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January 29, 2021

Five Startup Ideas #019 (Premium)

Roving vending machines, documentation as code, and Discord for enterprise.

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Hello hello,

Happy Friday to you all! I hope you're looking forward to a little respite from the public market mayhem as much as I am. What a week.

Revisiting calmer times, we return to last week's edition. As it turned out, "Shopify for Zoom" shared by Zak Kukoff, was the most popular idea. It certainly feels well-suited to the current moment.

Though tied for second place "Twilio for documents," proposed by the pseudonymous VC Starter Kit, got a particularly strong response from readers, including from several high-profile venture capital partners. That is perhaps a sign that a big opportunity lurks. If you're working on any of these concepts, let me know. I will do my best to make a connection. Starting next week, we'll begin to host some exciting conversations of this sort in the community. If that sounds fun, I'd love for you to apply.

I'll be back in the swing of sharing my favorite product discoveries next week. For now, let's get to the ideas.

Five ideas...

Roving vending machines

Mini-sidewalk robots that sell snacks and drinks

Vending machine owners make great money if they can get three things right:

  1. Picking a good location
  2. Reducing restocking costs
  3. Using data to determine the best snacks and drinks to sell.

Solving all three of these are possible today, but no one does.

What if you can build a sidewalk robot or a bike-lane robot akin to the Starship that carries snacks and drinks? These robots could restock at the end of a trip in one central location and use data to determine the best places to rove around and which SKUs to sell. As the cost of producing these robots decreases, less and less capital is necessary to make a play in the space.

Elizabeth Yin, General Partner at Hustle Fund

Documentation as Code

Auto-generated developer documentation and updates

Great developer documentation is a cornerstone of building a thriving community and developer love. The problem is developer documentation is decoupled from the stack — any change to an API, configuration, package, permissions, etc puts documentation out of sync and causes a broken developer experience.

I think there’s a big opportunity to bridge the gap between documentation and the code itself. Code can be expressive, immutable, version-able, structured — shouldn’t documentation be the same? While building a linter-like solution for documentation into the IDE (combining code with documentation) could work, I’d be especially interested in a run-time service that effects code base updates in documentation, in a highly structured and interactive presentation.

Imagine every developer service with the developer documentation quality of Stripe.

Ethan Batraski, Partner at Venrock

Discord for enterprise

In-product and across-product communities for SaaS users

With the rise of bottoms-up SaaS, communities are becoming increasingly important. Communities can play essential roles in attracting new users, getting free users to convert to paid, pushing users deeper into the product, and so on. If done right, community-focused software could serve as the marketing automation + CRM + CS software of the bottoms-up SaaS world.

That’s an ample opportunity, but the current options suck. Some have contorted Slack to serve as a community destination, but that's not it's raison d'etre. Others have popped up specifically to be community platforms, but they suffer from the "Field of Dreams" conundrum; if you build it, will they come?

I’d like to see a solution that meets users where they are. You can imagine a browser extension that sits on top of SaaS applications and activates the relevant community discussion when someone is in the product. With the right integrations, this widget could also understand product usage and allow users to coach each other to get more out of a platform.

It'd be like Discord for SaaS: distributed across applications and a unified destination. Game on.

Jake Saper, General Partner at Emergence Capital

Commerce x Community

Grailed with dedicated forums

Resale marketplaces like Grailed, Goat, StockX, and others have been successful because they have solved many pain points of peer-to-peer transactions (e.g., aggregating supply and ensuring trust amongst users). Before these marketplaces, users had to deal with the logistics of buying and selling through private Facebook groups or forums like Niketalk.

While that’s great, these marketplaces have failed to fulfill an essential desire of their customer base: community. Fan-led discussions mainly exist in subreddits, Discords, and other disaggregated forums. I have many fond memories of hanging out with friends and learning about new sneakers through threads on superfuture. To that end, I think there’s an exciting opportunity to vertically integrate community with a marketplace.

Bringing discussion and education to the marketplace would be a savvy way to engage and strengthen the existing customer base and draw in more potential users.

Dillon Liang, Investor at Bullpen Capital

From Landlord to Bank

Peer-to-peer rent-to-own platform

I have received a lot of pitches from companies helping people become partial owners of rental units. I have passed on all of them because I don't know if that's a behavior I'd like to incentivize. If you have many people who are co-owners of a property, but the person living in that property doesn't know any of them, does this encourage good landlord behavior? Negative landlord behavior? My hypothesis is the latter (check back in with me in a few years to confirm if this turned out to be true!).

To incentivize positive landlord behavior and upward mobility for renters, I'd like to see a company that helps people become mini-banks. Specifically, I’d love to see a business that could help me purchase a home with the intent of "rent-to-own" -ing it out to someone else. That encourages both positive landlord behavior and positive renter behavior. I could still make a return by taking part in the appreciation of the underlying asset. The renter would be given a seamless way to purchase a property they have already invested in by renting it out. I have seen this behavior done one-off, but I think technology could help landlords build this strategy out more thoughtfully and offer robust solutions to tenants as well.

There would have to be some safeguards to ensure that landlords provided fair terms, but I think it’s a risk that could be solved. I’d love to see companies working in the space!

Sydney Thomas, Principal at Precursor Ventures