One of the biggest problems wantrepreneurs have is waiting for that “perfect business idea.” Instead of hoping inspiration will strike, the best way to start a business is to seek out real problems.
Problems you face, problems your friends face, problems the world faces.
Solve these problems and you’ll have an instant customer base. And it’s fine if your solution is kinda offbeat; if you see an opportunity then go for it.
Let me tell you about some entrepreneurs that turned wacky ideas into profitable businesses by keeping their eyes open for problems they could solve.
The Novelty Pet Rock Seller
The Problem: People want pets but can’t afford them
The Solution: The Pet Rock
The Return: $15 million profit
“Your PET ROCK will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come.”
Pet Rocks were a surprise hit in the ‘70s. In 1976, over 1.5 million people purchased them for $4 a pop. The creator, Gary Dahl, became a multimillionaire within six months. Dahl had the idea after he heard his friends complain about their pets. That gave him the idea for a “perfect pet”: a rock.
One that you’ll never feed, walk, bathe, groom, or neuter. And they will always be by your side, your new best friend. Each Pet Rock came nestled in a box, and featured a manual about how to care properly for it.
When asked about his wild success, Dahl told People Magazine, “People are so damn bored, tired of all their problems. This takes them on a fantasy trip — you might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor.”
This is how you turn a novelty idea into a profitable business. It’s all about timeliness and branding.
The Professional Cuddler
The Problem: People are lonely and miss human touch
The Solution: Rent a cuddle buddy
The Return: Around $50,000 a year from cuddles, classes, and product sales
Netflix and cuddle? That’ll be $60 an hour.
Samantha Hess, founder of Cuddle Up To Me, clocked in 25,000 minutes of professional cuddling in 2014. You can book platonic cuddle time with her through her website, to “receive the love and attention that you deserve.” For $1 a minute.
Before you dismiss this as a stupid idea, hear her out.
“Touch has the power to comfort us when we are sad, heal us when we are sick, encourage us when we feel lost, and above all else allow us to accept that we are not alone,” Hess writes. Hess founded Cuddle Up To Me as she believed there was a demand for people missing non-sexual human touch. Maybe they were single, maybe they were lonely, maybe everyone they knew had died. She wanted to offer them a way to feel connected.
She was right. Hess now has a team of certified cuddlers – who pay $900+ for her certification courses — and has been featured CBS, CNN, and USA TODAY. Who knew you could monetize the cuddle puddle?
Professional Line Sitter
The Problem: Want to be the first to get something but don’t want to wait?
The Solution: Hire a line-sitter
The Return: Approximately $60,000 a year
Robert Samuel is the founder of Same Ole Line Dudes (SOLD). He’ll wait in line for you… for a price.
Samuel realized there was a market for this service after he saw a ‘help wanted’ ad on Craigslist. They were offering cash to anyone who’d wait in line for the new iPhone. After completing the job, he started looking for more lazy and/or time-strapped people and continued waiting in lines for them. He now has over a dozen professional line sitters working for him in NYC.
One hour of line-sitting is priced at $25, and he has a fluid price structure depending on how much time you need. He charges $485 for a 24-hour wait.
One customer writes:
“Robert handled a very tricky line standing assignment with great discretion. With Robert’s help I was able to make a dream come true for my daughter – nothing is more important. He stood line for us over night, was reliable and punctual. I would give him 10 Stars. Thank you SOLD, Inc. for your indispensable help, keep up the good work.”
Rent The Chicken
The Problem: You want a chicken (and some fresh eggs)… but only for a few weeks
The Solution: Rent a chicken
The Return: $200,000+
Jenn and Phil Tompkins hatched their idea, Rent The Chicken, in 2013.
They’re catering to the growing demand for DIY urban farming. They realized that many people put off investing in chicken-related items because they weren’t sure if chickens would agree with them. Buying a coop and feed is a big investment, and if you and your chickens aren’t a good match, well that kinda sucks. Rent The chicken is a service that lets people test out raising chickens and also provides people with a non-stop supply of fresh organic eggs.
They say these eggs have ⅓ less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fats, and double the omega-3 fatty acids of store-bought eggs. The Tompkins provide chickens to over 30 states. But they’re not alone. Their competition, Rent-A-Chicken and Rent a Coop, are also cashing in on the demand for temporary chickens. With the price of eggs constantly rising, chicken rental makes fiscal sense for a lot of people.
I Do Now I Don’t
The Problem: Can’t get a fair deal when re-selling jewelry
The Solution: Cut out the middle man
The Return: $15 million in revenue in 2015
Are you recently divorced? Sell your ring to future newlyweds for a price you deserve.
When Josh Opperman’s fiancée left him, he was devastated. And he had another problem: a fancy engagement ring that was rapidly depreciating. He tried to returning it to the jeweler but walked away when they offered him 35% of the original selling price.
This inspired Josh to start I Do Now I Don’t in 2007. The website helps people sell engagement rings (or any fancy jewelry) directly to people seeking them, avoiding the jewelry story entirely. He made an estimated $15 million in 2015.
I guess you can call that a happy ending.
If you look at your own life and experiences you’ll find a number of under served markets. Maybe there’s a better way to get your Starbucks order in or solving the problem of unfair rental practices. Once you’ve identified the problem, you need to create a solution – no matter how unusual. When this comes together, you’ve just found your next business opportunity.