Jonathan Brun

3 free business ideas

This is a follow-up to my last 7 free ideas, which you can read here. And the excellent discussion that happened on Hacker News.

Why give these ideas away? I have too many ideas and too little time. If anyone wants to take these and run with them, go for it! If you do, I would be keen to know how it goes.

1. Small claims website (class-action suits via the web)

Faulty products, misleading marketing and neighbourly complaints are all too frequent. Most people do not know their rights or how to defend them. Filling out government forms and filing in small claims court is very time consuming and unless the issue really caused harm, you are not likely to file.

There may be an opportunity to build a web platform where users could select a Product or Situation in their jurisdiction and the forms and filing procedures would be automatically populated. This is similar to the online incorporation or will creation websites.

Eventually, if many people file for the same thing (i.e. a faulty product), a class action suit could be taken up by a law firm. This idea is very rough but came about when a friend (who is a lawyer) described his situation. He had purchased  Kryptonite bike lock which is advertised as having “unbreakable bonds, blah blah” and he then promptly had his bike stolen.

He filed in small claims court for the replacement cost of his used bike (about 250$ and a lock 50$). As a plaintiff, it costs 70$ to file, to defend against an accusation, it costs 120$. He filed against two parties – the bike lock distributor and the store where he purchased it. As such, for them to defend, it will cost a total of 240$, make it likely that they will settle. Now, my friend is a lawyer and knows how to file these things and write scary letters, for the average individual, this task is to daunting. We could automate it with some pre-populated forms where users can “fill in the blanks”.

2. A Site for the Elderly

Old people like simple things! Think the Jitterbug telephone, but for the web. In a sense, the iPad is already doing this – but that market is still very small.

Someone could create a web browser homepage with a few basic links: Email, Photos, Telephone Numbers, Skype Video Calling and Other reminders. You could also have a system that allows them to enter their family members contact info and have automatic emails go out to them asking for a phone call, or to send photos, which can be pushed to the grandparent.

Huge market potential.

3. A Marketplace for students to do legal research

Basically like RentaCoder but specifically for law students. A lot of people have no idea where to start when it comes to legal issues, and law firms are very expensive. Even law firms are outsourcing their work to India. Many law students could use the extra cash, they just need a marketplace to connect with clients who want legal research (i.e. compile jurisprudence on a subject, find resources online, do a bit of digging), but the students would NOT give legal advice.

In the UK, they just passed a law (the Legal Services Bill, alternativly called the Tesco Law, see BBC article) allowing non legal firms to offer legal information, soon Tesco, Wal-Mart and other retailers will have a low-cost legal desk. Until then, an online legal service could be great (though it might be illegal in a number of jurisdictions).

Update: It seems someone already did this and even selcted the same domain as me, ha!

Published on July 29, 2010

More on smart design

Lower costs and save lives, as mentioned in my brief book review of In Pursuit of Elegance. Road intersection design today is terrible and there is much opportunity to make it smarter, safer and lower cost. The 5 minute TED talk below proposes an interesting idea – replace stop signs with yield signs. By doing so, you force people to pay attention to other cars and potentially increase the flow of traffic, when no one is around, you can simply drive through the intersection – reducing your fuel consumption.

Published on July 26, 2010

Design down, making more with less

In the continuing series of blog posts concerning detail driven decision-making. I read the book, In Pursuit of Elegance – Why the Best Ideas have Something Missing by Matthew E. May. It is a short little book with some great examples of design that saves time and money.

A few of the neat designs he discusses include:

A refrigeration system using clay pots that costs about 2$ to make and allows rural Africans to store food safely. The design is extremely simple, you place one clay pot inside the other and fill the gab with wet sand. As the water evaporates, the interior pot cools, very basic thermodynamics. More info on Wikipedia

Another neat design is small houses that feel big. Sara Susanka is the author of The Not so Vig House: A blueprint for the way we really live. Her architectural approach focuses on using all the space in a house, as opposed to wasting it on a fancy sitting room and dining room you use twice a year. By reducing the unused space and properly designing the rest, you can build a 2000 square foot house that feels like a 3500 foot home.

The book also discusses Lance Armstrong’s training methods, fractal geometry and Eat-N-Go burger joints (that have 4 things on the menu). All of these examples tie back to a concept of removing as much as possible from a design until there is nothing left to remove. Basically, Matt May tangibly demonstrates how to apply Occam’s Razor, which states, “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem)”

Published on July 19, 2010

Knives, Santropol Roulant and Happiness

Last year, I spent a couple of mornings working at Santropol Roulant, a non-profit group in Montreal that prepares meals for elderly people. Every morning they prepare hundreds of delicious meals that are then delivered by bike and car throughout Montreal.

As a volunteer, I cut, chopped and prepped the food. It was a lot of cutting. As an amateur chef, I was amazed at the dullness of their knives. Any chef worth his Michelin stars will tell you that knives are your best friend and dull knives, your worst.

Santropol Roulant’s entire organization is centred around food, which is prepared by volunteers. Keeping the volunteers happy and efficient seems like the most important thing there, yet their most basic tool was horrible. They all complained, but no one did anything – not the head chef, the volunteers, or the management!

So, instead of donating money to the very good organization, I went out and bought a set of new, sharp, high quality knives. For about 60$, the knives made volunteers ecstatic. Efficiency, safety and happiness increased for a tiny cost.

Too often, we overlook the most basic elements, but when those elements are part of the core work – they really, really matter. On top of that, keeping your staff, or volunteers happy should always be your priority. Constantly ask yourself, how can I make my colleagues happier and more efficient; often, it takes very little.

Sharp knifes make volunteers happy.

To volunteer at Santropol Rouland, click here.

Published on July 15, 2010

Carl Sagan on Religion & Knowledge

Carl Sagan was one of those great minds that we lost far too early. Take a look at this great video that covers religion, knowledge, despair and hope.

Published on July 12, 2010