A startup doesn’t have to try to save the world to change it.
We don’t often appreciate the everyday origins of many startup ventures — we’re too busy admiring the “big dogs.” We like to talk about Jeff Bezos revolutionizing e-commerce with Amazon, Steve Jobs introducing the smartphone, or Elon Musk leading the electric car market.
Bezos, Jobs, and Musk are now household names. But at one point, Amazon, Apple, and Tesla were startups looking to solve ordinary problems. That’s how most exceptional startup ideas are born: by inspired entrepreneurs looking to solve common problems.
This inspiration doesn’t have to come from a boardroom, backed by data and a large budget. In fact, some the best ideas come from everyday tasks. Whether it’s during a commute, in the doctor’s office waiting room, or in the checkout line, inspiration can strike. All it takes to make a difference is the vision to see a problem and the resolve to do something about it.
Need proof? Look no further than these four businesses, which found their big idea in the trivial details of everyday life.
The road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco is about 400 miles. When you add traffic to the mix, that’s a pretty long haul. Someone who lives in Los Angeles and has business in San Francisco (or vice versa) might lose almost two workdays just commuting, not to mention the cost of an overnight stay. Thinking about this major loss of time and productivity, Cabin founders Gaetano Crupi and Tom Currier came up with a solution.
Cabin is a startup travel company that gives customers the freedom and convenience to travel overnight. Customers fall asleep in one city as they board their bus and settle into a sleep pod at 11 p.m. They then wake up in another city at 7 a.m. With ride costs as low as $84 and the freedom to book only days in advance, Cabin offers those traveling for business or pleasure a more affordable and spontaneous alternative.
Crupi and Currier recognized that drive time between cities was eating up productivity and creating a barrier to travel. Airline tickets were expensive, and flights took nearly as long as the drive. By offering an overnight option, a customer could get a full day in the city of his choice, as well as a full night’s sleep, before the start of the next workday.
2. Gabb Wireless
In 2018, Stephen Dalby recognized a need — not only for his community, but for almost every parent, including himself. More people than ever are adopting smartphones and looking to ditch their landline services. But how will they remain in contact with their younger children?
Offering your children smartphones invites a world of dangers. Excessive use of mobile technology depresses cognitive scores, increases struggles with self-image, and opens them up to the world of cyberbullying, which even the most advanced filters can’t eliminate. Smartphones also tend to carry hefty bills.
Dalby wanted his kids to have a cellphone that offered convenience, yet protection from the dangers. Without any luck in finding a device or a service provider offering both of these things, Dalby launched Gabb Wireless.
Gabb Wireless is a cellphone company geared toward kids that strikes a balance between safety and utility. Its phone plan offers unlimited talk and text without the ability to access the internet, games, social media, or picture messaging. With $99 start fees and a monthly charge of $19.99 in the 48 contiguous states, the safe device is a comparable bargain for parents.
“I just felt like parents needed better options, and kids deserved to enjoy a cellphone without dangers many adults can’t handle,” said Dalby. “If Gabb fills that void for even a few families, I’ll feel successful.”
3. Sit With Us
It’s a question that strikes fear in many teens at lunchtime: Who do they sit with?
Whether you’re a new student or just someone who doesn’t fit neatly into the established social categories of high school, the cafeteria can be a minefield. Everyone wants to belong, and nobody wants to sit alone.
Sixteen-year-old Natalie Hampton knew the dilemma all too well. She’d endured the loneliness that comes with not fitting in at school. “When you walk into the lunchroom and you see all the tables of everyone sitting there and you know that going up to them would only end in rejection, you feel extremely alone and extremely isolated, and your stomach drops,” she explained.
Rather than despairing, Hampton decided to change the rules of the game by harnessing the power of social media for the greater good. The result: an app called “Sit With Us.”
Its premise is simple: Users can volunteer as ambassadors for the platform, which means they’re saving places at their tables. Someone looking for company can use the app to locate a seat where he’ll be welcomed. Unlike the trial and error of searching a crowd for friendly faces, risking public rejection, this app keeps the process private.
Hampton’s platform has garnered praise from users and awards from experts. By leveraging the power of social media, she was able to make lunchrooms around the country more inviting places for students. That’s no mean feat — proof that even the youngest entrepreneurs can make a serious difference.
As our population continues to grow, we’ve begun to pack ourselves more tightly into urban areas. It’s not uncommon to live in a tiny studio apartment, with your bike hanging in your kitchen and your TV hanging in your bathroom. This use of space isn’t the most effective, and it definitely doesn’t evoke luxury living.
With Bumblebee, Sankarshan Murthy has a solution. His technology for new living spaces gives a whole new meaning to the term “open concept.” Bumblebee is an overhead furniture system that can be deployed via app or voice command. Things like closets, bin storage, and beds can come down from the ceiling when they’re needed, then be put away when they aren’t.
With this storage technology, users don’t have to sacrifice items due to a lack of space. Over time, the technology can learn people’s patterns to better assist them. It can also help users locate and manage stored items. Murthy told The New York Times that Bumblebee “changes the way you think about what you own.” Haven’t pulled your bowling shoes down in a few years? It might be time to let them go.
Of course, the need to save space has been well-known since the creation of the Murphy bed in the early 1900s. But Bumblebee takes it a step further by implementing AI and other modern technology. Bumblebee’s technology complies with existing building codes and still allows for overhead plumbing, light fixtures, and electrical wiring, making it easy to install in small living spaces.
Not all startups begin with global issues or big business propositions. Many, it turns out, start with everyday problems: commutes, safe cellphones, teenage loneliness, cramped apartments. It’s a good reminder to budding entrepreneurs that they don’t need to go far for inspiration. Often, the innovations that would most improve our quality of life are right around us.