We’ve been told that “ideas are cheap, execution is everything.” While I agree with this, I believe there are enough resources teaching execution but not enough teaching ideas generation for side-projects, products and lifestyle businesses.
We see a lot of tools for execution, but not so many for idea generation.
In the last two years I launched several products. From some I make a living, others were a complete failure. I now have a list of things I would love to create, and not enough time to build them all.
A couple of years prior this I was experiencing the opposite: a complete lack of ideas. I became curious about this shift in my thinking. These days, I’m working on reverse-engineering the thought process that led me to my ideas, and using this to build frameworks that will help others do the same.
While I’m still working on the frameworks, I have decided to publicly share the product ideas on my list. Feel free to implement them, use them as an inspiration for your own projects, or reach out to discuss them with me.
Many of the product ideas in this list are aimed to help the environment.
Looking for problems, not products
Tomer Sharon for his book “Validating Product Ideas” interviewed 200 product managers and founders, and discovered that while 198 of them had a list of ideas, only two had a list of problems. The latter is a better approach, since problems potentially have multiple solutions (and therefore multiple products).
With this in mind, I state the problem first in the list below, and then the suggested solution.
- The problems listed below have different levels of necessity and need more research to be fully validated.
- All of these products can be bootstrapped. Some could become a business, others are a better fit for a side-project that could grow into a business later.
- My main objective for all of my projects is to create value. Some of these projects might not make millions, but will bring the satisfaction of helping others, plus other positive outcomes — valuable connections and partnerships, a pathway to future financially successful products, and experience in building, launching and marketing products.
eCommerce: Calculate a product’s overall cost through its life span
Problem: The price tag is often the deciding factor when choosing a product. However, this price doesn’t fully represent the product’s cost over its entire life span, since it doesn’t take into account durability, warranty conditions, repair costs, and resource consumption.
Solution: Provide consumers with expanded price information, including the cost of use (electricity/water/other), the cost of repairs, and clear warranty terms and disposal options. This will help consumers make better long-term purchase decisions and promote more sustainable consumption.
For example, Nebia Spa Shower claims to use 70% less water, and so covers its cost after one year thanks to savings on water bills. Such information could be crucial for consumers when choosing one product over another.
Amazon is positioned perfectly to build such a feature. I wrote about how they could do that and why they should, although there is scope for other companies to work on these challenges, too.
Track and analyze the noise levels at the workspace
Solution: Build an app to measure, track and analyze noise levels.
This could be a Mac app that sits in the status bar of the OS and shows when the noise level/type is suboptimal so the user can move to another space. Daily, weekly or location-based reports could be generated with suggestions on how to improve user environments (e.g. provide insights such as “the co-working space has the best noise level in the morning, and home is best for afternoons” or even create a list of co-working spaces and coffee shops with optimal noise levels).
The insights for noise levels/types will be based on research that has to be collected and analyzed. This solution assumes that built-in computer microphones are technologically advanced enough to collect the necessary data points. Ideally, the sound should be sampled in intervals, not recorded. The analysis should be made locally on the user’s machine, so that none of the user’s data would go to the cloud, thus protecting user’s privacy.
Analyze the ethical credentials of banks and pension funds
Problem: One of the biggest opportunities in promoting sustainability is investing in sustainable projects. However, even people who are interested in promoting sustainability might unknowingly support banks, investments and pension funds that direct money into fossil fuel projects.
Solution: Monitor and report on where banks and financial institutions invest customer funds, make the data accessible, and score them on a sustainability/ethics scale.
Fossil Free Funds carry out this analysis on ETFs and funds. There is a further opportunity to conduct this research at a local level, or conduct this research on a wider range of financial institutions like banks.
European bank Triodos base their business purely on this agenda, and invest in local projects, green energy projects and so on. Their success validates the demand for and growing awareness of sustainable financial services. This demand is likely to increase — one indicator of this is that Germany already views climate as the biggest EU challenge.
Such a project could profit from affiliate links to financial services or promote paid personal financial consultations.
Help creatives produce workshops
Problem: It can be challenging to make a living from creative industries (e.g. pottery, hand-made soap production, painting, knitting, standup comedy etc), especially when starting out.
Solution: Help craft professionals produce their own workshops, and promote these workshops on Airbnb Experiences, social media and local channels.
This $85 dyeing experience with six spots per workshop is likely to be more profitable for hosts than selling the products of their craft. As such, a two-hour workshop could be a lucrative side hustle and an indirect marketing tool.
I believe there is an opportunity to help creatives build workshops around their craft. It could be built as an in-house product for an existing agency, with the agency earning a percentage of all workshops bookings for the first year. The agency would help with the complete workshop setup process — creating a curriculum, giving tips for teaching and public speaking, helping to recruit participants for the first pilot class, taking professional photos for marketing materials etc.
Self-published book distribution to libraries
Problem: Self-published authors have to take care of multiple aspects of their book publishing — marketing, sales, payments, distribution, graphic design etc. One of the most challenging elements is distribution.
Solution: Many libraries accept book purchase requests. Our service could help readers who visit the book’s website to request it from their local library. This could be especially useful for students who might not otherwise be able to afford the book.
Many authors write their non-fiction books to promote their business or build their personal brand, not for profit, so they are more focused on promoting their book even if it won’t make money for them. Our product could help authors “outsource” the distribution to their own readers, saving time and increasing their chances of getting into libraries (which are more likely to purchase a book when a request is submitted by readers and not authors).
The self-publishing market is growing. In fact, more than one million books were self-published in 2017. In 2014, self-published books made 31% of all ebook sales on amazon.com and earned nearly 40% of all ebook royalties on the Kindle store.
Create language complexity ratings for books, movies, podcasts, etc.
Problem: It’s hard for non-native speakers to know if their language level will be good enough to understand a book or movie prior to purchase.
Solution: Use existing tools that analyze language complexity, such as the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests, to score books, movies, podcasts, YouTube channels, etc. Build a stand-alone platform and/or a browser add-on showing the scoring on Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, etc. The end goal could be to create a unique score standard. Licensing for such a rating could be sold in the future, similar to IMDB.
Such a product could be also positioned for language learners — research shows that there is a ‘sweet spot’ of being able to understand a written text (between 95–98%). That would be a perfect spot for language learners to both understand the content and learn new vocabulary.
Print recipes on parchment paper
Opportunity: Create an engaging cooking activity teaching new recipes and supporting specific diets.
Solution: Create a set of 5–10 recipes with instructions and ingredients placements printed directly on cooking parchment paper.
In 2017 IKEA ran a marketing campaign in Canada doing exactly that. This campaign went viral and “all 12,500 parchment paper recipes available in 18 locations were snatched up within hours”. IKEA only used it as a promotional item for this specific marketing campaign, and the product was built by an external agency. It was never distributed in their stores.
No one has produced anything similar yet (besides me, but targeted towards kids and solving a different problem), and IKEA doesn’t hold a patent for it. Such recipes could be used to promote a vegan lifestyle or specific diets.
Develop iPhone Posture Tracking
Problem: Looking down at your phone places enormous strain on the spine and can result in head, neck and arm pain, and numbness.
Solution: Create a smartphone app to measure and track its user’s posture, similar to Screen Time or Health.app. The measurements could be done via the device’s built-in inclinometers. I wrote more about a possible solution here.
Display previously filmed talks at conferences websites
Problem: Conferences talks don’t always justify the ticket price, time investment and environmental impact of travel to distant locations.
Solution: Many of the talks presented at conferences are available on YouTube or Vimeo, since the presenters usually make the same presentation at multiple conferences. A browser add-on could find these talks, or other talks from this presenter, and display them on the conference’s website.
Produce sustainable rain covers for bikes
Problem: There are no sustainably produced rain covers for bikes on the market.
Solution: Produce and distribute bike rain covers made of sustainable materials.
There is probably a significant intersection between people who:
- Ride bicycles
- Care about sustainability
- Are willing to invest in accessories to extend a bike’s durability.
Most of the bike covers produced today are made of polyester or nylon. Neither are biodegradable, so will sit in landfill for 20–200 years, and both are sourced from oil. A sustainable alternative could be produced from:
- Recycled materials like Econyl.
- Upcycled materials, for example — military tents, advertising banners made of vinyl or refugee boats (potential for cool partnerships). This could make a great Kickstarter project, especially since Kickstarter promote such projects.
Such a product could also be easily pivoted or extended to a cover for motorcycles and cars.
Produce a public calendar of product launches
Problem: As an entrepreneur or ad agency planning a product launch, you ideally want to be the only one launching on a particular day or week. Launching on the same day as other companies in your field, or one of the big companies, can distract the attention of the press and potential customers.
Solution: Build a public calendar showing when different products are going to be launched, allowing entrepreneurs to add their own planned launch dates.
Every entrepreneur would benefit from this calendar as a way of maximizing media and public attention via press or social media. This calendar could also work for niche areas, like music albums, fashion, books etc.
Increase people’s productivity by improving air quality
Problem: High CO2 levels can decrease cognitive performance by 50%. As people join co-working spaces to be more productive and companies put great effort into boosting their employees’ productivity, the fact that poor air quality can affect productivity significantly is often overlooked.
Solution: Build a service that measures indoor CO2 levels, provides a report on the results, and sells equipment to improve it.
The service could offer a $29 air quality measurement kit with a pre-paid return shipping. Based on these measurements, the service would produce a report on the air quality and recommendations to improve it.
Such recommendations could be from most basic to the more complex:
- How to create fresh air circulation in your space
- Purchase specific plants that absorb CO2 and produce oxygen
- Purchase air-circulation devices
- Purchase custom air ventilation solutions consultations
All of these solutions could become revenue streams for the service (via affiliation at the first stage).
Such a service could target different audiences:
- Companies with their own offices
- Companies with a remote workforce who could provide this service as a perk to their employees
- Independent workers with home offices.