Startup Brainstorming Power Hour

Something I’m glad I did: Sitting down with a large pad of paper, thinking about all the things that ought to exist, and writing them out as ideas for startups.

Time: 26 minutes for brainstorming (an hour is a long time) plus 90 minutes of research and blog-writing.

At the end of this, I had something like two dozen ideas, most of which were terrible. But a few were promising, and overall, it was a pretty good use of time. If there are things about the world you wish were different, you might enjoy doing the same.

The biggest takeaways from the experiment:

  1. Almost everything that you can imagine existing with current technology already exists, though it may not have been implemented very well.
  2. Following from (1): If you wish something existed, Google it. It probably does. (Example: Free wake-up calls from Wakerupper, which may replace my alarm clock.)

Something else that occurred to me:

Many problems in life can be solved if one tries enough new things. The greater challenge seems to be that many people don’t like trying new things. A great meta-invention would be an addictive app that rewards people for trying new things—but how would you convince people who don’t try new things to try it in the first place?


Most of the ideas are listed below. Steal them if you want to.



An alarm clock that starts shouting orders at you after it rings. “Get out of bed! Brush your teeth! Do some push-ups!” You set the orders yourself—you can use a recorded voice, or record your own orders. (I’d get out of bed if I was being yelled at by myself.)

Each item you check off gives you a two-minute respite, and you aren’t safe until everything’s done. But I’m not sure how to stop people from checking things off dishonestly. (This kind of exists, but I think the sonic elements are just as important as the checklist.)


A timer app that opens a certain website/application for you and won’t close it until time is up. So if you need to write something, Word or Evernote opens for the next hour. At the moment, there are lots of good ways to block distractions, but not as many good ways to lock in productive things. (If you need one, I recommend Chrome Whitelist.)


A test you can take each morning to measure your sleep quality from the night before. Zeo sleep monitors used to do this, and this Harvard test exists, but I’m not sure how relevant those measures are to cognition.

Ideally, you’d give yourself a “productivity score” each day as well, and eventually you could see which tests had the best correlation with productivity, but that might take a long time or a randomized controlled trial to do well.


A fast-food franchise centered around eggs, which are cheap, nutritious, low-carb, Paleo, vegetarian, and versatile as heck.

This Southern chain has been successful, but there’s no reason eggs have to be a sit-down experience. Why can’t morning meetings start with a box of hard-boiled eggs instead of doughnuts? Why can’t someone make me an omelette I can eat in my car or on the subway?

Also, vegan egg substitutes are starting to get really good. Also, what if we had a chicken coop out back and people could watch the chickens while they ate? Also, why don’t I just open this restaurant instead of becoming a management consultant? What has any management consultant ever done that beats the simple joy of a plate of scrambled eggs?



Hats with umbrellas on top!

(Already a thing, though I’m not sure why they aren’t more popular.)


Motorized roller skates for pedestrians—like a Segway without the handle.

(Do exist, but are very expensive and on second thought also horribly dangerous.)


Subscriptions for items you’d buy every month anyway. Dammit, Amazon.


Sleeping chamber for just your head—like one of those fancy sleep pods at Google, but portable.

(It’s been done. Though I feel like a higher-tech version with noise cancellation and a wake-up light might add some value.)


Business that schedules wake-up calls for can’t-miss alarm situations.

(Done, done, done. On the plus side, now I know about Wakerupper!)


Portable coat hooks for travelers. (Done in many places, though I’m not sure how well.)

Also, someone beat me to the patent by 96 years.


Youth hostels for the United States, which I didn’t think were a thing for some reason.

They are. They’re also really, really cheap ($22 for one night in the Austin hostel), and I wonder why I haven’t heard about people staying in hostels other than for travel abroad.


Goggles that mimic the effects of colorblindness so people can better empathize with colorblind friends.

(For a much better idea, though, you could try making glasses that almost cure colorblindness. Inventors are awesome.)


Cereal made of potatoes or sweet potatoes, which are more nutritious than many other starches and would allow for interesting flavor combinations.

I almost got this one! But Nestle has the patent as of three months ago. (With extra coverage from a blog about nothing except breakfast cereal. Bloggers are also awesome.)


And finally, melatonin chewing gum. Oh, well.


Bad Ideas

A website where people create things in front of your eyes (art, design, writing, code) so you can see how the process works from start to finish.

On the one hand, those videos are useful! On the other hand, YouTube exists.


Slightly better: A site where you can watch writers/designers make stuff for you and give them live suggestions as they work.

(The graphic designers I know would scalp me for this suggestion, so I put it in “Bad Ideas”.)


Along the same lines: A site where you can sing/hum/whistle to musicians who will write out music to match your song idea.

Would be expensive as all hell, annoying for the musicians, and likely a letdown for the clients—it never sounds as good in the world as in our heads. (Though I’d be curious to see a rock band or a DJ try this as a publicity stunt.)


Last, and least: A bed that somehow locks you into place so you can’t move around.

Which might help you get to sleep, but would also induce nightmares at least as effectively as this guide to giving yourself nightmares that someone wrote for some reason. Is this what kids are using to get high these days?



One thought on “Startup Brainstorming Power Hour

  1. You might like Sleepbot (combines your idea of recording orders and testing your quality of sleep each night).

    I actually like that: the idea of feedback on live activities, I wouldn’t say it is a bad idea by any means.

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