#12: Make it Mobile
I'll admit that since Ev has already started a company, sold it for big bucks, and started another one, that his ten rules for web startups (plus a bonus) have much more weight than anything you read about a startup on this blog. He's done it and doing it, so by all means listen to him and ignore me.
That said, I humbly submit that Ev is missing the boat in his list by not including a rule on mobility. Number 12 on his list should be "Make it Mobile". Actually, I think it should be #1, but that's just me be fanatical. Mobility is where the most opportunities lie for startups over the next few years. The next big success will be mobile, but also a lot of the next little successes will be mobile as well. There's just so many possibilities right now - around the world and even in the U.S. with mobile penetration rates climbing over 80%. This is the market to focus on.
Let's see if we can come up with a new business that qualifies for Ev's 10 rules. Here's an idea for a great mobile app that I haven't seen yet: Mobile Christmas Lists. You know, for managing all the stuff you have to give this year. Instead of scribbling it down on a post-it note, why not have it available on your phone?
It should be easy: You have an online form with two fields, one where you can type in the name of the person you want to give a present to and then an open text-box to list all the ideas of the things you'd like to give, one item per line. Now, the magic happens a few ways: First you parse the text to make online product searches of all the list items. Secondly, when you show the text to the user, it's not displayed as a blob of text any more, but instead as a list with checkboxes next to them. And thirdly, this of course is all viewable and editable on your mobile so while you're actually out shopping, you can see your list, and add items you think of while shopping around.
Okay, so now you have a list of what you want to buy and for who. But let's make it even more useful (and even better than a post-it) - since many times we're buying gifts for the same people as others in our families, you want to be able to make sure you don't buy the same thing as someone else, right? So we'll add in the ability to send off a link so that you can organize - say to your brothers and sisters for your Mom and Dad's presents. You enter in their phone numbers into the app, click a button and poof, a link appears on their phones pointing to the online gift list. Now your cohorts can add/edit and cross off items as well. Hell, maybe they can put some notes in there too, for things like "we got that for them two years ago!" or "Mom hates strawberries, remember?". If it turns out that your gift-giving buddies don't have a phone that has mobile web access (which is really too sad - but now you know what to buy them!), then they can reply to the SMS with something simple like "list" and get the whole list in SMS form instead. If we're really nutty, we can even do full-on list commands via SMS for adding and checking off items.
Wait, one last thing, while you're making lists for others, why not tell everyone about the stuff you want too? Make up a list, enter in some phone numbers, and now everyone knows what you really want (and can cross stuff off the list). It's sort of like Amazon's wish-lists, but mobile so you can buy the stuff in real-world stores. It'd be nice if you could just use Amazon's wish-lists via your mobile, but even if you used something like Phonifier to view the lists, it wouldn't be nearly as user friendly.
Now, how does this make money? Remember, this is supposed to be a business, right? Well, first is the affiliate fees. If someone buys something from the lists's product searches on the web, you can get some cash that way. Also, you just provided a pretty complete list of products and search terms, having contextual ads on that list should be a no-brainer. Both of these are web-centric ways of monetizing, though, I'll admit (there are no mobile-oriented contextual ad services right now, right?). So how about simply finding a sponser like Best Buy, GAP or even Amazon itself that'll let you put a link at the top of each mobile list page that says something very simple like, "Can't find that great gift? Why not get them a gift certificate instead? Click here to buy and send one now." - Then with a simple form, you can enter in someone's phone number or email, and your preferred payment method like a credit card or Bill Me Later, and off it goes. Perfect for when you're sitting in that restaurant after a hard day of fruitless searches, and say "screw it, they're getting a $50 gift certificate."
The cool thing about most of this is none of it takes any sort of sign up process. Each present list gets a unique URL which is sent off via a link, and that's it. The app is viral in the sense that everyone you send your list to, gets to see the system and use it for themselves.
So, I'm not sure if this one app is a whole business unto itself, but it's definitely the beginnings of something. I've seen a bunch of wish-list apps recently, but because none are mobile nor tied with a site like Amazon nor particluarly compelling, they're not going to go far.
Let's see if this idea meets Ev's 10 rules: Narrow focus? Check - this would do one thing and do it well. Different? Maybe - It just needs a good name. Casual? Check - no sign up needed. Picky? Not really applicable yet. User-centric? Check. Self-centered? Check - this is something I personally need. Greedy? Check - there's a business model built in. Tiny? Check - it wouldn't take much to get this off the ground. Agile? Maybe - keeping track of how users are really using the system would help. Balanced? Oh. Hmm. Ev's talking crazy talk on this one. Wary? Check - maybe Ev is full of it and the list is just a bunch of Web 2.0 mashup thinking.
And finally, is it Mobile? Check. And this is the magic formula for this type of app. Imagine if this really took off and was used by millions of people? It'd be the first of its kind and really establish the company that created it as a leader in the field. That, to me, is opportunity.