Competing with Apple: entrepreneurs vs. companies that do it all

Sep 15 2015

Our brainstorm wall fills up as we switch from idea to idea. Photo taken by Lauren Merlini.

This week was a tough week for my group. We struggled bouncing from idea to idea. The hardest part was thinking of an idea that was desirable, viable and that didn’t already exist.

Our first idea was expanding upon a business model in which you can pay ahead to feed a homeless person when you buy a meal. For example, there is restaurant in Philadelphia that has a system in which you can pay a dollar in advance and put a sticky note on the wall. Later, a homeless person could pick a sticky note to trade for a slice of pizza.

We wanted to digitize this process to expand to other businesses. However, we soon found that businesses were already doing this.

Then, we decided to go another route. We wanted to help people with special needs. Our idea was an app to help people with special needs through their daily routines. It would include reminders to help adjust to change, games to help development and tutorials to help with daily actions such as washing your hands.

Unfortunately, a company known as Apple beat us to it. It has an entire division for special needs that includes all of these things.

Back to brainstorming.

We spent a lot of time brainstorming in the Lab this week. Some days we filled walls with ideas, and other days we left frustrated.

My group eventually found a passion for helping businesses reduce waste and be more environmentally friendly. Right now we’re brainstorming ways to benefit businesses by helping the environment.

We’ve started emailing and calling business owners, environmentalists, educators and others to find out more information. We ask them questions like: What are the easiest ways they help the environment? What is the biggest struggle they have with the environment? If they could change one thing, what would it be? How could others help them?

I’ve learned a lot this week. At first, it is extremely frustrating to not be able to settle on one idea. We would think we had a great idea, and then we would realize about 50 people already thought of it. Other times, we thought we liked an idea, and then we realized no one would use it.

We had to step back and think: How can we give people incentives to use this? How can we create a product that benefits all parties involved?

For example, this week John, the executive director of the Lab, told me about a man named Luis von Ahn. von Ahn invented a product called Duolingo. Duolingo is a website that allows users to learn a new language. The website uses their lessons to translate the Internet into different languages. Genius.

This is the kind of amazing idea I want to create. That’s the reason I don’t want to settle on an idea.

In reality, it is rare to think of a great idea in a day. It’s okay to keep changing and to have to start over. If you realize that no one will want to use your idea, it’s better to start over than to continue with an undesirable idea.


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