trying hard not to dismiss it.

> try to understand why the person thinks the idea is good rather than try to figure out why the idea is bad

That should be on the HN faq regarding "Show HN" posts.

More stupidly

For awhile, it was Twitter. Then someone came out with the idea of a Twitter you pay for (App.net), and since then it's been at the top of my list. Even when they're both making billions, I'll still believe they're stupid.

The Socialist Network. Everyone has the same number of comrades.

Would you be explaining the joke if you were to note that no non-trivial solutions exist for n?

For any fixed odd number of friends k you could keep the network consistent by only allowing people to join in groups (call them "cells") of m, where m is even and greater than k.

(Explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regular_graph)

"Sorry, Gary. Come talk to me when you have 558 friends. Gare? I'm sorry, Gare, those are the rules. Everyone has to be equal. It doesn't matter if you'll never have 558 friends and I only had to find 32. Everyone's equal! Don't you see, Gary! Gary? Gare? What are you doing. Sic semper what? Aughhhh."

that's brilliant. i reckon that could do well :)

My gf wants to make a mobile app that helps homeless/impoverished people share good dumpster eating locations.

I actually feel like there could be significant value in something like this.

Imagine a platform where restaurants, bakeries, anyone with excess food that would otherwise go to waste, could get "points" for availing that excess inventory to those in need. It might be similar to the model used by Shelter Partnership (http://www.shelterpartnership.org/).

In a nutshell, they solicit donations from major manufacturers (think Johnson & Johnson, et. al.) for totally-usable products that can't be sold on store shelves for whatever reason - i.e. a typo on the packaging. They provide some receipt giving J&J the opportunity to seek some tax benefit for the donation at a discount of the retail-price, and needy people get the products for free.

I don't see a compelling reason why something like this couldn't work in major metro areas. Bakeries could get some off-set for donating bread; grocery stores could get some off-set for donating otherwise-spoiling fruits and veggies, etc.

I like the idea, physical distribution will be the problem though. Most stores don't mind donating things to the needy that would go to waste otherwise - but no one wants to have the homeless congregate around their store chasing away business.

There would be substantial value for this to exist in addition, or in cooperation, with food banks.

Definitely would need cooperation with food banks / other charities in order to handle distribution. It's important that i) the homeless folks aren't chasing away business, and ii) that you aren't supplying a population of potential customers turned dumpster-divers (i.e. physical separation from the location).

I could see this being a valuable tool for food banks to build relationships with willing-entities that otherwise wouldn't want to bother with setting up the relationship and keeping track of items donated.

If it were very simple:

- Bakery downloads App "Free Food"

- Plug in estimated donation

- Get matched with a willing food bank

- Pictures to confirm donation from both parties

- Some agreed-upon "value" (points) for said donation

- Food bank takes and re-distributes


Bakery does good and maybe gets some benefit; Food bank gets more food (as long as the collection ROI makes sense); and hungry people eat food that would otherwise end up in the trash.

FYI, I wrote about this idea very briefly way back when: http://peterkimfrank.com/2013/01/21/doing-well-by-doing-good...

FlashFood, a student startup from Phoenix, is doing this. They have a network of vendors and volunteers who connect perishable food with existing infrastructure like food banks and soup kitchens.

I have an idea, instead of a 2-year data plan, buy food...

Ooops, forgot the topic -- that is indeed a truly idiotic idea.

"Make a web page where all the students of our college can post their pictures and talk to each other!" (proposed to me by a classmate in May of 2000)

Color (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_Labs). The idea behind the app was flawed (as in "why would anyone need this?"), and they made no attempt to hide the fact that the underlying idea was datamining/advertisement.

I don't think Color is a terrible idea. The concept of group photo collaboration, where many people who don't know each other can contribute to the same photo album (i.e. during an event/etc) isn't that bad. Their execution for the ludicrous amount of money they raised was most definitely embarrassing though.

SpinDisp (65)


I should do another one of these, it's been way too long.

Fish Tank Analyzer:

1) Train fish to swim towards some chemical/compound whatever you want to detect

2) Put valves at different places in the tank, where you can put in the diluted sample

3) Detect the "swarm opinion" via webcam and computer vision

I never found a good application for this...

This thread is reminding me of how many ideas I've had that I never went through on.

Another one: Sponsor a homeless person. Crowd-sourcing getting someones life back on track. You get 100+ people to pitch in $5 a month to one person they "adopted". These 100 people have full transparency to how that person spends the money, can advise and help in other ways . If you see that they withdrew $50 in cash on a friday night, they have to show a receipt for a valid reason for doing so, or you can drop out as a sponsor.

Anyhow, it was a stupid idea because people are generally selfish, on both the giving and receiving end.

Mine: Rate your barista

You would be able to snap a picture of your barista, put in where they work and rate them on things like: Skill Speed Attractiveness Friendliness

It all started to feel kind of creepy, because I knew the "attractiveness" would become the most important thing, then you'd have guys using it as an excuse to be creepy. Anyhow, there are barista competitions so it seemed like something worth measuring. Also, a lot of times the quality of the coffee in many places is on an even playing field and the person making it starts to become more important. Never went through with it though.

Mine: It's based on a Seinfeld episode where George makes up a fake charity and gives cards to people "A donation has been made in your name to Human Fund".

Say you want to gift someone but you don't know what they want / don't want to buy more stuff / etc. So you buy a card that has a message ("Happy Birthday!" or whatever) and a number of credits associated with it and you give it to someone. The person, then, can use the credits to give things to non-profits, like a shirt for the homeless, or some food for a orphanage.

That's not really a terrible idea. Well, except I'm too selfish and would be pissed if I had to give my birthday gift to someone else. I bet corporations would love that though. It LOOKS like they're giving the employee a birthday present but it's actually a tax deductible donation. Win-win.

Yeah, except it already exists and it's called cash.

What? How is cash relevant to a service that let's you make a donation but have a recipient choose where it goes?

I've forgotten my 'stupidest' ideas, but my 'worst' idea was basically to do what PRISM is doing now. I realized you can infer a hell of a lot from the bits of information people post publicly and you could aggregate them into a comprehensive profile. There's obviously a market for this as we all now know, but I realized how evil it was and that even if it was highly successful, how shitty would I feel about selling out humanity. ... however, it does still strike me as a fascinating technical challenge.

People went ahead with it anyway. See, for example, PHORM in the UK.


> The company's proposed advertising system, called Webwise, is a behavioral targeting service (similar to NebuAd) that uses deep packet inspection to examine traffic. Phorm says the data collected will be anonymous and will not be used to identify users, and that their service would even include protection against phishing (fraudulent collection of users' personal information). Nonetheless, World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others have spoken out against Phorm for tracking users' browsing habits, and the ISP BT Group has been criticised for running secret trials of the service.

Apparently mine, based on the number of upvotes my Show HN is getting right now ;)


I think it is a great idea. I understand it in an instance. If you want to see a bad Show HN check mine: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6353500


Edit: Maybe that came off as rude, but I really don't get the idea. You pay somebody for something you want to see done? What?

No worries, it's a slightly confusing concept. You can basically crowdfund cash prizes for anything you want to see get done in the world. Teams then apply for the prize with proof that they've accomplished the prize's goals.

You basically can crowdfund your own X-Prizes.

Assuming I want, say somebody to build a new kind of genetically altered flower, I can ask all my friends and people around the world who would also like to have this kind of flower to pledge a certain amount of money.

A group of genetic engineers someplace in the world notice that me and my troop have collectively pledged, say $500k, and the genetic engineers actually spend some time and make such a flower. They send us a video, and we trust they've built it. We get flowers, and they get the money.

Am I right?

Yes, those are the broad strokes. For that prize amount, you would probably have multiple teams applying for the prize and providing proof of their accomplishments, and the donors would then vote on whose project best accomplishes the prize's goals.

App that you use to report empty parking spaces. That earns you karma points. You can then spend the karma points to get reports of nearby parking spots when you need them.

Since I advise people that want to make new game companies, I hear A LOT of those, ordered by stupidity level (all of them are fairly common, although seemly the most stupid ideas are more popular too).

First place: Make the next World of Warcraft, with only 3 people and no money.

Second place: Make the next Unreal/Quake/Half-Life with 1 programmer, one artist and no money, for console, in 6 months. (yes, this idea is more common than you think).

Third place: Make iOS game and get rich quick, without no idea of how, and hating games in general actually.

Fourth place: Be the idea guy, and makes games only having the idea, and being so awesome with your ideas that programmers and artists will work to you for free and accept only 2% of equity in the end.

Fifth place: The same as above, but when said that he would be just a useless guy, he proposes to be the writer instead, the guy that make the rules (I still do not understood what being the writer has to do with game design... but it is fairly common! Even when the person want to make a soccer game, that has no writing).

Sixth place: the same as the two above, but knowing people won't work for free, want to sell his idea to Activision for 10 million USD, those are usually paranoid with NDAs too, and insist me to sign their NDAs before asking whatever questions they want to ask me.

>Third place: Make iOS game and get rich quick, without no idea of how, and hating games in general actually.

I like this one. I've gotten that before. "Hey man, you write iPhone apps right? Let's make a game!" "Haha, alright, what kind of game do you want to make?" "I don't know, I don't play games on my android. What kinds of games are making a ton of money on iPhone right now?" "..."

1. Automatic goose-plucking machine. I was walking out of work one evening around Christmas and had to cross through a flock of Canada geese on the office park lawn. I thought, "I could just snatch one of these guys, wring his neck, and have him for dinner, if only I had a way to pluck him." It would look like a salad spinner, where you add the goose, attach a lid, then turn a crank. Out comes your plucked goose. Also solves goose overpopulation, so it's good for the environment.

2. Rubber trees. Sell them to commercial real estate developers/contractors. Cheaper than real trees, and less maintenance cost. Just pop them into the ground! We'd also sell accessories, like attachable bird nests or battery-powered hooting owls. Premium customers could buy four "styles" of the same tree, one for each season, and with a support contract we'd swap them out at appropriate times of year.

3. Renewable energy. What is the largest source of untapped energy in the universe? Little children! We'd sell shoes with an integrated battery that recharges as your kids play. The sole of the shoe contains a standard power outlet so you can plug in your TV and watch your shows after the kids are in bed.

All ideas that were the seeds for multi-billion dollar companies.

They sounded stupid^W bound to fail at first, especially before seeing the implementation / impact:

Better search engine with no sponsored listings, seamless sync and backups, short status updates blasted to your followers, better social network, animated movies that target adults, online book store (without a book store experience), $4 lattes ...

Some ideas that sounded awesome and turned out to be awesome:

Open source and breakfast bars.

To be fair, many considered open source to be blindingly stupid -- "Anyone can edit the source? That would be madness! And why would anyone just contribute hours and hours of their time? Why do you think Microsoft pays their programmers so much."

But then, "They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. -Carl Sagan"

Better Search Engine / Better Social Network - By definition, something that's better than an existing product that's wildly popular isn't stupid. I personally think that social networks are stupid, but by the time Facebook came out, it was obvious that most people didn't.

Seamless Sync and Backups - This is an obviously useful concept, we just needed to wait for the technology to arrive.

Short Status Updates - Agreed.

Animated Movies that Target Adults - Animated movies originally targeted adults. Also, in Japan they have targeted adults for decades. The small group of anime fans in America gradually grew into a billion dollar empire. American companies waited for the business to be lucrative before they started making their own. How is that stupid?

Online Book Store - Might as well say the entire eCommerce industry is stupid. Selling stuff on-line is about as obvious and sensible as it gets.

> "By definition, something that's better than an existing product that's wildly popular isn't stupid", "This is an obviously useful concept, we just needed to wait for the technology to arrive."

In retrospect, yes, absolutely. But when you first hear it, having seen many other attempts, it seems bound to fail or at least don't seem like a billion dollar idea. Hence the "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."

It might have been foolish for Facebook if they had started out thinking that they were guaranteed to dethrone Myspace, but that's not how it happened.

The idea of having all of your stuff get automatically backed up and synced with all of your devices seemed like a billion dollar idea the first time someone mentioned it. It just didn't seem feasible until recently. That's not the same as it being a stupid idea.

Square for homeless people. You can never again say "No, I don't have any change."

Somewhat relevant... I had an idea to set up accounts for street performers. If you were near one it would send you a notification, you could easily drop them a tip through the app. They aggregated in an account somewhere until they were able to make it to a computer (hell, anyone can go into a library right?). You can rate people, find where they play, etc. Why not?

'Lets put qr codes on "welcome to $town" signs than when someone scans them with their phone, its loads a website advertising various things you can do/buy/participate in around town.'

Twitter. I'm not joking either. It is the stupidest startup idea I've ever heard and yet...

Seriously I'm probably the worst person to ask. Almost every startup idea sound ridiculous to me.


<existing social network> for <pet>

I'm going to give this a serious response even though I know you're referring to a well-known cliche for startup ideas.

I was talking to a fairly smart VC recently and he made a good point -- while everyone likes to use "Facebook for Cats" as a joke about bad startup ideas, it's not actually a bad idea.

A lot of people REALLY like their pets. And they spend a lot of money on them. And they like to share pictures of them with their pet-owning friends (go see /r/aww if you don't believe me.)

It basically hasn't been done right (yet), but I wouldn't be surprised if something that looks like Facebook for Pets does actually become a thing at some point.


This website gives customizeable one page profiles for your pets. Seems pretty heavily used, I signed up one time and I get emails every couple of days because another user "loved" my pet.

Er, but doesn't regular Facebook fill this need for those interested?

I've got a couple of stupid ideas. mine: http://www.stamplin.com - extract text from PDF, mine again: http://signup.mealthy.com - eat better

and lot's of other ones.

An idea is always stupid. Few iteration later, it starts to be not that bad.

Years and years ago, I wanted to make an auction site like Ebay, but only for "haunted" items. So, yeah.

Also, services where you pay someone to digitize your mail. And Lockitron... I just... these seem like bad ideas waiting to happen.

But then I was sure Twitter was a terrible idea, and I loved the original format of formspring so what do I know?

They are numerous. Almost daily I see things funded that make me shake my head. Here is the latest http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/10/foodiequest/

Mine: replacing business cards

At some point I had the idea for an RFID bracelet. Ideally, it would be targeted to trade shows. I went to one previously the best tech they had was these cards that you had to go and manually scan at each booth.

Anyhow, the idea was that each bracelet would have an RFID card, and an RFID reader. When you shook hands with someone, it would read their ID #. So, you're not only physically meeting someone, but logging them as someone you met. When you got back to your hotel that night, you plug it into your computer and it pulls up everyone's bio (picture, name, company, email address, etc).

Hmm, sounds like an iteration of Bump, but for NFC-enabled smart watches...

with what?

That guy on Dragons Den that wanted to save his cucumber ends from drying out... WTF


Read about a startup that recently launched that was claiming to be "Netflix for Books." We already have that. Its called a Library.

Either that one, or the guy selling fart scented candles on Shark Tank.

Some guy wanted to save the whole internet on his computer and index it.

Not such a bad idea for some: http://www.widernet.org/egranary/

Coveralls/TravisCI for code reviews w/ self-hosting option. I'm sick of Crucible and expensive alternatives that don't even work that well these days.

Looking for some "ideas that seem bad" here? ;) http://paulgraham.com/swan.html

One man started a movement to have peace all over the world and wanted to solve problems without bloodshed in the path of Ahimsa.

This was the stupidest! idea in the whole history of mankind.

I think everyone guessed who it is.

Humans don't need aliens or space creatures to get killed. they will kill themselves.

Long live war! Long live humans!

When I first saw it at McDonalds, RedBox. Now I use it all the time.

Back in the dotcom day, yachts.com

Ionic Ear from Shark Tank

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