Biz Idea: What I’m Feeling Right Here, Right Now

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek idea. With all the talk about the dangers of location-based services, I started to wonder: People share their thoughts (foursquare, Google Buzz (GOOG), brightkite), reviews (Yelp), and photos (Flickr) to the world with a stalker-friendly geotag. What else could they share?

How about their mood?

Remember a time when social networks were full of “How are you feeling today” icons and notes? Some people loved those mood icons. Some still do. I think MySpace (NWS) and LiveJournal still have them, in fact.

So how about sharing how you are feeling, exactly when you are feeling it, wherever you are feeling it? Maybe you could even take a picture of your face to reflect that emotion. Think of it as a real-time geotagged emotion.

Friends could follow your mood throughout the day as you travel through Machu Picchu, Tokyo, or a local softball game. Researchers could look into whether or not riding the bus dampens people’s moods. Stalkers could follow you around until you’re feeling low and vulnerable, then approach you and offer some candy.

I’m feeling pretty cheerful right now. Oh how I wish I could geotag this emotion in real-time to the world.

Biz Idea: Fuel Injector Cleaners at Gas Station Pumps

I’m not sure what it is about gas stations that spark business ideas in me.

Maybe it’s the selling opportunity I see at the gas pump. There I am, standing there with my credit card or cash out, waiting for my tank to fill. With that extra free time, it seems an obvious chance to hook me with an impulse buy. You could call this situation a good customer touchpoint, in sales parlance.

And what better impulse buy, besides drinks & snacks, than fuel injector cleaners and other related fuel treatment fluids next to a fuel pump? In tough economic times, consumers tend to invest more in their cars because maintaining one’s current car is cheaper than buying a new one or making costly repairs.

Although there is some debate on the effectiveness of fuel injector cleaners, I’m sure there would be an increase in sales if consumers knew about these products and had a convenient way to purchase them. There are many drivers who are unaware of such products. (There are also fuel additives, though those don’t really work.)

Gumout, STP, and Valvoline would no doubt benefit from such a set-up as well. By placing fuel injector cleaners next to a gas pump, they can increase customers awareness significantly. A poster or banner briefly explaining their benefits may help too.

Gas station owners could also do this themselves. Why wait for the manufacturers? Put some fuel injector cleaners out by your pumps and cha-ching!

Operationally, this new distribution channel may pose some challenges. Aside from changes in delivery destinations, there would need to be an easy mechanism for handling the sale. Putting it inside a gas station’s convenience store wouldn’t be close enough to the customer. Most customers walk in, pay for their gas, and walk out without looking at the fuel injector cleaner aisles. A vending machine by the gas pumps then, perhaps? That would certainly automate the buying process.

Maybe I should just open up a gas station (or preferably, a green vehicle service station) and set up such vending machines myself. So many ideas, so little time.

Photo by:

The Twitterverse

Now for some Friday fun.

Here’s a neat visual of most (maybe all?) the apps that, in some way, aid your usage & experience of Twitter. The Twitterverse, as authors Jesse Thomas & Brian Solis call it.

The Twitterverse

This is just version 0.9. They’re still working on the final version.

It’s a tough job for sure. I tried to visit a bunch of the apps listed in this chart and a few did not seem to exist anymore. And new ones seem to be cropping up every day. Makes me kind of wonder how this chart could look as a living, breathing animation that is constantly updated – and perhaps done in AJAX or Flash.

Now there’s a fun project if you have some time on your hands. You could even extrapolate it into charts for other ecosystems, so to speak. Like Twitter celebrities, or popular blogs, or start-ups within a certain industry, etc.

Great work by Jesse and Brian though! I’m eager to see the final version.

Biz Idea: Social Media Market Research App

Classic OPTE Project Map of the Internet 2005 Want to see a list of links that will boggle your eyes? Last week, I listed a number of online services that could be used to perform market research. After seeing that list, I wondered:

How about a single online app that helps you do all of that? A social media market research app. Here’s what I think such an app could offer.

The Dashboard

It could have a dashboard that provides a snapshot of your market, ideally updated in real-time. There could be search results from the blogosphere, forums, Facebook (Groups and Fan Pages), LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Yahoo! Answers (YHOO), and other social media sites. Perhaps this information could be displayed through different filters:

  • By relevance
  • By publication date as a stream of news
  • By publication date on a timeline
  • By type of source
  • By source
  • By discussion in a threaded format
  • By tag (more on this later)
  • etc.


My previous post listed a number of services that searched social media sites, allowed you to post questions, displayed search trends, and offered a wealth of company information. I’ll discuss those features first.

Keyword-Based Search Results of Social Media Sites

All of this information could be obtained through APIs and RSS feeds, some from the sources directly, some from the search services I listed. There would have to be some research done to see how real-time updates could be handled, however. Push or pull? Do they ping us or do we have to constantly ping them?

Asking Questions and Retrieving Answers

A mechanism to post questions & messages on forums, mailing lists, and answer boards could be really helpful. It should also harvest any subsequent answers & replies. This would be a tricky technical problem to solve though. Automatically posting on forums and mailing lists could be seen as spam.

Displaying Trend Data

The trend data could be presented in a timeline similar to Google Trends (GOOG) and Dipity, with items such as news articles, company events, and social media posts aligned with it. There could also be filtering options to control what is displayed. I don’t believe any of the trend tracking services offers APIs, however, so this may require a custom technical solution.

Displaying Rich Company Information

Every time a company is mentioned, it could link to a detailed company page that fetches financial & stock data from Yahoo! Finance and places it alongside rich information from sites like LinkedIn, Jigsaw, Crunchbase, etc. In the case of the paid service Jigsaw, they won’t have any APIs. But perhaps a partnership could be brokered.

Additional Features

In addition to the four features above, there are other cool things this app could do. A neat feature could be a Google (GOOG) map with real-time updates, a la DailyBooth or HashParty’s reach map. Each time a new piece of content is published, it could appear right away.

Another could be related keywords, similar to those seen on search engine results pages. I wonder if any search engines offer up related keywords in their web services.

This could also be a really useful feature: How about the ability to tag, rank, and annotate any piece of content the app finds? This is how you could maintain order when deluged with content. Filtering options could include tagged items as well, like displaying only the events tagged with “positive news” or “negative news” on the timeline. Ranking a piece of content could be a way to prioritize its visibility and/or subjective relevance to your research. Perhaps items could be flagged so customer service or public relations representatives can respond right away. And it’s always helpful to take notes against important pieces of content.


The technical challenges are tricky. They are not impossible, but it would take a sharp technical team to think through these issues, such as:

  • How do we fetch the appropriate data reliably and quickly?
  • How do we deal with content that requires authentication?
  • How do we post on mailing lists and forums without triggering spam filters?
  • How do we get, display, and/or build trend data?
  • How do we attach metadata to each piece of content we’ve fetched?
  • How do we display the updates in real-time?
  • How do we design an easy-to-use user interface that allows non-technical business owners to use this app?
  • etc.

I’m sure there are a lot of social media consultancies that offer market research services. But as competitors, service firms rarely hold up to self-service packages. In such situations, self service firms tend to focus on the high-end of a market and offer highly specialized & customized services at premium prices. Going for low-end customers puts their profit margins at risk. Meanwhile, self-service packages like this app can afford to focus on the low-end as a cost-effective solution for them, while still maintaining fair profit margins. And who knows, maybe social media consultancies could become customers of this app.

There might even be such an app in existence already, though I haven’t heard of one. If you have, please let me know.

What do you think?

Photo by: curiouslee

Biz Idea: Electric Vehicle Battery Replacement Service

This month’s INC Magazine had an interesting article: “The Connected Car” by Bernard Avishai. The article discussed the potential of an “ecosystem of entrepreneurial businesses” that will arise to service electric vehicles. This new technology is going to need all kinds of new products and services to support it. That’s where the opportunities come in.

One such opportunity Avishai pointed out is battery recycling:

Lab tests show that, even after 10 years, Volt [Gen-1 battery] packs will still be capable of carrying 75 percent of their original charge — not enough for the vehicle, but more than enough for utilities to use as storage for bulk renewable energy. [Line director of the GM Volt Tony] Posawatz is excited: “It is easy to imagine warehouses full of used batteries sucking up wind energy and saving it for times the wind does not blow, or homeowners using the pack as backup,” he says. “For recycling entrepreneurs, this means a whole new way of doing business.”

Here’s how I would envision such a company:

Say you have an electric car whose battery is about to run out. You go to our company’s website or call our toll-free number. Then we send over a technician, perhaps behaving theatrically like the way Geek Squad’s (BBY) technicians do for their house calls. Our trained technician removes your battery, provides you with a new one, and leaves with a smile. Then the battery is resold to homeowners or other entreprises who want electric power. When one of those end users calls, our technicians will deliver the battery to them personally as well, though it could be mailed just as easily to save costs.

The benefit to customers? Convenience. They just contact us and we take care of the rest.

The benefit to homeowners or end users of recycled batteries? It’s cost-effective. They get an inexpensive, yet usable battery, plus the good feeling of knowing they’re helping society recycle.

And for doing all of this, we earn a nice profit. We charge a premium for our convenient service. Our batteries may cost extra, but we also handle the chore of recycling the batteries properly to a secondary market – earning even more revenue there.

Our operational costs would come from the website & toll-free number (and perhaps that number isn’t even necessary), the customer & product tracking software, the training classes for our technicians, the vehicles our technicians use (electric, of course!), and other basic business costs (legal, financial, marketing, etc).

Since our company is geographically-bound, we would have to market locally at first. As we streamlined our operations, we could consider a franchise model or company-owned branches throughout the country. We would aim to be a nationally-known service.

Perhaps a partnership could be struck with green vehicle service stations too, if & when those exist. Our services could be offered at such stations as a value-add service. The station can refuel, recharge, and replace your battery all in one location.

And you, as a franchise owner, get to make money with a green business! Everybody wins, especially (and hopefully) planet Earth.

Photo by: bpende

The Business Benefits of Lateral Thinking

If I hear “think outside the box” one more time, I’m going to beat my head with a box. With that said, you can give yourself tremendous advantages if you employ lateral thinking. A common business buzzword for lateral thinking is thinking outside the… you know the rest.

Lateral thinking is “the solution of problems through an indirect and creative approach.” At it’s most basic level, lateral thinking is like looking at something at a different angle. With the screen up, your laptop proudly displays this web page. If you close your laptop, you can appreciate it’s slim design. Look even closer and you can see the vent, screws, and various ports.

Here’s an example of how it helps with problem solving:

Say you’re building a new house. Someone just asked you to make the living room brighter. What do you do?

A common answer is to add more windows. Or expand the size of the current windows. That’s nice and straight-forward thinking.

However, if you were to employ some lateral thinking, and no doubt some of you already have, you might come up with answers such as:

  • Paint the rooms white.
  • Put in a sky light.
  • Put mirrors in the room.
  • Add lots of recessed lighting in the ceiling.
  • Change the placement of the room so it faces the direction with the most sunlight.
  • Set the room on fire (that’ll sure make it bright, and hot!)

If you sat down and really thought about it, I’m sure you could add more to that list. The primary mental activity is looking at the question in a different way, a different angle. Reframing it, so to speak. Instead of viewing it from a carpenter’s perspective, you could answer it from an electrician’s perspective. Or a firefighter’s perspective. Or a young child’s perspective. All of these could give you distinctly different answers. That’s lateral thinking.

How can this help your business? It can help with brainstorming business ideas, whether they be new features, new products, new services, or enhancements on current offerings. It can help with your marketing campaign, especially in social media and viral marketing, where clever and creative hooks can expand your reach exponentially.

It can help with your operations too. Take a look at your current distribution system. Or product development process. Or accounting system. Look at it from someone else’s perspective. Are there ways to improve those processes? If you tore down all preconceptions and assumptions, are there new alternatives you hadn’t considered before?

So don’t forgot to think outside… I mean, think laterally. Employ lateral thinking. It will expand not only your business, but your mind.

Photo by: Dan Morelle

Biz Idea: Drinks at Gas Station Pumps

You know what a hot day like today needs? A cool, refreshing beverage. But I need to get some gas first.

Ah, here’s a gas station. But aww damn, I have to walk over to the mini mart to get my frosty beverage? I’m a lazy man of convenience. Screw that.

What I want is to be able to get my frosty drink right here at the gas pump. It could be as simple as a vending machine. I might think twice about heading into the store, but while waiting at the pump, I’m primed for a convenient impulse buy.

Speaking of impulse buys, I’m feeling snacky too. Some potato chips would hit the spot. A snack machine at the pump would be paradise next to the soda machine.

Why take the extra steps when I don’t have to, right? Extra steps in real life are like extra clicks in digital life.

Convenience for impulse buyers isn’t the only reason to consider drinks – and snacks – at the gas pumps. Safety is also a concern too.

If it’s a sketchy neighborhood and you’re driving alone at night, perhaps you’d rather stay by your car than to walk into a mini mart. Vending machines by the gas pumps wouldn’t just be a convenience, they would also be a safety measure too.

There’s also the potential extra revenue to be had. In this economy, what kind of business owner wouldn’t want that?

So be nice to your customers and your wallet. Consider offering drink and snack vending machines by your gas station pumps. On a hot day like this, I’d sure buy something!

Photo by: ^riza^

Biz Idea: Reviews of Business-to-Business Services

No business owner wants to do this, but every single one has to – hunt around for a good business card printer.

There are tons available, but they vary wildly in quality. Especially online.

If you are as picky as me, this can be frustrating. I have gone through three vendors so far and was unimpressed by each. The card stock was poor, the colors were washed out, the ink scraped off easily. Bleh. I’d love to get a large number of reviews for my fourth attempt, so I can go with a vendor with a good reputation.

Hence the idea of a ratings and reviews site of business to business services. It’s like a Yelp for business owners, as opposed to end consumers.

Such a site could list services that provide logos, signage design, insurance, software programming, car rentals, employee benefits, legal services, accounting, etc. How many times have you sought such services and had no idea how to find hem? For me, lots.

Ratings and review sites tend to use advertising as their primary revenue streams, through either sponsored listings or advertising spots. I’m generally not crazy about such business models, but I’m not sure what other methods will work. Affiliate programs, perhaps. But that could pose a logistical and data quality nightmare. Such as: what if the service didn’t have an affiliate program? What if they all use different ones? Would services offer a higher affiliate rate in return for a better ranking, and how would that conflict with a sponsored listing?

Other challenges include initially populating the database with seed data, enticing business owners to write reviews, and most importantly, how do we cross the threshold of a self-sustaining community from a struggling one without enough reviews? Those are monumental problems that all ratings & reviews sites encounter. Many never cross the threshold because they cannot solve those challenges.

There are also competitive sources of similar information, most notably LinkedIn, though it would require effort to get such information. (Side idea: perhaps this could work as a feature on LinkedIn?)

Personally, I’d love a service like this, especially if it had good, reliable information. If I am in a rush, have a ton of tasks on my plate, and know of a good source of B2B ratings & reviews, I would gladly use such a site in a heartbeat.

What do you think? Does something like this exist already?

Photo by: FranciscoDiez