The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

Posts tagged ‘startup’

ProjectSpark! #2: HappyPayments

I announced last week that I’m starting what I’m calling ProjectSpark!  As a quick summary, ProjectSpark! is my attempt to publicly describe business ideas I’ve come up with that I think have merit.  My intent is to collect feedback on the idea and, if I’m lucky, to try to build a team of partners with complementary skills to work together to bring the idea to market and to share in its guidance, ownership, and profits. Without further ado, here is my second ProjectSpark! idea:

I’ve mentioned in the past that I was working with some people to start a new non-profit called  Unfortunately it looks is dead in the water.

The basic concept of was that non profits or charitable causes could create “ Codes” which would look something like this:

Potential donors would recognize these codes and could scan the QR code in the image with a QR reader on their smart phone.  This would take them to a mobile-optimized web page where they would be able to make a donation with a single click.

Unfortunately, this won’t fly.  This falls under the realm of Third Party Payment Processing (TPPP) and I have been unable to find a way to work around this.  The problem is that credit card processors do a credit check on merchants (IE: before they let them process credit cards.

With, we were essentially wanting to extend that processing capability to our customers, the charities.  But, since the processor wouldn’t be the ones deciding if our recipients were worthy of credit, they wouldn’t approve us.  Basically, it’s too risky for them.  What if we let someone use our system and they are fraudulent?  The processor will end up holding the bag on the chargebacks, not  We’ve tried a few different processors and keep running into the same problem.  There’s still a chance we might be able to work around this, but I’m not sure how.

However, this experience got me thinking about mobile payments, which is, well, a huge area of investment at the moment.  You have the up-and-coming NFC technology where you can just wave your phone by a reader, rather than whipping out your credit/debit card and sliding it through the reader.  (I’m excited about NFC!)  There are also card readers that can attach to phones for mobile payment processing.  While both of these are awesome, they don’t really change how people actually make purchases and interact with stores.

So, I had an idea: What if you could change the way people buy things in stores altogether?

Think about this: What if you could walk into Best Buy (or any other retailer), find the merchandise you want to purchase, scan the barcode on the product using an app, and click one button to make your purchase?  At this point you’d own the item and could walk out the front door, skipping waiting in line.  Your phone would show a receipt for your purchase with a QR code that contained encrypted information about your purchase.

On the way out of the store, Best Buy’s security guys would scan your receipt’s QR code with their own mobile device to validate it.  This would lookup your purchase and confirm that the receipt is valid and that the user hasn’t already left the store before with this product.  Heck, this could be put into a stand-alone kiosk to remove the human element from the equation.

As a note, buyers would enter their credit card information into this app the first time they used it.  This would be securely stored either on the phone itself or, perhaps, in a PCI compliant data store in the cloud.

There are a couple of things that make this distinct from the failing concept.  First off, this business (let’s call it HappyPayments Inc, for the sake of a recognizable name in this article) would itself be a credit card processor.  They would fulfill the same role as First Data, or any other processor.  Basically, companies that want to use the HappyPayments to process mobile credit card payments would use their existing merchant account, but would use HappyPayments as the processor.  This would not prevent them from continuing to use the same payment processor they currently use for in store and online purchases.

HappyPayments would have an API that the merchant could use to either populate HappyPayment’s database with store locations, products, prices, inventory, etc.  Also, HappyPayments would also be able to call web services specified by the client to dynamically get this information.  Of course, it could also be manually managed if merchants so wished.

So, when I’m in Best Buy making my purchase, I select where I am from a list of stores near me that use HappyPayments.  This would be similar to how FourSquare works when you check in.  Using this, when I scan the product’s barcode, HappyPayments is able to lookup the price of the product at that store at that time.  When purchases are made, HappyPayments can relay that information back down to the store’s POS via a standard web service API (if the client wishes to implement this feature).

The fees for using this would be similar to any other payment processor gateway: A small percentage and a small transaction fee.  The mobile app would be free on the various app stores.  Any deeper or custom integration with store systems would likely have associated fees.  But, the idea here is to make money off of the transaction fees and not from the consulting fees.  This helps lower the barriers to entry and makes it easier for merchants to start using this service.

Now, this is not a simple nut to crack.  How does one get started?  Well, it seems that if you want to break into being a payment processor, there are some fairly high costs and legal requirements.  To get around this, new companies will often partner with existing processors.  So, that’s the approach to the first problem: partner with a payment processor to avoid having to actually be a payment processor at first.  As a part of the partnership, the processor would get a significant percentage interest in HappyPayments.

Secondarily, how do you get any sort of scale to get started?  And how do you finance development and the initial work that needs to be done?  Well, again, you partner.  In this case, I’d love to partner with a business like Best Buy.  They would make an initial investment to build this app (and business).  They would get exclusive use of it for a period of time while kinks are worked out.  In exchange for this investment Best Buy would also get a significant percentage of the company.

Once the system is stable, BestBuy starts promoting this in all of it’s stores to get people to install the app and make purchases using it.  Then, we open up the gates to other retailers and businesses that want to offer a similar buying experience. (Apple, perhaps?)

While that more or less wraps up the idea, I wanted to add that I recently learned that Stephen Gillett, who pioneered StarBuck’s recent forays into mobile payments, has moved to Best Buy where he be doing the same thing.  If I had a way to get in touch with Mr. Stephen Gillett, I think he might just be interested in this concept.  Who knows?  Anything’s possible, and it never hurts to ask.

So, what do you think?

All Hat, No Cattle

I think I’ve finally made an important mental leap, as far as business and startups are concerned.  It’s not just the idea I need, it’s the execution of the idea.  So far, with the exception of Alagad, my execution on my various ideas has been less than stellar.

What brought this realization on was a post I saw on Reddit the other day.  This image was posted to /r/entrepreneur:

Ideas are just a multiplier of execution 2009-07-28 It's so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want me to sign an NDA to tell me the simplest idea.) To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions. Explanation: AWFUL IDEA = -1 WEAK IDEA = 1 SO-SO IDEA = 5 GOOD IDEA = 10 GREAT IDEA = 15 BRILLIANT IDEA = 20 NO EXECUTION = $1 WEAK EXECUTION = $1000 SO-SO EXECUTION = $10,000 GOOD EXECUTION = $100,000 GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000 BRILLIANT EXECUTION = $10,000,000 To make a business, you need to multiply the two. The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20. The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000. That's why I don't want to hear people's ideas. I'm not interested until I see their execution.

This screencap was taken from Derek Sivers blog. Why the poster posted an image and not a link to the blog, I don’t know.

I’ve ranted in the past about how many brilliant ideas I have.  And, in all seriousness, I do think some of them are pretty good.  But it would seem that my execution has been pretty weak.  Truth be told, I already knew this, but this image really crystalized the idea for me.

In fact, I don’t even technically run my own company, Alagad, any more.  Randy Miller, my father in law, took over as CEO about a year ago.  I still drive the company’s concepts and technical direction.  But, when it comes down to making sure we get stuff done that we need to, I’ve handed that off to Randy. For Randy, this must be like herding cats.

To a degree, I think the fact that Alagad grew to what it was at its’ peak (13 people and 7 figures of income) was almost luck and perseverance more than a good execution.  I had the passion for what we were doing, but I pretty much was clueless on how to generate leads and make sales.  To a degree, I think that’s because Alagad has always tried to be everything to everyone.  I’d say “If it can be done on the internet, we can do it.”  True though this may be, it’s not the easiest thing to sell.

So, with all these ideas I’ve worked on over the years (TaskForce,,,,, and many, many, more), I’ve failed to get anywhere because my execution sucks.  That a fun realization to have, isn’t it?  (No.)

I was talking with my psychiatrist the other day about ADHD, which I’ve recently learned I have.  I was lamenting how many half finished projects I have.  I’ll be working on one of my ideas diligently, and then suddenly come up with some brilliant new idea that I’m totally incapable of ignoring.  It’s so easy for me to get knocked off track and feel like my latest idea cannot be ignored!  It’ll be quicker, easier, bigger, and when it’s done, it will finance all these other ideas I want to do!

This is actually why I started ProjectSpark! last week.  I’m really hoping to find some people who can help me overcome some of my weaknesses, such as execution.  Because, frankly, I don’t want to flop around like a fish out of water forever.

For those who don’t know, ADHD is essentially an impairment of working memory.  What that means is I don’t have as much storage as other people do in the part of my brain where I work with information.  So, when I come up with an exciting new idea I essentially can’t remember why my previous ideas shouldn’t be immediately usurped.  I’m always seeing the world from a new perspective.  This might also explain why I can’t remember names to save my frickin’ life.

To help overcome this, my psychiatrist assigned some homework to me.  She wants me to create a flow chart of my decision making process.  Basically, I need to draw up how I decide what I should be doing at any given time, and where that will lead me.  The idea being that I can constantly refer back to this flowchart to go through a decision making process that doesn’t change every time I make a choice.  This should help me prioritize my work and keep my eye on the prize.  Frankly, I have no idea how the hell to do this.  I’m going to draw something up and probably share it here.  And then later I’ll revise it with her assistance.  I see the value in this, but I’ve got no idea how to do it.

So, now I know I need to improve my execution.  (Not that kind, sorry to disappoint.)  Figuring out how is the next big challenge.  Any ideas?

ProjectSpark! #1:

I just announced that I’m starting what I’m calling ProjectSpark!  As a quick summary, ProjectSpark! is my attempt to publicly describe business ideas I’ve come up with that I think have merit.  My intent is to collect feedback on the idea and, if I’m lucky, to try to build a team of partners with complementary skills to work together to bring the idea to market and to share in its guidance, ownership, and profits. Without further ado, here is my first ProjectSpark! idea:

What the heck is, you may ask? And why the heck is there a period in the middle of the word horse?  Well, the answers are forthcoming, I promise.  But first, some backstory…

I am pretty much addicted to NPR’s Planet Money podcast.  I discovered it recently and have been working my way through last year’s shows. Today I listened to episode #265: Groupon! Monty Python! Price Discrimination! which “aired” Apr 09, 2011.  In this podcast the Planet Money team explains how Groupon is just a recent way that people apply the economic principal of price discrimination.

What is price discrimination? This is essentially what happens when a seller sells the same thing for different prices to different people.  Historically, people have price discriminated through haggling.  Perhaps you are selling a trinket on the street that I think is attractive.  I might make you an offer, you counter offer, and I counter-counter offer.  This goes on for a while until we find a price that I’m willing to pay that you are willing to sell for.  The final price may be higher or lower than what any other customer may pay.

However, in today’s fast paced mass consumption society, this just isn’t practical any more.  Harris Teeter can’t bargain with every customer over the price of every product in their shopping cart.  However, this price inflexibility naturally causes some people who might otherwise buy something to not buy it.  For example, if Harris Teeter makes $1.00 profit from every box of frozen pizzas it sells, it might be able to afford to knock $0.50 off the price via a coupon.  This may encourage someone who otherwise would not pay full price to buy the product.  IE: The price is different for different people.

Groupon was 2011’s darling of price differentiation.  Or at least it was for a while.  It certainly took it’s lumps last year too.  The concept behind Groupon is essentially the same as any other coupon or discount offer.  Namely, consumers hope to get a discounted price and sellers hope to get increased awareness, increased traffic, increased sales, and, if they’re lucky, sell some add-ons to go with the deal.  For example, a glass of beer to go with a discounted meal sold to someone who hadn’t heard of the establishment before a Groupon email.

Groupon is only one of several hundred companies offering similar deal-a-day offers. LivingSocial is another well known example.  In fact, there are so many of these companies that they’ve been dubbed the Daily Deal industry and there are even conferences tending to this industry’s every need.

Now, at last, to explain what is! is a Daily Deal website turned on its head.  Rather than a seller offering a given product at some discount to a certain number of people, a group of people offer to buy a product from any seller for a specified price.

To elaborate, what if I wanted to buy, say, a Nikon D3100 14.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR & 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lenses.  Let’s also assume that the market price of approximately $700 was too rich for me.  What if I wanted to pay, say, $600 max for it?  Maybe there is a retailer out there who would entertain that offer, especially if enough people bought into it?  That’s where comes in!

As a buyer, I would be able to go to and find this product (or list it if it’s not already there).  I can then set a price I will pay for this product along with a date that my offer is good through.  For example, I could say that I’m willing to pay $600 for a Nikon D3100 and that my offer is good for, say, two weeks.  I then put a certain amount of money down on this offer as a potentially refundable deposit.  I’m thinking 10% of the offer.  The buyer has now backed up their word with cold hard cash.

Now, this buyer goes off and promotes the heck out of their offer via Facebook, Twitter, and any other way they want. The goal is to get as many potential buyers to make their own offer.  So, let’s say I post to Facebook that I’m making this offer and a few other people see this, they can join in on the offer.  These people can make their own variations on the offer as well.  For example, maybe one of my friends is only willing to pay $550, but is willing to wait a month instead of two weeks.  Perhaps another friend is willing to pay $650.  The point being that for any given product any potential buyer can set their own offer price and how long they are willing to wait to make a deal.

The other side of is for sellers.  Sellers can watch for offers on products which they sell.  For example, a camera dealer may see that 1000 people have made offers for the Nikon D310.  500 of those are offering $600 or more.  They may then decide to accept all offers over $600.

To be clear, sellers would be able to choose a minimum price on offers that they’ll accept.  So those buyers who offered too low of a price would miss out on the opportunity and those who offered too high wouldn’t necessarily get as good of a deal as they could have.  However, the seller makes a large number of sales for the optimal price for each individual customer.  Furthermore, they can avoid making sales where they would otherwise loose money.  They can also wait for a certain number of offers above their cutoff threshold before they close the deal, assuming no other sellers close the deal first. would, of course, take a percentage of these sales for this service. I’m thinking that would simply keep the 10% deposit that the buyer made and that the buyers would pay the seller directly.  This avoids potential Third Party Payment Processing problems that have plagued other businesses I’ve tried to start.

Those people whose offers were not accepted could elect to raise their offer and/or hold out for a future seller who will meet their price.  If a buyer’s offer is not accepted within the time frame they specified they would get a refund of all of their money, less a small fee.  I’m thinking 10% of the deposit.  So, if I offer $600 for the Nikon D3100, I have to pony 10%, $60, up front.  Now say my specified time period passes without my offer being accepted, I would get back $54 and would keep $6 (10% of the deposit).  Ideally would also have been collecting interest on the $60 while we held onto it for the buyer.  This provides an incentive for the buyer to make the best offer they’re willing to accept.  If they make a ridiculous offer they won’t get what they want and they’ll loose a small amount of money off of it.  Again, they’ve got skin in the game.

So, what happens if the buyer doesn’t follow through on their commitment to buy at the price they offered when a seller agrees?  This is entirely possible and may actually the best possible outcome for the seller.  Why?  Because the seller get the buyers deposit and don’t have to deliver any product!

And now to explain where the name comes from.  Firstly, to me at least, the name invokes a mental image of a noble steed working for his master.  This horse could conceivably be the mascot and animated spokesperson of this business.

Secondly, the industry’s somewhat derogatory term for people who clip coupons and make use of daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial is “Coupon Whore”.  IE: Someone who will do anything for a coupon.  My thinking is, why is this a bad thing?  Consumers should wear this title with pride!  And, as luck would have it, Sweden’s top level domain name is “.se”.  I’ve recently been enamored with domain names that make use of the TLD as part of the name.  I submit to you some of my recent domain purchases:,,, and now

I think is a unique name that stands out, clearly says what it is and what it’s for, and it is memorable.

And so now, dear reader, I turn this idea over to you. Please comment below and tell me what you think of this idea.  Is it a good idea or a crappy one?  What would make it better?  Also, do you want to be a part of the team that builds and owns this idea?  Do you want to invest in this idea to get it going?  Do you know someone who might be interested that I (or any other hypothetical team members) should talk to?  Basically, I request humbly that you brain dump in the comment area below.

Thanks for reading and look forward to your feedback!

Introducing: ProjectSpark!

My major goal in life is to get rich – or at least make a comfortable living – by starting up new businesses.  I’ve talked about this a bit in the past.  In fact, I famously (to me) blogged about how I was looking for someone to invest in me on the Alagad blog.  For a while, I was tweeting a new business idea every day via @dougsIdeas.

I really enjoy taking an idea from concept to reality.  However, the problem is that I’m just one person.  There’s only so much I can do in a day.  Furthermore, I’m not skilled at every little thing that any project may require. I’m not a designer (I submit as evidence).  I’m not a copy writer (but I play one on TV).  I’m not a user experience guru.  I’m not an information architect.  I’m not a mechanical or electrical engineer.  My ideas cross a many boundaries and there’s only so much I can personally do.

My other problem is that I lack contacts, or at least the knowledge of how to leverage the contacts I do have in my network.  I don’t have a rich uncle who will be an angel for every little idea I have.  I don’t have money to pay people to do things that I may not do well.

Most successful projects and businesses don’t come about from the lone efforts of a single person.  It takes a village, so to speak.  (I volunteer to be the village idiot!)  So, I’ve decided that perhaps I can build a team of like minded people.  What if a programmer (me), an MBA, a designer, a writer, a social media expert, a sales specialist, and an angel all came to work together? Why does it have to be just one of each? Why not more? What if they all worked together really well and enjoyed the experience, while remaining focused on the ultimate goal?

So, here’s my concept:  I’ll start detailing what I think are unique and compelling business ideas here on this blog as often as I can. Maybe one a week? Maybe more or less often, time will tell.  I’m thinking I could add a poll to the post to gauge general interest in the idea.  Perhaps readers who think an idea is good, who think they can help out, and who want to own part of the business can offer to join a team to build the idea.

The idea would be to build a team to create the business.  Anyhow who participates would get a reasonably large share of the company.  Ideally, if four people work together, they’d each get 25% of the company, assuming they all put in roughly proportional effort.  The group would share in creating the company, running the company, and reaping any benefits and profits that may bring.

Obviously there are a lot of details that are completely undefined at this point.  For example, what happens if someone joins the team but doesn’t deliver or under delivers?  How are potential team members filtered for quality and fit?  How should compensation be handled? How about failure?  And what happens if no one ever wants to join any team?

For now I’m going to ignore that last question and let my optimism cary me.  I can’t be the only person who wants to work with a great team to accomplish something awesome. If I put these ideas out there, maybe these people will find me.  And, failing that, maybe this will lead to a future job as a Conceptual Idea Guy™ for some lucky company. Who knows?

I currently invision that participants would all be putting in sweat equity and paying for things we need however we can.  So, for example, I’d put in hours and throw in money as I can and I’d hope others would too.  The goal, of course, would be to generate income for either a big ultimate pay off or, at least, a steady stream of income. Once one project gets its sea legs we could put a management team in place and act as directors.  Profits could potentially be reinvested in whatever the next project would be.

In the end, I’m hoping to build a close-knit team of entrepreneurs with complementary skills and who work together well and thrive in a startup environment.  Perhaps this is a pipe dream, but it can’t hurt to try!

And so, with that, I hereby commence what I shall now call ProjectSpark! Interested? Comment below or end me an email at

So…. What Now? -or- KickStarting Myself

One of the main reasons I rebooted this blog was to help me work out what I should be doing with myself.  I have a lot of individual goals, but no specific strategy on how to accomplish them.  Right now I’m flailing around randomly, doing a bit here and a bit there, but not making much progress in any direction.

This morning I sat here at my desk for thirty minutes and have nothing to show for it.  Well, maybe that’s not entirely fair.  I did take time to read WordPress’ suggestions on how to focus my blog.  I figured there would be something relevant to me, since focusing on any one thing is next to impossible for me.  Their solution?  Make a set of mind maps that progressively focus you on what you’re interested in and want blog about.  Did I do the exercise?  Nope.  I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to do on this blog.  That said, I did sit here for 30 minutes before deciding to write about.

Around new years my wife made me sit down and make a combined list of some of our goals for the next year.  The goals fell into three distinct categories: Things to do around the house (make a tree house, shed, etc), travel (go to Alaska), and starting at least two new businesses.  The latter is where I’ll focus for the remainder of this article.

I really like being my own boss.  It gives me the flexibility to work when and how I need to, with a few reasonable limitations.  However, I’ve not been happy with the work I’ve been doing recently I and I feel that I need to move on to something else.  This has become increasingly urgent to me.  Most people who work with me would probably tell you that I have a panoply of ideas that I’ve worked on.  I can think of at least eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve potentially viable ideas off the top of my head.  I’ve already started work on five of them.

My biggest problem here is distractibility and self doubt.  I have at least two projects that are half done because I moved on to other projects that seemed that much more exciting, interesting and promising.  And sometimes a project falls under the weight of self doubt.

Another major challenge is that I’m primarily a technical person.  I understand programming.  So, I naturally gravitate towards technical problems.  I draw mockups, write programs, make web pages, etc, for these ideas.  But when it comes to the tedious or unfamiliar work, I fall down.  For example, I’m not a marketing person.  I really only have the faintest ideas on how to promote and sell most of these projects I’m working on.  Why bother building something new if no one will ever see or use it?  As an example, I released Pan Slam, an very simple iOS app last week. I’ve only sold 18 copies (mostly to friends) so far, which makes me wonder why bothered at all.  If I knew better ways to promote it, I think I would.  But it would be nice to work with someone else who knew what they were doing in this area and enjoyed doing it.

I’ve come up with a long-shot solution to these problems.  There is an awesome website called KickStarter.  KickStarter describes themselves as, “the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects.”  Essentially, the way it works is that if I want to raise funds for a project I can create a proposal to explain the idea, make supporting videos, and then essentially beg the KickStarter community, my friends, followers, and family for a specific amount of money for my project.  If I raise the money I get it all, if I fail I get nothing at all.

I have yet to submit any KickStarter proposals, but I did support KickSat, which was successfully funded!

There are a few things I like about KickStarter.  I love the all or nothing approach.  If the my project is not supported then perhaps it’s not destined to be.  However, if I succeed, then I have funds to pay for the parts of the project that I can’t do (well) myself.  Essentially, KickStarter has the potential to tell me if I really have a good idea and give me the resources to accomplish it if I do.

My latest idea is to throw ideas at KickStarter,  one at a time, until one actually succeeds.  I plan to become a guru of writing proposals and making videos to talk about my ideas!

So, I herby publicly state my goal:  I will publish 12 KickStarter projects in the next 13 months, one a month, starting 30 days from now, until all 12 have failed or one has been funded successfully!  I will have my first KickStarter proposal submitted by February 16th!  Now to decide which one to do…

I’ll update the blog here as I decide which project I’m doing and as I learn more about working with KickStarter.


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