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10 weird startup ideas that failed miserably

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Hackquarters is (mostly) about providing people or corporations with experience. When we are mentoring a startup or an entrepreneur, we tell them about our or our friends’ past experiences that may light the way for a new idea. The best examples are usually bad experiences we had or witnessed. In his famous book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote: Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes. And (I think) that quote was a keystone for Fuckup Nights, which is a global movement and event series that shares stories of professional failure.

People learn from mistakes, even if it is not your own mistake. So here are some great examples of how NOT TO create a startup.

Washboard

Of course, there are some great examples that create their own problem to solve or re-invent our habits. But most of the time, startups provide solutions to common problems. But Washboard was trying to impose a problem that doesn’t exist: Quarters for laundry machines. Washboard was a service that delivers quarters to their customers on a monthly subscription basis. But the thing is they were sending $20 worth of quarters for $27. Washboard even had the “honor” to be named Worst Startup Ever by Washington Times.

They lasted just one week, and had “more than 10” customers.

Lesson to be learned: If your service is not value for money, it is destined to die.

No More Woof!

In the startup world, it is common to hear promises on non-existent technologies. Most common examples we hear about are on renewable energy. Time to time, entrepreneurs come to meet us and tell us about their “great” ideas about green energy, yet most of the time, the technology that they dream about does not exist. The same thing applies to No More Woof, which promised to be the first device to translate animal thoughts into human language and got backed on Indiegogo.

There was one huge problem with No More Woof: The technology wasn’t there yet. They promised their backers to deliver the project, even if it is well off schedule. But current EEG technology is not capable of telling what exactly a person or an animal thinks. Recently there has been some wearable devices on the market, but they are also on crawling stages.

Lesson to be learned: Don’t make promises on technology that you don’t have yet.

Grovio

Smart homes and smart cities are some sexy keywords for a new startup, and they have been in our lives for almost a decade. Even if the idea behind most of new technology sounds good, some of them are destined to be in sci-fi movies for now.

Grovio is a “smart” device, using specialized sensors, it automatically waters and monitors your plants in real time. It has a 1600 ml water tank that is said to be enough for up to 3 plants and 45 days. And that water tank is probably useful for small, tabletop plants that some people love to have on their desks. Even if it sounds “why not”, they were backed less than 20% of their goal on Kickstarter.

Lesson to be learned: People prefer some things to be done manually. Don’t try to force technology in every aspect of our lives.

Dog PC

I used to have a dog of my own, that I spent 15 years of my life together. And she was never into technology. Yeah, sometimes she got angry because I was paying attention to my phone, rather than petting her. But I never noticed her watching TV. There are some videos on YouTube that show cute doggies playing games on tablets, but that does not showcase a problem to be solved in my opinion.

Dog PC, which was on TechCruch Disrupt 2016, is a Dog PC (as you can guess). Dog PC “helps your dog achieve their dream”, as stated in the company’s rollup at Disrupt. What is the name of the company? Tesla. Not “the” Tesla, but Tesla that produces state-of-art dog houses with latest available technology.

Tesla promises to solve the loneliness problem of dogs with a PC that has games to play all day. As a gamer myself, I would not recommend showing the wonders of PC gaming to any dog, because I’m sure he will stop playing with humans (for a while at least).

Lesson to be learned: Do your market research thoroughly before your production. (And I want my pet to play with me, not with a PC)

Agester

I couldn’t even find a proper screenshot for Agester. The one you are looking at is from Wayback Machine and its mostly non-functional. But the “legacy” of Agester remains to this day.

Agester was a service, that lets you upload your photos and after moderation your photos get published on the service. Then comes the tricky part that you let people guess your age. The idea was to get feedback to learn that you are hot or not for your age. If I was a teenager, that wants to hear “Wow, you look like you are 25” from the girls on my radar and all I get was “You look like 14”, that would probably lower my spirits. And if I was a fit woman in her late 40’s and hear “You look like 54”, I would never open that web page again.

There were some social media elements like befriending with users, but most people couldn’t find what they were looking for. Service died eventually.

Lesson to be learned: Get feedback on your product, especially negative feedback to see your weaknesses. But you don’t need to give negative feedback to your customers, that make them feel bad.

Fashism

You were probably expecting a swastika on a service called Fashism. Or if you somehow got fashion relevance from “fash” part, you probably were still thinking something to do with Nazis. Guess what? Nobody from the team of Fashism thought about that. Also another fun fact: Ashton Kutcher invested in Fashism.

Fashism was a service that you get feedback on your fashion choices from the community (which are normal people, mostly). Majority of the users were US teenagers who were looking for feedback on their clothes for school (also who probably had no clue on what fascism means, like the founders). But Fashism worked smoothly between 2010 and 2012, and even had enough funding to pivot to e-commerce.

Lesson to be learned: Use common-sense while you name your startup or product.

Outbox

Digital Transformation always reminds me of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, which is great at transforming old-school documents into editable text files. But as a term, Digital Transformation means a lot more, especially for traditional companies. What Outbox does is to turn our physical mailboxes into digital ones, by sending people to homes to get mails from mailboxes. They described themselves as “recreating the US Postal Service”.

First of all, people getting mail from your physical mailboxes and opening them (even if it is to send them to you digitally) is a great privacy concern for most people. Also, on average a mail gets delivered to you in 3 days and Outbox adds at least 3 more days to that. Last but not least, people driving to your house and back increases carbon emission.

Most of us are trying to kill physical mailing by choosing to get digital bills for everything. The main reason for that is to be more efficient for both ourselves and our planet. Outbox did exactly the opposite of that.

Lesson to be learned: Make life more efficient for people, not the other way around. Also, people care more and more everyday about their privacy.

BlackMailed

If you are a netizen, you probably wandered in deep web a few times out of curiosity. But on our regular web, illegal stuff gets busted usually. Blackmailed (currently a porn website, as you can guess) used to be a service where you can blackmail people for money. You post photos or videos on the service and photos got revealed daily if the target doesn’t pay up.

Blackmailed was a joke, a real joke. Probably the website never ever existed, but the legend says that it was a real project and the founders got arrested even before the service goes live.

Lesson to be learned: A legal consultant will always be handy. (And Tor is there for a reason)

iSmell

Steve Jobs got all of us into that “i” madness with iPads, iPhones and iSmell, but iSmell has nothing to do with Apple. Sounding and looking like it is a gadget from a South Park episode, iSmell is a device that emitted more than 100 different scents after being plugged into a PC. When user clicks on a website or opens an email, iSmell sends out the related odor.

Investors were very interested in the device, as it raised more than 20 million USD, yet the customers thought it was useless. Even if the technology was unrelated, in the late fifties and early sixties, in fact, during the screening of some films, such as the famous case of Scent of Mystery, cinemas were sprayed with perfumes to implement the visual experience with that smell. The attempts failed because you got the opposite effect: the audience was even bothered by it.

Lesson to be learned: A nice idea is not always a useful one. And always learn from previous mistakes, like the ones in this article.

Bonus: I Am Rich

There are loads of useless apps on every app store, on every platform. But most of them get eliminated by the algorithms that the platform uses, regarding user votes, comments, download numbers etc. As free apps are the ones that get most downloads, most of those apps are also free. But there was one legendary app, that was sold for $999, which is the maximum amount allowed by Apple.

I Am Rich” was an app (or a bait, whichever you choose) that promises nothing, but reportedly 8 morons bought it on the first and only day, only to see the screen only contains a glowing red gem and an icon that, when pressed, displays the following mantra in large text: I am rich, I deserv (yeap, typo) it, I am good, healthy & successful.

After being published on 5th of August 2008, Apple took down the app on 6th of August. In one day, developer of the app Armin Heinrich earned $5600 and Apple earned $2400.

The next year, Heinrich released I Am Rich LE. Priced at $9.99, the new app has several new features (including a calculator, “help system” and the “famous mantra without the spelling mistakes.”) to meet Apple’s requirement that apps have “definable content”. A year later, Google Play and Windows Phone Marketplace also got the same app from different developers.

Lesson to be learned: Don’t be these guys; neither the creators nor the buyers.