Turning Habits Into Business Ideas

I spent last week moving to a new house. As someone who has moved ten times in the last ten years, I'm (unfortunately) very familiar with the moving experience. One of the things that struck me is how little the moving process — or maybe just my moving process — has changed in the last decade. Here's my moving game plan:

  1. Spend a week or two packing.
  2. Rent a U-Haul.
  3. Find a sucker friend who is willing to help me carry things.
  4. Spend a week unpacking 80% of my stuff and 6 months unpacking the last 20%.

10-15 months later, the entire process repeats.

There are many ways that this could be better:

  • On demand moving trucks (Kind of like Buddytruk). U-Haul's booking and pick-up process sucks.
  • On demand packing help (TaskRabbit?)
  • On demand moving help (Bellhops?)
  • A frictionless system for cataloging where things should so that unpacking is easier and more inefficient. For example, maybe an app would let me take a picture of each packed box and make a quick voice memo about its contents, then allow me to easily retrieve those notes when I'm unpacking.
  • Modular furniture that's easier to move. For example, maybe desk and dresser drawers could come with optional lids, so that I could just put a lid on a drawer instead of emptying the contents into a box for every move, then having to unpack the box later on.
  • A subscription service for people who move regularly. This might be a set of furniture that's easy to transport and fits exactly into a certain size moving truck. A service like this could be great for collect students who might be moving every fall/summer for 4 years.

Aspiring founders are often advised to "make something people want" or "solve a problem that you have," but sometimes problems are hard to notice because they've been sitting under our noses for so long. We implicitly assume that the way things are is the only way they could be. If you're looking for startup ideas, you should fight that impulse and consider analyzing your habits and routines. Is there something that you've been doing yearly or monthly or daily? Something that hasn't changed in years and has been relatively unaffected by technology? I think a lot of common habits are actually quite inconvenient, but people don't dwell on the inconvenience because that seems unproductive.

For example, 15 years ago, I would go to the grocery store to buy consumables like soap or razor blades or cereal every few weeks or few months. I bought some items in bulk, but not very often since storage space costs so much in the Bay Area. There were no other obvious alternative solutions at the time, so I took it for granted that I'd just have to go to the store and buy cereal every two weeks for the rest of my life. Not the end of the world. Then products like Amazon Subscribe and Save and Dollar Shave Club came out, and I realized that automating my regular purchases was a viable, awesome option.

Many of our routines are being redesigned and reimagined by startups. Don't want to go out for groceries every few days? Try Instacart. Don't like having to wait for the check at restaurants? Check out Reserve. Don't like buying consumer electronics, then having to go back to the store to return them because they don't fit your needs? Try Lumoid. Many everyday inconveniences — inconveniences that are so familiar that we just accept them — can be solved creatively with technology. If you're looking for business ideas and getting stuck, list out your habits and think about the ones that haven't changed in years or even decades.