Startup #5: Checkout +1 – why you must test your best business idea within a week

Week #5 starts and this time I don’t want to use one of my existing business ideas, but find a complete new one. How do you generate business ideas from scratch? What are great and easy tools to use? Where do you find the best ideas? This is what I want to find out in this blog post.

As always: If you want to read the summary first, here you will find it.

Day 1: Struggling for good business ideas

The new week dawned and I decided to start this week by finding new business ideas. I still have some old ideas in my “idea book” but I got many request from a lot of readers, who asked me to show ways to generate new business ideas.

Well: You asked for it, I will do it icon wink Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

How to find a good business idea

Finding a business idea is easy; finding a good business idea is a lot of work. I think from 100 business ideas I have, 99 are complete nonsense and only 1 is good. But I also think that it is not possible to find 1 great idea, without thinking about 99 crazy ones.

From my experience, finding a good business idea is like digging for gold: You have to screen a lot of sand to find a gold nugget.

Therefore I am trying to generate as much business ideas as possible. I write down every business idea I’ve got, even when it sounds like complete nonsense – sometimes the most stupid ideas help me to find new great ones.

But how do I actually generate these ideas? I am using around ten different tools. I want to show you two of them today: The Amazon-Bestseller-Categories tool (aka the ABC-Tool) and the Solve-your-own-problem tool.

The Amazon-Bestseller-Categories Tool

This tool bases on a very simple and pragmatic assumption: When a product at Amazon is a bestseller, a lot of people are buying it, therefore a huge market exists for this kind of product.

So here is what I am doing while using the Amazon-Bestseller-Categories (ABC) trick:

First I go to the Amazon bestseller site: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers/zgbs

amazon bestseller Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

There I click on each category/ department and write out the top 20 bestsellers of each category.

amazon bestseller top 20 department Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

Then I take the list of all the top 20 bestsellers from all categories/ departments and ask for each of the articles the following 3 questions:

  • Can I find a substitute for this product, which is cheaper or better? For example: Cheap no-name ink cartridges
  • Can I find an additional product, which makes the product better? For example: iPad cases
  • Can I customize the product so it fits better to the needs of at least some of the customers? For example: Individual photo albums

ABC tool for idea generation Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

 

By doing this I usually get 10 – 15 ideas. I’ve tried it with the German Amazon site and these were the ideas I came up with this time:

  • Offering additional products for license plates
  • Building individual reflective vests
  • Designing car shampoos for different car types
  • Building individual activity gyms for babies
  • Building a smartphone baby-phone app (most parents have two mobiles)
  • Offering leasing for car seats
  • Building individual sun shields
  • Building cheap baby mirrors for cars
  • Building individual fly screens
  • Offering special designed rims-brushes

Just try it out on your own. You will be surprised how many ideas you will get!

Solve-Your-Own-Problem Tool

This is my favorite way of finding new business ideas: I just watch out for my own problems. I try to be as mindful as possible in my daily life to find things which annoy me, which take too much time or which are too expensive. It’s sounds easier than it is! It’s really hard to be aware of the things that bother someone. But when you find something, chances are good, that the solution to that problem is a great business idea.

I tried this technique to find new business ideas for this weekly startup and these are the ideas I came up with:

  • Offering a kit with 10 different pacifier to find the best working pacifier for your baby (problem: I tried 3 different pacifier for my son – none of them really worked!)
  • Small Talk Generator (problem: I am very bad in small talk and I would love to get the top 3 daily small talk topics on my smartphone)
  • Choose the right line app (problem: I hate to wait at supermarket and always choose the wrong line. Why isn’t there an app, which shows where I should line up)

By using these two tools I generated 13 business ideas within one day. Not bad. icon wink Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

Lessons learned

These are my lessons I learned from day 1:

  • Generate many business ideas: Finding a good business idea is like digging for gold: You have to screen a lot of sand to find one gold nugget.
  • Use the ABC-Tool: Use Amazon’s bestseller to find new business ideas. Look for substitutes, add-ons and customization.
  • Use the Solve-Your-Own-Problem Tool: Look for your own problems you want to solve. Your solution to your problem could be a great business idea.

Day 2: Choosing a business idea

Okay, I made a decision: I want to build the “Choose the right line app”. I think it’s the most interesting challenge and could provide the biggest learnings for all of us. Let’s do it!

Eat that frog

One of the most important learnings from my career is this: Eat that frog! This means: Focus on the biggest problem you have (I usually call it “The big, hairy problem”) and solve this problem first. Don’t waste your time with the “fun stuff”, because this is what everyone is doing. Find the big, hairy problem and tackle it!

In my case the big, hairy problem was actually finding a solution for the problem “Waiting too long in the lines of supermarkets”. This problem is probably as old as mankind itself and there is still no solution for that. Therefore a solution won’t be easy… icon sad Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

But at least I should try icon wink Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

Build a structure and tackle the problem

I set myself a time limit of 1 day to solve the problem. I need this kind of restriction to focus my thoughts and to produce results.

I started my day by reading everything about waiting lines and queuing theory. I won’t trouble you with the details, but these are the most important things I’ve learned:

  • Queuing theory is damn complex
  • But keeping things simple: The most important factors for the waiting time in a line are the number people in front of you and the time it takes for each person to get served (scanning time + payment time)
  • The number of people in front of you are influenced by the number of open checkouts
  • Supermarkets don’t care about their waiting lines (at least here in Germany) because they don’t cost them anything

I used these information to structure my problem.

structure waiting line problem Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

 

Next I tried to find at least 3 ways for each of the 4 influence factors to reduce the waiting time in a line.

This is what I came up with.

Number of people in the waiting line

I found these 3 possibilities to reduce the number of people in front of someone:

  • Get to the line with the least people in front of you: I could build an app, where you can make a picture of the waiting lines and it will tell you automatically which line is the shortest.
  • Let someone else line up: I could build an app, where you can pay other people lining up for you.
  • Draw a number: I could build an app where you will get a number when you enter the supermarket. After x minutes your number will be called and you could go to your checkout (where you will be the only customer). If you don’t go to your checkout your number will be called 5 minutes later again.
Time it takes to serve one customer

I found these 3 possibilities to reduce the time it takes to serve one customer:

  • Get to the line with the smallest shopping baskets: I could build an app, where you can make a picture of the waiting lines and it will tell you automatically which line with the smallest shopping baskets.
  • Scan on your own: I could build an app where you can scan and pay your articles on your own
  • Pay upfront: I could build an app, where you pay upfront when you enter the supermarket. You will get send a coupon to your mobile which is worth the same amount. When you are at the checkout, the cashier just scans the coupon. The remaining difference will credited to your account later.
Number of checkouts

I found these 3 possibilities to increase the number of checkouts:

  • Inform the store manager: I could build an app, where you press on a button and the store manager will be informed, that he has to open another checkout.
  • Cashier one another: I could build an app, where people could cashier one another.
  • Pay the cashier: I could build an app, which allows you to pay the cashiers, when they open a new checkout.
Costs of supermarket

I found these 3 possibilities to influence the cost of the supermarket:

  • Where is the fastest supermarket: I could build an app, where you can see the average waiting time of each supermarket. People would then tend to go to the faster supermarkets. This will cost the slower market revenue.
  • Showing ads of the competitor during the waiting in the line: I could build an app, where the customer could log in during the waiting time. The app could take a picture of the shopping basket and analyze it. These data could be send to the competitor of the supermarket, which could make special offers to the customers in the waiting line. The customer could decide to buy his products next time at another supermarket. The supermarket with the waiting line will lose this revenue.
  • Name a price for your waiting time: I could build an app, where you could enter the amount you are willing to pay to get a faster checkout. Supermarkets could use this information to give you a special “fast checkout deal”.

I know, that not all of these ideas are realistic, but again: You have to screen a lot of sand to find a gold nugget.

Visiting the crime scene

After brainstorming all these ideas I decided to visit a supermarket to get a feeling for the problem. I hung around there for two hours, just starring at the checkouts (the security probably got a little bit nervous).

waiting line at lidl Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

After two hours I got the impression, that long waiting lines appear quite rare (yeah, I know Murphy’s law) but when they appear the best way to handle them is opening a new checkout. I decided to go for the “Inform the store manager” idea.

Lessons learned

These are my lessons I learned from day 2:

  • Tackle the big, hairy problems first: Don’t spend time on the fun things to do – look for the problems you have to solve and then solve them.
  • Structure the problem: It’s really useful to structure the problem. By doing this you could generate ideas/ solutions very efficiently.

Day 3: Building a solution

I wanted to build an app, where you press a button and the store manager will be informed, that he has to open another checkout. Of course I didn’t have the time to build an app, therefore I decided to build a simple workaround.

SMS + Phone instead of App

I decided to call the app “Checkout +1″ and used the following workaround:

concept checkoutplusone app Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

 

This is how it works in more detail:

  • The customer is waiting in a long line and starts to get frustrated
  • He sends a SMS with his location to my mobile
  • I look up the supermarket at this location and search its telephone number
  • I call the supermarket/ store manager and ask if they could open a new checkout
  • The new checkout will be opened and the customer is happy again

A working solution with not a single line of coding.

How to make money with Checkout +1

For the start I wanted to give the first three requests for new checkouts away for free. After this you have to pay 0.99 Dollars for each checkout request. When the idea really works (at least 100 customers) I would build an app, which I would sell for 2.99 in the App and Android Store.

That’s it icon wink Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

Trying to get customers

I wanted to build a simple signup form, which I could share on Facebook. Simple signup form? Sounds like a pretty Google Form again to me. icon wink Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

I quickly build a Google Form which just explained how Checkout +1 works and which asked for the contact details of the customers (so I could send them my mobile number, to which they could send their location).

checkout plus one signup form Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

I posted this form on Facebook and waited for things to come.

Lessons learned

These are my lessons I learned from day 3:

  • Use Google Form to build simple signup forms: Google form is really awesome to build simple signup forms.
  • You don’t need to build an app: Try to find ways where you don’t have to build an app but still can test your business idea

Days 4 and 5: Going where the problem is

Day 4 was a bank holiday therefore I didn’t work on Checkout +1.

On day 5 I checked how many people subscribed to Checkout +1. Result: No one. icon sad Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

It’s seems that Facebook doesn’t work for this one. Okay, time to change something.

Trying to get customers – Part 2

My new big, hairy problem: Getting customers. I thought back to my second startup Meet-a-Mom: There it was quite easy to find customers. Why? I think because I delivered the solution directly to the potential customers (I posted on forums) and I connected the problem with the solution (I directly answered to posts of mothers who had the problem I wanted to solve).

I had to do the same for Checkout +1. So I decided to print out 40 flyers and hand them out in front of the supermarket.

flyers checkoutplusone1 Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

Getting out

Standing in front of a supermarket and handing out flyers sucks (I am the guy on the right).

hand out flyers in front of supermarket Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

But it gives you some valuable insights!

I handed out 40 flyers, but no one send me an SMS. I gave the flyer to the people when they entered the supermarket, so I could interview them when they got out of the supermarket. The two reasons why they didn’t use Checkout +1: It was too inconvenient or they didn’t need it.

That was really a surprise to me. I thought that really everybody would need and use this product. But it seems, that I have been wrong. Checkout +1 failed.

Lessons learned

These are my lessons I learned from day 5:

  • Don’t make assumptions about your customers: I was confident, that everyone would use Counter +1, but no one did. I made assumptions about my customers and I failed.
  • Get out and go where the problem is: It’s not enough just to post your new idea on Facebook. You must get out and deliver your solution directly to your customers and their problems.

Summary: Here’s what I’ve learned from startup #5

What I’ve learned is this: Never be sure of your business idea will work. I was really, really confident that Checkout +1 was a great idea - but no one wanted to use it. It was really disappointing on the one side, but on the other side I was really happy that I just invested a week of my life into this idea.

Of course you could argue “Dude, the idea is great, but the implementation was awful. Come on: Sending an SMS to open a checkout? Naaaah, no one likes that.”. But I think, that when you have a great idea, no one (at least the earlyvangelist) cares about the implementation. When you solve their problem, you solve their problem – it’s not important to them how.

Well, here’s the summary for startup #5: Checkout +1.

Elevator pitch: The startup idea in one sentence Checkout +1: The app to open new checkouts to reduce your waiting time.
How did I get the idea for the startup? Using the ABC- and Solve-Your-Own-Problem-Tool
How did I try to make money with the startup? I wanted to sell the app for a price of 2.99 Dollars and get additional 0.99 Dollars for each request to open a new checkout.
How much money did I make and where did it come from? From hero to zero: I made nothing.
What decision did I make after one week? Grow or go? Failed! The idea didn’t work. I thought everyone would use it, but no one did. Even though it was for free! Therefore I decided to dump the idea.
What were the main learnings of the startup? How will I use them for the next startup?
  • Check your best business idea within a week: I thought Checkout +1 is a great business idea – but It wasn’t. In the past I would have invested months into this idea to build it, validate it, improve it…but all I needed was just a week. Extremely helpful!
  • Structure the problem and find more than 1 solution: I found it useful to structure my problem to generate several solutions to solve it. This gave me the possibility to choose between different options.
  • Don’t make assumptions about your customers: I was confident, that everyone would use Counter +1, but no one did. I made assumptions about my customers and I failed.
  • Get out and go where the problem is: It’s not enough just to post your new idea on Facebook. You must get out and deliver your solution directly to your customers and their problems.

 

And this is the amount of time I spent on Checkout +1:

Net hours working on checkout plus one Startup #5: Checkout +1   why you must test your best business idea within a week

All right, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the show and could use some of the learnings for your startup.

Next week I will have to take a week off. I have to write some articles for other blogs to promote The Weekly Startup and do some work for my existing businesses. Sorry, folks!

So, if you want to read about my next startup, visit me in two week or sign up for my newsletter and get it delivered directly to your inbox. Please feel free to comment on my fifth startup Checkout +1 in the comment section right below.

Cheers and see you in two weeks

~ Chris

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23 Responses to Startup #5: Checkout +1 – why you must test your best business idea within a week
  1. Tara Reply

    Hi Chris, Just wanted to say I recently started following your blog and I am really enjoying reading about your latest business tests. I am fairly new to the whole idea of lean business startup so seeing how you drill down into testing an idea is really useful. Thank you – Tara

    • chris Reply

      Hi Tara,

      great to have you here – and thanks for the kind words!

      Cheers
      ~ Chris

  2. Andre Reply

    Hey Chris,

    I like your project. But I think you are missing on important rule: Follow the money!! Which means you should always at least try to look at the problem from the business owner side. The business owner has enough money and is willing to pay if you solve his biggest problem. Waiting lines in general are no problem for the supermarket, as long it doesn’t happen too often because in that case people will decide to go to another supermarket next time. The main problem for the supermarket is the cost structure. A big part of the costs is related to personal costs. I’m living in switzerland right now and here they are trying out a great project which customers really love. It’s called subito .. the idea is that people scan their stuff themselves and check-out pretty fast at a special machine. The project will reduce the personal costs for the bigger supermarkets dramatically. The really surprising thing is that even people in the higher age use it. Really amazing, really intuitive system and as a side-effect: it reduces waiting lines ;-) Here is the link: http://www.migros.ch/de/supermarkt/subito.html. Maybe you can improve on that idea. Good luck anyway.

  3. bryan Reply

    Hey Chris! You are doing great work. Love the blog and your information. Thought some of your other ideas were more spot on. Thanks for putting this stuff out there!

    All the best.

    Bryan

    • chris Reply

      You are very welcome, Bryan! Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Dustin Reply

    Great job, Chris! Like I keep telling you, this work is motivational. Just wait until you get a startup that works really well – this site is going to blow up.

    • chris Reply

      Dustin! How is it going?!
      Thanks again for your kind words. I keep on improving ;)
      Cheers
      ~Chris

  5. Jason Reply

    Chris,

    Your blog is simply inspirational! Most people hide their failures, and forget that sharing the experience is as valuable as sharing a success story.

    What I’ve found is that you’ve got to build some credibility and familiarity in the community before they start to talk to you and will consider parting with any money – I’m using forums and a blog to build this.

    I’d love to see how you handle type of situation.

    Jason

    • chris Reply

      Thanks, Jason!
      At Meet-a-Mom I used forums, too. It really worked very good.
      Love your First Aesthetics idea, man!

      Cheers
      ~ Chris

  6. Kellen Young Reply

    Hi Chris,

    I love reading your blog. It’s become very fun and interesting to read your stories, failures and successes. Had you built an app do you think the idea would have been successful? If you were to build an app what process would you follow to test its chances of success?

  7. Elmar Reply

    Hi Chris!

    Let`s proceed as follows:
    - readers propose business ideas within that week
    - readers vote within 1-3 days
    - you have to validate the business idea with the most votes

    Whaddayathink?
    Kind regards
    Elmar

    • Hadi Prasetyo Reply

      yes..that is a good idea

    • chris Reply

      Great idea! Let’s do it!

      Any idea how to do the voting? Via Facebook, Twitter or WP-Plugin on the site?

      Cheers
      ~Chris

      • Elmar Reply

        Hi Chris,

        I think the fastest way is FB or a wp-plugin or isn`t it?

        First of all you could collect all ideas via e-mail and in 1 week you post all ideas with a possibility to vote…?

        Kind regards
        Elmar

  8. Hadi Prasetyo Reply

    Wow….this is awesome. I don’t have any idea how business is started. You open my eyes. Oh..this is the right way to build a business. and your failure is encourage me…it is ok to have a bad idea. Thanks man

    • chris Reply

      Thanks Hadi for your kind words!
      Yeah, it’s okay to have a bad idea, as long as you don’t put too much time in it. Start your business and get results fast.
      Cheers
      ~Chris

  9. SLOBY Reply

    You should read the book “The mom test”

    After that, probably you wouldn’t be surprised about the outcome.

    You wanted to solve a problem that is annoying but not so annoying that anybody ever wanted to “solve” it.
    If you ask the people in long lines if they like waiting in lines, everybody will tell you they don’t. As soon as you ask: “Have you tried to do something about it?” All of them will probably say that it’s not THAT annoying to wait 3-5 minutes.

    • chris Reply

      Hi Sloby,

      never heard of the book, but it’s seems definitely be worth reading.

      It’s a good idea to ask the question “Have you tried to do something about it?” – I will do this next time.

      Tanks for the tip.

      Cheers
      ~ Chris

    • Elmar Reply

      Hi Sloby,

      thank you very much – ordered ;-)

  10. […] niemals Annahmen über Deine Kunden: Mein Startup Checkout +1 wollte Wartezeiten an Kassen verkürze... hamburg-startups.net/erfolgreich-durch-scheitern-gastbeitrag-von-christoph-biallas

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