Biz Idea: Mobile Dog Washing

Mocha the Rescue Pup No one likes to wash their dog. But dog owners all have to after a visit to the dog beach.

After such a day myself, I wondered – wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to wash, or at least hose down my dog? He’s covered in sand and salt water now. You would think there are washing stations at dog beaches, but not many have them, surprisingly. I’ve only seen one with a washing station – in Coronado Island Dog Beach. Haven’t seen any elsewhere.

The idea here would be a really quick & lightweight service. Just some water, dog shampoo, gloves, and towels. Local teens could be hired & trained for this, which some may love for the chance to play with some cute puppies. You could plant yourself by a dog beach and wait for the business to walk by. And you could expand to other sites too, like dog parks.

There are some major challenges though. How would you get the water? It’s not feasible to carry a tank of water around. You’d have to find a local source. This business is also seasonal and weather-based; bad weather would mean bad business.

But as a small summer offering, perhaps a little Mom & Pop outfit could do. I for one would sure pay for such a service.

Business Ideas from Nature

Need a cool product, technology, or business idea? Turn to nature! After all, it’s given us major advances in aviation, maritime technology, architecture, etc.

Two talks from TED also offer some examples of how nature can offer great ideas:

The next time you watch TV, flip to the Discovery Channel. Maybe you’ll find your next big idea there.

Peeking Through Data.gov

Data.govNeat, Data.gov launched today! As soon as I read about it, I clicked over to check it out. A few things caught my eye:

  • Some Data is Better Than No Data

    It’s been noted that only non-controversial data is currently available, though I’m of the camp that some data is better than no data. I have a feeling the technical team behind this site has big dreams for it, but are being held back by red tape, security issues, politics, and technical limitations. Getting this far, I’m sure, was a monumental task.

  • No Live Mash-Ups Just Yet

    The site isn’t offering live data right now. I can’t tell if they plan to either, though I imagine they would like to. The data currently comes in XML, CSV/Text, KML/KMZ, and ESRI formats, some of which are in ZIP archives. So no live mash-ups with this data just yet.

  • Data Miner’s Wet Dream

    People who love data, mining data, crunching data, and analyzing data must love all the great info coming out of (and soonto come out of) Data.gov. It would be cool to see some nice data visualizations or data visualization tools that make use of this data.

  • Green Information

    If you’re running a green information & services site, perhaps the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) and Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET) datasets could offer some nice additional data for your users.

  • Employee Benefits Information

    Perhaps a job-related site could use the data from the Benefits Data from the Benefits and Earnings Public Use File for some interesting historical statistics.

  • Weather Information

    Or how about a site with some data analysis of previous storm patterns? The National Weather Service (NWS) has lots of databases available with this information.

  • Patent Information

    Interesting, there’s a Patent Grant Bibliographic Data dataset. It’s got nothing on Google Patents though.

  • Tools

    Under the Tools section, there are pointers to more sources. Unfortunately, these sources don’t offer an easy way to get their data either. Similar to the rest of Data.gov, they offer their data in downloadable ZIP archives instead of live feeds or APIs.

  • Census Data

    If census data was easy to parse, filter, dissect, and analyze, that would be awesome. Unfortunately, the American FactFinder and DataFerret datasets don’t offer that. Too bad. Someone could create a nice marketing application with this information, I’ll bet.

  • Government Contracts

    How about a site that crawls through the USA Spending Contracts and Purchases dataset (for historical info) and combines it with the functionality of FedBizOpps.gov and the info at Business.gov? You could concievably create a one-stop shop for companies interested in contracting with the government.

  • Government Grants

    Or how about doing all that with government grants? You’ve got the USA Spending Grants and Loans dataset for historical info and Grants.gov for the functionality. Applying for grants is a tough business. There are many auxiliary services needed too, such as grant writers, organizational advice, etc. If you combine those services with historical data, perhaps you’ll have a nice full-service solution here.

  • Airline Information

    Although there are commercial services already offering this info, having data about Airline On-Time Performance and Causes of Flight Delays would be an interesting add-on for sites with travel and airline reviews.

I’m sure there are a lot more ideas that can come from these datasets. And to be fair, another source of government data already exists: USGovXML.com. You’ll find much more here than on Data.gov, and in developer-friendly formats in some cases.

Still, I think Data.gov is off to a great start. I for one am cheering them on. Go Data.gov go!

4 Great Businesses Coming from Recessions

McDonald's Some of the world’s greatest companies were born during economic recessions. Bet you didn’t know that.

An article from Entrepreneur Magazine highlights some of the most innovative ideas to arise from economic slumps. From that list, I noticed four great companies:

The Great Depression (1930 – 1939)
1939 – Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Eisenhower Recession (1954 – 1961)
1955 – McDonald’s (MCD)

Vietnam, Stagflation, Oil Crisis (1973 – 1975)
1975 – Microsoft (MSFT)

1980’s Recession (1981 – 1983)
1981 – MTV (VIA)

The article also cites some pretty important ideas, such as scotch tape (1930), fluorescent light bulbs (1938), disposable diapers (1961), Post-It Notes (1974), Prozac (1987), the World Wide Web (1991), and the iPod (2001), all of which were born during recessions.

So you see, this isn’t a time for gloom and doom. It is a time to create and elate! After all, recession is the mother of invention.

Biz Ideas from Twitter

Twitter Business ideas are easy. It’s execution that’s tough.

I recently made that tweet because, well, I believe it to be true. There are many ways to brainstorm and come up with great business ideas. Actually going out and doing it is significantly tougher than that.

Since I began tweeting in earnest, I’ve come up with a few business ideas too. Not all are great. Some are downright stupid, I’ll admit. But hey, that’s the fun of brainstorming ideas. You just let your mind wander, stupid or not. Only after you’ve generated a ton of ideas do you decide which ones are worth it and which ones aren’t.

Here is where mine has wandered so far:

  • Build-a-Bear-like store, except u can mix-n-match animal parts. A bear w/ wings, duck bill & elephant trunk, for example. 9:19 AM Mar 17th

  • Designer oxygen tanks for people in smoggy cities like LA, NYC, Beijing, etc. 3:23 PM Mar 19th

  • Med-to-large boxes should have handles. (Not really a biz idea, more like a packaging idea…) 6:39 PM Mar 19th

  • Barbers & hairdressers that make house calls. Wonder if that’s been done already… 3:15 PM Mar 21st

  • Online niche directory of businesses for at-home web workers & entrepreneurs, like myfax.com, mailboxes etc (online & offline). 4:20 PM Mar 21st

  • Make Gummy Vites multi-vitamins for adults – luv ’em! 10:04 PM Mar 22nd

  • How about a niche blog network of men’s topics, a la GQ + Maxim + Car & Driver http://tinyurl.com/dxtpsn (an older idea of mine) 1:48 PM Mar 25th

  • A CPM ad network for games like WoW, GTA, Wii Fit, etc, where u can upload ur ad or logo & have them appear in the games. 8:28 PM Mar 25th

  • The Office + American Idol = mockumentary TV show about the drama behind the contestants. Or +Top Chef +Survivor +Apprentice, etc. 11:52 AM Mar 27th

Want to see more business ideas? Want to discuss business ideas? Follow me on Twitter at @mikeleeorg! (That was kind of a shameless plug, wasn’t that?)

Biz Idea: Video Game Shops with Tournaments

This idea almost seems too obvious. It has already been done here and there, but I wonder why it isn’t done more regularly.

If you are thinking about opening up a video game store – either as a franchisee or independent shop – why not harness the enthusiasm of the community to help you sell more games? This idea hit me while reading about the Play N Trade video game franchise in Entrepreneur Magazine.

Franchises are one way for operationally-minded entrepreneurs to start a business without having to come up with a business model themselves. It suits such business owners extremely well. I’ve played with the idea myself, though you need a fair bit of capital for some franchises. Plus, I like coming up with business models myself.

This idea is somewhat related to the Board Game Cafe idea in that it uses tournaments to create a loyal customer base. The presentation would differ, however.

In this video game store, tournaments would be held in a marked-off section of the store. Other shoppers would be able to see the gamers in action easily – both giving the gamers an audience (great for those with big egos) and customers a chance to see how much fun a particular game is (enthusiastic gamers can be great game promoters). Skill levels would be needed so beginners aren’t demoralized by experts, of course.

Registration could be free to encourage participants. Perhaps it could even include a discount on the game itself too. Small prizes could be offered as an incentive, such as a plaque on the wall or coupons. If there is a significant monetary prize, a registration fee could be imposed. Partnerships and sponsorships with game manufacturers could also be made, since this helps them as much as it helps the shop.

The goal is to draw crowds into the store with the hope that onlookers would be motivated to make some purchases. At the very least, those that register will definitely purchase the game so they can practice it at home.

A challenge would be convincing parents to allow their kids to participate in such seemingly time-wasting, homework-deterring, mind-numbing tournaments though. How do you change their minds? Hmmm…

  • If a game manufacturer will agree to sponsor the event, maybe a large monetary prize would change their minds. (“Look honey, little Bobby made $10,000 for us today!”)
  • Tournaments could be offered to parents as well, perhaps on gaming systems such as the Nintendo Wii (NTDOY.PK). (“Honey, I totally kicked butt on the Wii Fit today!”)
  • These tournaments could take place during the summer and offer meals and a safe place for kids to hang out all day.
  • The shop could participate in local community service activities to give back to their community and create goodwill.

Admittedly, this idea works better as a marketing tactic for an existing video game shop than a whole new one. But as a marketing tactic, if it can draw in more customers, perhaps it is worth trying. What do you think?

Photo by: nickstone333

Biz Idea: Tupperware Parties for Dog Products

What a Cute Dog This idea makes me totally want a dog. Well, I plan on getting a dog already. With this idea, I want one even more now.

How about a business that helps dog product vendors set up Tupperware party-esque gatherings?

The Tupperware party concept was the brainchild of Brownie Wise, a customer who held Tupperware parties on her own just because she loved the product so much. She was later hired by Tupperware after they discovered she was outselling their local retail distributors.

This wise marketing tactic (pun intended), known as a party plan, hinges on intimate social interactions and a relaxed atmosphere to inform participants of a product’s value. The event is hosted by a commissioned salesperson. Participants are given a nominal token gift to attend, though many come along just for the fun of it. Through such an environment, most attendees end up making a purchase, either because they have been won over by the product’s value, or because of the subtle social pressure to do what everyone else is doing.

With that in mind, I thought: what other kinds of products could be sold in such an environment? There already are party plans for kitchen utensils, home decor items, jewelry, skincare, cosmetics, lingerie, and sex toys. What else would make sense?

Ah, dog products!

Dog owners love to socialize. You can see this at dog parks. Dog owners love to have their dogs socialize with other dogs. And dog owners are willing to spend money buying fun and useful new products for their beloved canines. Selling dog products via a party plan seems like an obvious idea, doesn’t it?

Although this idea could be extended to other pets, such as cats, birds, hamsters, fish, ferrets, etc, the camaraderie just isn’t the same. Owners of such pets don’t regularly get together, though it is certainly a possibility. Dogs and dog products, in my opinion, have the most potential for a party plan.

Dog product parties could be held at dog parks or the sales representative’s house. Various dog treats could be laid out like appetizers. Water bowls too. Pooper scoopers would need to be easily accessible, and perhaps some paper towels too. Colorful catalogs of the dog products could be offered along with free treats in “doggie bags.”

For the dog owners, their dogs would have a chance to taste-test various products before buying them. That alone is worth the trek to a dog product party. How many times have you purchased a seemingly tasty dog treat, only to find Fido spitting it out in disgust?

As a business that helps dog product vendors set up such parties, it would need a detailed How-To guide and package of reference materials to get a client set up. The business would recruit sales representatives in various target markets, help prepare the necessary materials (catalog, order forms, invitations, doggie bags, pooper scoopers, etc), track the number of participants & sales to offer success metrics, offer tips and best practices, etc.

By outsourcing these marketing efforts, a small dog products vendor wouldn’t need to hire a full marketing & sales staff. It could be a cost-effective way to earn potentially massive sales, especially for boutique vendors like Three Dog Bakery or Polkadog Bakery. (If you guys want to do this, drop me a line!)

Large pet shop retailers like PetSmart and Petco, however, probably already have the marketing muscle to pull this off alone. But the market could support quite a few dog product parties right now, especially since they are tied to geographic social networks.

If this party planning business took off, it could begin offering such services to other products too. I’m sure you can think of a bunch right now. Off the top of my head: environmental products, spices, snacks, wine, toys, wedding favors, scrapbooking materials, school supplies… What do you think?

It’s the End of Instant Messaging as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane,
Lenny Bruce is not afraid, eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn.
– M. Stipe

Yea, okay, so that title is a little dramatic. Blame Douglas MacMillan on it.

He recently penned an article for BusinessWeek (MHP) entitled, “The End of Instant Messaging (As We Know It)” that discussed the rise of in-browser instant messaging clients like those used on Facebook and Gmail (GOOG).

These IM clients differ from traditional IM clients in that they are, well, in the web browser. Embedded in a website, so to speak. As you type on your friends’ Walls and Facebook Stalk your secret crushes, you can get a little message in the bottom-right corner of the page. It only exists while you’re on the Facebook website though. If you go check your stock quotes on another site, that little message in the bottom-right corner will disappear.

Also, you don’t have to download anything. Or sign up with another account. It’s just there for you automatically, as long as you have a Facebook account.

With traditional IM clients like AOL (TWX) Instant Messenger and Yahoo! (YHOO) Messenger, you have to download some software and create an account. It’s a little more tedious, but lots of people have done it already. Plus, it doesn’t go away as you check out different websites.

The End of Instant Messaging as We Know It?

So what’s the big deal? MacMillan pointed out that traditional IM clients have been seeing a decline in usage. “Instead of spending time with these old-fashioned chat windows,” he writes, “Web users are flocking to sites like Facebook and Google’s Gmail, where instant messaging tools are more closely embedded in what they are doing.”

That’s a good point. Sites like Facebook already have a person’s attention. Instead of asking my friend, who’s using AIM to download YM so I can chat with him, why not just send him an instant message via Facebook (assuming he’s got a Facebook account, of course)?

MacMillan doesn’t supply any data to back up the claim that the decline of traditional IM usage is due to in-browser IM usage, but anecdotally, I have seen an increase in friends using in-browser IMs. The first time I received a Facebook IM, I thought it was some kind of ad. Nowadays, I receive lots of Facebook IMs, some from friends already on my traditional IM lists, others from friends not on my lists.

Those latter messages I’ve grown to appreciate. Since I don’t have them on my traditional IM lists, Facebook has given me an easy way to chat with them. In addition to connecting me with long-lost friends whom I can now email, I can also chat with them in real-time without needing their YM or AIM username.

(Sure, I could call them up too. And I have in a few cases. But sometimes the spontaneity of a random IM chat is kinda nice too.)

And I Don’t Feel Fine

Which brings me to an issue that concerns me greatly. I am a power user of IMs. I use IMs frequently for work purposes. Since I work with people across different geographies, IM has become an important business tool for immediate conversations. Phone is just as good, but when you need to share a URL, IM is much better.

Also, IMs offer a log of chat history. I faithfully archive all of my conversations in case I need to refer to information shared over past IMs. In order to do this, I need a client that has archive ability.

Yahoo! Messenger does. And since it allows MSN (MSFT) Messenger contacts to be added, I get to archive conversations with users of both clients. Gtalk does too. And since it allows AIM contacts to be added, I get to archive conversations from both of them.

Unfortunately, Facebook does not archive conversations. I haven’t had any business-related conversations on Facebook yet, so that hasn’t been a problem. But what if I do? What if a client is available on Facebook and decides to chat me over there. How can I keep a record of that conversation without having to copy & paste it? And what about other websites? If they incorporate in-browser IM, will they have archives?

That’s just one problem. Another is having chat archives all over the place. Already, I have one with YM and another with Gtalk. 37signals has a great collaboration tool for small businesses called Campfire which contains its own archives as well. While it’s nice that they all keep a record of my conversations, searching through all of these sources is a major pain in the patootey.

Offer Me Solutions, Offer Me Alternatives and I Decline

What I need is an IM archive aggregator of some sort. Not more in-browser or out-of-browser IM archives. But a way to search through all of one’s IM archives.

Attached to this suggestion is the natural idea of an IM aggregator – a central IM client that allows you to sign in to multiple services in one place. That, fortunately, has been addressed. On the traditional IM client side, there’s Pidgin, Jabber, Trillian, and tons more.

On the in-browser side, there’s Meebo, Soashable, ILoveIM.com, and tons more. (Not to be left behind, traditional IM clients have also created in-browser versions: AIM Express, Yahoo! Web Messenger, and MSN Web Messenger. Gtalk was released as a downloadable client and in-browser app at the same time.).

That’s a whole lotta choices. A whole lotta. Looking at them all is kind of like going through the cereal aisle of the supermarket, except that these require login accounts and passwords and no milk or bowls or… ah, nevermind, bad analogy.

That’s a whole lotta choices. All of them solve the problem of having multiple IM accounts. But now that Facebook and other companies are releasing their own IM systems, we’re going to run into the problem of having multiple IM accounts again. Great. Thanks Facebook.

That’s Great, It Starts with an Earthquake

Having a proliferation of choices isn’t uncommon though, especially not for new markets. Over time, leaders will emerge. Hopefully, global standards too. The current leader, Meebo, is already doing something that I hope will continue:

They just got Flixster to offer Meebo’s in-browser IM client as a feature. This means Meebo is moving into the IM provider business. Since they already offer an archive, any in-browser IMs I get from Flixster will appear in my Meebo account too. Neat!

Now if Facebook integrated Meebo, how cool would that be? Or – even better – if Facebook integrated Gtalk, then I’d be able to combine my Facebook chats with my existing Gtalk & AIM archives. Oh what a happy day that would be.

And not just for me, but perhaps for Facebook and others as well. They’d be able to outsource all of their IM development & maintenance to a IM provider. Sort of like a Disqus for IM, perhaps? (Not sure if that analogy works either, but you know what I mean.)

I’m guessing the folks at Meebo are already thinking about this. I wonder if the Gtalk people are too. If not, I hope so. An IM aggregator that works both in-browser and as a downloadable client, and can be leveraged on third-party websites, and has a common, searchable archive would be totally awesome. And I’d feel fine…