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August 7, 2020

Five Startup Ideas #010

Toilet tech, resurrecting Myspace, and Charli D'Amelio's assistant.

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We made it. One hundred startup ideas.

Over the past 10+ weeks, we've talked about healthcare financing, aging in the metaverse, homeschooling tools, video platforms for evangelicals, SaaS financing, and much much more.

Along the way, we've connected dozens of investors and founders, discussed hundreds of companies over email or chat, and made a lot of new friends. We're so grateful to all of you for making this a fun, generous, thoughtful home for us all.

We've also seen our first RFS become a product.

A few weeks ago, Jonathan Libov shared an RFS for a product he hoped would get built: "Meme School" an ed-tech platform that leverages memes to marry education and entertainment. A lot of you wrote in, expressing your interest in the project.

After the two of us took a couple socially-distanced walks around Brooklyn to jam on the product, Jonathan spun up Noodlebank, a purveyor of "memes that make your brain grow bigger." I spent about an hour on it last night. Afterward, my girlfriend asked what I had been laughing at. It was hard to explain that I'd been looking at Pride & Prejudice and Great Gatsby memes.

I highly recommend checking it out, as well as digging into Noodlebank's first study guides on "Space-Time Compression" and "The Federalists and Anti-Federalists." It's officially the most fun way to learn :)

All to say, this is what we dreamt of when creating RFS 100. A place for curious minds to laugh, for intellect to play. As the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung once noted:

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.

Our plans for the next wave of creativity will arrive next week, after which we plan to take a short pause to collect and curate Volume 2 of RFS 100.

In the meantime, if you haven't already, come join us in the group chat. We added more new people this week. We riffed on TikTok's $1B Creator Fund, income pooling, and programmable money.

Just tell us a little about yourself in the application below. If you want to add anything to your application, shoot us an email.​

Now, onto the ideas that take us to 100. Lightly edited by us for the sake of clarity.

2020 Myspace

Myspace where profiles are shared Figma workspaces.

When I look at the last ~8 years, we've moved wholly toward "feed-based-broadcast-yourself" networks like The Gram, TikTok, and Twitter. These networks are content-first, ephemeral in nature, and effectively a stream of forgettable nothingness — an infinite scroll leaving users without any memory of what they just consumed.

Myspace allowed users to creatively represent themselves in a semi-permanent manner. It allowed us to create a space that evolved over time. How your profile looked was a direct reflection and snapshot of what was happening in your real life, how your friends interacted with you online, and the overall movement of culture. If your favorite images, music, and friends were each a flower, Myspace was the garden in which you organized them to reflect you.

I remember vividly scouring the web for the best photo to tile as my background, f*cking up HTML snippets, and flipping through my Limewire to find a new song to feature. Friends and acquaintances got a grasp of what you enjoyed and how you thought of yourself.

Meanwhile, software has undoubtedly become more collaborative in its experience. Word/Excel/Powerpoint to G-Docs, Imgur Memes to TikTok, Sketch to Figma, iMessage to Muze. Almost every great piece of consumer software provides a powerful single-player tool that shifts dynamically as it enters multiplayer mode.

I think there's room for a renaissance. There could be a lot of fun at the intersection of profiles and collaborative tooling. I envision a platform that enables a semi-permanent embodiment of who you are, where its progression is driven by social interactions. A 2020 Myspace where your wall is a collaborative document between friends. A piece of graffiti that leverages the content of the internet.

Sören Wrenn, Investor and builder at Betaworks

Better grocery bulk dispensing

Smart, more efficient, sanitary bulk dispensing in grocery stores

The bulk area of the produce section of the grocery store is usually unappealing. Think dried nuts, lentils, and coffee. Everyone knows that it’s cheaper, but that picking a branded packaged product is a safer bet when it comes to quality, particularly in the COVID era.

Unfortunately, this leads to greater use of plastic packaging and more food waste, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Part of the issue is that dispensing of that bulk product has stayed the same for decades. The bulk dispensing equipment you find in almost every grocery store is made by Trade Fixtures, a Berkshire Hathaway company that has a monopoly on the market. They leverage the pricing power that comes with that position.

It’s time for grocery to modernize and use a smart, efficient, sanitary, internet-enabled product for bulk dispensing. I see a world in which the dispenser and the consumer’s receptacle are recyclable, reusable, and communicate with each other. That would provide the grocery store with both real-time inventory data and consumption data, all while using less plastic, wasting less food, and growing an overlooked category in the store.

Leland Chamlin, Chief of Staff at Bowery Farming

Auto carbon-offset for life

Behavioral psychology meets carbon offsetting

Have you ever tried to offset your carbon footprint? It's tricky to get an accurate assessment (though there are some good estimate apps). Even once you have an estimate, buying carbon "credits" or other related products is hard.

There's room for something better, more seamless. Estimating and buying credits is just the start. A truly "self-driving" solution would be a game-changer.

Plum is an example of this philosophy applied to money. The company's "Beast Mode" mixes behavioral psychology with saving and investment to help users optimize their financial health.

For example, on a random Tuesday afternoon, you'll receive a message from Plum's AI assistant saying, "Do you think you can save $24.19? Dare you..."

The timing of that message (and the amount) is intelligently optimized by the company, all to help drive results. Imagine if you could do the same for your carbon footprint — offset everything you do automatically, go net negative by buying credits in response to prompts, and even get encouragement to invest in ESG funds (which outperform the market, generally).

Ethical is the new luxury, and embedded finance is a $3.6T market. There are companies tackling parts of this puzzle, but nobody's pulled it together yet.

Simon Taylor, Co-founder of 11FS

Toilet as a Lab (TaaL)

A "smart" toilet for biometric data

Smart toilets have been ubiquitous in Japan since the 1980s but have only focused on flashy comfort-focused features (think seat-warmers, built-in driers). Wearables have become increasingly common in tracking health data —it's time to bring the IoT playbook to the toilet.

We passively "deposit" so much data while sitting on the toilet that could be used to assess our daily wellbeing holistically. Urine samples could undergo physical and molecular analysis to test for urologic and prostate cancers, kidney failure, or even highlight a potential pregnancy. Stool samples could provide markers for colorectal cancers, bowel diseases, or metabolic disorders. While these could be particularly appealing to those genetically predisposed to such conditions, the ability to detect responses to lifestyle patterns (nutrition, exercise, drug use, sleep) broadens likely interest. A team of researchers at Stanford Medical School have developed the disease-detecting technology already.

The primary challenges are cost and scalability. That's kept many out of the market, or forced the discontinuation of others. If solved, TaaL might have a chance to take off, serving as a source of supplementary health data and giving consumers more control over monitoring their wellbeing. In the process, it would help move the healthcare sector towards preventative treatment.

Claire Zau, Investor at GSV

Garden party

A vertical social network for floraphiles

This summer has seen a fair amount of discussion on the opportunity of "unbundling Reddit." The thinking goes that by building for a particular interest group, a vertical social network can provide more value than a horizontal one. A few companies have followed this playbook, consciously or not, including Doximity (r/medicine), Supergreat (r/beauty), and Pipeline (r/streamers). Soon, we may see r/gardening disrupted.

There's reason to believe that gardening may make a particularly strong target. A Statista global survey found that 25% of US respondents consider gardening a hobby, placing it above "playing sports," and "photography." R/gardening itself boasts 2.9M members, and comments per day have increased over the past year. Despite its associations with older demographics, millennials are increasingly interested. Just as importantly, spend is rising: the average household in the US spent $503 per annum in 2018, an $100 increase from the year prior.

A vertical social network dedicated to the hobby would face little competition. DigtheDirt and other players are fusty, tired, and unlikely to appeal to a younger audience. While social is a particularly finicky, chimerical sector, focusing on our botanical buddies seems to stand a good chance of success.

Mario Gabriele, Investor at Charge and Editor of The Generalist (and this)​​


Private banking solution for the FIRE movement in Europe

The "Financial Independence, Retire Early" (FIRE) movement is growing at a rapid pace, as more and more people look to attain financial freedom. There's an opportunity to build for this group, helping them attain their goals. I envision a FIRE-focused private-bank that combines commission-free trading (like Robinhood or Public), banking (Revolut or Monzo), and retirement features.

I'd love to see a European player emerge with this value proposition, courting the movement. It would be personalized and geographically-specific, taking into account local and national tax policies, among other differences.

All told, a fintech player here could capitalize on a growing movement, and capture a client-based committed to growing their wealth.

Linus Dahg, Partner at Inventure

Shopify for opening restaurants

Infrastructure to launch restaurants at lower cost

Independent restaurants were already hurting before COVID. Many will never reopen after the pandemic, and chains are expected to eat up even more market share. The ones that do survive might have big opportunities to grow into the spaces (both literal and figurative) vacated by defunct restaurants. There will likely be a flattening and homogenization of the restaurant landscape. Byrne Hobart wrote about this, referring to the phenomenon as "frontend corporatization," noting, "Starbucks will grab the spot your neighborhood coffee shop was in...your local gym will become a Planet Fitness."

Byrne also wrote about the opposite vision: "Backend corporatization." He suggested lenders might step in, keeping restaurants afloat but forcing them to modernize through technology. While that might be a good place to start, a tech company offering a restaurant OS could level-up by combining such a system with franchise-quality playbooks.

Someone who lives and breathes restaurants might recognize the less-publicized benefits of doing business as a restaurant franchisee. In the best case, it's a business-in-a-box, including every necessary tech and operational solution, even providing step-by-step educational materials for the business. This is tremendously valuable, but the default model makes this inaccessible to restaurants without the requisite capital.

There's an opportunity for a Shopify-style company to help provide these benefits at a lower cost. While the restauranteur would own the brand, the platform could assist with everything else, including menu planning, ingredient and consumable ordering, and marketing (both tactical and strategic). This could be coupled with software solutions, including point of sale, online ordering, kitchen management, and delivery service triaging.

While not all restaurants fit into neat categories, this type of platform would allow food entrepreneurs to pick-and-choose the pieces that fit their business. The end product would be a modern restaurant that boasts the benefits of franchising without the onerous capital requirements, forced branding, and hefty fees.

Jeremy Diamond, Founder of DMND

The Neil deGrasse Tyson x Charli D'Amelio Mashup

Enable parents to cultivate and nurture their kids' interests

The problem: Parents want their kids to love learning. The easiest way to do that is to nurture their kids' interests by helping them access interest-aligned content. However, if parents get too involved in learning, they risk diminishing their kids' intrinsic motivation to learn.

One possible solution would be a content portal that enables kids to discover and pursue their academic interests, attached to a marketplace that gives parents suggestions for ideal products to nurture those interests.

To make engaging, rigorous content, you could pair subject matter experts (SMEs) with Instagram and Tiktok stars that appeal to younger audiences. The SMEs would craft the lesson plan, and the celebrities would teach it. The combination of the great lesson-planning of the SME and the social proof of the stars would make it easier for a kid to engage with the topic, whether it be dinosaurs, space, history, or something else.

You could track the time kids spend learning about different topics, delivering a report to parents along with suggestions for age-appropriate books, activities, summer camps, computer games, field trips, all designed to nurture their interests. Those items could be bought (or booked) on the platform, offering a clear path to monetization.

Nick DeWilde, Product at Guild Education and Editor at The Jungle Gym

A rewind to WWDC

A wrapper for App Clips

When Apple releases a new OS or development primitive, you should pay attention. Thanks to Rick (who I met through RFS!), I was introduced to Apple's new App Clips. The SDK is fairly nascent, but the idea of "miniaturizing" applications, making them ephemeral and integrating with Apple Pay + Sign-In is fascinating. I'm interested in a tool that makes development and marketing *super easy* with App Clips. Perhaps it's a combination of Expo and Attentive for App Clips.

Aashay Sanghvi, Investor at Haystack

Unlock real estate data

An API for the multiple listing services

Plaid enabled a generation of financial apps by exposing bank account capabilities through a modern API. The same goes for Twilio with telephony capabilities and Google Maps with maps data. We’ve seen the story play out again and again: make inaccessible resources accessible to developers and be surprised by what gets built. One untouched frontier is the real estate listings data trapped in multiple disparate systems called multiple listing services (MLS), often in proprietary XML-based formats.

I have no idea how, but lowering the barrier to building the next Zillow or Trulia could be big — property data could also be used in ways we can’t even predict. The first challenge is getting access to existing systems, which is nontrivial in itself.

Andy Qin, Engineer at Modern Treasury

Thank you for reading. If you have someone you'd like to hear an idea from, let us know. We'll do our best to get them into the mix. We'd love to hear your ideas, too.