Do I Ever Need to Leave The House?

(And How This Question Can Help You Find Web Venture Ideas)


by Michael A. Schrader

An interesting thing happened while writing this post. I started on a different topic, helping readers identify new venture ideas by pondering things in life that can’t currently be done online. My logic was that our lives have moved onto the web over the last twenty years, so if there are still things remaining that must be done in person, this presents an opportunity for a new web venture. I started by building a list of surprising things that you can do online:
  • Find a Wife
  • Buy Alcohol
  • Video Chat With Strangers Around The World
  • Buy Million Dollar Cars

As I finished this list (quickly and easily), I tried to build a list of things that you couldn’t do online. In my naivety, I started with grocery shopping (wrong, thanks to sites like Peapod.com), earning a degree from Harvard (wrong, thanks to Harvard Extension Schools), interviewing for a job (wrong, thanks to sites like TakeTheInterview.com), and depositing checks (wrong, thanks to sites like Everbank.com). Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t think of anything that can’t be done online. It made me realize that most of us could live our entire lives through the web, never actually needing to leave our homes.

So why do we still leave the house?

In short, because there are activities that are still easier or more enjoyable in person.

Perhaps the opportunity lies not in seeking out tasks that we can’t do online, but rather those that we choose not to do online and asking why.

Fortunately, the list of things I choose not to do online is easier to build and, for me, includes activities like these:
  • Buy groceries
  • Fill prescriptions
  • Grab coffee with friends
  • Shop for clothing
  • Hold business meetings

While everyone’s list may differ, the growing number of grocery stores, Walgreens, and Starbucks popping up on every corner indicate that I’m not alone in pursuing these endeavors offline.

So What?

Often times, people attempt to come up with business ideas by seeking solutions to problems in their lives. Perhaps another approach is to think of things that you love doing offline, and then spend some time dreaming up ways to create the same experience online. This greatly expands the size of your idea funnel, which is important for those entrepreneurs early in the process.

How Can I Use This?

This list above can be used as a starting point for asking some great questions. Let’s start with the grocery store example. Why don’t more customers bypass the grocery store and order food online? It would certainly be quicker and should be able to offer similar, if not better, prices. Is it the tangible experience of browsing the aisles? Is grocery shopping just a part of the normal routine? Are people unaware that online grocery shopping is available?

When Zappos decided to take on the shoe market with a new online solution, most people would have presented the same concerns. Their management team sought innovative solutions to these problems, like free return shipping, which helped break down some of the barriers in customers’ minds. Zappos obviously has managed to bring a whole new generation of shoe shoppers online.

So if you are still in the idea generation process, consider taking a little different angle and find a way to recreate that Starbuck’s experience through an online venture. You may just eliminate one more reason for leaving the house!

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