Archive for the Category Weird Products
One of my favorite things over the past four years has been the UW Business Plan Competition. As a grad student, in 2005, I had two ideas and we went nowhere. In 2006, I jumped on another student team and we won "Best Consumer Product." Last year, I was a first round judge and merely observed the rest. And this year, thanks to the kindness of some of my favorite people, I was invited to judge the tradeshow round.
Quick moment of clarification for those who don’t know anything about this. Every year, about 60-80 teams submit a business plan. Some teams are made up of 4 students, some teams are established companies with a student consultant. It’s a broad range, so you see a lot of neat ideas. These 60-80 teams are whittled down to 32, who then fill a room and pitch their idea to about 100 judges in a tradeshow type setting. That list gets cut down to 16, then down to 4, and a winner is chosen. So, Wednesday, we had the tradeshow round of 32, and our job as judges was to "invest" 1000 fake dollars into at least 5 companies. You are free to split that 1000 however you like, as long as 5 or more companies are given money. The 16 teams who receive the most money move on to the next round.
Now, my favorite part about this whole competition is that since most of the people you talk to are undergrad, MBA or PhD students, they still have this sense of optimism and naivety. For example, you ask an undergrad with a dream, "What’s your exit strategy?" and his response is pure and good. He says, "Exit? We’re going to make this a profitable business. I don’t want to sell it. This is my idea, and it’s going to work." Wow, as a human being, you love hearing that. But then you have to crush his hopes and dreams, and invite him to join the real world. You have to tell him, "Well, here’s the thing. If I’m a VC, and I put money in, there better damn sure be an exit. Because I’m not really in the business of giving you a bunch of coin so you can build a company that doesn’t make me rich. You will sell, and you will sell when I tell you to."
Anyway, the whole thing is great. Wide eyed, naive students getting creative and coming up with some crazy cool ideas. It’s the kind of place that you walk out of wishing they all would get the money they need to build the product they want to build. Sure, there were some plain dumb ideas – but only dumb from the standpoint that they were unfundable. Every idea itself had merit. Even the ideas with terrible business plans and execution were at least interesting ideas.
I’m being lazy and not going through the whole list of companies. But here were some ideas that stood out for me. I’m not saying all their business plans were great, but the ideas stuck in my head
- A way to deliver medicine through the nose to the brain, to get cancer medicine pas the blood brain barrier.
- A company who developed a new strain of algae that they could farm for oil.
- An exercise device specifically tailored for people in retirement homes. A kind of "soloflex" for people in wheelchairs.
- A system for capturing excess carbon from buildings to decrease heating costs.
- A career web site specifically tailored to kids right out of school.
- A "match.com" for tradeshow attendees, where you fill out a profile, and the site suggests other people attending the show you should meet with.
- A company that produces organic clothing.
- A sunflower village in Kenya so villagers can earn money.
- A Web site for coaches to help them manage their teams.
- And other cool ideas….
Congrats to all the teams who made it to the next round. And I hope those teams that didnt make it, continue to tweak their plans and shoot for success.
Check out Trapster. According to the site..
"When you see a (speed) trap, report it by pressing a button on your phone, or calling a toll free number. Other user’s phones will alert them as they approach the trap. Trapster™ learns the credibility of traps based on how many users agree. It also learns the credibility of each user, over time."
If it works, cool. But I’d love to see the biz plan, who funded it and what their valuation was.
I will take the leap and say that a small company called Lumosity falls into the world of Marketing. For, positioned one way, Lumosity would simply be entry #3.2 billion in the category of "Ways to kill time online when you should be productive."
But instead, starting with the tagline of "Reclaim Your Brain" and extending through the core messaging, Lumosity is much more than a nice looking version of any casual games portal. According to their literature, I will actually get SMARTER by spending time on their site. The multi-layered exercises and puzzles are designed to actively stimulate regions of my brain that have gone neglected, enriching my overall intellectual capabilities.
So far, I don’t feel smarter, but it has kicked my paranoia level to an all-time high, as I wonder if I am simply a pawn in someone’s giant marketing copywriting experiment. But, I have succumbed to sucker status, and the exercises are fun, so we’ll see where this gets me.
Because the blog entries here revolve around marketing, with a little start-up stuff thrown in, I’m pleased to find what could be the stupidest product of all time. But these guys not only have a marketing budget – enough to advertise in Google Mail – but a Google Page Rank of 4, making their dumb product’s web site 100 times more important than this blog.
Here’s the tagline:
"The Safe Banana Guard will fit most bananas & give protection during your journey."
Yes, apparently there is a market for a product that’s specific job is to protect a banana. And, the company is funded.
Not only does this product exist, it comes in 9 colors. Because this is a family blog, you will notice that I am refraining from any jokes that could easily float their way to the surface from viewing the order page. It’s not for a lack of material or imagination, I promise. Just sometimes the fruit is so low hanging, you want to let someone else pick the tree.
I think possibly my favorite part is that they have a section called, "Testimonials." Come on… Seriously? Testimonials? Doesn’t something called ‘SafeBanana" speak for itself at this point? Do you really need to read a quote like, "Dude, this thing like totally protected my banana. I know it’s called SafeBanana, but I didn’t see how it could be possible. Now, I’m a believer."
Anyway, as a public service to all you people who have suffered and survived banana trauma, I bring you SafeBanana. Please use responsibly.
I’m trying to enjoy a beautiful sunny work day by transferring the home office down to Peet’s on Green Lake. I have my laptop, iPod, a table, an iced mocha and a great view of the fields and the lake. Life is grand.
Then these 4 characters get in my sightline and start performing frisbee ballet tricks. While there are some activities that are ignorable, this is just flat out weird. Dude is doing piroutettes before catching the disc. Is there music playing that I’m not hearing? I don’t get it.
Now to be clear, I’m not knocking Ultimate – I’ve seen people play that and it looks like real athletic work. I think I played once and nealry passed out from exhaustion from doing nothing but running 60 yard dashes and throwing passes that travel at about a 270 degree angle. But this frisbee ballet thing is just – bizarre. I hope I don’t offend any of my friends with this post….
Am I about 12 months behind the humor curve? Who are these guys?
Seriously, how come marketing opps like this don’t land in my lap….. Hello 7-11 PR guy. Please send 3 machines, along with cameras from Jay Leno or Jon Stewart show, immediately to the quartermaster. Start collecting emails from your boss and stockholders about what a good guy you are. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Is this really that hard….
From the AP
Frozen drinks in the desert: Soldier’s mom trying to send a Slurpee machine to Iraq
ALBANY, Ore. — An Albany woman with a son in Iraq is raising money to buy his 82nd Airborne unit a machine that makes "Slurpee" type frozen carbonated drinks. Sharon Crary said her son, Pfc. Preston Crary, 21, a chaplain’s assistant, asked for a machine that could make enough drinks to serve up to 100 soldiers at a time. Preston told his mother the machine would be a "great morale booster." It would stay in Iraq when Preston rotates home in March or April 2008. His Army unit is a mixture of infantry, medics, mechanics and other support soldiers.
Because of red tape involved in raising the money and sending such a large item overseas, she has joined up with Give 2 The Troops, a nonpartisan, nonpolitical group formed to support deployed troops. Members try to get letters and care packages to soldiers in war zones.
"Working with the organization enables us to purchase the machine wholesale and provide a tax-deductible receipt to those making donations," she said. "The machine costs about $1,600 with shipping and supplies, such as flavorings and cups. I figure the total cost will be about $2,500."
Sharon Crary teaches private English speech improvement classes but is taking time off for the project.
Ah, remember when having the world’s largest selection of merchandise was a good thing? Well apparently Amazon.com’s decision to offer magaiznes catering to the Cock Fighting crowd has – in what will be the most overused pun in a decade – ruffled some feathers.
The Register UK and Computerworld report the Humane Society has slapped Amazon.com with a lawsuit. The action specifically concerns "The Underground Pitbull Breeders Association, StreetHeatDVD.com, and the publishers of The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior. Also targeted are the DVDs Unleashed: The Realest Pitbull Action Caught on Tape and Hood Fights Vol. 2, The Art of the Pit, both "depicting illegal dogfighting".
According to the Humane Society, "At issue in the case are four items which the HSUS has repeatedly asked Amazon.com to drop from its sales list because they depict and promote cruel dogfighting and cockfighting events in violation of federal law. Amazon.com is the sole retailer of subscriptions to the animal fighting magazines and the only outlet for animal fighters to obtain subscriptions over the internet. Similarly, Amazon.com is one of only three sellers of the dogfighting DVD and the easiest seller to locate on the web. A Humane Society review of the last 12 months of The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior found that more than 90 per cent of the magazines’ advertisements are nothing more than a solicitation to commit a crime…and uncovered evidence that such magazines are published for the express purpose of promoting unlawful animal fighting and are found at more than 75 per cent of the animal fighting operations that have been raided by law enforcement officers."
So in one corner, you have the Humane Society using a legal argument to try to quell a market that by all terms of human decency, shouldn’t even exist. In the other corner you have Amazon.com, standing behind a 1st Amendment argument of, "Hey we sell everything." Now as easy as this decision might seem, its likely they are sticking to this argument so one day they can’t get forced into a corner either by the religious right or liberal left over whether or not to sell, "How to Fix your Gay Friend" or "Jesus was a Sex Addict." Saying, "We Sell Everything" when it comes to literature on cock-fighting gets you about as far down the reprehensible spectrum as you can go.
And let’s not forget, Amazon doesn’t create the marketplace for this material. Someone is writing the articles, someone is publishing the magazine, someone else is selling the ads, someone else is buying the ads and still someone else buys the magazine. So as awful as it sounds, this isn’t all Amazon’s fault.
Now the marketing side of this is a little grayer. It’s a fallacy for Amazon to say, "We Sell Everything." "24 Ways to Attack Paris Hilton" would not be listed amongst their catalog. Amazon is grown up enough that they need to come out and be strong, and say, "This sport isn’t right. It’s so off the radar in terms of social acceptance, that this is not a 1st Amendment issue. There are bounds of good taste, and while we do not believe that we should be the arbitrator of good taste, we have enough common sense to know this does not live up to the standards of the 1.6 Billion other products we offer."