Photo: Peter Jackson via Flickr
A lot of today’s entrepreneurs are working on products people want, not products people need.While a few exist that solve major problems and annoyances, there are a few pet peeves startups aren’t working to fix.
For example, why isn’t there a guest mode option on cell phones? And why don’t mobile ID cards exist?
We compiled a list of things we wish people would work on. They’re not unobtainable things like time travel or robots that clean your whole house (although those would be sweet). They’re also not major game changers like finding a cure for cancer or solving world hunger. But they all would make life just a little bit better.
If you have any million-dollar ideas of your own, leave them in the comments.
Note: This article is not a call for PR pitches!
The problem: Most chargers require cords which are ugly and annoying. They also limit the number of devices that can be charged at once.
The startup that should exist: A wireless charger that can charge an entire room full of devices. Stick it on the ceiling, in your living room, or in your cubicle to make everything charge at once.
Similar startups that exist: Two UPenn graduates were working on UBeam, a wireless charger solution that could theoretically do this. Unfortunately the founders, as of November, were in a law suit and we're afraid it won't reach the production stage (although since publishing this article they've assured us it will).
Powermat wirelessly charges multiple devices but all of the devices have to be touching the Powermat at once.
The problem: A lot of startups are trying to turn your phone into a wallet. But they're missing a key wallet component. Where are all the mobile ID cards?
The startup that should exist: A startup that works with the government to find a legal, mobile ID card solution. It needs to be accepted by bars and eventually cops so people can travel without physical licenses. No one should ever have to visit the DMV ever again.
Similar startups that exist: Facebook filed a trademark for the use of its name on business cards and non-magnetically encoded ID cards, but it isn't yet working on mobile IDs per se.
The problem: A friend asks to borrow your phone. But you were Google-stalking Justin Bieber. There's no way to quickly and securely hand it over.
The startup that should exist: A startup that invents two sign-in options on a password screen, one for you and one for a guest. Note: this is more of a feature than a business.
Similar startups that exist: N/A but TechCrunch is hunting for a product like this too.
The problem: When you're stuck in traffic you want to know three things: 1) Why are you stuck? 2) How long will you be stuck? 3) What can you do to get unstuck? Google Maps and traditional GPS systems only answer one of those three well.
The startup that should exist: An app that tracks your location and gives instant updates from Twitter, Instagram, etc., about why you're sitting there (car wreck? merger?), how long you'll be sitting there, and alternative routes other people are taking to get out of the mess. Note, this is more of an app than a big business.
Similar startups that exist: Google Maps shows you where the traffic is heaviest. It doesn't tell you why you're sitting there or give instant updates. The TomTom navigation system does give instant feedback in some countries, but not in the U.S. yet.
The problem: Most sites require a password. Some require numbers and letters, others require special symbols and capitalisation. There are also a lot of hackers; changing multiple passwords every time an account is hacked is a pain. Also, a lot of people want to share their passwords with another trusted individual, like a significant other. There's no secure way to do this.
The startup that should exist: There should be a secure toolbar you can log into that automatically signs you in to every website you create a password for as you need it. Of course it would need to be hacker proof. But it'd be better to have to remember one crazy/intense password than 50 variations of a simple one.
It'd also be helpful if you could share all of your passwords (or select passwords) with another trusted individual, like a couple's password manager.
Similar startups that exist: 1Password lets you log into different accounts with one or two clicks across various devices, but there's no share-your-passwords feature. An NYU professor is also working on a cool new password technology based on hand gestures on touchscreen devices, but that doesn't solve our problem either.
Why can't email operate like a buddy list with notifications so your inbox isn't pages and pages long?
The problem: Inboxes are a nightmare and they're clogged with a lot of spam from people you don't care about. Daily email newsletters are largely responsible for this.
The startup(s) that should exist: An email account that looks like a buddy list and operates on a notification system rather than an inbox count.
For example, I'd like to remain subscribed to daily newsletters like Groupon and LivingSocial, but that doesn't mean I want to see the newsletters every day. Instead I'd like to have a buddy list that says the name and company of every sender with a notification number representing the number of messages sent. If I choose to click on them, then I'll see headlines and can dive into the messages or delete them completely. So instead of receiving two separate messages from Groupon, I'd receive two notifications lumped into one name/line item, even if the emails aren't part of the same chain.
While we're reinventing the inbox, it'd be awesome have a Do Not Disturb option for email. When inboxes get overwhelming it'd be great to temporarily refuse new messages altogether except from a select few senders.
Similar startups that exist: Movable Ink updates content in real time every time you open an email message, and Google's Priority Inbox tries to decide which messages are most important, but those don't really solve the problem.
Why aren't mobile contact lists interactive or automatically updated? Can't they become mini social networks with current updates from your friends?
The problem: It's tough keeping up with every friend the moment their contact information changes. Updating phone numbers manually should be ancient history.
The startup(s) that should exist: There should be an interactive contact list that pulls in current Twitter or Facebook statuses, job titles from LinkedIn, and contact information (phone number, email, etc) from the web.
Similar startups that exist: We've heard of one that's in stealth mode backed by big New York investors. We hope it's everything we're dreaming of when it finally launches.
The problem: Waiting on hold is a waste of time.
The startups that should exist: Let people text or IM a company and get an auto reply with an estimated wait time or a time when the customer service rep will call back. Or let a caller hang up and have the customer service person automatically call them back when they're available. Note: this is more of a feature request than a business.
Similar startups that exist: Bridg.me is a similar service for conference calls. Rather than having everyone call the number at the same time, it calls all of the participants at once. But no system exists like this for corporate customer service departments (that we know of).
UPDATE: Woot, it exists! We were just referred to Fastcustomer Holding, a service that lets you type in the company's number and have a real person call you back.
The problem: If you want to sell something, you have to have items in stock. Most manufacturers won't let you produce one item at a time at a decent price, and most customers want their purchased items right away. But it's tough for retailers to estimate exactly how much of an item will sell ahead of time.
The startup(s) that should exist: There should be a bidding-based system for manufacturers willing to fulfil orders on an as-need basis. That system might not work for something really expensive to make, like an iPhone, but it could work for t-shirt and trinket retailers.
There could also be e-commerce stores dedicated to selling pre-order only items. Groupon has pretty much proven people are willing to buy things well in advance without expecting instant redemption.
Similar startups that exist: N/A
A lot of things come in pairs and become useless when one of the items is lost. Where's a site that lets you either sell or find the mate?
The problem: Ever lost a shoe or an earring? They're expensive so you don't want to throw them out, but they're useless without the mate. Just type in 'lost an earring' to Google and see how many times this problem has made women cry (including Kim Kardashian).
The startup(s) that should exist: A site that lets you find or sell the mate to whatever you lost. It's probably not a big business, but one earring has to be cheaper than buying two and it can't be that hard for the manufacturer to sell you a third item when you're in need. At the very least someone else would be happy to pay for your solo gold earring.
Similar startups that exist: N/A
There is no reason legal documents have to be so confusing. Can't someone translate legal jargon in plain English?
The problem: Have you ever tried to file a trademark or negotiate with a lawyer? Legal jargon makes most smart people feel incredibly dumb. There are tons of language translation sites. There should be a legal jargon translation site too.
The startup(s) that should exist: A plain-English breakdown of every common legal document found on USPTO and elsewhere. There should also be an option to have a lawyer look over legal documents for red flags on a cheap, one-off basis.
Similar startups that exist: Legal Zoom helps you decipher legal documents and files the paperwork for you, but it charges you a lot of money for taking the convenient route. If a site broke down the documents and process in plain English, we'd be happy to file the paperwork ourselves.
After 17 years, why does the Internet still suck? Can't someone make fool-proof Internet and mobile connections?
The problem: Henry Blodget wrote a recent rant about how the Internet still stinks after 17 years of existence:
Our entire business is a hundred per cent dependent on the Internet. If our Internet service goes down, we can't deliver our product. So we are understandably willing to spend a lot of money to make sure our Internet service never goes down.
And it still goes down.
And when it goes down, it's still infuriatingly difficult to figure out why it has gone down, and what's wrong, and when it might come back up.
It's infuriatingly difficult, I understand, because even our Internet service provider often doesn't know why the Internet has gone down.
And it doesn't seem to matter how big a connection we get, or how direct, or how much money we pay, the Internet still goes down.
The startup(s) that should exist: Figure out how to provide an Internet service that doesn't suck. While you're at it, come up with a plan for mobile providers too.
Similar startups that exist: Madrid-based Fon is trying to blanket the world in free WiFi with the biggest wireless network in the world. But that doesn't mean the connection won't go down from time to time.
While the Internet is down, can't we at least get an entertaining error page? Finding an error page should feel like winning the lottery.
The problem: When Internet connections are down or site servers break, error messages pop up. They're blank pages with nothing more than a lame message. Can't we at least be entertained while we wait for the site to come back?
The startup(s) that should exist: A 404-page that's actually exciting to get. They're rare, and rare things are supposed to be good. Someone should turn them into incredible deal pages or something and split any revenue with publishers.
Similar startups that exist: N/A
Expense reports stink. Credit card statements should let you push line items/charges to someone else's account (like your parents or your boss)
The problem: Not every employee has a corporate credit card, but there are a lot of things they can get reimbursed for, like travel expenses or phone bills. Expense reports are archaic and collecting receipts are annoying.
The startup(s) that should exist: A company that partners with all of the major credit cards and lets you push charges to someone else. As soon as the other person accepts the charge the money could be taken off your bill and added to theirs.
Similar startups that exist: Expensify lets you keep eReceipts and create reports, but it isn't as simple as pushing a line on your statement elsewhere.