Feb 08

the first idea

When I ask folks why there aren’t more funded females entrepreneurs, I typically hear one of two responses: 1) the ideas from female teams aren’t good – they are all beauty review sites or 2) females lack the technical expertise to get things going.

I don’t have an answer for #2. I certainly wish there were more females in tech – especially when engineering talent is so scarce.

However, I think that reason #1 – female ideas aren’t good – is misleading. It’s true – if you attend a women’s entrepreneurial event, there’s a 99% likelihood that someone is launching a beauty review site within the week. It’s only natural that people are excited by their personal interests and until the male beauty sector catches up (Men Pen or Man Glaze anyone?), females are likely to dominate this category.

However, I also remember my days as an engineering student and hopeful entrepreneur coding for project classes. Though we were given freedom to build nearly anything we wanted, I was always surprised when nearly all group projects fell into one of a few categories (woah – someone else thought of building a dating app too?). Years later, I judged a few HCI events, and even then, the same ideas were circulating.

Now I believe that there are a few ideas that every engineer needs to get out of their system before they can move on to more promising ideas. Those include:

  1. Organizer & list-maker: develop a better to-do list, create group calendars, or make it easier to find available meeting times with busy calendars.
  2. Fitness tracking: track your diet or fitness plan and get encouragement from a health-oriented community.
  3. Recipe creator & grocery planner: create a consolidated shopping list based upon your planned meals or find recipes using the existing ingredients in your fridge.
  4. Review sites: a social network dedicated to providing expert reviews for business, car, food, beauty supply, pharmaceutical, bike, etc. categories.
  5. Dating: online matchmaking with a twist like requiring videos, community exclusivity (religion, location, occupation, education, etc), or maybe even allowing your friends to choose whom you date.
  6. Finding places to eat: review daily lunch options, find new dining pals, get daily deals, or locate the shortest lines.
  7. Real-time location: track your running route, find your lost parked car, find someone at the coffee shop whom you should network with, or look at tweets that are happening in your vicinity.
  8. Drink mixer: get the 101 on how to make any drink like a pro. This category is my favorite because it usually has the best student project names.
  9. Campus party finder: Stanford CS147 wouldn’t be complete without a campus report-a-party app. Bonus points if it’s combined with #1 so you can stay on top of your busy party calendar.

Having an idea on this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea. However, if you want your beauty product review site to grow into something beyond a fun side project, you need a competitive edge and wide appeal. Instead of a beauty article on warm and cool skin tones, perhaps you can consistently deliver expert insights such as how hemoglobin and melanin govern skin tones or you have novel image recognition technology that accurately assesses skin color regardless of the lighting condition.

It takes skill to generate and evaluate ideas. In school, design classes made us practice generating 100 solutions to a problem in 15 minutes which helped avoid the habit of falling in love with your first idea. It might seem like females are always gravitating towards the same beauty review site concept but I think it’s more likely that we all gravitate towards certain problems.

And, full confessional, I’ve been guilty of #1, #3, #4, #5, and #6 :)