Business Ideas: From the Weird and Wacky to the Wildly Successful

People come up with business ideas and inventions all the time. Some are life-changing, for instance, where would we be without the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?

But others not so much. If you need more convincing just check out the hit entrepreneurial TV show, Shark Tank.

If you haven’t seen it, it works like this: someone has a business idea but lacks the money, so they have to convince a panel of successful and wealthy business experts to invest in the idea.

Amongst those that didn’t win any investment were beer flavored ice cream and doggie treat tins. In the UK version of Shark Tank, called Dragons’ Den, one inventor came up with the DriveSafe Glove. In terms of how it worked, it wasn’t too difficult: it was a single glove which the driver put on the right hand to serve as a reminder when travelling abroad to drive on the right-hand side.

There’s also been cardboard beach furniture and edible greeting cards for pet pooches.  This invention was called Greet Me Eat Me – and it did exactly what it said on the tin. Pet owners would send edible card to their fluffy friends whereupon the dog could eat it.

And then there’s SuperKnees. They look a bit like roller-skates but are strapped to your knees. Why would you want to do that? Well, inventor Stipan Saulich reckons they increase work potential and reduce knee stress as well as being time saving devices.

But if you’re looking to make more money, without the hassle of coming up with an invention, then it might be worth considering working for yourself. This could involve retraining, for example learning a trade or skill, both of which are ear-marked as areas where there are jobs.

Heading into 2013 who knows what the next big thing is in business. There’s been plenty of chatter about green issues, so could it be something with sustainability. Or perhaps another Apple must-have item. And when it comes to setting up your own business, there’s nothing to hold you back – gender, race or even age.

Take Ashley Qualls. Back in 2004, at the height of the My Space boom, Ashley set up Ashley, who was then 14, tapped into the idea of personalising people’s profiles and teaching coding and graphics design. Her site went onto become a massive success, garnering more traffic than the readership of established teen magazines such as Teen Vogue and Seventeen. And at one stage, it even scored more hits than Such was the draw that Ashley was offered, but declined, $1.5 million plus a car to sell the site.

Another successful teen entrepreneur was Edinburgh-born Fraser Doherty. By 18, Fraser had set up his own jam business, Super Jam. It successfully tapped into the surge in healthy foods, using fruits like cranberries and grape juice instead of sugar. Beginning with trade shows and farmers markets, Fraser, the brand went on to be stocked nationwide in the UK, thanks to a deal with British supermarket chain, Waitrose.

Of course, there are always those other ideas:  those wacky ones which are just that, wacky. And for that we’re still grateful, because you never know where that creative spark will lead. And if we were all the same, the world would be a dull place.

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]

How to Increase Your Revenue for a Youth Hostel

Do you run a youth hostel? Do you want to find ways to make more money than you are currently making?

Here are a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Sell beer (no brainer)
  • Sell water
  • Sell local tours
  • Organize a pub crawl
  • Start a bar inside (& sell lots of shots)
  • In-house tourist guides
  • Charge $1 for sheets
  • Laundry service (laundry costs while traveling)
  • Start a chain of hostels across multiple cities and cross promote
  • Negotiate special deals (& affiliate program) with a few local restaurants
  • Airport / train / bus pick-up and drop off

All in the effort to provide the perfect hostel

Beer Delivery Marketplace for Fraternities

Do you have a liquor license and sell beer? Do you want more customers? Do you want customers that order several hundred dollars of beer at once? Is there a fraternity nearby?

If the answer to all four questions is yes, then you should start a beer delivery service.

The concept is pretty simple. Fraternities have large parties, which require lots of alcohol. At Sigma Phi Epsilon from 2002-2005, we purchased between 30-90 cases of Keystone Light and Keystone Ice at a time for our parties. We made large purchases on average 4 times per month.

Certainly delivery is more convenient than having to find a truck to go pick up the beer. Beer stores nearby want fraternity business due to the large order sizes. Charge an additional fee in exchange for delivering large quantities of beer.

From the fraternity social chair’s perspective (the person who organizes the parties), the ideal scenario would be to input the desired order into an online form (for example – 40 cases of Keystone Light and 20 cases of Keystone Ice) — and get quotes back from beer stores within X miles. The quotes would contain the quantity of beer (& brand), as well as what the delivery would cost if they choose that option (delivery should be optional).

What’s required:

  • Liquor license & store
  • Nearby fraternity
  • Truck and labor to deliver up to 100 cases of beer
  • Email & phone
  • Software chops to build a simple request and respond marketplace (if you want to go the extra mile)


The Ultimate Resource for Local Happy Hours

Who doesn’t love happy hour? I think we can all agree that leaving work early to grab some cheap food and drink with friends is pretty great.

And I think we can also all agree that reliable information on local happy hours is hard to find. There is no central resource or database for happy hour locations, times, and specials.

Which is why it would make a great business.  This is something that can start locally and expand to new geographic areas like Yelp did.  And, like Yelp, much of the content can be crowdsourced.

In real life, we’re most likely to hear about a great happy hour from friends through word of mouth. This business (a website and mobile app) simply takes that experience online and scales it.

I’ll even give you the name. How about Happy Hour Hero?


Once you have the userbase and eyeballs, restaurants and bars will be happy to pay you to get in front of these new customers.

But like any operation, it’s crucial to nail the user experience first. Reach out to influencers and connectors and see if you can’t begin to gain some critical mass.

Restaurants and bars can also be a great source of information, and should be invited to submit their happy hour details on the site as well. A smart proprietor or franchisee will recognize the low barrier to entry into this new platform and jump at the opportunity to pitch his business in another new avenue.

What do you think? Let’s discuss over drinks at happy hour!

The 2-Minute Personalized News Digest

The traditional newspaper business may be dying, but that is creating opportunity for new business models.  It’s not that people have stopped consuming the news; it’s that they’ve stopped paying for it.  Reading the newspaper is time-consuming and costly, not to mention the information delay problems that come from printing and delivery time.

The majority of the news I don’t care about, and I would venture to guess most other people don’t care either.  Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate?  Great.  Does that impact my day at all?  Not in the least.

However, if Google rolled out a new advertising product, or Nike launched a new must-have sneaker, that’s something I might like to know.

But what if you could introduce an efficient and personalized news service worth paying for?

Curate content from different sources and email people a 2-minute daily digest on the topics they’re interested in.  Topics could be very granular.  Charge a monthly subscription fee.

People don’t want to be ignorant, but pertinent information needs to be delivered quickly in need-to-know chunks.

Google Alerts is the closest product to this I’m aware of.  It’s free, which is an advantage, but the results aren’t awesome.  I think there’s room for a premium model.

A million subscribers at $1 a month is a $12 million a year business.  It scales nicely, costs nearly nothing to procure and deliver.   Plus you’ll be developing email lists of people proven to have an interest in given topics, which lends itself well to advertising opportunities for additional revenue streams.

Could be a winner.  What do you think?

A SIMPLE Web Services Payment System

Subscriptions are a pain to pay for, yet they are an amazing source of repeat revenue for organizations. Things like ESPN Insider, a web host like dreamhost, NYT premium, etc.

Even though the steps involved for each one are almost the exact same, it’s a process I repeat over and over. It’s fragmented, and annoying.

There are services online that I WOULD pay for, if I didn’t have to setup another recurring profile somewhere. And if I knew is was drop dead simple to shut it off the minute it ceases to add value to my life.

The business idea? Build what built for donating to charities at Startup Weekend Amsterdam, but applied to web services. Apple proved that if you make it simple enough to pay for content or services you value, users will do it rather than hunt around for a free way to get the same content or service. The ease of use is worth money to many, including me.

And yes, I know there are a number of of payment systems. Such as MergePay. The length of this summary of MergePay on NextWeb tells me one thing. It’s too complex

Make the payment system simple.




Create a Product or Service to Sell on Fiverr

Do you know about  It’s a fun and useful marketplace where everything is just $5.  I’ve used it for some graphic design work, article writing, and even bought a bracelet made out of baseball seams.

You can find a ton of stuff on there, ranging from helpful to hilarious.  The question is, why not sell your own product or service?


Although some people are selling physical products, I believe the bigger opportunity is with digital products like software, ebooks, or video guides.  Because you only collect $4 (Fiverr takes a $1 cut on every sale), a digital product works best because it has a zero cost-of-goods-sold and can be delivered for free electronically.

What are you an expert in? Could you create an awesome video tutorial on how to more effectively manage your time at the gym?  How about a guide on how to earn thousands of free frequent flyer miles?  Or how to crate-train a stubborn dog?  The possibilities are endless.


I’m less enthusiastic about selling services, because they will usually involve your time, and I’m somewhat opposed to trading hours for dollars — especially such small dollars.

Some examples of services you’ll find beyond the article writing and graphics work mentioned above might be marketing consultations, software debugging, resume editing, foreign language practice via skype, and more.

The opportunity I see in selling services is as a creative lead-generation tool for other areas of your business.  For example, if you’re a travel agent, you could offer some insider tips on where to stay in Tokyo.  Then, explain how you can save your Fiverr client money if they decide to book through you.

The best thing about Fiverr is that the marketplace and the customers are already in place.  If you can carve out some shelf space and deliver a great product or service, you’ve got a nice little side business.

The Smart Crowdsourced Caller ID App

I don’t know about you but when I get an unexpected call from an unrecognized number, I usually don’t pick up.  If it’s important, I reason to myself, they’ll leave a message and I can call them back.  Nine times out of ten they don’t leave a message and I know to keep ignoring future calls from the same number.

But curiosity often gets the best of me and I sometimes  google the phone number to try and find out who’s calling me.  There are several websites where users can input the identity of mystery callers.

Why not remove that step and build it into a smartphone app?  You could start with an initial database of known numbers and accept IDs from users to improve accuracy and expand the list.

Among my mystery callers lately:

  • The University of Washington Alumni Association
  • Dell Technical Support
  • Go Daddy
  • The American Red Cross
  • Livermore Ford
  • XM Radio
  • Verizon Customer Support
  • Google

It would be cool to have a Caller ID App that lets you know who’s calling as they’re calling so you can decide on the spot whether or not to take the call.

The app could be sold for a small fee, or made available for free and supported by ads.  For example, if the app knows Go Daddy is calling me, they could show me relevant ads for domain renewals, hosting, or other offers.

What do you think? Is such an app technically feasible?  Would you like to have it on your phone?

The Perfect Hostel

Ever since I started traveling in 2005, I’ve long thought about starting a hostel. Or even a chain of hostels.


Simple. There are so many horrible horrible hostels, and I know I can create a better hostel.

I view hostels the same as I view running a bar; if you have a decent location and can’t run a successful bar, you’re an idiot. Okay, that’s a bit extreme. But you get the point. The same thing applies to hostels.

Why it’s appealing opportunity:

  • Good margins – I think. Keep the hostel close to capacity, and you’ll make a killing.
  • Great lifestyle – Live where you want, and hang out with awesome travelers all day. Listen to great music and socialize. What more could you want?

In my mind, here’s what’s included in the perfect hostel:

  • Comfy common area with a couple couches
  • A table or two with chairs
  • A decent location. Sure, a great location would be awesome – but not entirely necessary
  • Chill music
  • Character – surfboards, cool artwork, a guitar, etc
  • Bar
  • Awesome staff – this is probably the most important item on the list
  • Local directions, events, and info
  • Common kitchen with a refrigerator to leave leftovers
  • WIFI throughout
  • Organized events (pub crawls, walking tours, dinners) at least every 3 days
  • Great happy hour specials
  • Snacks/food available until at least 2 am
  • Comfortable mattresses with warm comforter (for a cold weather area)
  • Metal storage lockers that hold a regular sized backpack (not a big one), latch, and can accommodate a small lock.

What would your perfect hostel include?