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Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas - The Redux

The world doesn’t need another Social Network or a better project management tool — I will wait for you here while you come to this…

Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas - The Redux


The world doesn’t need another Social Network or a better project management tool — I will wait for you here while you come to this conclusion for yourself. Paul Graham is apt to agree and he provided future founders with a gift (even better than funding), suggestions for startups that are so “frighteningly ambitious” that many would shy away from bringing them into existence.

The biggest startup ideas are terrifying. And not just because they'd be a lot of work. The biggest ideas seem to threaten your identity: you wonder if you'd have enough ambition to carry them through.

If you were getting ready to pitch Y Combinator with one of these ideas let me stop you right there, all of these ideas already exist. While all of the ideas are ambitious PG missed the mark in coming up with ideas that were frightening.

Call it an overabundance of determination but entrepreneurs are having to move away from the commonplace just to get noticed by their favorite VC, in today’s market no idea is too “out there”. From frightening to the norm is progress, lists like this push the world forward and become outdated quicker than one would expect.

Lets take a look at each of the ideas PG proposed (argue with me later over my picks):

A New Search Engine

Google used to give me a page of the right answers, fast, with no clutter. Now the results seem inspired by the Scientologist principle that what's true is what's true for you.

While Google is busy trying to be a social network and upsetting people that still enjoy aggregating their RSS feeds DuckDuckGo is trying to be what Google was over 17 years ago (just a search engine). DDG is already on the path to winning over minimalist hackers, the whole thing is written in perl, what more could you ask for?

Check out their traffic here: http://duckduckgo.com/traffic.html

Replacing Email

Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now. Email is not a messaging protocol. It's a todo list. Or rather, my inbox is a todo list, and email is the way things get onto it.

Dropbox recently threw their weight behind Mailbox App and while it isn’t the new protocol PG asked for it definitely goes a long way to making email more like a todo list, you even have gesture control.

If Mailbox App didn’t satisfy your requirements and you really wanted a todo list bolted onto your email then Taskbox is ready to serve you.

Replacing Email in the next two years is going to be the “it” category with everyone scrambling to capitalize on the zero inbox zealots. Photo-sharing all of a sudden becomes the mistreated middle child.

Replacing Universities

I don't think universities will disappear. They won't be replaced wholesale. They'll just lose the de facto monopoly on certain types of learning that they once had.

Universities started their down trend when they pushed tuition costs up beyond the pace of inflation and their is no shortage of discussion about the relevancy of a Bachelors degree among newer grads. MOOCs — have you made it when you have your own acronym — now have a large mindshare and are swiftly becoming capitalized.

Coursera, edX, Udacity and to some extent Khan Academy are blazing a trail to make math / science more accessible to students who may not have the time or the means to attend a traditional school. The traditional universities that want to survive the coming mass exodus will either join existing MOOC hubs or create their own while we wait the exciting eventuality of MOOCs being able to award full degrees.

Internet Drama

Hollywood has been slow to embrace the Internet. That was a mistake, because I think we can now call a winner in the race between delivery mechanisms, and it is the Internet, not cable.

Stretching the definition a bit you could claim that Netflix is already pioneering internet drama as people rave about House of Cards and they are well on their way to producing two more series (Hemlock Grove / Sense8). Stretching further, one day HBO is no longer going to exist as a PPV channel and will instead be only an app and a website (hello HBO GO), wishful thinking for now but eventual reality tomorrow.

YouTube will more than likely join the fray at some point in the future so that they can start to counter balance the amount of cat videos currently being posted (next great startup curated cat videos?).

The Next Steve Jobs

Now Steve is gone there's a vacuum we can all feel. If a new company led boldly into the future of hardware, users would follow.

He’s already here and his name is Jeff Bezos, hopefully that wasn’t too blasphemous to anyone worshipping at the Temple of Jobs. I am unsure of the qualifications to be the next Steve Jobs but you can’t really argue that Jeff Bezos is a disruptive visionary. Although he hasn’t focused solely on hardware surely Bezos has done enough to at least enter the discussion with Jobs:

1. Disrupted all book publishing and cornered the market on Ebooks

2. The go to company for hosting cloud infrastructure and web services

3. Fulfillment and logistics advancements in a push toward same day delivery (free two-day delivery isn’t bad with Amazon Prime)

Bonus - They are probably directly responsible for the demise of quite a few brick and mortar establishments, Circuit City I am looking at you specifically.

Maybe he can add discoverer to his resume next?

Bring Back Moore’s Law (sort of)

Moore's Law used to mean that if your software was slow, all you had to do was wait, and the inexorable progress of hardware would solve your problems. Now if your software is slow you have to rewrite it to do more things in parallel, which is a lot more work than waiting.

This is where things start to get a bit fuzzy, if you have even read this far, as we are going to advance more quickly on different planes of technology versus building the “smart compiler” PG described in his article. Moore’s law is alive and well, it now presents itself in the form of how quickly we can shrink down the size of a fully featured computer.

Taking a look at the rise of smart phones is one thing but the primary example of the ever shrinking computer would manifest itself in the raspberry Pi. The future will be full of smaller raspberry Pis and slimmer phone/tablets, I for one welcome our new shrunken technological overlords.

Ongoing Diagnosis

There is room for a lot of startups here. In addition to the technical obstacles all startups face, and the bureaucratic obstacles all medical startups face, they'll be going against thousands of years of medical tradition.

Fine, you got me here. I am loathe to say that this is the realm of science fiction but when you are working on nanobots that will swim through the blood stream that type of product feels too far out to even begin to comprehend, at least it is being developed!

The closest you could get to ongoing diagnosis in the market now is with early diagnosis. Taking that leap with me you arrive at 23andMe. People are going to be studying / decoding their DNA long before they will ever be shooting themselves up with nanobots, though I really am ready to pay for those nanobots.


There is nothing frighteningly ambitious only ideas that have not been tackled by the right person yet…