Jan 29, 2021

Five Startup Ideas #019

Roving vending machines, documentation as code, and Discord for enterprise.

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Hello hello,

Happy Friday to you all! I hope you're looking forward to a little respite from the public market mayhem as much as I am. What a week.

In case you missed it, it has also been a significant few days for this newsletter, albeit of a much more minor variety. On Sunday, I shared the reimagined Generalist, with some updates designed to take RFS to the next level.

I'm extremely excited for this next phase, and would love to have you join me, and become a member.

What do I get by becoming a member?

You'll unlock access to extra startup ideas, private events, and most critically, a community, via application. This is in addition to the S-1 breakdowns, weekly briefings, and more. If you sign up now, you'll be considered a Founding Member, and lock in the current price of $19/month. Within the coming weeks, the price will be increasing 30% to $25/month.

> Become a Member

Tell me more about the community...

Since the beginning, RFS has been about sharing startup ideas, working out the kinks, and building, together. In our private group chat, we've had awesome discussions ranging from the opportunity to unseat Substack to healthcare analytics startups to venture debt plays. It's an eclectic, thoughtful place.

This next evolution will supercharge this communal learning, and add new elements. A few benefits of the new platform:  

  • Deeper analysis. We'll take the most popular ideas and outline the next steps an entrepreneur could take. Think: promising domain names, potential customer validation, and the key characteristics a founding team should have. This is where I hope you find the next great idea, and understand what you should do with it.
  • Easier connection. The new community will make it simple to host threads on each different RFS idea. Entrepreneurs interested in digging in, or jamming with others, will have a topic-centered place to do so. This is where I hope you meet your next co-founder.
  • Building together. Starting something new is never easy. The community will be the place to get advice from other builders and investors, troubleshoot problems, and identify opportunities. This is where I hope you accelerate your learning, and become a force in the tech ecosystem.

Having looked at the first 50+ applications, I'm extremely optimistic about the calibre of the community that is coming together. It includes VC partners, CEOs, and other talented, impressive individuals.

As alluded to above, the community is application gated. I'll be curating carefully, and bringing folks in on the basis of when they applied and the thought they put into their answers. If this sounds good to you, now is a good time to jump in and help shape its direction. I'd love to have you there.

> Join the crew

Last week

The most popular idea from last week's edition? "Shopify for Zoom" shared by Zak Kukoff.

Though tied for second place "Twilio for documents," proposed by the pseudonymous VC Starter Kit, got a particularly strong response from readers, including from several high-profile venture capital partners. Perhaps a sign that a big opportunity lurks.

I'll be back in the swing of sharing my favorite product discoveries next week. For now, let's get to the ideas.

Five ideas...

Roving vending machines

Mini-sidewalk robots that sell snacks and drinks

Vending machine owners make great money if they can get three things right:

  1. Picking a good location
  2. Reducing restocking costs
  3. Using data to determine the best snacks and drinks to sell.

Solving all three of these are possible today, but no one does.

What if you can build a sidewalk robot or a bike-lane robot akin to the Starship that carries snacks and drinks? These robots could restock at the end of a trip in one central location and use data to determine the best places to rove around and which SKUs to sell. As the cost of producing these robots decreases, less and less capital is necessary to make a play in the space.

Elizabeth Yin, General Partner at Hustle Fund

Documentation as Code

Auto-generated developer documentation and updates

Great developer documentation is a cornerstone of building a thriving community and developer love. The problem is developer documentation is decoupled from the stack — any change to an API, configuration, package, permissions, etc puts documentation out of sync and causes a broken developer experience.

I think there’s a big opportunity to bridge the gap between documentation and the code itself. Code can be expressive, immutable, version-able, structured — shouldn’t documentation be the same? While building a linter-like solution for documentation into the IDE (combining code with documentation) could work, I’d be especially interested in a run-time service that effects code base updates in documentation, in a highly structured and interactive presentation.

Imagine every developer service with the developer documentation quality of Stripe.

Ethan Batraski, Partner at Venrock

Discord for enterprise

In-product and across-product communities for SaaS users

With the rise of bottoms-up SaaS, communities are becoming increasingly important. Communities can play essential roles in attracting new users, getting free users to convert to paid, pushing users deeper into the product, and so on. If done right, community-focused software could serve as the marketing automation + CRM + CS software of the bottoms-up SaaS world.

That’s an ample opportunity, but the current options suck. Some have contorted Slack to serve as a community destination, but that's not it's raison d'etre. Others have popped up specifically to be community platforms, but they suffer from the "Field of Dreams" conundrum; if you build it, will they come?

I’d like to see a solution that meets users where they are. You can imagine a browser extension that sits on top of SaaS applications and activates the relevant community discussion when someone is in the product. With the right integrations, this widget could also understand product usage and allow users to coach each other to get more out of a platform.

It'd be like Discord for SaaS: distributed across applications and a unified destination. Game on.

Jake Saper, General Partner at Emergence Capital

Commerce x Community

Grailed with dedicated forums

Resale marketplaces like Grailed, Goat, StockX, and others have been successful because they have solved many pain points of peer-to-peer transactions (e.g., aggregating supply and ensuring trust amongst users). Before these marketplaces, users had to deal with the logistics of buying and selling through private Facebook groups or forums like Niketalk.

While that’s great, these marketplaces have failed to fulfill an essential desire of their customer base: community. Fan-led discussions mainly exist in subreddits, Discords, and other disaggregated forums. I have many fond memories of hanging out with friends and learning about new sneakers through threads on superfuture. To that end, I think there’s an exciting opportunity to vertically integrate community with a marketplace.

Bringing discussion and education to the marketplace would be a savvy way to engage and strengthen the existing customer base and draw in more potential users.

Dillon Liang, Investor at Bullpen Capital

From Landlord to Bank

Peer-to-peer rent-to-own platform

I have received a lot of pitches from companies helping people become partial owners of rental units. I have passed on all of them because I don't know if that's a behavior I'd like to incentivize. If you have many people who are co-owners of a property, but the person living in that property doesn't know any of them, does this encourage good landlord behavior? Negative landlord behavior? My hypothesis is the latter (check back in with me in a few years to confirm if this turned out to be true!).

To incentivize positive landlord behavior and upward mobility for renters, I'd like to see a company that helps people become mini-banks. Specifically, I’d love to see a business that could help me purchase a home with the intent of "rent-to-own" -ing it out to someone else. That encourages both positive landlord behavior and positive renter behavior. I could still make a return by taking part in the appreciation of the underlying asset. The renter would be given a seamless way to purchase a property they have already invested in by renting it out. I have seen this behavior done one-off, but I think technology could help landlords build this strategy out more thoughtfully and offer robust solutions to tenants as well.

There would have to be some safeguards to ensure that landlords provided fair terms, but I think it’s a risk that could be solved. I’d love to see companies working in the space!

Sydney Thomas, Principal at Precursor Ventures

The Generalist’s work is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, business, investment, or tax advice. You should always do your own research and consult advisors on these subjects. Our work may feature entities in which Generalist Capital, LLC or the author has invested.