The Startup Guide to Hollywood

Photo by Milo Baumgartner

Photo by Milo Baumgartner

I wrote a guest post on startups working with the entertainment industry for the 500 Startups Blog. The piece has now been shared hundreds of times, featured in newsletters such as MediaREDEF, Mattermark, and StartupDigest, and voted up to the front page on GrowthHackers and Inbound.org. 

YOU CAN READ “THE STARTUP GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD” HERE.

Thanks to Emily Parris Sandler, Andrew Skotzko, Sam Teller, Patrick Vlaskovits, Joey Flores, Casey Armstrong, Steve Manuel, Rob Ellis, Susan Su, Keyvan Peymani, Matthew Joseph, Kelley McKinney, Nate Redmond, Adam Lilling, and Eric Galen for reading drafts of the piece. Very much appreciated!

Playing the Saxophone – Time to Get Over My BS

Damn, I’ve been really nervous about posting this.

I can publish articles all day. I don’t consider myself a writer. But I find it effing terrifying to post a YouTube video of me playing my horn. Because at one time, I thought I was a “real” musician. Whatever that means.

I spend more time helping musicians these days (which is awesome!), than actually playing. It’s been years since I was able to get in enough practice hours or jam with friends regularly. Now I’m remembering the old days.

But playing the sax is still so fun. Probably moreso than ever.

I was with my buddy Andrew Skotzko a couple years ago, talking about playing the sax. He egged me on to start posting covers to a YouTube channel. I was too chicken then, but it’s about time I got over my BS.

So, to try to knock off some rust, here are my first two posts to YouTube — one’s a Joshua Redman transcription of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” and the other’s from the Chromatik Tune of the Day Collection, “Magic” by Coldplay.

I’ll continue posting tunes here via YouTube. Nothing crazy, but hopefully it’ll help keeping me going!

Hope you dig ‘em.

A Driving Range for Skipping Stones and 35 Other Product Ideas for the Taking

Skipping Stones

“What do you think about building a driving range for skipping stones in LA?”

A text I sent to my brothers, Jason and Eric, a few months ago.

James Altucher cranks out posts, talks, and books about “How to Become an Idea Machine.” I love the concept. Being creative requires you to come up with lots and lots of ideas. Many will stink. A few will be great.

So I started putting James’ concept into practice. Every morning, I pick a topic to develop 10 ideas for in under 20 minutes. Sounds silly, but it’s an exercise to get my mind a’moving. I come up with ideas for albums, Chromatik marketing campaigns, products, blog posts, books, movies, and more. It makes my brain sweat.

Ideas are the easy part. Execution is where things get much more difficult.

I put together a few of my favorite product concepts from the last weeks below. My goal here was idea exercise, not company building. Some of the ideas stink. A few have potential. Feel free to grab any of these as your own. Or laugh at them. Whatever you’d like.

1. Nest for Sprinkler Systems

California and many areas around the world experience regular water shortages. Similar to Nest’s energy conservation goals, homeowners would be more conscious about water usage if they saw data around water usage for their lawn or shower. Not to mention, my sprinkler system is a nightmare. Would love to see an elegant solution here. (Influenced by Greg Brandeau)

2. Handyman Lessons

I didn’t ever learn how to build or fix things around my house. Growing up, I was more interested in music, sports, and girls. But I’d love to take handyman lessons now, similar to what you see with music lessons. $40-60/hour to come to my house and spend an hour teaching me how to repair things, build something, use power tools, etc. There’s only so much I can learn from YouTube.

3. Pandora for Alcohol

Like that beer? Cool, here are three others to try. Like that Speyside scotch? Great, here are five others you’d like in a $25-50 price range. The Alcohol Genome Project. I hate depending on the folks at Total Wine or online reviewers.

4. Driving Range for Skipping Stones

A place to skip rocks would be incredible in major cities. Relaxing, peaceful, and lush. $5 for a small bag of perfect skipping stones. Concession stand. Perhaps a yoga studio. Please, someone make this happen.

5. Music Publishing Transparency

Music publishing is a black box. Want to license a track for TV or film? Want to pay out royalties from an online music radio program? Good luck. Publishing catalog ownership data is a nightmare. It’s wildly difficult to access, and it changes regularly. A few companies — MRI, Harry Fox, MediaNet, CrunchDigital — track and hold this information tightly to their chest (for sometimes north of $10k/month). Or you can try to track down rights yourself by calling major music publishers (it’s as fun as it sounds!). Someone will break down these walls.

6. Disconnect Software

There are some interesting products out there already for desktop (SelfControl being my choice), but nothing that crosses desktop and mobile. We need one disconnect app to rule them all.

7. Investments in Individuals

Most venture capitalists say they invest in people. But they actually invest in companies, where the people are replaceable.

Well, a different approach would be investing in a person. Literally. We’re already seeing public investment in athletes (see Fantex), and it’s only a matter of time before the model expands to movie stars, musicians, entrepreneurs, financial experts, and more.

8. Caffeinated Water Filter

Not sure this is possible, but imagine getting your morning pick-me-up from a glass of water.

9. QA as a Service

Anyone developing software hires testers. Some are great, some stink. It takes certain technical/communication skills and diligence to be a great tester. What if you could hire a firm to be that “fresh set of eyes” to provide full-cycle testing? Could work on nightly builds, bi-weekly releases, or one-off major pushes.

10. AlwaysOn Microphone

Imagine a FitBit-like device that was an HD microphone, always recording. At any moment, you could tap the device, send the last 60 seconds of audio to an app on your phone to save, edit, or share to social. Perhaps some invasion of privacy issues. Perhaps some creepiness. But it would be incredible for songwriters, authors, people with long commutes, entrepreneurs, people in fights, and more. Could you imagine Kanye with this? It’d be huge.

11. Uber for IT Support

The next generation Geek Squad. You could even roll up in a VW Beetle, if you’d like.

12. Food Sensitivity Brand

Gluten is today’s hot topic, but more and more people are learning about food sensitivities. It’s becoming mainstream. There’s still an opportunity for a person/brand to take the helm in this space. YouTube Channel. Blog. Recipes. Book. Food Network show. And more. (Influenced by Patrick Vlaskovits, Eric Sandler, and Lisa Sandler)

13. Personalized Job Search Service

There are just too many places to look for jobs. Job boards, individual company websites, and more. Pay a monthly fee for personalized, aggregated job listings. Upsell for resume writing/review, interview practice, and more.

14. Smart Toilet

Go to the restroom, and the toilet analyzes your urine/fecal matter. This can be for simple data gathering. Or could be a first-detection system that identifies potential issues. If possible, this could actually be a game-changer. (Influenced by James Altucher or Tim Ferriss, I forget)

15. Deli Delivery Service

You can get anything you need from the grocery store delivered nowadays. Except for deli counter items. The logistics of this business are key, but people would love to have turkey, cheese, ham, or chicken salad delivered to their door regularly.

16. Tru-Fit Tshirt

It seems like everyone has issues finding tshirts they love. Different brands, different sizes, different cuts, different materials. It’d be great to get to try a selection of tshirts, delivered by mail. And once I select my brand of choice, I’d get 10-20 tshirts in a range of colors, prints, etc.

17. Woodwind Reeds Subscription Service

Niche, but woodwind musicians need reeds regularly. We always forget to buy more, and when we do, they’re expensive. Just send me a pack of my reeds of choice, monthly. I’ll pre-order for a year.

18. Mailer

Have all mail sent to a PO Box. The company securely picks up all physical mail, scans in each item, and sends you all mail via email. Anything that needs to be physically passed along (think checks, bank cards) does so automagically.

19. Daily Video Newsletter

Folks get dozens of daily newsletters. Some are great, and others they’ve just forgotten to unsubscribe to. None feature the best videos of the day, sent to your inbox based on interests. News, sports, comedy, etc. Would be great. Calling Pluto.tv!

20. Columbia House for LPs

Nobody buys CDs anymore. But cool kids with record players still buy LPs. Would love the mail-order record club offering now.

21. Passover Food Line

2013 US matzo sales were $86mm alone. Just saying.

22. The Holodeck

Oculus Rift is just the first step. Someone’s going to crack to code to build a Stark Trek-like holodeck. We want.

23. Audio for Articles

Audiobooks are a $1.2B business. Podcasts are rapidly growing in popularity. This would be a B2B business — work with a content company (The Economist, Rolling Stone, etc), identify top content per week, contract engaging vocal talent, produce the podcast, and distribute/track accordingly. The end result would be “The Economist Podcast,” which features audio readings of the previous week’s top articles.

24. #Cover

Check out #6secondcover on Vine or #15secondcover on Instagram. Wildly entertaining, with some fantastic talents. Something to do here.

25. Hello Music for Sports Gear

Daily deals for sports gear.

26. Musicians’ Music Podcast

I love Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, The Nerdist, and more. They do incredible interviews with comedians and entertainers. But there doesn’t seem to be a podcast that hosts major music acts with any regularity. A podcast would be an incredible format to chat with musicians about the recording process, how they make music, and more. This could end up being Nerdist for music. (Influenced by Corey Richardson)

27. Reliable Wireless Internet for Airplanes

For eff’s sake, I’m tired of paying $25 for 3 hours of airplane internet access that’s worse than my 1999 AOL dial-up connection. Someone please fix this.

28. IMDB for Music

Pretty straightforward model. It would be a data gathering nightmare (tracking session musicians, band members, etc), but would be an incredible resource to the music community.

29. Connected Black Box

There could be a way to securely sync an airplane’s black box data to the cloud. It would require a hardware and software solution, sold directly to airlines and/or airline manufacturers. There are incredible complexities here, without a doubt, but this could prevent worst-case scenarios.

30. App Marketing Consulting

There are hundreds of thousands of app developers, producing millions of apps across iOS and Android. Mobile distribution is a very different beast than web or desktop software. There seems to be a niche for an app distribution consultancy that mixes marketing, growth hacking, and PR for apps. Similar to 500 Startups’ Distribution Team, but for any app developer.

31. On-Demand Mental Health Assistance

Digital mental health practice, connecting patients with US licensed therapists and/or psychologists via video. Available via web or your mobile device.

32. Safe Religious Community

There should be a safe place online where people can ask religious questions. A respectful community, where you can feel free to ask questions and have faith-based conversations with community members and experts alike.

33. SMB Insurance

Make buying business insurance not suck for SMBs. Please.

34. Creator Analytics

Go ask anyone under 18, they’re not using Facebook or Twitter. It’s Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and others. While creators continue to build out distribution on those channels, it’s still early days for multi-channel business intelligence.

35. Coin for Loyalty Cards

The tech industry went gaga for Coin last year. Cool, sure. But I’d much rather hang on to my credit cards, and have a Coin for all my loyalty cards (Costco, Ralphs, etc). Those take up much more space, and I wouldn’t really have any security concerns.

36. Noise-Cancelling Perimeter

Make a silence bubble around me, without having to put on noise-cancelling headphones. It would be a modern miracle for anyone working in an office, coffee shop, or even library. (Influenced by Andrew Skotzko)