I hear a lot of business ideas. The uninitiated may think that there's a great diversity in thought here, and I'm constantly being exposed to new concepts. To some extent, this is true -- I meet more smart people than I've ever met before, for instance. But I'm also exposed to a lot of the same business concepts over and over again. Some -- like group buying or fashion e-com -- are simply trendy, and winners will emerge.
But some ideas have been brought to me for years, repeatedly, as new entrepreneurs encounter the same problems and come up with similar solutions. Yet none have succeeded. Those industries are graveyards, where many have entered and none have come out alive -- yet.
This doesn't mean these businesses can't work. How many people stumbled around the idea of building a social network before Facebook blew it out of the park? But I thought I'd share a few examples of "graveyard" businesses I've encountered regularly. I'm sure there are more, and I'd love to see some in the comments.
Social/Management Tools for Conference Attendees. "Idea guys" love conferences, and conferences love idea guys. In my completely unscientific experience, one thing most idea guys have in common is a huge slate of conferences they travel around attending. This is a logistical challenge, but it is fairly unique to the type of person who goes to five or more conferences per year. A fairly small market that tends to attract novice entrepreneurs.
A Portal for College Students. Like the previous concept, this one meets the need of a lot of potential "idea" entrepreneurs -- in this case, socially active college students -- but few others. Growing a product college-by-college is extremely problematic due to the dramatic differences between colleges and the relatively small market in each college, problems I came to know well at GoCrossCampus. CollegeOnly probably has a better model, which can't really be described as a "portal" as much as a network or set of tools.
Cash Tournaments on Console Games. Surprisingly few people realize that chance games (such as the games played in casinos) and skill games (such as pretty much everything else) are covered by a totally different set of rules, and it is completely legal to let users bet on their performance in skill-based contests. This seems like a gold mine to many entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, this business is fraught with non-legal issues. Skill balancing is a near-impossible challenge, and it is critical for gaining new players -- if a user's first experience with your product is being badly beaten at Madden and losing $10, you've probably lost that user forever.
I do like what some companies here are doing, especially Playhem. Would love to see someone get this right.
Honest Hetero "Hookup" Tools: Of all the businesses on this list, I have the least hope for these. Honest heterosexual hookup apps suffer from all the problems of a double-sided marketplace -- one side is a lot easier to convince to join than others. If you make the app "honest" -- that is, you report an accurate assessment of the market's characteristics -- you are unlikely to succeed. Here's a rule of thumb: If you see a man on a hookup service, he's real. If you see a woman, she's fake. "Hookup" apps that make money follow the (dishonest) FriendFinder model -- get the men to pay, fudge the women.
Anything in the Music Industry: A bit of hyperbole here, but not much.