There was a time, many years ago, when the idea of putting DVDs in the mail and departing from the typical, bricks-and-mortar video store model was the laughing stock of the industry. Video stores were king, and avoiding late fees (Netflix’s original value point) seemed like an elaborate, expensive solution for an insignificant, made-up problem.
But we all know how that played out – Blockbuster officially declared bankruptcy in 2010 and has since become the poster child for “snoozing and losing” in a world where startups are king. So before you judge the ideas below too quickly, just remember the cautionary tale of Blockbuster vs. Netflix. Sometimes silly solutions to even the most insignificant, seemingly overblown problems could actually be worth millions.
Not all of the companies below necessarily have a bright future ahead of them, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to take note of the creative thinking of the people behind the inventions below if you want to cash in on a crazy idea one day. These are 5 apparently ridiculous ideas have the potential to be worth millions.
5 Showcasing Your Purchases
A few years ago, a young entrepreneur thought to himself, “I buy a lot of cool things. I wish all of my friends could see it, online, every time I make an awesome purchase.” Not long after, the idea came to fruition under the name “Blippy,” and he cashed in to the tune of about $13 million.
Obviously, this idea is geared towards the richer demographic. It’s a fun way to broadcast to all your friends how much money you’re spending and brag about how glamorous your lifestyle is just by swiping that plastic. Keeping up with – or more likely, trying to defeat – The Joneses had never been easier to measure.
But for those without much disposable income, Blippy sounds like a ridiculous idea. Most people are much more interested in trying to keep their finances a mystery from their friends, than broadcasting how often they put the kids’ clothes on credit or how often they’re able to dine out.
Despite the obviously limited market for the invention, the purchase sharing idea quickly spread to major retail giants like Apple (who launched their own app, “Ping” in 2010) and Blippy itself was valued, at one point, at more than $46 million.
However, both apps have seen major setbacks. In the case of Blippy, it was the unlucky recipient of a major media backlash after users’ credit card numbers started showing up in Google search results, and it's retreated into startup purgatory for the foreseeable future. But not before purchase sharing (surprisingly) proved itself a million-dollar idea. With the right execution, it could become the next big step for social media.
4 Yelp!... For People
In 2008, Yelp turned businesses of all kinds on their heads by providing a new way for consumers to make recommendations for friends or to decide where to take their own business. Today, many consumers don’t make a buying decision without first consulting the “online urban guide” to read previous reviews and ratings. A few short, unimpressed reviews about a restaurant, for example, could make or break a business.
From this multi-million dollar idea sprung a similar, albeit more ridiculous one: What if employees and employers alike could post anonymous reviews of people, so potential new colleagues could see what others had to say. They called it Honestly.com, with the tagline “Yelp, for People.”
The idea actually caught on fairly quickly, most likely a testament to the success of Yelp. Founders received $1.2 million in funding, and the site launched in 2010. However, it also quickly attracted controversy, as critics accused it of being an open invitation for anonymous defamation of former colleagues and coworkers. It even got a taste of its own medicine, cited as 2010’s Worst Startup by many reviewers.
However, the idea of creating a platform for reviewing people is far from dead. The founders of Honestly.com reinvented the company as TalentBin, and it’s now being marketed to Human Resources professionals as a way to research potential recruits and new hires.
3 Living forever
It’s an idea that’s been written about and explored since the beginning of time. From the Greek Gods to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and even in present-day Hollywood, we have an unending fascination with the possibility of staying on this Earth forever. Well, now we can – kind of.
Rather than simply burying your loved ones six feet under or having them cremated and stored in an urn, now you can memorialize those remains in the form of an ocean reef. A company called Eternal Reefs in the Florida Keys offers “eternal living legacies” by converting ashes of deceased human beings into Reef Balls. Each memorial is designed to make it easy for sea life to attach and grow on them, thus you (or your loved ones) would both be able to remain on the Earth for years after death while helping to conserve the environment.
And that’s how – for about $5,000 a pop – you can finally live forever...ish.
2 Remove mayonnaise from jar: Profit.
Picture this: You’re making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and you’ve just about reached the end of the supply. You’ve scraped and scooped but there’s still just enough left sticking to the jar to drive you crazy. After hours of struggling you have no choice but to throw the jar in the trash, feeling like a failure and wasting at least half an ounce of delicious, perfectly edible peanut butter.
OK, (hopefully) your lunch isn’t normally that dramatic. But it is a problem that’s plagued us since the invention of the jar. From condiments to cosmetics, jars seem to tenaciously withhold those crucial last ounces. That’s why a small group at MIT has been working on a chemical that would coat the inside of jars or bottles with a substance to repel even the stickiest substances in the world. That means no more struggling to get the last little bit out of a container, and, more importantly, significantly less waste in the long run.
If the product can be proven safe and nontoxic, it’s definitely got a market. Manufacturers and bottling companies that produce condiments, beauty products, mechanics’ products could all be likely buy in. Now that we know these guys have the recipe for a million dollar idea, we’ll just have to wait and see how much cash they'll be able to squeeze out of it.
1 Be in two places at once
Now we're really getting into science fiction territory. Imagine being able to go to work, interacting with colleagues, getting face time with clients – business as usual, except that at the same time you're actually sitting in a hotel room halfway across the globe.
How would it work? There's more than one startup currently working on this idea using iPad powered robots. The device’s camera would display your face, and the body would allow you to control the robot’s location remotely. Basically, it’s FaceTime with legs.
Early models project using it to walk around and interact in an office while you're at home or traveling, but it’s a much bigger idea than that. It has the potential to do exactly what Netflix did for video – taking everything that’s currently offline (such as working in a traditional office) and putting it online.
Imagine a world where everyone is in two places at once. You could have a robot at work, at your parents’ house, at home and anywhere else you can imagine – all traveling and interacting with other people (or other robots) as you need to. Oops, double-booked a 10AM coffee meeting with a doctor’s appointment? Have your robot hop into a taxi and meet for coffee while you're in the waiting room. You need to make your husband's business dinner but you're keen for a night out with the girls; why not book a distance-operated stand-in? It’s not just a million dollar idea – it could change the face (pun intended) of human interaction as we know it forever.