People generally have a limited vocabulary when talking about internet businesses. I think learning to categorise online businesses properly is important to find inspiration for new ideas; especially for those who are just starting to explore options of their own.
If you’re bitten by the startup bug, consider the following different fields of online business that have been successful in the last few years:
1. Big Data / Analytics
Big Data is basically the huge amount of data generated on the internet, by sensors, by electronic devices etc. which is difficult to process, store or analyse by traditional computing methods. There’s no dearth of topics that you might chose to analyse: Sports, Politics, Consumer behaviour, Demographics, Economics, Financial Markets. In my opinion, a certain disposition for analytics and understanding of tools used for data analysis is important to start in this field. Analytics companies recruit candidates from mathematics/statistics background along with regular software engineering disciplines, which should give you an idea of the kind of work out there.
2. Hardware Startups (Internet of Things)
Talks of smart homes and connected devices have been around for several years: but only now have some really interesting new gadgets begun to take shape: check out — Fitbit, Nest, Leap Motion, BodyMedia, SmartThings, and an awesome new Indian company emo2.
If you are interested in starting something on these lines, you may find ideas around use of advanced sensors, remotely controlled devices, smart homes and wearable gadgets. The returns vs. invested capital (as in the case of the clumsier but cool Humanoids) is always a sticking point. Getting the pricing right and the right PR is crucial. Moreover, the adoption in countries with low PPP tends to be low, so most probably you might have to build something for the global markets, which would be a huge project. A solid plan and good funding would be necessary to execute this. Consider Arduino and Raspberry Pi as interesting kits to carry out initial experiments on. (Also, consider how Micromax, Karbbon et al. manage the supply chain.)
(Update: This article has some interesting points.)
Buying or Selling anything over electronic media. Shopping sites are all over the place now: Amazon, Flipkart, Urbanladder, Fab, Etsy, redmart.com and many more. You might want to look at the Magento platform to quickly integrate shopping cart like features into the website. Also, understand how the purchasing decision works. It’s nice that the logistics infrastructure has already got a priming. Btw, I find selling fashion online to be the most tricky; it’s difficult to prove the product to the user without them knowing how it fits and feels in hand. The sector is abuzz still, and there’s so much that could be done here!
4. Software Services
A model that has worked well in India: you can start by taking up contract job for creating or managing website or mobile apps. Building momentum for a company is tricky though. You need to have staff to get good clients and vice versa. Chicken and egg story! And to sustain in business, you would need people who can deliver — a costly resource!
5. Social Media
The talk for the next big Facebook is always on and new social networking sites such as Airbnb, Pinterest, 500px keep springing up every year. It’s not easy to bump into a fresh idea here, but who knows, you might soon be gunning for a $1Bn deal.
6. Web / Mobile Apps
Basically a frictionless service that you can create over the connected web. Communication apps, taxi service, Mobile payement systems… a darling of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs!
Btw, there’s a reason why the American muscle cars won’t work in the streets of Rome, just as the small European car doesn’t jive with American roads. So consider issues from Local/National scope. For India, my favourites are the likes of Redbus.in, Cleartrip.com, Practo.com and UrbanLadder.com who addressed the local markets and have seen strong growth.
7. Finance related
If you understand the Financial Institutions, Banking systems, Stock exchanges, Payment systems well then there’s a lot of potential here. The systems are archaic and can be challenged. They are also very regulated, huge and laden with security/trust concerns though, which makes entering into this field quite tricky.
8. Ad-Tech / Digital Marketing
Algorithms/Databases to help companies with targeted advertising, or just assist them with their online marketing needs. If you’re entering this domain, think hard how you want to position your company, there’s lot of competition in this field already.
Ok designers, I don’t know how to address this point without getting your feathers ruffled : D… but seriously guys, I’m fatigued of reading the “We’re a creative design firm” line. It means nothing if you can’t showcase some interesting work. Maybe differentiate yourself in designing logos or sites or mobile UX or whatever. I know you would want to design everything, but I think it’s not an easy position to sell to your clients.
Computer games have sustained for years as a form of entertainment. Some people like them, some don’t. Those who don’t care about games think the market might slow down, but it sustains against odds. There are big good companies (like king.com) that exclusively make Mobile games and are performing very well.
So those are the top 10 that come to my mind. Did I miss something important?