Thursday, October 06, 2016

A VC's Personal List of Consumer Startup Ideas

One thing I've done over the years as a venture investor is keep a running log of interesting startup ideas. After hearing countless pitches and researching a wide variety of industries, I naturally formed my own startup concepts, particularly in consumer internet. Over time, I've jotted them down in my notebook. However, I will not be an entrepreneur any time soon and so those ideas are helping no one buried away in my Evernote. So similar to YCombinator's "Requests for Startups", below is a short list of some of my personal favorites.

A quick foreword.  These ideas or problem areas are largely based on my personal interests or are specific problems that are relevant to me. Some are large opportunities, and others are nichier lifestyle businesses that are not necessarily venture-backable. Generally, I tend to focus on hugely profitable industries with old incumbents, new categories or niche markets with real problems that need to be solved, or products and services that are begging to be improved. 

Game Discovery

There are way too many video games today. The rapid proliferation of mobile games, indie PC games, and games across various form factors such as next-gen consoles, previous-gen consoles, PC, mobile (and multiple app stores), handheld, browser-based, etc, have left consumers confused. The media sites and blogs serving the industry are fairly antiquated and online editorial reviews are often biased and unhelpful. There should be a next-gen video game content site focused on sifting through the noise and acting as a hub for your gaming interest graph. It feels like a data problem and there is probably a way to tag every game in existence and better organize everything. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say "I want a bluetooth co-op sports game for a plane ride?", and then surface all the relevant content?

Stocks Website

I use Yahoo Finance, and so does everyone I know, including venture and growth investors! How is it that professional investors still largely gets their finance news and do their stock tracking on a site like Yahoo Finance? Sure, I have an online brokerage account for making trades and checking my active portfolio, but I still visit Google Finance or Yahoo Finance every day. These products are rough. I have to load about 10 pages in order to add a ticker to my watch list, and it's incredibly painful to customize anything so I don't even bother. There should be a drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG interface to add or remove tickers, pull in new IPOs, do dead simple charting, pull in accurate news and earnings dates, etc. Basically, Yahoo Finance should be rebuilt from the ground up, and the data feeds to access live market data are already out there. 

Synchronous Mobile Community

I love Reddit and use it every day, as do many others that I know. However, the site experience is lackluster and very dated. Reddit's new mobile app is pretty good, but aside from that, there is really no community on mobile with the scale and reach that Reddit has. Another observation is that there have been several Q&A-based apps that have gotten reasonable traction in the past few years. What I haven't seen is a truly synchronous mobile/social community. Rather than post on forums or on Reddit asynchronously and wait for engagement or upvotes, there should be a mobile app where I can ask a question and be thrown into a live thread with other users. These chat groups could be 5 people, 10 people, 50 people or more, and users would be engaged in several live threads at any given time. Users could build up credibility and reputation in the community for being helpful, and the system could intelligently match people based on factors like age, geo, interests, reputation, and so forth. Basically, imagine every obscure sub-Reddit being converted into these mobile, synchronous micro-communities - something like that would be a killer app.  

Next-gen Subscription Commerce

I love subscription commerce as a concept. They don't always make great venture-backed businesses, but I love that you can find an interesting niche and make revenue on day one. Of course companies such as Stitch Fix and Blue Apron are certainly not niche businesses as they are both massive and appear to be IPO-bound. The really interesting thing about both of these businesses is that they merge the physical world (mail-based commerce) with the digital world. Stitch Fix in particular places a heavy emphasis on user preferences, data and personalization. There are opportunities to take this concept even further. To use a bad example, imagine an online book club of sorts, where I get a push notification each month and I get to vote on potential books or select one out of a short list based on my interests. Then, I receive the book in the mail, and instead of forgetting about the app, it would continue to engage me via a social features, group chats with other readers, etc. This is probably a bad example, but it illustrates the concept I'm going for. Basically, there should be interesting new commerce experiences that offer deeper digital engagement beyond just the selection of a product.    

Next-gen Evernote

I've been using Evernote for six years now. It's a great platform and I run a lot of my life on it, but it's getting stale. Most productivity apps do a good job of basic note-taking, to-do's, clippings, and cross-platform sync, but that's about it. I can imagine a far superior app that essentially serves as a second space for my brain. Imagine a larger, more malleable canvas where you can zoom out (like Prezi), and have more templatized "boards" on which you can drag and drop all forms of media, take notes, draw diagrams, connect disparate ideas together, etc. You can imagine features such as automated tagging, intelligent sorting, voice dictation, and so forth. I'm not sure what a next-gen Evernote will look like, but I'll definitely be the first to switch over. 

News Aggregator

I hate reading or watching any kind of news these days. I feel like I get dumber every time I open up an article in my news aggregator app or read headlines in my RSS feed. There has to be a better way to filter out the noise. Perhaps this is a way to ingest news from all around the web on a daily basis, analyze and tag articles on a bunch of different variables, and serve the most comprehensive article to a user based on his/her ever-changing preferences. RSS feeds get filled with a bunch of junk articles and duplicates. There should be a way to reduce duplicates, gauge reputation of publishers, score and rank specific authors, and create a self-learning service that offers surfaces better content to the reader.

Parting Thoughts

The ideas above represent a short list of some (not all!) of the concepts that have intrigued me over the years. They don't all represent multi-billion dollar opportunities, but they were salient enough problems for me to care about and want to solve. I probably won't get around to solving most of them, so I hope someone else does!

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