A Platform to Share Private Feedback on Business Arrangements

We all know reputation is matters. And much of your reputation is locked up inside the heads of individuals you’ve worked with in the past.

What’s needed?

A private way to leave feedback on past business arrangements that gives you full control of which people/groups can access that. If someone I know has engaged in a deep business arrangement with company Y or been a co-founder with person X (who I am thinking about partnering with), what was their feedback? Were they good to work with? Responsive?

There are a few interesting scenarios:

  • Venture Capital – which firms and venture partners are great to work with? Which ones suck? Which ones only care about money? Which partners really help their portfolion companies, versus which ones put money in and then disappear?
  • Business development – which companies are a pain in the ass to deal with? Can they move things forward? Are they sticklers for always “winning” every negotiation, or do they focus on win-win deals?
  • Co-Founders – how are their communication skills? Do they execute on their word? Or do they promise the world, and deliver nothing?

Most of this knowledge is being traded via email, text, and voice right now. Which, as you know, is inefficient because people find themselves answering the same questions multiple times.

TheFunded is doing some of this, but their UI/UX is sorely lacking (looking at their home page – I don’t even really know what the site is supposed to do). It seems to me Angel List has the best shot at solving this, given they are mapping business relationships within the technology industry. Adding a way to privately review an individual or company would be a fairly easy add-on for them (the UI/UX is the harder part).

[Note: I posted the basics of this idea in the comments of Seth Levine’s blog]

Make Me Move for Cars. “Buy My Wheels”.

Those that know Zillow, likely know about their Make Me Move concept; that every home in America is for sale — for the right price.

Take that same concept and apply it to cars. It’s my belief that every car in the world is available for the right price. I got to thinking about this yesterday as my friend and I were driving up to his cabin. I looked over into a field, and saw what looked to be a Mustang from the 1960′s sitting under a tarp gathering dust — seemingly not having been touched for years.

The solution? Buy My Wheels. The ability for any car owner to post a dream price for any of their cars.

The cars ripe for a “Buy My Wheels” price are old classics or antiques sitting in someone’s garage, only being driven once or twice a year. Or an old beater muscle car sitting in the field under a tarp and rusting away.

The right buyer would buy those cars at the right price, if they had a simple way to find them.

Challenges:

  1. How to monetize? People aren’t likely to pay anything to place a dream price on a car. Seems you’d need to add this on to a service that already monetizes as a user engagement tool and unique inventory. Cars.com, or even Carfax, would be a viable candidate.
  2. Critical mass. How do you entice enough car owners to post their cars? How do you possibly reach the farmer with a 65 Mustang sitting in his backyard?

What’s your “Buy My Wheels” price?

Angel List for WordPress Freelancers

WordPress is a massive, massive ecosystem of designers, developers, themes, plugins, and expanding by the day. I’ve got a problem. I have a freelance WordPress gig for someone. But I’ve been burned in the past.

freelance-web-developerWho to trust?

Who has done good work for my friends? Of those, who is currently open to taking projects? What types of specific projects have they done? Have they done plugins? In which industries do they have domain knowledge?

Build a  platform similar to Angel List for freelancers. Allow freelancers to tag the people and businesses they have worked with.

Why it Makes Sense:

  • It’s needed immediately prior to individuals and companies spending a large amount of money – so can be monetized.
  • Both the supply side and demand side have incentive to tag those they’ve worked with.
  • It shouldn’t be hard to find a freelancer to build this on the cheap in exchange for an equity position.
  • Don’t need to prove the market need – IMO

In fact, the same opportunity is sitting out there for web freelancers in general (not just specific to WordPress). There is no good solution right now to address the two biggest pain points for those looking for freelancers to work on their development projects.

Frankly, I’m surprised an opportunity like this – which is clearly clearly known by multiple developers – has not been solved by someone tired of dealing with the issue and who has the chops to build it.

Any takers?

The Future of Your Inbox

There was an interesting comment from Anne Libby on Brad Feld’s post awhile ago that got me thinking about the future of the inbox.

Here is Anne’s comment:

If I were to write a similar post, it would be titled “Email is no longer working for me.”

 

Every day, we all create transaction requests, questions, introductions, responses to questions, needed data, jokes, attempts to be understood, negotiations on a meeting time — and so on — into what’s essentially a giant pipe called “email”.

 

Then we press “flush,” and expect it to be sorted out on the receiving end. (Yeah, we can set filters. It’s somewhat helpful, but for me it’s not enough.)

 

My five year future would include the emergence of email “process owners” in organizations. Industrial engineer/design specialist tasked with understanding the cost of the sorting out process, distributed across every person in the organization (i.e 100 emails/day * time to process each email* people in the organization). Then they’d figure out ways to get info where it’s meant to go…bypassing email where it doesn’t make sense.

It’s not just about tweaking the email client, but creating alternate and more effective communication behaviors.

I whole-heartedly agree. My inbox sucks, and there is an opportunity for an exponentially better experience. The inbox is certainly not a small problem one individual can solve. It’s a big crazy idea to totally redefine what an email inbox looks like and how it operates. Big risk, big reward.

The other day, I finally got around to putting together what I believe the future of the inbox is and posted it over at Geek Wire. Head over and give it a read and let me know what you think!

Work Productivity Screen Share App (aka POW)

You’ve all spaced off while “working.” Maybe that means watching a YouTube video, perusing Facebook (for the 36th time that day), g-chatting a friend, or checking ESPN for the 15th time. It results in hours and hours (and hours) of lost productivity.

What if there was a powerful and simple way to avoid wasting so much of your time?

Sure, there are already apps and browser extensions that enable you to “block” social media sites, or provide visibility into exactly how much of your life you’re wasting. They are great in theory.

The problem? They all rely on YOU to initiate and execute them. And even if you do turn them on, you can turn them off with a flick of a switch (click of a mouse if we’re being picky).

The solution?

POW – a work productivity screen share app that uses the power of your friendships to keep you productive.

Crowd-source your work productivity, and rely on the power of friends to keep you in line. I’m much more likely to stay productive if real people, or even better yet, current friends of mine, are the ones keeping me in check. The human aspect is why I prefer working at co-working spaces or coffee shops — because there are other people around which makes it harder to just goof off and do nothing.

How exactly would POW work?

First of all, you’d be paired with 4 other people to form work teams of 5. In the upper right of your screen, you’d have a small window which gave you a quick view into what your friends were doing right that moment (think TV-in-TV from the 1990′s). If you noticed one of your 4 friends was goofing off, you could click the “Lazy” button on them which would trigger a quick takeover of their screen indicating they’ve been spotted. See the quick wireframe below…

pow productivity

I firmly believe this would work. But I leave it up to someone else to build it…please send me a note if this exists, as I’d love to try out a service like this. And if this doesn’t exist and you build it…I’ll be your first beta tester.

PS: It doesn’t have to be named POW. Name it whatever you like :)

Centralized Trust System for P2P Marketplaces

There is a wealth of “sharing economy” sites (not sure what sharing economy is – read this), with new ones popping up everyday. AirBnb. Lyft. Uber. Kickstarter. TaskRabbit. Skillshare. etc

1280-sharing-evolution

Each sharing economy site has to build out their own trust system, which happens to be the most critical component to the viability of their marketplace — and the single hardest part to execute on (IMO). Users on their site need to know they are transacting with trusted people who will not rip them off.

There is an opportunity for a neutral source to aggregate user trust in the form of authenticated social media accounts, phone numbers, photo IDs (AirBnB just added this), and reviews that can be plugged into any peer-to-peer marketplace.

It looks like TrustCloud is already well down this path. But, surely, they aren’t at critical mass as of yet and someone could yank this opportunity from under them.

What do you think? A needed system? Or just added complexity?

[Image via http://www.fastcoexist.com/]

The Code for Equity Platform

Small businesses and startups often have a hard time finding qualified technical help to build out their grand ideas.

code for equityFounders can turn to freelance sites like Elance or oDesk, but it can be difficult to sort through the dozens of applicants to find the diamond in the rough.

On top of that, top-tier talent is expensive. Bootstrapped operations may find themselves compromising on quality just to meet budget.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What if you built out a platform to connect talented web designers, web developers and software developers with cash-poor but idea-rich entrepreneurs?

It could be a win-win for both parties. The companies could get the technical work done on the cheap or free, and the developers could get an ownership stake in the company or a share of potential future cash flows and growth.

The platform could be monetized in a similar way, by taking a small equity stake in each project. Over the long-term, that could be a very lucrative strategy if you end up facilitating some big hits, but might be complex to execute. Another option would just be to charge a flat listing fee for each project.

Strengths

This unique set-up allows developers to essentially play venture capitalist, except with their time and skills instead of with their money. If they don’t need the income today, but have an eye for a great idea, the payoff could be much greater in the long-run than doing the job as a standard freelance gig.

In addition, there would be a greater incentive to build it right because they would have a legitimate ownership stake. Some skin in the game, as it were.

For business owners, your code for equity platform would solve the problem of finding and motivating engaged talent. And if your project lingers with no one jumping to help, perhaps that’s an early indication the idea isn’t that good.

Weaknesses

Freelancers are freelancers and most of the time just want to get paid. They take on risk with each job and might not have the stomach for even riskier work — with the distinct possibility of never getting paid at all.

Even though the platform would allow them to pick and choose which projects they take on, I think it would still be a big hurdle to overcome. They can’t buy groceries today with startup equity and the promise of potential income tomorrow.

And in the reverse of the strength above, in the long-run the companies may end up dramatically overpaying for the initial development work if the project really takes off.

Opportunities

As far as I know, no one else is facilitating these kinds of freelance arrangements. (OK, I didn’t research it at all.) The concept could generate some buzz in the industry — positive and negative for sure.

But I believe there is a large market out there of entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs who have good ideas but don’t have the time or money or capacity to build them out. This platform would give them a low-risk alternative to go out and try and make something happen.

Threats

In terms of competitive threats, if this business idea takes off I imagine it would be pretty easy for Elance or oDesk to add “code for equity” checkbox and even provide some boilerplate legal contracts to set up the arrangement.

But if you can gain some traction I think there’s definitely room for this kind of unique niche in the freelance market.

Wrap Up

I like this idea because it’s not just about building one business, but about building hundreds or thousands of new businesses. And it’s about sharing the value created from those new enterprises.

What do you think? Should we build this? Better yet, should we try and get it built on a code for equity model to test the idea?

The Midnight Dentist

The Concept

Midnight Dentists is a website and network of dentists that specializes in after-hours dentistry.  All of the members of the dental network would have hours of operation after 6pm (local time) and would be open until 1am.

The Problem It Solves

Your average secretary, office worker and young professional has a challenge.  How to get dental care without having to take the day off of work.  A day off of work equals a net loss in income, productivity, and also exposes them to negative consequences depending on the establishment.  Even if they have dental benefits, they may not use them if they open themselves up to these negative consequences in order to exercise those benefits.

How It Solves The Problem

The Midnight Dentist network has a a wide connection of dentists all of which are open after normal business hours.  The user merely types in their zip code and a host of dentists in their area that can take them as patients.  A user can book online, request more info about the dentist’s education, rates, length of practice and whether and what kind of benefits they accept.

The Nuances

The average person these days that does not have a dentist already is concerned with a few things.

  1. Does my dentist take my insurance?
  2. Does my dentist have hours that accommodate my schedule?
  3. Are their positive (and negative) reviews available to tell me about her performance, office demeanor and ethics?  (Does she push for unnecessary services.)

A user will not be so consumed with whether or not the dentist went to Columbia or USC as much as they are concerned about other items.

How to Launch

I propose that you approach dentists already in place and ask them if they would be willing to have 2 days where their hours are 6pm to 1am.  If not, ask them if they would be willing to sublet their space for our purposes.

Effectively keeping the office open for later hours, but installing another dentist in their place.  Obviously their motivation would be the rent paid to them (plus money for use of the equipment.)  This would make for substantial savings over opening new offices and would keep the dentist ‘density’ the same.  In some cases, new offices would need to be opened in order to have full coverage in that area.

Competition

1-800-DENTIST – my plan would entail leveraging their database in lieu of a stock position in Midnight Dentist.  We would contact the dentists in their DB and offer them the the opportunity of working with us.  Not only does not hurt 1-800-DENTIST, but it actually improves their level of service!

Our dentists would be available through their network, but we could not offer the same to theirs as the hours are not appropriate.  However, this could easily become Win-Win.

In doing my research, 1-800-DENTIST was the only serious competition of any kind.  The other websites that specialize in Dentist search were cheesy and extremely localized.

How to Launch

I propose taking Los Angeles first and then working out the bugs, spread to NYC, Chicago and Houston.  Having the four major US Cities under our belt would give momentum to taking on the other 200 demographic zones or so zones in the US.

Need For Capital

The initial need would be for salaries and startup equiptment.  Rent, Internet access and  utilities for three months.  Initial outlay to purchase contact lists of local dentists, unless a partnership is established with 1-800-DENTIST and the like.  Need would hover about $50,000 to start with.

First Steps

Hire someone that has massive experience in building this sort of network.  Next, analyze how 1-800-DENTIST stands alone in its field.  I just sent in my info and was greeted with a polite email and also will be getting a call tonight.

They offer 3 referrals; all free.  Obviously the dentist is paying for the service.  It’s pretty ingenious.  Our program would do well to imitate what is working and improve on what is not.  It does not look like you can book online at 1-800-DENTIST, I was thinking we could offer that.  Unless there is a compelling reason not to.

Challeges

Obviously developing a base of users quickly is the main challenge.  Aside from getting a list of 30 or so dentists to buy-in at the onset (for Los Angeles only.)  So money would be needed for massive advertising.  To get the ball rolling.  Probably $20,00 over the first 3 months.

A Smarter Way to Shop For Cars

Buying a car (new or used) is a pain point for many people.

Why? Because it’s a big purchase and there’s a general distrust of car dealers.

Although the Internet has brought about increased transparency, and made it more difficult for dealers to gouge buyers, there is still a lot of room for an improved car-buying experience.

New Cars

For new cars, the system I’m thinking of could be like a reverse auction system. A customer would enter the car they’re looking for, and dealers would bid for their business.

This is easier for new cars because a certain model of Camry for example is the same at Dealer A as it is at Dealer B.

Dealers would know they are in competition with each other and would have incentive to offer their best price. And customers, knowing the “bids” of all the nearby stores, would have better confidence in knowing they’re getting a good deal without having to haggle.

In an important contrast with other car shopping sites, your personal contact information would NOT be sold to the dealers. There’s nothing that pisses off customers more than getting hounded by salespeople when all they’re trying to find out is an honest price.

The system could have feedback mechanisms in place to reward good service and communication. And to punish dealers who abuse the system.

Used Cars

For used cars, the set-up would be a little trickier, but may be even more valuable. Instead of searching classifieds and other websites, customers could enter in the car they’re looking for either by model or type.

For example, you could put in Ford Escape 2006-2008, under 70,000 miles. Or you could input Small SUV, under 70,000 miles.

Similarly, dealers could then compete for your business in an open and transparent way.

Everyone wins. You get a better deal with less effort, and dealers get access to hot leads and only have to pay when they make a sale.

Monetization

You’ll need to build a tracking system in which you earn a commission on each sale generated through the site, much like an affiliate marketing set-up.

 

On Demand Business Advice Marketplace for Entrepreneurs

There are lots of small business owners all over the world, in every vertical, that would benefit from talking to someone with a wealth of experience in their vertical. And they want to talk to that person right now. The alternative is to spend lots of time networking and finding people to talk to. Even then, the chances that the person they find will be a) knowledgeable and b) willing to speak to them and give strategic advice are pretty minimal.

Entrepreneurs and business owners already are paying for an introduction to these contacts — now they are paying for them in time rather than money.

I’d pay money to be able to get on the phone with someone extremely knowledgeable about startup law. Or human resources. Or the travel industry.

Additionally, it’ll be a good lead source for these experts to speak to more potential clients.

What it’ll take:

  • Profile pages for the experts, and some way to prove they are trusted and knowledgeable
  • Search interface to search areas of expertise, and see who is online right now and ready for a phone call
  • Some way to collect payments
  • Passion and tenacity :)
  • Marketing chops to find both the experts and build a real brand consumers trust

Voomly, but specific to knowledgeable business experts.

Yes, I’m willing to pay for a connection with the right expert. Are you?

[Photo via smartpassiveincome.com]