September 29, 2008 |
It is not all that often that I read something and get an idea for a startup that could really be useful but today I have just experienced this thing – when you see something and immediately understand this could evolve into a great startup that could never fail because of any recession since there are certain things people will never stop doing in any financial situation. This idea that I want to share today will be sure to work because of two factors: 1) it is intended for enterprise customers and has a solid business model as such and 2) it is based on a very basic need all people have no matter what.
This idea is inspired by what I have just read on the Meebo blog about the growing company’s problems with the current office that has got so crowded that ladies often arrive to the door of the bathroom when it is occupied by another lady. I have encountered this problem myself more than once as it seems to be inevitable when you happen to rent an office in a large office building with so many people working in different rooms that you just can’t be sure what happens when you next make an interruption in your wok to visit the toilet. I myself often thought it would be a good idea for office buildings to have a system similar to that airplanes have showing all the passengers if the toilet is occupied or vacant.
The guys over at Meebo have found a brilliant solution for this problem in their office: they put a motion sensor in the ladies’s restroom and connected it to an internal web page where workers can check if the toilet is vacant or not. This sounded like a solution many companies will need so I could not help but see an idea for quite a healthy startup in it.
Basically the startup that decides to build it will need to have 2 versions of their product in place: a free one and a paid one as well. Both versions are marketed to enterprise customers and while small companies may be quite comfortable with a limited free version, bigger corporations and owners of large office buildings will be sure to opt for a paid-for version with full functionality. Below is the description of both versions and how they should work.
Free toilet occupancy indicator
The free version simply works as a web application where all the employees of a company that share one toilet update their status with “in the toilet” or “back at the desk” and the application will show if the toilet is occupied to the others. This could be implemented as a very basic microblogging tool and such a tool could definitely make sense for corporate Twitter clones.
The problem with this approach is that people will have to manually choose their location and since they can easily forget to change the status, it may result in complications. A solution could be some sort of fine for the users who forget to update their status – this could be some small amount that could be collected by the group to eventually finance upgrading to a paid-for version.
Paid-for toilet occupancy indicator
This is a much more advanced application that connects the application itself with motion sensors installed in the bathroom so that employees can check occupancy without having to update their own status manually. In this manner the startup will need to send the installation kits (including the sensors) and provide technical support to the companies buying the product. Also it could be a good idea to install the equipment/software for the larger customers.
Both versions should account for the number of stalls in one toilet so that the number of people visiting the toilet did not exceed the number of places they could occupy. The application could be both web-based or installation software for the corporate network or maybe both options could exist as well.
The only disadvantage I see here is that this project will require significant investment in hardware but since I think it is possible to use standard motion sensors instead of manufacturing something of your own, it should not be a really big problem. So if anyone reading this has already started to think of the actual development here, don’t forget that I want to be a co-founder here and will be sure to help you market this startup in exchange. After all, we do need useful web applications according to Tim O’Reilly.