Business Ideas

Economy Condos

Typically condos are made to be fairly luxurious accommodations.  As well as trendy features like granite counters and spa washrooms, they’ll sometimes have concierges and martini bars.  Each of these features has a cost, which gets passed along to the condo owners, typically as a high monthly condo fee.  As an alternative, this idea is to build ultra-economy condos in a convenient location of a large city, and offer them to people who want to own property at a rock-bottom price.

In terms of ultra-economy, I’m talking very utilitarian, uncool places to live.  Many of the internal units might not have windows, perhaps the size would be in the 300-400 foot range, no balconies, no in-unit laundry machines, etc.  Each would include a washroom, small kitchen area and a place to live and sleep.

I’m not claiming this should be where everyone live.  It might be a Pied-à-terre for people who work in the city (but own property elsewhere) or housing for a student or young professional.  It could be corporate housing for a law firm to offer to young associates when they first move to the city (or for them to use to sleep at if they’re working 18 hour days).  If someone is firmly of the mindset that they want to own property and not “throw away rent money“, this might appeal to them. The vast majority of people WOULDN’T find this appealing, but for a whole city, you should be able to find a building full of people who would.

The location in town should be somewhere fairly accessible to public transit (since the people who would want to live here would also be the type of people don’t want to own a car.  It definitely doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) a trendy area.

The marketing would focus purely on the financial element of the building instead of trying to sell it as a lifestyle.

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

Business Ideas

Wacky Business Idea #17: Timestamp, Inc. /

Notaries are used to authenticate documents, providing additional weight that they mean what they say they do (and are between the people they’re supposedly between).  I had this idea back during the dot-com era, and the core of it is that you build a company who’s primary purpose is to authenticate that documents were created at specific times (and to a lesser degree, by specific people).

This could, in theory, be used for legal documents and whatnot, but in the early stages might find usages such as professionals who are required by law to keep notes (such as psychologists, medical doctors,  and lawyers I believe).  Having documents provided with a time stamp authentication would prove that the professional hasn’t altered the document after a problem occurred.

To set up this sort of company, you’d need to focus on establishing your site as very accurately recording time and identity (or being very precise about what you’re verifying as “the identity” it could be that you’re authenticating based on an e-mail address or phone number).  Security would be a major issue, and great lengths would need to be taken to show that it would be very difficult for someone to forge a document in your system.  You would also need to convince users that your system will continue to exists indefinitely.  If there’s any doubts about your ability to stay in business it would severely undermine you.  Obviously you’d want to have the actual data encrypted (so documents are only ever seen if the authors release them), and multiple redundancy (at multiple locations) so data is never lost.

This might work as simply as a user uploads a document along with an e-mail address and/or a phone number (with a password).  The system automatically sends out a confirmation e-mail (which they click the authentication link and enter the password).  The phone number would be called and the password requested.  After this, the system would verify that the document was submitted AT THAT TIME by someone who had access to THAT e-mail or phone-number.  If the system had a login and password as well this wouldn’t PERFECTLY prove their identify (there would be ways to defeat the security of each identifier), but it would take A LOT of work to beat all three (and in my opinion would be at least as secure as notaries – faking ID would be easier than defeating this type of system).

Documents could be released by a code which, after the author chose to release it, could be given to anyone who could then see the document on the site and verify its contents and date of creation.  Options to selectively release parts of documents would also be possible.  Extra features like automatically releasing the document to specific e-mail addresses (or mailing hard copies to specific addresses) at some point in the future or using a dead man switch could be optionally offered.

As the system became more accepted, more usages could be built on top of it (and eventually it could become a platform offering authentication of documents in a legally neutral way – not tied to any particular country or legal system).  Perhaps people could form a contract by uploading identical copies of an electronic document and both authenticating their copies.  The system could tie them together and let both parties know that the other has authenticated it.

In terms of a business model, I’d let users store small documents for free (and pay a fee to store larger documents), and pay a modest fee to retrieve/authenticate them.  This would be billed as getting all the benefits, and only having to pay it there’s a problem (and you need to produce the authenticated document).

Business Ideas

Wacky Business Idea #16:

I recently watched the new “Dead Like Me” movie (it’s awful, I’m not sure if the people who wrote it ever saw the TV series).  On the Pirate Bay a commenter (derrrface) wrote asking everyone to buy the direct-to-DVD movie to encourage Showcase to resume the series.  Other commenters weren’t very supportive about his suggestion, but it reminded me of a business idea I had some time back.

In the past artists, musicians and writers were often support by patrons.  These were rich people who believed in the artist’s work and would provide financial support so they could focus on it.  For example, Emperor Joseph II was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s patron.

Nowadays (perhaps starting with the cancellation of Star Trek: the Original Series) there are mega-fans who passionately believe in the artistic work of an individual or group and mobilize to put pressure on the studios to continue creating content with them.  I recently watched (it’s amazing I get any work done on my PhD, eh?) “Done the Impossible” which details the lengths Firefly fans went to to try to keep Joss Whedon’s series on the air.  Some believe they helped make the Serenity movie possible.

The core of this idea is a site which brings together “micro patrons” with artists to allow them the freedom to work outside the studio / publishing / art world and interact directly with those who want to consume their artistic vision.  Say a bunch of people enjoyed a book released directly by the author (The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect perhaps – if you start to read it, DON’T STOP after the first chapter, its not representative of the books as a whole).  Instead of them having to go buy 10 copies of it to show their support (and only having a fraction of that purchase go through to the creator) they could get the money directly to the creator to encourage them to keep working.

Either a group of fans could create a project asking the artist to work on what they’re asking, or the artist could offer to work on something if a threshold of donations was reached.  Perhaps an author would say that he could write a book if he had $15,000 to be able to quit his day job and focus on it for the next 5 months, or fans might band together and offer Stephen King $40,000 if he’d write a book about mutant gerbils.

It wouldn’t be any sort of legal contract, and the patrons wouldn’t have any ownership of the idea or final project.  It would just be a way of people who love an artist”s work to say “I want you to keep working, if there’s a way money could help make that happen, here it is”.  That being said, there WOULD be an expectation that the artist WILL work on the project if they accept the funds (and the fund could be tagged as a bounty once the work is completed if the fans are afraid King will take the money then write about hamsters).

The site would function by putting the funds held in a very safe, stable investment (a money market account, high yielding savings account or cashable GICs) and using any interest generated to operate the site.  If an artist rejected a proposal, the funds would be immediately returned to the micro-patrons.

Business Ideas

Create a Movie or TV Show

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a pretty funny show on a while back that consisted of bad b-movies (science -fiction and horror for the most part) and three characters mocking the movie while it played. The original creators worked on the show after hours at the cable studio they worked at (as that was the only way they could have access to the expensive equipment used to create it). They didn’t have a large audience, but the people who liked it were fanatical fans (a cult hit if you will, or exploiting the long tail).

With constantly dropping prices for video equipment (like all technology), it’s become possible for amateurs to make professional quality video content. In 1994 Kevin Smith made “Clerks” using cash advances from a bunch of credit cards, and things have gotten even cheaper since then. I used to pitch ideas to a friend who worked in the film/TV industry and he eventually asked me why I didn’t just make them myself (and assured me it wasn’t too involved to learn how to operate a camera and edit footage).

Horror movies, in particular, have a rabid fan base that will see every zombie movie (for example), even if it’s acknowledged to be awful. My friend claims its almost impossible to lose money making a horror movie. One idea I’ve had is about a guy who starts dating this woman. She goes along with things, but is completely detached about the relationship. Eventually they move in together (she likes him well enough, but remains ambivalent about the whole thing), and one night he catches her turning into a wolf. After confronting her the next morning, she’s nonchalant about the whole thing admitting “yeah, I turn into a wolf three nights a month on the full moon, what’s the big deal?”. The guy decides he loves her so much he’s going to make it work. At a later date he clues in that when his girlfriend is a wolf, she’s having an affair with the landlord’s German Sheppard, and what’s more, the guard dog realizes that the wolf he’s been having fun with 3 nights a month turns into a woman and is having an affair with the guy upstairs. For the rest of the movie, the dog and the guy try a variety of plots to kill each other (e.g. the guy tries to poison the dog, the dog gets off his leash but pretends to still be tied up and attacks him, etc). I’m not sure how to end it (maybe the woman dumps them both and leaves with a male werewolf).

I don’t know how you go about distribution and whatnot, but I’m sure that’s the sort of thing you could figure out buying someone in the biz lunch and picking their brain.

In terms of TV shows, two ideas I’ve had is to make a Canadian show focusing on a fly-in-fishcamp in Northern Ontario. Each week (episode) would have new American tourists showing up at the lodge, and the comedy would come from the interactions between the Canadians working at the lodge (a variety of fishing bums, university students, whatever), the native fishing guides and the Americans. My brother worked at a fly in fish camp and has a ton of amusing stories about his experiences, which is what led to this idea (and what I’d use to develop individual episodes). Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie are so bad, I can’t see how this WOULDN’T get on the air in Canada…

Another TV type idea would be a reality TV show built around programmers (think “The Apprentice” or “Hell’s Kitchen” with computer nerds). You’d get some tech celebrity (like Linus Torvalds or Steve Wozniak) to host it, and offer a team lead position at Google, computer systems, and a bunch of gadgets as the prizes, and distribute it on-line (maybe get corporate sponsorship to make money). Challenges would be group and individual and would be tech related (e.g. fix a broken server, code a Pac-Man clone, elicit requirements and develop a website for a client, etc). Geeks could watch it with their girlfriends (or boyfriend if you’re SquawkFox) and they can finally get some idea of what we do for living (in a highly dramatized version)

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

Business Ideas

Stockpiling Garbage

Humans are very good at generating waste and very bad at dealing with it.  The city of Toronto exports dozens of truckloads of trash every day.

Basically for this idea, a company would be set up that would create a very secure facility for accepting garbage.  As high a rate as possible would be charged for dumping, and obviously care would be taken that no toxins leak into nearby groundwater or otherwise poisoned the local environment (as much as could be avoided when you’re operating a garbage dump – I imagine that some things are unavoidable).

Even if it was just making enough to cover costs, the facilities that accept the garbage would be grown as quickly as possible and would take in as much garbage as possible.  Profits from operation would be rolled back into growth.

Long term, the business would count on two things happening:  1)  resources increase in cost as they become most difficult to extract from natural sources and 2)  technology to reclaim resources for manufactured items improves.

Over time, as elements in the garbage dump increase in value, some will eventually hit the point where they can be extracted from the dump at a profit.  At this point, while safely storing the waste is an ongoing concern for the business, the garbage is treated as a mine.  Valuable parts are removed, processed, and sold at a profit.  On an ongoing basis, waste can continue to be accepted and stockpiled for future times when it may become economical to reclaim them.

Some elements, like toxic biological waste, might never be cost-effectively reclaimed.  This would be a part of the business, and these elements would just have to be safely contained while extracting valuables mixed with them, then safely stored again.

Certainly anyone who owns a dump would be delighted to mine it if it ever became cost effective to do so.  Dumps currently do this by charging people to take things they find, and actually post guards to prevent garbage pickers.  The core of this idea is just to look at the economics of running a dump, and factor in changes in technology that may change the future value of what you’re accepting (changing it from something that costs money to accept now to something that is worth money in the future).  There may be approaches to storage that may make future extraction easier, which could be done to plan for the future.

It *might* be possible to be paid to accept existing dumps (where the company takes on the future responsibility of maintaining them).  These could be happily entered into, with the knowledge that the business you’re building is specialized in reclaiming resources, and each of these sites would represent future profits.

I don’t really know anything about garbage treatment, storage or disposal.  This consideration may already be factored into waste management.  I know that recycling right now, even when end users sort things, isn’t cost effective for anything other than aluminum.  In impoverished countries, often dumps are viewed as a resource by some of the poorest-of-the-poor who make a living digging out items of value from it.  I’m convinced this equation will change in the future, and an automated solution for doing the same will be worthwhile in a western context.

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

Business Ideas

Customized Cosmetics

I’ve talked to women who have all told me this wouldn’t work. Since I’ve never bought cosmetics, I’ll defer to their wisdom, but I still think its a good idea.

Years ago one of my ex-girlfriends was talking about how personal perfumes are (and how she’d lie if anyone ever asked her the name of her perfume because she didn’t want anyone else to wear the same scent). This lead to the idea of a website, something like CafePress where people can customize perfumes, colognes, shampoos, etc. There would be a variety of bases, to which various amount of scents and other additives could be mixed in, in amounts determined by the customer. The final, totally unique, product would be mixed up and sent out on demand.

Lipsticks, mascaras, blushes, etc could all be “tweaked” to subtly different shades.

The site could purchase discontinued products, and continue offering them on a “made for you” basis. A friend of mine has a hair gel she is very loyal to. The company that makes it has fallen on hard times and stopped selling retail. For a while she was ordering cases of it directly from the company, until they recently shut their doors for good. She ended up tracking down the guy who developed it, and she’s trying a new product he’s developed at his new company.

Clearly when a customer is at this point, they aren’t trying to save $0.50 off of their next purchase. They know what they want and they’re willing to pay to get it. If you had the equipment to mix up other products, you could probably also continue to make them their “discontinued” product.

“Tester” packs could be offered with certain mixtures that could be used as a “base” for people experimenting with creating their own (they could take the default option, then add a bit of “apple” scent to it for example). Once someone had a formula they were happy with, they could get a better price by ordering a larger volume. There’s always the possibility of people not being happy with the product when they receive it (especially if they get wildly experimental) which could be handled by encouraging them to try very small batches when they’re first experimenting.

While its obviously more expensive to create customized versions of a product, they would still probably be cheaper than some of the super-pricey name brand cosmetics (its shocking to me what people sometimes pay for a bottle of perfume).

Like CafePress, if someone wanted to share their creation, the site would let them advertise it and send a portion of the profit to the creator. People who wanted to keep it secret could do that as well.

As I said in the introduction, this is a type of product I have *NO* understanding of. I never wear cologne, and I buy whatever shampoo is the cheapest. My highest aspiration is not to smell bad. For those who do buy products along these lines, would you ever be tempted to order completely customized creations?

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

Business Ideas

Annuities That Work

I love the IDEA of annuities. You trade cash upfront for a guaranteed income stream for life. The Derek Foster approach to investing is along the same lines (although his approach hopes for regular dividend increases in addition to a steady income stream).

The problems I see with annuities are:

  • You have to be older to collect the income stream. You can purchase one when you’re young, but it doesn’t pay out until you’re much older
  • They pay out a very meager return (quite a bit of the returns from the investment go to pay whoever sold the annuity and the company that manages it)

The vehicle I’d like to set up would be something like a university endowment, where the money is conservatively managed and an inflation adjusted return is guaranteed to the purchaser for life. The return should actually be quite decent, since you’ll have a large pool of money for the long term, have new money coming in every time someone purchases a new annuity and will get to stop paying out to people when they die (at which point their funds become available for increased investment returns or to payout still living subscribers). An actuary would be needed to figure out the price and returns (factoring in purchaser life expectancies and whatnot), but I suspect for a very young person, more than 7% could be offered (since 7% is the expected long-term market return and you won’t have to keep paying out to all your purchasers forever – you’re guaranteed to be able to stop paying out to a certain number each year).

Since the purchaser is sacrificing liquidity (they can’t ask for a return of their initial purchase price) and are forfeiting this money and the income stream when they die, the fund should be able to offer an ongoing high return.

Consider these annuity returns. They’re giving a 7.7% nominal return to a 65 year old male. Since the male is expected to live for about 14-18 more years, the insurance company is making BANK! These are fixed payments, so just from the expected market performance the company should be making a nominal 2.3% return on the purchaser’s $100K. After earning income from HIS money for 16 years or so, they get to keep it all! Pretty sweet payment for whatever small risk they’re taking (yes, they may pay out to someone in the middle of a bear market, but they also would have been collecting extra during previous and subsequent bulls). I think they could easily afford to offer a 7.7% nominal return to a NEWBORN BOY, let alone a 65 year old! (although I have no idea why a newborn boy would need it).

If you invested the money YOURSELF, and withdrew $650 / month, you’d expect to have more than $100K left when you died! With the annuity there’s nothing left after you died. Even with a 2% nominal return (you could easily get this from GICs/CDs) you’d expect it to last you about 15 years.

This would be ideal for someone who needs a guaranteed income for life (someone worried about running out of money), but doesn’t need to leave behind an inheritance (sorry kids!).

Obviously there’d be no transfer to a surviving spouse (unless this was chosen as a purchase option and a correspondingly lower payout was offered), and an income stream would be more expensive the younger the purchaser is (i.e. a 20 year old might be able to purchase an inflation adjusted stream of $100 / month for $17,142 while a 70 year old might be able to purchase the same stream for half the price).

I know this is VERY similar to annuities that are already offered, but the core of this idea is to have very cheap management (do something like the couch potato portfolio so that your management fees would be minuscule – along the lines of an index fund) and no sales or marketing budget (let the smart customers find out about it and come to you).

Legislation would probably be the tough part of setting something like this up, as you’d be an insurance company and would have to conform to all the legal requirements insurance companies do to prove you can cover your policy holders (I have no idea how this works).

I’d call the product “death insurance” since its the opposite of life insurance :-).

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

Business Ideas

Private Libraries

This is an idea that I *KNOW* other people have implemented, but I still think there’s room to expand on it. I was in Taiwan for about 7 months teaching English years back and they had private “manga” libraries (manga is Japanese comic books like Astroboy). It was a little shop, packed with stacks of comic books and teenage boys (and young men) perched on every conceivable surface reading. They would pay a monthly membership fee which would let them come and read the books in the shop (which would be quite a bit cheaper than buying all the comics themselves).

In “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert Koyosaki relates starting something similar with comic books that had (incorrectly) been reported to the publisher as destroyed.

Any fringe area could be a source of clients for such a venture. Say I started a “real estate investors” private library. I could buy all the real estate books that are available (and track down rare fringe books such as John Reed’s or books of historical interest such as William Nickerson’s “How I Turned $1,000 into Five Million in Real Estate in My Spare Time“). Rent a small location on a side street somewhere in town, then provide memberships to people for $30 / month. They can come in and read all they want, talk to other investing enthusiasts, perhaps attend seminars (either given by other members or local professionals who want to do business with the members, sell snacks to them, etc.

Basically, it would be a special interest library and social club in one. Similar clubs could be set up for anything that has a serious enough local interests (think historical aviation enthusiasts, wool spinners, home brewers, etc). I don’t think such a venture would be wildly lucrative, but if you had an interest in the area, it would probably be enjoyable to set something like this up.

It would be good for the members, as they wouldn’t have to buy their own copies of works they’re interested in reading, plus it would give them a venue for meeting like minded individuals. With $30 / member / month it should reasonably easy to keep the rent paid, have a minimum wage employee serving snacks and keeping an eye on the place and maintaining the book collection (replace damaged books and get new ones that come out). If you wanted to go cheaper you could run the club as a non-profit and encourage members to donate their time and books to keep it running.

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.