Five Startup Ideas #017

Interactive media, tools for tradespeople, and the modern church


It was great to see the first edition of 2021 spark some real conversation. Austin Rief's proposal for a version of "The Athletic for local news" prompted a discussion on Twitter that brought in some fantastic media minds including Matthew Ball, Jarrod Dicker, Web Smith, Turner Novak, Eric Newcomer, Jacob Donnelly, and others. It also brought attention to several entrepreneurs considering the problem, or building a solution. Excellent.

Though that suggestion received the most attention online, your favorite idea proved to be Laura Chau's request for a "universal search for e-commerce."

Last edition's discussion of the most intriguing products or companies I discovered over the past week proved popular and kicked off some fun conversations. Here's what I found interesting this time around. (Intriguing best)

  • Gemini's new credit card. After acquiring Blockrize, the Winklevii's crypto company plans to roll out a card that gives the user up to 3% of their purchase in bitcoin. BlockFi is working on a similar product. I expect a great deal of movement in this space over the coming year as crypto and mainstream finance collide.

  • Hightouch, a modern data platform. This team coming out of Segment and Bessemer are building on top of Snowflake's functionality, allowing businesses to pull data from their warehouse, and direct it to different destinations: a CRM, for example. Really interesting to see how this space develops, particularly in light of Snowflake's remarkable public market debut. Thanks to Scott H for the tip.

  • BlaBla, an entertaining language learning app. Based in Singapore, BlaBla seems like a mash-up between TikTok and Duolingo. The company seems to be focused on acquiring and serving ESL teachers.

Wishing you all a killer end of the week, and an awesome weekend.

— Mario


Digital → Paper Journals

The benefits of a paper journal with the convenience of an app

Paper journals are great, but I don’t always have mine on me, and often prefer typing things out. I have tried a number of journaling apps (e.g., Day One) but worry about longevity (what happens if they go out of business?) and data security.

There is an opportunity to build a service that combines the best of both worlds. Users could submit journal entries digitally via an app, text message, or email. When the submitted content reaches a certain length, a beautiful, physical journal would be automatically printed and shipped to the user. Upon confirmed receipt, all the data would be deleted, and a new journal volume would be started.

There are lots of expansion vectors including images (e.g. Instagram posts automatically added as entries), custom formatting (e.g. journal design, font, paper type), and shared journals (e.g. partners both submitting entries and photos for a honeymoon journal, or creating a memory book for a child).

Barry McCardel, Founder at Hex

An "interactive article" engine

Decreasing the cost and complexity of authoring interactive, multimedia articles

In The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson imagined a future of interactive, multimedia content that could teach and respond to readers; "smart paper,” if you will.

I believe that the next "Substack moment" for online publishing will occur when a product decreases the cost and complexity of authoring interactive, multimedia "articles" by an order of magnitude.

Platforms like Medium, WordPress, and Substack (in addition to social media properties) have made the global distribution of thought accessible to all. Yet the format remains largely static and one-dimensional.

For large publications and educational institutions, the most read and engaging pieces of content are often interactive, weaving together text, video, and audio with components that prompt engagement from the consumer.

Enabling access to the creation of multi-faceted and interactive content has the potential to profoundly impact media, education, and communication by expanding the market for who is empowered to create, driving a better user experience, and opening up new paths to content monetization.

Further reading: Much of this was prompted by this paper on "Communicating with Interactive Articles."

Brett Bivens, Investor at TechNexus

Digital tithes for religious groups

Allowing faith groups to receive online payments

The Valley has historically stayed away from touching anything around religion or churches. Religious groups are incredibly strong communities, yet they've seen very little technological innovation. That’s left them underserved by tech, something you can see especially clearly thanks to the pandemic. Without access to places of worship, many are having to renegotiate their relationships with traditional religious services.

These religious organizations also typically run on donations, and at least for the Catholic Church (my mom is Catholic), the majority of donations occur via cash or check, delivered person. As religious groups start to congregate online, there are opportunities to build really cool tools for churches, including online donations, dedicated streaming platforms, local community forums, and so on.

I think there’s a big opportunity waiting for the right team.

— Anonymous, Founder

Make anyone a commentator

A platform for re-streaming live events with unique audio

Live events like sports, award shows, and competitions were born in an era of broadcast television. That viewing experience has not been updated and internet-ified.

It’s time to change that. I envision a streaming platform like Twitch that allows users to co-stream events using existing video (or with tools to select their own video from various feeds), creating their own unique commentary on top. It would completely change the viewing experience.

I might want to hear a true basketball expert get in the weeds during the NBA Finals or watch a comedian do the commentary of the Oscars Red Carpet. These events could all have wider appeal by allowing a broad meritocracy of commentators to bring in their own audiences.

I've written more about this idea here.

Eric Jorgenson, Zaarly, Author of the Navalmanack

Business in a box for tradespeople

Tools to help tradespeople manage their business more efficiently

High-quality construction talent is hard to come by. The best tradespeople are in high demand and often booked for months in advance. Many construction talent marketplaces have tried to address the talent crunch by making matching between GCs and subcontractors or tradespeople more fluid, but in general, the highest quality talent doesn't congregate on those sites.

Instead of trying to attract the best tradespeople to a job site that they don't need, business management tools purpose-built for these highly skilled professionals could simultaneously increase their productivity and open them to a broader pool of potential employers. One part business in a box, one part marketplace for skilled trades.

Courtney Buie Lipkin, Partner at Susa Ventures

Have something to say or working on something similar? Vote for your favorite idea and share thoughts by hitting the button, below.

Vote for your favorite


The experiment continues! Folks seemed to enjoy this addition to the newsletter, with many writing in to provide answers. Here's this week's cryptograph. As always, clues available to those that would like them. Just respond to this email.

Mohnish C was first to decipher our makeshift hieroglyphs, responding with impressive speed. He was followed in short order by SEV, Sid J, Krishna N, Ron F, Lucas W, William M, Yashar N, Nooz L, Andrew K, Michael F, Joe H, Jon K, Akshit K, Gyan K, Brittany W, Siddhant G, and Maximilian R.

If you're curious, you can find the correct answer decoded below.