Following is a guest post by Amanda Green. Amanda writes extensively on the subjects of business and personal finance.
3 Quirky Business Ideas That May Just Be Brilliant
Great ideas come from anywhere. You can be standing in line for ice cream and voila—new business plan. That’s part of the glory and excitement of entrepreneurial thinking. It’s like magic sometimes! Lately, I’ve had a few quirky little ideas pop into my hopper that I think may actually be borderline brilliant business models—sorry if that sounds arrogant. The following are my latest offerings to entrepreneurial readers looking for inspiration:
Vending machines for zines—I’ve always loved zines, those little nostalgic holdovers from the 80s that just don’t seem to go away. Many traditional zine makers now operate online, the new village square. With the rise of the Internet, I actually see a niche for a return of physical off-line zines that could make for a good business. I could see it operating out of a vending machine, which could be customized in any number of ways. It may be time to contact 1 800 Vending before someone steals my idea. Although I guess I need to think about how I’m going to get all those zine publishers on board too…
Place based messaging app for parents—Parents use technology too. In fact, stay-at-home moms are some of the newest early adopters of helpful smartphone apps. The success of location based media apps like Foursquare and Gowalla also demonstrate many openings for innovation in this field. I suggest a place-based messaging app specifically designed for parents on the go, offering specialized discounts for check-in’s at parent-friendly venues and businesses. This app could also offer a GPS-like service that may behoove a soccer mom with a minivan full of screaming children.
A parent-friendly Internet radio service—Pandora and Last.Fm are great. In fact, I use them all the time, as do millions of other Internet users. But the problem for a parent is that you can never be sure whether something inappropriate will sneak into your playlist. Sure, they claim to have filters for that, but the reality is parents should be able to have total control over the content they expose their children to without resorting to guesswork. I think there would be a huge market for a parent-friendly internet radio service that operated similarly to Pandora, but with an algorithm that specifically eliminated any untoward subject matter from playlists.
Alright, truth be told, these ideas might require a little start up capital. And some brilliant marketing! But I think with ample time and effort they could catch on and appeal to certain niche markets.
Note: Consideration was received to review, edit and post this article.
I was on the committee to help with my kid’s school (Magellan International School) big annual fundraiser, Noche de Gala. I played a small part in a great event held at the Bob Bullock museum last weekend. The theme was “peace” so most of us wore white dresses or suits. There were many big and smaller items to auction
The lead organizers did an amazing job pulling everything together across multiple facets. I was one of the people in charge of collecting payments on items that were auctioned off and this year we used some cool technology. We downloaded free QR readers to our iPhones or Androids. We scanned the QR codes on the back of the bid card of the person who won an auction item. If the scan was successful, a page popped up hosted by MiniDonations with all their information pre-loaded. We just had to enter their credit card information and the amount and it was processed and subsequently put into the appropriate school account. It was kind of fun and neat to use and made me feel so efficient and powerful! The only thing I would recommend that MiniDonations add to their interface is a field for comments so we could put a note regarding what item the bidder was purchasing.
I always like using technology that makes things easier while being fun to use!
When I wonder what it’s all about, why I am where I am, and whether all my decisions or in/out-of-control direction changes in life were good ones, I usually need to drink lots of red wine and stay away from the hard liquor! When my 6, soon to be 7, year old daughter tells me to take a break from cooking dinner and see what she made and affixed to my home office desk (photo to left), everything makes sense for a few moments.
I tell her that I need to save all these precious notes and drawings she makes me because when she’s a teenager she’ll want nothing to do with me. She denies it adamantly and tells me she will always love me. I tell her I know that’s true but she might not express it the same way as she does now, but I will always love her which thankfully she believes. I doubt she’ll be writing me the same heart warming notes and drawing me butterflies when she’s 16, but the fact that she thinks she will is sweet. Although I’m sure her peers and society might think it weird if she’s drawing hearts to her friends and mom when she’s older, I hope she continues to be comfortable expressing her love for people because it’s not an easy thing to do without judgement when you get older.
I don’t recall my now 9 year old son writing too many “I love mommy” notes when he was 6, but I do have a few of those that I’ve saved and stuck to the fridge or put in his box. He mostly wants to play with my iPhone and the Wii runs into me to show his affection and randomly hugs me sometimes in odd places like Office Depot. He still likes me to sit next to him when he’s watching TV and cuddle with him for a bit before he goes to sleep. When I ask him why he is hugging me in a superstore, he says “I don’t know, I just wanted to.” I sigh, laugh, roll my eyes a bit and say “Ok sweetie, I’ll take it when and where I can get it,” hug him back and muss his hair.
I’m so lucky when it comes to my kids (knock on wood) and I guess I am where I need to be right now for them. If I’m penniless in my 80s, I’ll show them the notes and see if they remember writing them and the feelings they were trying to express at the time. Deep stuff, I know.
Today I had the privilege of attending a fundraising lunch for Little Helping Hands, an Austin based non-profit that assists children/families in in volunteering for great causes in Austin. It was founded by two philanthropic, social entrepreneur parents who wanted to instill those same values in their kids. They organize kid friendly events so other non-profits in Austin can benefit from families and kids who want to volunteer together. Examples include helping to assemble and disassemble computers for organizations like Goodwill and giving out totes full of clothes and goodies to kids in foster care, etc. My good friend Rachel Muir invited me to the event. I am looking forward to finding an event where the kids and I can go volunteer together someday soon. I don’t think my kids realize how lucky they are and how much they have. I think instilling “giving back” values at this age will be valuable for them and whatever community they find themselves living in when they are older.
We all have the same amount of time (barring unforeseen, usually dire circumstances) to do what we are meant to do or want to do while here on earth. It doesn’t really matter if we are born knowing what we are supposed to do or we aren’t. In the case of Hugo (movie), he discovered his purpose in life was to fix other people, things, automatons, and clocks. A series of unfortunate and fortunate events led him to the automaton/person he was meant to fix.
Sometimes time feels like it ticks so painfully slowly when you aren’t able to do what you want to do, be with the people you want to be with, or ironically figure out what your purpose is in life. But then all of a sudden you look up, notice that time has slipped through your fingers and you realize…you rationalize…you reason that maybe this was just all the way it was supposed to turn out. But you know there were points in the road of life where you could have gone a different seemingly easier or treacherously hard way. Would it have resulted in fame, fortune, finding your soul mate, and great health or would you have been run over by a bus?
Timing is everything, but the passing of “time” is the one thing none of us can change until my kids someone invents a time machine. Many of us spend so much time chasing something just out of our reach, so much so that it must be human nature. But when do we stop…do we stop? We can’t stop! Or can we? Well, maybe after we discover intelligent life on another planet.
I’ve always found Valentine’s Day to be an unusual day. Such significance placed on a day when really the 364 (or 365 in this leap year) other days of the year are what really constitute love and endurance. My thoughts on this day are generally too philosophical to share easily so here are some random thoughts:
Chocolate covered strawberries (well chocolate covered almost anything) are yummy.
Money comes and goes. Apparently so does love.
“Sometimes one smile means more than a dozen roses” – on the wrapper of one of the Dove chocolate squares (given to me by my best friend for my birthday) my kids and I melted in a small pot before dipping strawberries & mandarin oranges in it.
Love shows up in the strangest and sometimes most unexpected of places and people.
My kids are my best valentine’s “dates” ever, and they are showing me how to dance the “shuffle dance.”
My son showed me that you can search Wikipedia in different languages.
My daughter’s smile and laugh melt my heart.
Google’s Valentine’s Day home page video (you tube link; embedded below) is so simple and true. People fall in love when someone quits giving you stuff you don’t want or need and “connects” with who you are and what you enjoy.
Some people serve as bridges during good times and bad and others are just trolls. If you are a parent, especially of girls, you have most likely heard of Dora the Explorer and the grumpy old troll who doesn’t let anyone cross his bridge unless they do certain things, behave a certain way, or answer certain questions. He is an unhappy soul.
Some people reach out to you only when they need something, but otherwise aren’t very helpful when you reach out to them. They don’t seem to really care what’s going on with you, or even bother to notice if you are in a pickle even if you ask for help. Some people burn bridges intentionally and others aren’t aware they are doing so.
We can all be bridges and help people get to where they are trying to go. It doesn’t have to be a diamond studded bridge…even a kind word, a pat on the back, a few words of encouragement, or an introduction to someone else who can help them can go a long way to bridge someone to their destination.
I remember a saying I heard when I was in college that went something like: always be kind and generous to people who come to you for help in their time of need, because you never know when you will be in a similar situation someday. Good, caring people help us get through the challenges and even the glories of life. I’ve also heard it said in a more foreboding way “Be careful who you step on when you are climbing up the corporate ladder, for they may be in a position to help you when/if the rungs break, due to things in or out of your control, and you come falling down .”
Be kind. Be a bridge for someone during their time of need and don’t put terms and conditions on your help…just do it. Things have a way of coming around. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful “people” bridges, and I hope I am perceived as being as helpful to others as they have been to me.
The following is a guest post by Brittany Lyons. She aspires to be a psychology professor and is currently a blogger for an online PhD program. She wants to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.
The iPad: A Parenting Tool?
The new age of mobile devices has influenced the way parents interact with their children. Even the youngest of children are often allowed to play with their parent’s cell phones, and now the iPad has been thrown into the mix. However, just as with any toy or device, allowing children to use an iPad has both its advantages and disadvantages.
An iPad can benefit children and help parents in several ways. It entertains children endlessly, and there are a number of games and apps are available that children of all ages to play. Besides serving as means for staving off boredom, the iPad can also be used as an educational tool. As educators and those with PhDs have discovered, mathematics lessons, alphabet practice and other activities make the iPad a useful addition for a learning environment. As a result, many schools even begun incorporating the iPad into classrooms to stimulate and reach children that may not respond to traditional teaching methods.
iPads can also be used to assist special needs child. The article “Adapting to the iPad, Called ‘Education’s ‘Equalizer’,” on USAToday.com, details how apps are available to help students with ADHD become more organized. For example, children can use iPad videos to learn how to perform daily tasks, such as hand-washing or getting dressed. Additionally, parents of autistic children have discovered that the iPad attracts their children’s attention like no other mobile or computer device. Autistic children are drawn to the stability and predictability of the iPad, and it allows them to feel safer than they do when interacting with a human. [Comment from Aruni: A friend of mine is behind an organization called Special Needs Apps for Kids so please check it out. SNApps4Kids is a volunteer community of parents, therapists, doctors, and teachers who share information on how we are using the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android devices with children who have special needs.]
Finally, while computer games and video games have often been used by therapists to improve hand-eye coordination, the iPad provides a high-tech alternative. There are a variety of games that can be played on the device that allow children to practice tracking objects visually before touching them on the screen. Better yet, not only do these games enable children to strengthen their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but they also let kids learn academic material while having fun.
Despite all of the ways parents can use an iPad to help their children learn, there are risks associated with the device. Children may become dependent on the iPad and shun their peers and toys. This attachment can lead to temper tantrums when the parent tries to take the iPad away from the child. Similarly, the iPad does not encourage communication with other people, which is an important social skill for children to learn. The device also distracts children from playing imaginative games or from going outside to play. A final risk of letting children play with an iPad is the cost involved. Even if is a child is very careful when handing an iPad, there is a chance that they may break this expensive device.
Ultimately an iPad cannot replace a parent, so parents need to ensure that they interact with their children throughout the day. Parents should make a point to talk to their kids about how school is going and discuss homework assignments. Encourage family togetherness by playing board games or sports as a group. By avoiding using the iPad as a bribe or as the sole source of entertainment, parents will soon find a nice balance that can help their child learn and grow without interfering with other developing skills.
I think one of the main ways to survive parenthood (and life) is to have a healthy appreciation of being silly. Of course there is also the importance of being earnest. For some reason last night my kids were being extra silly. I had the opportunity to watch the 15+ kids in my son’s after school care program yesterday so the teachers could have their holiday party. I don’t know how teachers deal with all the different personalities. Just the few short hours I was there, I could pick out the bully, the insecure one, the mean one, etc. Over dinner, I expressed to my kids the importance of being understanding & kind as well as how much I appreciated them…of course they thought that was weird. Somehow that digressed into a discussion of very tall people and some other potty talk not appropriate for the blog but funny nonetheless, and understandable if you have kids.
My son wondered if a tall person never stopped growing (after a rousing discussion on the tallest person in the Guinness Book of World Records) what would happen if his bones kept growing after he died. He wondered out loud would happen if after this tall person disintegrated (don’t know how he knew this word) his bones kept on growing until the world was all dust. I told him that was impossible but quite an interesting story.
My daughter told a story about penguins. She said “Once upon a time, there was a penguin. And then the penguin turned into an ice cube. And then another penguin turned into an ice cube. While the penguins were ice cubes, they never stopped p**ping and the other penguin was never happy again because the penguin was so angry that he exploded.”
My son then told a story about a person who had very long hair who never stopped going to the bathroom (#1) and his hair fell in the toilet and was eaten by a crocodile so he became bald. But I told him that was highly inappropriate for the blog. Of course, they were laughing hysterically. I kept thinking how lucky I am to have such story telling kids. If they choose to write or blog, I’m sure they will be much better at it than I am.
I don’t’ have time to read many blogs these days, but I read about 98% of what Seth Godin writes on his blog. I keep meaning to buy and read more of his books, but time escapes me with the many things I’m juggling right now. I’m so glad he blogs!
I subscribed to his Domino Project emails. Watch this video. If you have kids. If you have a daughter. If you are a human being who has put yourself in the face of challenge and danger. If you want to know you are not alone, you must watch this video on Ted Talk. Sarah Kay is a “spoken word poet.” She starts with a compelling poem. She then goes on to discuss her loves of poetry and theater. She is young. She is beautiful and well spoken. Given her talent now, I wonder how she will sound after she actually has kids…or a daughter. Video is embedded below:
Woman in Beijing, China making dumplings for us in her house
There’s really no correlation between scooters and dishes. I got some scooters for my kids a couple of weeks ago and now they scoot around the house all the time. When they wake up, to the breakfast/dinner table, to the bathroom to brush their teeth, etc. I told them they could scoot around the house only if the scooter hasn’t been outside the house. We have a “shoes at the door” policy most of the time, so I figured it was fine for them to scoot around the house while the scooters were unblemished by the outside driveway or sidewalk. They seem more motivated to go places in the house on their scooters so that’s nice, and as long as they don’t run over my toes, I’m fine with it.
On another dishy note, my 9 year old son tried to the dishes tonight. He said “I never realized how tiring (hard) it was to do the dishes.” He only put around 4 plates in the dishwasher and he put my gloves on while rinsing the plates…so cute! I laughed. I always told him that when he was tall enough he’d have to do the dishes. He’s still a short kid and much water ended up on his shirt and on the floor, but I’m glad he appreciated that it wasn’t an easy thing to do the dishes! He and his sister like to help me cook and especially if I’m making mac ‘n cheese, but doing the dishes was a new thing and I’m glad my son now has a neural pathway in his mind about the “hardness” of doing dishes.
When opportunity knocks where will you be? I imagine I’ll be at my son’s soccer game, making sure my kid’s take baths, cooking, or I’ll be doing their laundry. How do we recognize when opportunity knocks? Entrepreneurs are supposed to create opportunities, right? But really, I think we see an opportunity and we try to take advantage of it. Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who can validate the idea are rare but those who can execute against those ideas to profitability are even rarer. It’s not easy to execute against most ideas or take advantage of most opportunities.
One day I want to write a novel. I want to write a fiction novel and I’d like to write a novel about business. But right now I’m working full time, making sure my kids take their baths, watching their soccer games, going to swim classes, making sure they do their homework, doing dishes, and folding laundry. It’s certainly all great material for that novel I’m going to write one day which may or may not ever see the light of day. I recall my grandfather wanted to write a book. I think he started writing something, but he was too busy doing great entrepreneurial things, helping kids, hanging out with grand kids, dealing with a sick wife (my grandmother), and helping other people so he never finished putting down in words the wisdom that was in his head. He died of leukemia at the age of 82. I bet if he could have blogged, he would have tried it out. He was a brilliant, yet flawed man like most of us humans are.
Opportunity knocked and I went to China. Opportunity knocked and I found a guy who I used to work with, Brian Hurdle, to redesign my blog who just redesigned my twitter page. While flying to China, I read Little Bee: A Novel (about a refugee girl who escaped from Nigeria to England) and The Secret Life of Bees (about a White girl who runs away from her abusive father to live with a bunch of Negro women in the southern US in the 1960s). The first was written by a man, the latter by a woman. The overarching theme of both books from my perspective was “men suck!” Interestingly, little boys did not suck and they too needed protection from men, who ironically were at one point in their lives little boys themselves. What happens between cute, sweet little boyhood and manhood? I don’t know, but I hope my boy stays sweet, thoughtful, and caring. Of course both fiction novels were written for the female audience, which is kind of distressing. But as I was reading them, I thought these are well written novels. Not as superbly written as others I’ve read but well written overall. So after doing some calculations, I figured I need to be a millionaire by the age of 45 to even think of having the time, resources, and health insurance to write such a novel. I’m not too far away from 45….
I’m going to be taking a little journey to a place very unique and ancient. I’ll write more when I return. Life has been very busy, but in a growing, learning, and accepting sort of way. I’m still trying to make a difference to people, somewhere, here, everywhere, while making sure my kids know I love them and accept them for who they are in ways words can’t express. Pretty much like a billion people before me have tried to do.
I get many people asking me to blog about their products. Some even offer to pay me. Most of the requests I ignore as I don’t feel the products are relevant or I don’t have much to say about them. But when the PR guy for the Robi Comb reached out to me, it piqued my interest. My kids got head lice for the first time last Spring and it was icky, tiring and awful. It seems like more than half the kids in the school got them. We did environmentally friendly, non-toxic treatments that took 4 hours and they had to sit around in caps until late into the night (i.e. past their bed times and past mom’s patience). Then my son got them again in summer camp. I was less mortified but still very annoyed. I remember getting them as a kid when I went to visit Sri Lanka and the stuff they put on our heads was kind of like kerosine. This is America, not a third world country, so as any American full time working mother would do, I freaked. The non-toxic treatment stuff they have these days smells like a caramel frappacino. I was tempted to make my kids smell something nasty so they could experience the same need to run around outside without stopping until the treatment was done, but I let them enjoy the smell of eucalyptus spray and coffee smelling gunk.
They sent me the following write-up (in italics below) and a free Robi Comb. I was hoping that I’d never have to use it as certainly my kids were done with that craziness, but lo and behold, it happened again recently. After asking my son who the heck he was hanging out with (because my daughter escaped them) and they take a bath every day, I used the Robi Comb on him. It had been sitting on the counter for several weeks and they were curious about it. My son said his head was itchy and I figure he just wanted to use the comb so he was making it up. I told him that he simply could not have head lice again. My daughter and I looked in his hair fairly thoroughly with a flashlight and saw pretty much nothing. Even the things we thought could be nits weren’t. He has brown hair so it’s easy to see nits and I figured I’d see any stupid lice crawling around. At his head scratching insistence, I used the comb and I was shocked to discover it found 7 lice. I swear I saw nothing and everything in my being did not want to believe him when he said he thought he had lice. I guess it was a good thing I listen to my kids most of the time because after running it through his hair several times and changing the sheets, he can go to school without a 4 hour treatment followed up by multiple combings and daily hair spray-ings because 7 lice do not constitute an infestation. But I decided to use the Robi Comb for a few days just in case and no more were found. I still sprayed his head with eucalyptus spray and made him use lice shampoo to repel them. I was impressed with how easy it was to use and how quickly it found them!
As back to school time approaches, so does the head lice boom. Lice, the ultimate creepy crawler, will find its way onto millions of children’s heads this fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year among children 3 to 11 years of age. However, with the recent increase in head lice breakouts this past year, it’s imperative that all parents be prepared to tackle this common nuisance. This increase has even prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to amend their “No Nits” policy regarding withholding children from public schools who might still have nits, otherwise known as head lice eggs, present on their scalp. The amended policy says that children with nits do not necessarily pose a risk to the rest of the schools population.
This amended policy has many parents nationwide scratching their head, as they do not want to put their children in any “unnecessary” risk by sending them to schools recently affected by an infestation. As evident by this policy’s amendment, head lice is not so much of a health or hygiene issue; however the way these pests are commonly treated is of greater concern. In the past, the only way to effectively treat head lice was with dangerous toxic shampoos, chemicals, gels or oils; many of which use Pyrethrum or Permethrin, the same pesticides found in household bug killers. Today more than ever, there is a growing concern of the health effects of putting toxins and chemicals such as these on a developing child’s head and the negative long term effects these poisons may have. Aside from being toxic, many of these “traditional” treatments have also been widely reported to not even work, as the lice, in most cases, have built up a resistance to the pesticides used rendering them essentially useless.
In the event your child brings home more than just homework this school year, the Robi Comb from LiceGuard is an ideal product for ridding their scalp of lice without the use of harmful chemicals. The Robi Comb is a non-invasive electronic lice comb powered by a single AA battery that detects and destroys lice on contact simply by combing it through dry hair. When the Robi Comb’s metal teeth touch lice, the lice get zapped, die and then get combed away. Unlike chemical treatments, the Robi Comb can be used as often as you like and can be used repeatedly by the entire family. The Robi Comb lets you know by an audible signal whether or not head lice are present, so it can be used to detect an infestation as well as treat it. In fact, many school nurses are now using the Robi Comb for exactly that reason. School nurses report that Robi Comb is able to find lice which they have missed when checking visually. More than 3,000 school districts in all 50 states are now currently using the Robi Comb. This innovative product is available for purchase for $29.99 at major retailers such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid, as well as thousands of local pharmacies across the nation.
Ten years have passed since that fateful day in New York City. Many people have been born and many have died. The 9/11/01 smashing of the World Trade Centers and attack on the American way of life is being talked about and shown on most news networks. Today is 9/11/11 and so much has changed in the last ten years and yet so much is still the same. When it happened, I had just been married 5 1/2 months and didn’t know I would be pregnant with my son a couple of months later. I did a post back in May 2011 when the Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden.
I wish you and your family lots of Love and Laughter for the next 10 years and beyond. I think if those who orchestrated and conducted the attacks 1o years ago had more true Love and Laughter and less Sadness, Confusion, and Anger, we might not be celebrating the anniversary of such a horrible day. I wonder, though, if we as a nation, species, and world have truly woken up yet.