Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ideas for startups

Paul Graham's essay "Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas" got me thinking about other problems that I'd like someone to solve for me.

Some of these might be preposterous or impossible, but I would have said the same thing about Pandora or Shazam 10 years ago.

1. A tool to track and categorize all my spending
"You can't manage what you can't measure" says the cliche, and it is awfully difficult to track all expenses in a household. Mint.com has about the best solution that I know of - it can pull in info from your checking account and all your credit cards. But it is still a hassle to track cash expenses, and to categorize spending. If you spend $300 at Wal-Mart, how should that get categorized? It could be a new gas grill or clothes (hope not) or groceries or diapers. The solution needs to be able to see not just the vendor, but all the line items.

2. A tool to plan out our family menus, keep track of what is in the refrigerator, and order the necessary ingredients from Fresh Direct (or give us a shopping list if we didn't live in New York City.) This doesn't seem particularly far-fetched to me. If Pandora can learn my preferences and pick songs, then a program could certainly learn our food preferences and plan out our menus. And it ought to be able to detect what we put in the fridge. And include in the menu plans nights where we would defrost that extra stew that we frSuoze two months ago.

3. A virtual travel agent
When I was at a big consulting firm, it was nice being able to call the travel office and ask them to book me travel to a given city, with a car, and a hotel in a certain part of town. The call would take two minutes; or could even be accomplished with an email.
Now I book all my own travel, starting with kayak.com to find airfares - I'd like some software that would learn my preferences and do that for me.

4. Curate reading content
There may already be a good tool out there that I'm just not aware of. I'd like to be able to enter all the books I've read, rate them, and then have a recommendation engine suggest more books and articles that I ought to read. Amazon has its suggestion tool, but I think it is only based on books I've purchased. The tool should be designed to surprise me with content that I normally would not have come across, as well as bring me the articles that I would definitely want to know about, such as anything new by Malcolm Gladwell, John Stilgoe, or James Surowieki.

5. A tool to find professionals based on recommendations of people I trust
Yes, I know there is Angie's list. But I tried that site a few years ago and it was so clunky that it was unusable. I want to find a medical doctor, a car mechanic, a graphic designer, an attorney, etc., who is recommended by people that I trust. I don't spend much time on Facebook, but this seems like a valuable application that could be integrated to Facebook.
LinkedIn has recommendations, but they all read the same, and they have to be approved by the recipient, so they are of little value.
One way I know this is an unmet need is that I see emails on listservs of Columbia Business School alums every day asking for an introduction to an attorney who specializes in a certain area, or for a website designer, or a nanny.

6. I'd like my phone to detect how many calories I'm eating throughout the day. And then provide that info in graphical form, e.g., calories eaten per hour. Calories classified by type. Etc.

7. Smart software to prepare my taxes. The software that does exist is almost as much of a hassle as filling in the forms by hand.

8. Software to help me track all my goals

9. The immersive reading experience of the future. I'll write a future post on what I'd like out of this one.

10. A fashion tool.
I don't like to shop for clothes - particularly the time it takes. I'd like a tool that monitors what I have in my closet. It will learn my preferences by monitoring what I wear most often, as well as by asking me to pick A or B from a whole series of choices and then doing conjoint analysis. Then the tool would combine its knowledge of what I have in my closet, with its knowledge of my preferences, plus a separate module monitoring fashion trends. Combining those sources of information, it would occasionally order me new clothes when it thinks I should get them. I would rate its choices, and could send back what I don't like. It could also have the option where I would pay a premium to have another person rate how the clothes look on me, and then incorporate those ratings into the decision.

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