It’s never been easier or cheaper to start a business. But guess what, most new businesses are failing and the numbers are not encouraging. All the great ideas in the world won’t make a business. Some ideas never work.
I stumbled upon this post on Reddit. It was written by Reddit user, tianan. Hope you find it useful. Most of these ideas may have failed time and time again but some entrepreneurs may figure them out soon. In the meantime if your idea falls along these lines, proceed with caution.
I’m no genius when it comes to startups, but I started and exited one successful company and am working on a second. By virtue of just having been around for a while, I have a lot of people asking me what I think of their idea.
In doing so, there are a few that I swear I see again and again; almost every month. I think that’s mostly because they’re the first ideas that come up when you start thinking, “I should start a company.” They’re almost always bad ideas, for reasons I’ll try to detail below. Someone could still win in these spaces, but they would have to be fantastic at execution and somehow differentiate themselves from the dozens of others who have failed.
So these aren’t a list of companies that are guaranteed to fail, but rather a list of companies that I’ve seen dozens of people try at and fail. If your idea falls along these lines, proceed with caution, and make sure that what you’re doing is somehow an order of magnitude better than all of the other similar apps that have tried and failed. If you are being a generic one of these, it’s a recipe for disaster.
I also am very concerned because as a programmer, 95% of the people who “have a great idea but can’t find a tech co-founder” are trying to start with these ideas. If your value is “the idea” and you’re pitching me the same idea as five others before you, you are definitely going to have a rough time finding someone who will work for you for free or equity (especially when their time is so valuable).
That being said, I’ve made a bunch of money in a field that a lot of people tried and failed in, so a lot of you are probably going to be the type that say, “Fuck you, I’m doing this anyway.” More power to you, just make sure you have something unique or different than the dozens of other failures, or you’ll just be repeating history.
So here they are:
I literally see this one twice a month. Why? Because you’re in college and you’re pissed off that you have to pay so much for textbooks.
So why is it a bad idea? Mostly because of competition and the requirement for network effects. Amazon and Chegg offer textbooks for dirt cheap prices (relatively), and the only way you can compete is if you have cheaper prices, and people know that you do and go to you instead of Amazon. (Side note: most companies that compete solely on price are a bad idea, unless you have a strategy that lets you reach a scale very quickly to justify the reduced prices, e.g. WalMart). So how could you get cheaper prices than Amazon? If you had other people selling their textbooks and created a marketplace.
Now you’ve entered the brutal world of two-sided marketplaces. You’re simultaneously trying to get textbook buyers and textbook sellers. If you have a textbook buyer jump on the site and you don’t have a seller with a better price than Amazon or Chegg, you lose that customer pretty much forever. And they won’t be selling unless they know there are people buying. And it’s really hard to get people to use what you create.
The possible exception for this is if you target it ultra-niche (“All the best biology textbooks”) or have a physical location near college campuses. It’s still a bloodbath, and very difficult to turn a consistent profit on. So proceed with caution.
I see a new gift recommendation engine every couple of months, and I always see the same problem with them; the vast majority of people, when they’re looking to buy a gift, don’t think to seek out some app that will look at some factors and recommend a gift.
Also, most of them do a very poor job. If a gift is going to be good, it can’t just be like “Oh yeah, here’s something 18-year-old males like.” People don’t work like that. It’s difficult for you to know that they do a poor job because you don’t know what people really want. That’s a really difficult problem; something that querying the Amazon API with a couple of params probably won’t solve.
“Why isn’t there an app that tells you what’s happening in “location x” tonight?
I’m not sure, but I’ve seen this one try and fail dozens of times. There are apps centered around getting tickets for something that you kind of know is happening, but for some reason it seems like I’ve never seen one of these be successful. I’m not sure why, I’ve just seen a lot of shots and misses. Maybe it’s just not a big enough problem to download an app for – I don’t know, but the only ones I’ve seen work are local news sites that have a very simple calendar.
“It’s an app that tells you what cool stuff you can do in location x.” TripAdvisor et al. have pretty much dominated that market, but this is another one that so far as I can tell people don’t really think to use.
The thing about user acquisition is you want to be something that people use often. If it’s an app that people only use once every six months, your user acquisition cost will be very high, for a very low level of use. Most travel apps fall among this category, unless you’re building a great database with a lot of user data, along the lines of Yelp or TripAdvisor.
Just remember that getting users is really hard, and if you have to work really hard to get them and they only use your app twice a year, you’re in for a bad time.
Social Network for X
There are probably 100 ways that I could define myself, and I don’t think I would join a social network to hang out with others who are similarly categorized for any of them. At least not a Facebook-like social network where I just have a profile and have friends and stuff. Discussion boards/communities, maybe, but even though I love soccer I have no interest in “a social network for soccer players.”
The bigger problem with many of these is how derivative they are. “Facebook is popular, so how can I do something similar?” is almost always a bad way to start a company. Replace Facebook with the company-du-jour — Groupon, Uber, Airbnb and you’ll find that Uber for X is really not like Uber at all.
Networking Made Better
This is another that seems to make sense on the surface, but is extremely difficult to pull off. First, you have to assume that there’s a critical mass of people who want to “network” and that you have them all. (Most people don’t admit this, but meeting new people is a painful process that many don’t enjoy, even if it’s good for them). Then you have to have a reason they’d use your app over LinkedIn or getting intros from friends. And you have to get critical mass. Critical mass is a bitch.
Craigslist but not shitty
I think about this one a lot, because it’s such a good example of both double-sided marketplaces and the need for critical mass. Note that to compete with Craigslist your place has to be better than Craigslist for the end user, which pretty much means more people have to be using it. That’s a difficult gap to span.
And yes, Craigslist’s design is very 1990’s. I don’t care if that’s the best place to sell my couch. So you have a classic chicken and egg problem, and one that’s not hard to solve. There are a few things you can do to try to bootstrap an Internet community, but it’s incredibly difficult. So you’ll need to have something other than a generic CRUD app that doesn’t look terrible to take on Craigslist when it comes to classifieds. I’m not sure what that is, but it probably starts hyper-local, and in the beginning could even be a hand-curated email, as so many of the great communities start out.
Anyway, take that with a grain of salt, but something that should be considered if you’re new to the startup game.
Follow the discussion about the ideas here.