It takes getting out and trying to develop ideas and projects for the “real world” to realize that there are lots and lots of people who do that for a living, AND they are damn good at it. Last year, the three Natick House residents who were taking an LOA had the good fortune to be a group who shared a love for coffee, not to mention good ideas for the coffee market. This year on the other hand, we decided to take our leave regardless of what our “big business idea” would turn out to be. It turns out getting six people to feel really excited about a single year-long business idea is harder than we anticipated, and amazing ideas don’t come along that often. In fact, many “good ideas” are actually not, and many actually good ideas don’t get picked up by the market to become successful ideas in the end.
It turns out that some of our best ideas from our brainstorming/ideation sessions are actually semi-successful TechCrunch 50 web startups. So while some of our ideas are very similar to recent newcomers to the Web 2.0 business scene, we’re at least a year behind the times. Furthermore, even if we had been the first to release a startup of the same flavor and even caliber (which probably would have taken us all year at least,) we still had a tiny chance that we would even be given a second glance by someone like Techcrunch. These companies likely (almost definitely actually) have more expertise than we do. It probably took these other companies a long time to get their business up and running, and technically we could have had a better overall product than what they’ve released, but that is 100% hypothetical + 40% wishful thinking. At first glance the web sounds like an amazingly open market for your ideas, but the ironic thing is that this is true for everyone, and there are many, many people who are doing the same thing!
I guess this is just something we should get used to? At Olin, we like to think that at least some of our ideas are original and unique. Yes, we have had truly unique POE projects, robotics and other research, but with the notable exceptions of Big Belly, Bluestem, and Caffeworks, nothing in my time at Olin has been good enough to go past the early startup stage. In the “real world,” developing for the masses through the web, with iphone apps, small specialty products, and everything in between really is a struggle to the top, even for the best of ideas. Think your idea is original? Chances are unless you are proposing we go back to taking notes on paper instead of computers, you have been beat to the punch by someone else. Oh wait! Someone did propose going back to taking notes on paper…and their product is now on sale at Target…
Here are some of the other cool ideas we thought we’d be the first to implement, but were wrong:
A new iPhone application came out called TouchType (iTunes link) which fixes the problem of having a keyboard that is too small to type with two fingers. A couple weeks ago we decided that taking notes on an iTouch/iPhone was a hassle if you had to rely on one finger becoming adept at typing, so we figured a simple note-taking/task application which could rotate the keyboard and have maybe a few more simple features would be cool to make, useful, and would be a nice easy intro into software development in general. Well, turns out other people have made this already… Takes a bit of steam off an idea when you realize you aren’t the only one who’s dreamed it up.
We thought the idea of voting advertisements up and down in a Digg-like fashion would be an incredibly easy way to not only bring advertising closer to the “watch random Youtube videos” mindset, but would also create content and reviews for company advertisements. It turns out that a website currently in private beta called BrandJury does just that. Interestingly enough, Hulu started doing this as well, allowing you to up/down vote an ad while you wait for your movie to resume. Hulu’s advertisement scheme isn’t necessarily user-driven or anything, but the basic idea is there. The funny thing is that BrandJury has probably been in the works for a year at least. I wonder how many people have said what I’m saying. “Darn, we had that idea too…” In the end, almost doesn’t really cut it in the startup world…