Feb 19, 2021

Five Startup Ideas #022

Webhooks, vertical SaaS, and better grant writing software.

Artwork by 
Back to all

You can listen to an audio version of The Generalist on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.


The free-wheeling cognitive tool Sarah Noeckel shared proved to be last week's favorite. "Notion x Roam x Slack x Chrome" pipped Ross Fubini's "corporate cash management," among others.

Ross's idea did form the basis of an interesting conversation in the community, though, with several founders noting they had yet to find a suitable solution. Sounds like an opportunity...

There were only two products I discovered this week that I found genuinely intriguing.

  • Taste. Before I started working in tech, I attended culinary school and staged at Rouge Tomate, a modern, Michelin-starred French restaurant in New York. That makes me extra excited about Taste, which delivers semi-prepared haute cuisine from the city's best restaurants. More here
  • Artie. A nifty way to get around the App Store tax, Artie makes it easy for consumers to play mobile games in-browser. More here

Startup ideas

Zwift for Education

Interactive learning for everything

Learning new a skill can be lonely, yet it’s very much the default way of online education today: grab your chair, open your laptop, open a web browser and start streaming content from an instructor. What if learning skills like photography, finance, or coding became interactive...or better yet, a game in the metaverse?

We think there’s an opportunity to build “Zwift for education” on top of the powerful gaming platforms and communities within Fortnite and Unity. Like the structured training that Zwift offers cyclists who enter “Watopia” (Zwift’s expansive virtual cycling world), specific skills training can become part of a recurring calendar for students interested in up-leveling their skill. Just as importantly, once “training” finishes, students could “play” in the virtual world, interacting with other students and further building their abilities.

Let’s take photography as an example. We imagine students being able to traverse a vibrant game world together, snapping photos from different angles, playing with aperture and distance, and competing against peers for the “best shot” of the session.

Net/net: the metaverse has already changed gaming, and through Zwift, exercise, too. It’s time for it to get applied to another massive market: education.

Dave Ambrose and Matt Ziskie

Better grant writing software

Software that helps academics write grants 10x faster

Writing grants sucks. It’s labor-intensive and repetitive, requiring plenty of copy-pasting. It’s also usually unclear whether you’re submitting the grant to the correct place‚ since many institutions don’t have clear guidelines for what they’ll fund. Even if you do find the right organization, sometimes there are particular departments you need to target.

Worst of all, this is what academic researchers, the brightest minds in the country, spend most of their time doing.

It’s high time we got better grant writing software. Not only would it automate the process, but it would cumulatively save hundreds of thousands of man-hours a year and significantly increase the pace of research innovation.

Dan Shipper, Founder of Every

Twitter for Close Friends

Express ideas, but with people you really care about

Twitter is a fantastic way to get ideas out there and get feedback. As its popularity has grown, though, it's become more like Instagram: a place to perform and share finished thoughts. But what about ideas that are still raw or unfinished?

Someone should create the Instagram Close Friends but for expressing thought.

Greg Isenberg, Co-Founder/CEO, Late Checkout

Webhooks as a service

PaaS for building outgoing webhooks into your application

SaaS companies (and, to a lesser extent, developer tools) often need to publish data to external consumers via webhooks. Building webhooks is annoying, though, and doesn't relate to the core product much. Instead, developers have to build:

  • A database for storing consuming endpoints and metadata
  • Authentication protocols for verifying senders and consumers
  • Exponentially backing off, communicating failures, etc.

This isn’t work developers typically want to do and requires reasonably full stack experience. This is especially true once you need to scale the system and use a message queue or something more complex. I wrote more in-depth about how much of a process this is, here.

There’s an opportunity for a company to come in and serve this need. It would remove a considerable headache on the developer side and help grow your business (webhooks are a commonly requested feature).

Justin Gage, Growth at Retool

Vertical SaaS

Building for niches

This is more of a “request for model” than a “request for startup” per se, but I’m increasingly interested in SaaS platforms built for large, underserved niches. Though it feels as if software has already eaten the world, some dusty markets are still operating with pen and paper or outdated tools from twenty years ago.

We've started to see successful companies emerging here (think Floom for florists or Squire for barbershops), but I think we're still early in this trend. Bonus points if there's a way to incorporate a marketplace that acts as lead gen for the supply side using the vertical software.

Turner Novak, Investor

Bonus: Venmo for lending

Making it easier to borrow

Apps like Venmo and Zelle enable users to send and receive payments, but no one makes it easy to lend with interest. Peer-to-peer lending is a big business, as Prosper and Lending Club have shown. But the friction to making and collecting on a loan from those platforms is significant and certainly not worth setting up for a few hundred dollars.

Why not make lending small amounts as easy as sending a payment request? Not only would this incentivize speedy repayment, but it could create an entirely new asset class for institutional investors.

Caveat: Regulation might be an issue, but I think there could be creative ways (e.g., tipping similar to what Earnin does for pay advances) to stay on the right side of the law.

Brett Martin, GP at Charge and Founder of Kumospace​​

Bonus: Lunchclub as a service

Automating thoughtful connections

As part of building The Generalist community, I take making thoughtful, specific connections between members seriously. My goal is for each member to gain at least a few new valuable friends and contacts through my matchmaking. Introductions typically involve sharing the background of each person and at least three reasons I think they’ll get along. That could be something to do with their work, hobbies, reading habits, personality traits, or something else.

I base these introductions on information shared in the application, content available online, and my interactions with the person. So far, this has proven to be a good method, but I know it will get trickier as the community grows. Remembering who worked where, who’s reading what, and who is interested in a particular hobby becomes more challenging with larger numbers of people involved.

This is a problem for all manner of organizations and communities. To that end, I think someone should build “introductions as a service.” It would be similar in function to Lunchclub but could include information uploaded from the company or community in question. It would also be business-facing (serving the organization) rather than consumer-focused. The result would be something like magic: a system that automatically suggested smart matches, providing the accompanying rationale each time. You'd end up with a happier, more active community or business.

If you build this, let me know. I’d love to be your first customer.

Mario Gabriele, Editor at The Generalist


Even when I try to stump you all, you're too quick for me. To ratchet up the difficulty, I am going to leave this week's puzzle open-ended. It could be a person, phrase, company, or something else. Of course, clues are available to those that would like them. Just respond to this email.

Readers of this email quickly repudiated the notion that last week's Coda might be considered difficult. Grant G was first to provide the answer, followed by a crew of equally crafty cryptographers: Hari A, Patrick T, Cameron A, Chris C, Sharveen K, Jonathan R, Theresa G, Michael F, Tyler F, Samir S, Kunal G, Max H, Juanje FP, Ryan B, Jil K, Nathan M, Shabbir H, Jim D, Krishna N, Stephen W, Nathan S, Jim W, Ehigie A, Cody M, Rabii M, Lauren F, Saumo P, Sid J, Ron F, Alen M, Allison B, Remi C, Siddhant G, Dan T, and Avery K.

The answer? Bob Iger, former Disney CEO. Well played to all of you!

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.