Brian Armstrong

8 Great Business Ideas You Can Steal

This list might be a little different than the typical great business ideas you see talked about in major publications (like Facebook, the iPhone, etc).

Those are great ideas, but I prefer to look at business ideas which are a little closer to home. Ideas that anyone with some hard work could get off the ground even if they didn’t have much money.

I like business ideas which…

  • Have low startup costs

  • Don’t require manufacturing a physical product (like the iPod, which incurs huge overheads)

  • Actually charge something (unlike YouTube or more generally the “hope we get bought out by Google” business model)

  • Scale well and don’t require your personal time for each person you help

  • Fit the lifestyle of “breaking free” by not trading time for money

All of these ideas are somewhat obvious in hindsight, but I bet you can steal the “how” behind every idea and adapt it into a new business. How they made something easier, cheaper, faster, etc and helped a whole bunch of people.

Here they are in no particular order…(and by the way, I either use or have used every single one of these at some point besides PlentyOfFish):

  1. Mozy Mozy is an online backup service. It automatically backs up the files on your computer over the internet, and offers unlimited storage space for a few dollars a month. I like this business model because its a subscription product, solves a real problem (when your hard drive crashes, it HURTS to lose everything), and scales well. You can build the system and it requires pretty much the same amount of investment whether 10 people use it or a million people do.

  2. UniversityTutor.com Ok granted I might be a little biased since this MY site :) But still, I like the idea because of the reasons mentioned above. It’s a better solution to a common problem than what is currently out there (the common problem being, where can I find a high quality tutor for my child at a good price who lives near me?). Super low startup costs and scalability are a plus here.

  3. PlentyOfFish PlentyOfFish is a free online dating site that is advertising supported. The founder and sole operator, 29-year-old Markus Frind, runs the site from his West Vancouver apartment. The site pulls in more than $5 million a year from Google advertising with only its one employee/founder. Simply staggering. More generally, I like this approach of taking an idea you already know works online (match.com, eharmony.com, etc), and make a free alternative to it that is advertising supported. I’m sure their are dozens of opportunities that fit that model which are ripe for the picking.

  4. Basecamp Basecamp is an online collaboration tool. It was started by just a few guys working part time and is now a multi million dollar subscription product. It worked because they went out of their way to understand good user interface design (something that, shockingly, Microsoft still sucks at). They built a loyal following of people who were happy to find software that “just worked” (a rarity) and really saved them time.

  5. WordTracker A tool for online marketers that lets you find out what your customers are typing into search engines to find you. The product isn’t even that good, but considering how bad the alternatives are, the bar is pretty low (Yahoo deserves a particular dishonorable mention for the colossal wasted opportunity they had with http://inventory.overture.com, a similar site that is now offline). Anyway, again it is a subscription product that scales well and solved a real need that people had.

  6. E-Junkie The process of accepting credit card payments on your website is traditionally nothing short of a nightmare. It involves horrible programming intricacies, laws and rules regarding encryption and storage, and having to deal with the shady credit card processing industry. It used to be hard to get a nice looking shopping cart set up quickly but E-Junkie changed that. It was surprisingly easy to get it set up on my website, and I’ve used many of the alternatives (OSCommerce, Zen Cart, buy now buttons, etc). I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but….same reasons: subscription product, scales well, solves a real pain.

  7. LuLu.com This one was probably more expensive to set up than others on this list, but its a great service for authors to get their books printed. Just upload a word document or PDF and they will do drop shipping, manage inventory for you, and get your book on Amazon.com. This company is making the idea of a publisher more obsolete (although that won’t happen completely for a while). Its a godsend to first time authors.

  8. Quest This is a small local business in Houston, but I like the idea. It saves realtors and real estate investors all sorts of time by make a simple interface to look up and analyze investment property. Again, we see an improvement in user interface design which saves people time and makes their lives easier. This little innovation is a neat little subscription product that costs about $75/month (almost pure profit and again scaleable). At that rate you only need a little over a thousand customers and its a million dollar business.

Any time you see someone who is FRUSTRATED there is a business waiting to be born. Just go ask people around the office or your friends “What is the most annoying part of your job?” or just watch them for an afternoon and you’ll see something they are doing inefficiently. Any time you can save someone some time, money, or frustration you have a viable business idea. Now if it scales well you’re really on to something.

There’s no better time than now to take the initiative and put one of these ideas together. Hiring programers to make some software is cheaper than ever. What are you waiting for?

Brian Armstrong

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