Monday, March 23, 2009

Stupid yet tempting business ideas

About 5 years ago I started the habit of recording every idea for a new business venture that I came across and that I liked. It takes only a single good one to become a millionaire, right? That hasn't happened for me yet, but I hope that with good execution I may turn some of them into successes. For obvious reasons I won't tell which ones are still on the list that I consider excellent.

Instead today I wanted to mention a few that are on my list because I like them, even though they are not very practical - could even be considered stupid.

First my definition of what constitutes an excellent idea, so that we can compare the stupid ones:
  • The idea should target on-line consumers and small businesses, to enable efficient scalable marketing. Ideas that require a lot of off-line sales effort are less suited to my impatient nature and my growing aversion to large upfront investments.
  • A first prototype should be easy to build (within 2 months), again to limit required upfront investment.
  • It should be clearly feasible to earn money from the idea, e.g. through subscriptions, micro payments or advertising.
  • It should be fun and educational to work on.
Obviously ideas like Twitter and Skype are good recent examples that more or less match my criteria. For me, and probably also for a lot of other experienced IT people, they are very much in the category of 'why didn't I think of that first, I could have hacked that together in a few weeks'.

Here are, without further ado, a few of my stupid ideas:
  • Free DNS hosting (e.g. EditDNS). It's tempting because it seems complicated to make at first sight, but in actual fact it would be pretty easy, and fun to do. DNS is a very critical piece of Internet infrastructure, so how cool would it be to have a popular service in this area? Also, without wanting to insult existing providers like EditDNS, it looks like the competition could use some challenging. Indeed, current providers look like they were thrown together in a few weeks. That's likely because it's also a stupid idea. Stupid because it's hard to make money off it. You compete with non-free DNS hosting that's already very cheap (most ISPs offer DNS hosting as a package with domain registration for about 10 USD per year). Additionally advertisement income is minimal because system administrators set it up only once through your site, and then you have to provide the service for years without a single chance to show an ad.
  • A discussion forum focused on the strange and remarkable one-liners of a popular politician. A fine example would be Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician. It would be relatively easy to open a new discussion thread on the forum ever day with one of his non-conformist statements. It would be satisfying to see large amounts of people try to be the first one to post in support of - or in 100% opposition of - that daily subject. It would also be pointless because I predict that advertisement income would be minimal - no advertiser in his right mind wants to be associated with heated political debate, in particular related to issues such as immigration policies.
Let me know in the comments whether you think any of these two could be profitable. Or perhaps you have some less-than-optimal business ideas of your own?

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