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Turn Irritations Into Money

Updated October 2013

The following was a post on the now defunct New Ideas Blog about five years back. Yes, I do have a cell phone now, and we even dropped our land line completely for a year or so. But in any case, I opted for a simple prepaid plan that does not allow for any irritating surprises on a phone bill. This is a good example of how a company is making good money by solving irritating problems. Here's the original post:

Million Dollar Irritations

Want million-dollar ideas? Start with whatever annoys or irritates you. This could be anything from dirty theater seats to showers that are always a bit too cold or a bit too hot. If it is something that irritates enough other people, find a solution – and that might be a million dollar idea.

A great recent example of this is in the cell phone market. I don't use them myself, because they are too complicated, both to use and in how they bill you. I just want to make a call and know what the bill will be. In fact, I find cell phones irritating in their unnecessary complexity. Apparently I am not alone. Jitterbug makes cell phones that solve these annoyances. They target them to senior citizens (not sure what that says about me at only 44). They have large buttons, are easy to use, and they even have service that doesn't involve complicated long term contracts. From what I understand they are doing well.

I suspect there are some huge profits to be made in making simple software. We all get irritated at the way some of these things work. I was reminded of this when we were five hours into installing the WordPress blog, using their famous "five minute installation" instructions. Some of you are laughing, but there are others like me out there. If it actually took five minutes to install, and if it was easy to make changes to the template, they wouldn't have had to give it to me – I would happily pay $100.

So look for those million dollar ideas in whatever annoys you. I almost burned my tongue on coffee the other day. What about a cup with a built-in thermometer that turns green once the coffee has cooled enough? Or perhaps a cooling device, like a small "coffee cup fan?"

I'm sitting here in my underwear, two hours into my workday, thinking "I really need to brush my teeth." I wish somebody would invent a Teflon-like coating that could be applied to teeth, so food and plaque wouldn't stick to them. Make it anti-bacterial and you might be able to go days with no more than rinsing your mouth with water.

This is great mental exercise, by the way. It not only stimulates your creativity to look for ways to solve all these daily problems, but it forces you to look at something productive and positive (the solution), instead of focusing on the negative.

Story Time

Here's a nice very-shortened story that shows how a person can overcome adversity and how problems can be opportunities.

Tina Aldatz-Norris had a rough start in Fullerton, California, with a father in a gang and an alcoholic mother. She dropped out of High School at age 15, but got her high school equivalency diploma at 16 and moved in with a friend. A job bagging groceries paid the bills for a while.

As a child Tina had stepped on leftover hot coals from a fire on the beach, and suffered third-degree burns on her foot. This resulted in tender areas that often blistered, and though there were food pads that helped, she wanted something better, and prettier, so she created it at age 32. She called her invention "Foot Petals." These are pads which fit under the ball and heel of the foot. Shaped like flowers, they are sold for a few dollars per pair, and are peeled and stuck to the insides of shoes. It is a simple and attractive solution for making woman's shoes more comfortable.

In 2007, her company did $9 million in sales, netting almost $2 million before taxes. Nice way to make a problem into an opportunity, don't you think?

At the moment I have been irritated by how we keep forgetting just one or two things that we need at the grocery store, and so we have to keep going back more often than we would like. I wonder is there is a solution to that, and one that would make money for someone? Yes, the simple solution is a list, but then we either forget to put something on the list or we forget to bring the list. Perhaps a store could lend you a headset to use while you are shopping, and it could play a recording asking you if you need this or that -- as you pass the specific items it is referring to. Too technological?

We have also had a problem finding the right cat food for our cats, and the skinnier one won't eat almost anything else. We had to visit three Walmart stores last week just to finally find one that had our food in stock. My solution to this irritation? Set up an online service that uses information taken directly from stores computers to show you where a specific product can be found. The stores that agree to participate might pay a small fee, and would get more business directed their way (if you know where the product is, why go to a store that might not have it?). Or the website could just sell advertising.

Start looking for those million-dollar irritations. Who knows what you might come up with to resolve them.

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Million Dollar Irritations