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Start-up Ideas

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The other day I wrote an article about random thoughts, one of the last sections being about what I will do post-PhD. One of the ideas was to try and get a start-up off the ground - i.e. something that generates its own revenue.

My thinking behind proposing these particular projects is that they interest me and have some value to me even if they are not successful. Here are some ideas I have regarding this (not in order of preference). Each of these projects is intended to be explored over a period of six months, each taking a month each to be fleshed out to some degree.

OS From Scratch Book

This article is what incentivized me to write about this, I have been wanting to write this book for quite some time now. This was based on the SAX operating system I had designed a while back.

The book itself would be the design and implementation of a 512 byte kernel, something that could be achieved in a weekend. The idea is that the book would be very readable and interesting, even something that could be used in the context of a classroom.

The time would approximately be spent as follows:

Monetisation: This book would then be sold through some digital platforms online.

Expected cost: Other than one month spent in time and living costs, I may need to spend as much as £50 to have some art commissioned and buy an ISBN number.

Expected return: I imagine that £5 per 100 pages (rounded up) is a reasonable price to charge. I also imagine that I could sell 100 copies over some significant time period.

Debate Platform

Following on from an article I wrote a while back, I want to explore the idea of creating a platform for long-form debates that can span over significantly long periods of time.

The time would approximately be spent as follows:

Monetisation: The service itself by design requires payment to be used, which is then reinvested into the service.

Expected cost: Domain and server, which I imagine could be limited to about £50 quite easily.

Expected return: Initially it would make sense to run the service at reduced cost (minimum payment) and slowly increase the asking price until the venture is self-sustaining. The success entirely depends on the popularity of the service.

Dead Social

One idea I have toyed with is scaling dead social up towards being a large decentralised social media network. As it's mostly based on existing technologies, the idea is that users could almost instantly start interacting with content from various sources, including one another once the user base increases.

As I've already done some work on this project, I wouldn't be starting from scratch and would be able to iterate on my current design 1.

The time would approximately be spent as follows:

Monetisation: Users could pay for clients, content caching, or to remove advertising (that we could drop into their feeds).

Expected cost: Again, this is expected to be around the £50 mark for a domain and strong server.

Expected return: It could take quite some time to see a return on this project - the entire idea of a social media platform is that it requires itself to be spread socially. This could take an unknown amount of time to achieve and is therefore high risk.

Custom Mouse

Despite an insanely large market existing for custom keyboards (even bad ones), there is no real competitor for an open source computer mouse. This is space that could seriously benefit from some innovation too, for example:

The time would approximately be spent as follows (assuming the resources are already available):

An additional complication might be in getting the required electrical approvals for selling the item. This may end up being quite costly also.

Monetisation: This will likely be done via a market place. If advertised in the right places, these should be relatively easy to sell. Manufacturing should be done in batch and can be soldered/assembled using a third-party service such as PCBWay, whom offer PCB assembly and 3D printing.

Expected cost: Again, to build the initial design may not require more than £50. After this, costs will likely increase for a limited-run production.

Expected return: Per mouse, it should be reasonable to expect between £25-£75 (depending on production costs - not including shipping).

Linux PDA

The concept of a Linux-based PDA has been on the back-burner for a while now. The idea is to produce a small, low-power device that allows a person to organise their lives. It is not meant to replace a smart phone and the functionality is purposefully limited to tasks that are simple. This project would need to be built upon an existing base in order to be achieved.

Monetisation: The hardware platform being sold would be the source of revenue for the device. This could be sold at a markup in order to support development.

Expected cost: This could easily be £1k for designing and manufacturing the first 100 units, not including postage and packaging, or returns.

Expected return: With each unit costing about £10 to make, I would expect that each one could be sold for £40 (not including shipping). It's expected that 25% of profit will be lost due to returns, lost items, etc.

Dieting App

This would be an open-source cross-platform app for tracking a person's diet, inspired by my own keto journey. The idea is that you would have a database of foods, exercises, meals/recipes and the ability to follow a programme across multiple devices. You could even look to share your progress with others (as people already do with runs for example).

I also considered this would be viable after having learned that Custom Meal Planner is shutting down at the end of the year. I initially thought it would be cool to have a keto book, but nobody really reads during these days.

The time would approximately be spent as follows:

Monetisation: It would be possible to sell advertising for fitness products, etc, once the platform is established. A better approach would be to sell the syncing/backup experience and different dieting programmes. There could even be some custom planner in the future.

Expected cost: As with others, I think we are initially looking at a domain and a small server, so approximately £50 to get the idea off the ground.

Expected return: This would really depend on the popularity of the app, but I would expect that it would be possible to ask for an annual subscription (where I imagine most customers arrive in January time). Something like £5 seems like a reasonable ask for an app. I would be looking for 10k customers to reach a sustainable income.

Other Considerations

Late editions:

Finally

This list is likely to change over time, but my thinking is that the book is the most likely return on investment, followed by a custom mouse (there is essentially no market competition for open source computer mice).


  1. Note: I also currently work on an article describing exactly how the next version will look.

  2. Note: It's unknown whether this would need to be electrically tested in order to be sold.