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Boiling the Ocean of Dumb Startup Ideas



When Alex Hague and I first prototyped our satirical party game Pitch Deckwe threw together a spreadsheet of company names next to a list of what we would eventually call “pitch cards” — markets or demographics or just goofy ideas we could pair with the company cards.

Next I made another tab that randomly paired companies with another set of random pitch ideas to see whether the pairings were funny or not:

An early spreadsheet we used for prototyping whether this game would be funny

Not all of them worked, per se, but enough did that we knew were on to something. (How we decided which companies and ideas made the final cut of the game is a whooooooole separate post that we’ll get to one day; the tl;dr basically being “companies like Facebook and Google are too general to make fun of, and extremely broad or extremely specific demographic-based pitch cards work best.”)

Two years later, Pitch Deck has now shipped to all of our 1,889 Kickstarter backers and is doing well on Amazon with all 5-star reviews. We even just got our first friendly local game store spotlight video from Bell of Lost Souls.

Taking the website thing too far

As we were getting the game available for retail sales, we were also preparing to launch our website and I wondered what it’d be like to build a page for every card combination possible. In the retail version of the game that’s something like 31,500 pairs. A big number, but not so big you couldn’t brute force it.

Around that time my buddy and Y Combinator partner Gustaf Alströmer asked me what our SEO strategy was. I replied “None really, it’s a card game, hopefully people play it with their friends and have fun and we get some good word of mouth out of it”.

Part of what makes creating a card game fun is that they have an inherently viral nature (also known as the K-factor) to how people hear about them. Because games must be played with multiple people, each copy represents a possible set of fans. If the game is fun enough, some of those new players will buy a copy. It’s a virtuous cycle that plays out entirely IRL.

And indeed, we frequently hear from fans of Pitch Deck that they bought their copies on their phone while in the midst of playing the game with their friends. Think of it as a kind of lightweight network effect: each additional copy of the game doesn’t increase the overall value of a single copy, but rather the probability that more friends will buy the game.

But Gustaf’s question made me wonder whether this approach of a page-for-every-pair might be a subversive but canny SEO strategy — if every card pairing had a URL indexed by Google, then anytime someone looked up AirBnB for Fish we’d have a chance of showing up in the results.

And if someone was irreverent enough to google an idea for a company that just happened to be in our game, well, then, they might also be interested in buying a copy. At the minimum, if you’re googling Arby’s for Nonsexual glory holesthere’s a pretty good chance you’ll enjoy playing Pitch Deck.

I also realized that if we enabled some basic analytics and Google’s Search Console we could get a peek into what cards people were most interested in. The most popular URLs would reflect a kind of id-of-the-web as seen through the lens of our card game. And Google’s Search Console could give us insight into the keywords users were typing in order to get to our site.

Sometimes when you’re trying to build something simple but can’t resist going overboard, it is called “boiling the ocean”. This is basically what this idea amounted to (I mean who really needs a Ruby on Rails app for a card game?!) but I couldn’t resist once I got the idea in my head.

It lives

A couple weeks later, I had built the site as a basic Rails application and seeded it with the entire game. Each company card has its own page, as do all 31,500 combinations of pairings and each pitch card, and every hashtag.

Google now knows about 34k+ URLs tied to our card game.

The whole site has been now indexed by the Google search robot, and after about a month of modest traffic, we’ve collected just enough data to draw out some interesting trends.

But before I get any farther, a spoiler and content warning: it turns out the most popular Pitch Deck pairings on the web are the sex ones. They always are.

This is the case for Cards Against Humanity’s Lab as well: Max Temkin told me that the cards that do the best in their Lab are always the naughty ones. This is a funny bias in games like ours since it doesn’t play out in person; the likely explanation being that people are more inclined to choose raunchy card pairings when they’re sitting alone in front of a computer, but when they’re tasked with playing amongst friends, they tone it down.

And it turns out people find the CAH site with similarly goofy search terms — darth vader dolphin pterodactyl surprise was the least offensive one from the list Max sent me.

Free unicorn company ideas

The Pitch Deck data could be interpreted as a goofy way to judge demand for an out-there company idea. If a lot of people are searching for the same idea, it clearly means there’s some kind of interest in it.

The most feasible one I’ve seen so far that has lead folks to our site? Netflix for VR Porn. We were briefly the #3 result for this search, but the page seems have dropped significantly in the midst of a lot of hype-y news articles about the topic. And probably because we’re not offering a VR Porn rental site. But hey, it seems like a …fertile market to go after.

Another top search leading people to Pitch Deck? 3d printed fleshlight. Our page for “Fleshlight for 3D Printed Sex Toys” is now ranked #4 for that search. And while this might not be the most profitable business idea (in fact, it’s probably a terrible idea — the exact reason people are googling this is because they don’t want to pay for a real Fleshlight), it gives a peek into the future of what people really want to do with their 3D printer, and that is to manufacture genitals out of ABS plastic.

Unfortunately, this idea also highlights some of the darker terms people are regularly typing into Google. Most disturbingly: variations on Pornhub for kids. Now I assume this is not Pornhub for kids per se, but rather Pornhub ofkids. Discovering this was a really upsetting reminder of the kinds of things people are still looking for on the web. I’ve since de-indexed that and a handful of other pages (e.g. “PornHub for child prisons”) from Google so hopefully we’ll stop showing up in those results. Shudder.

I’m keeping Farmersonly for VR porn.

My other favorite dataset is the list of pages that people happen to stumble upon. Here are the top ones via our Google Search Console:

I’m particularly fond of PornHub for imposter syndrome, where we currently occupy the #1, #2, and #3 spot on Google. I have no idea if that’s a fetish or what, but consider me interested.

People searching for Did Hitler kill Tesla seem to be ending up on “Tesla for Going back in time to kill Hitler.”

At least one person clicked on our page for soylent farts, which turns out to be a fairly well understood problem. Three people searched for donald trump snuggie and one of them clicked. Martha Stewart is also strangely popular in this data and shows up in a variety of searches: egg salad martha stewart, martha stewart illuminati, martha stewart racist, and martha stewart college all make appearances.

One final twist we weren’t expecting: people are frequently searching for the actual pitch decks (e.g., PowerPoint presentations) of companies like Kickstarter, etc.

So far Yelp is leading in that department with two clicks and a couple of dozen impressions, but also popular are venmo pitch deck, rent the runway pitch deck, and snapchat pitch deck.

It’s worth mentioning a data interpretation caveat: since the content that makes up Pitch Deck isn’t representative of all content (it’s a satirical card game based on our sense of humor relative to a particular topic), it’s impossible to really draw any meaningful conclusions about what any of this means. It’s just kind of a fun, weird, and slightly depressing peek into what people are searching for on Google.

But if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering whether any of this traffic has lead to sales of the game. The answer is, unfortunately, we don’t really know.

We know roughly how many people head to Amazon via our website from which pages, but we don’t actually know much after that. Amazon is a true black box when it comes to understanding the data that leads people to your listing. There’s a little more work I might do to get to the bottom of it, but the truth is, I enjoy this data much more as a side effect than anything intended to drive lots of sales.

Finally, if you’re interested in this kind of search trend analysis, check out Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. He’s written done some great work using Google Search trends to analyze people’s angst, how people search for sex, and how racist we actually are.

About the Author
This article was written by Fred Beneson. See More.
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Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups



From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.


About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters



From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at

Alternatively, you can connect with me:

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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