Growth & Customers

Weird and wonderful startup ideas that work in the real world

Got a startup idea that's a bit different but not sure if it'll fly? Get inspired by stories of businesses that offer something unique.

VICE x Sage present On the Up

VICE was founded in 1994 as an alternative, free punk magazine built with money from a government welfare programme. It was hip, funny, slightly off-colour, and anything but mainstream.

It was an outlet for young people who wanted something different. Nobody could have ever imagined it would turn into VICE Media – a platform-spanning news and entertainment billion-pound business.

As you can see from the fantastic startups featured in Sage and VICE’s On the Up series (check out the video above), sometimes strange ideas work.

The big challenge is generating these ideas by opening your mind – and also having the discipline to turn them into projects you can test and see work in the real world.

Here are a few quick tips on coming up with unique ideas that have potential and which you can test in the wild to see if they are workable.

Here’s what we cover:

Narrow down your ideas (but not too much)

Come up with the big idea (even if it’s about death)

Innovate and test your idea (even clothes made from mushrooms)

Supply what people need (using your passion and expertise)

Become an entrepreneur and test your idea

Look at your reasons for wanting to start a business.

This could help you filter some of the wilder ideas you might have and narrow them down to those suitable for your interests, needs and motivations – whether financial, personal or educational.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is your goal to make more money?
  • Would you like to solve a specific problem people face?
  • Are you looking for a way of supplementing your income?
  • Do you want to launch the next global corporation?

By figuring out your motivations behind starting a business, you’ll be able to narrow down your ideas.

However, be careful about filters – make sure that you don’t unconsciously reject your best startup ideas, so turn them off when necessary.

Startup ideas shouldn’t be that hard to find. The world is full of problems that need to be solved.

Many of the world’s most successful businesses solve a problem people face. Look around you at challenges that people are dealing with.

With a bit of ingenuity, get your brain working on a solution to a problem that people will be willing to pay for. Even if the problem is something nobody wants to talk about, such as death.

Trying to work through a cloud of grief is challenging. The last thing you want to do is think about funeral arrangements and money with unfeeling strangers that don’t know what you’re going through.

Farewill is a startup that makes it easier for people experiencing loss.

With its suite of services, the business – co-founded by Dan Garrett – provides a platform for people to carry out the necessary death-related activities, such as writing online wills, organising probate services and ordering cremations.

Farewill has built a strong business and investors understand that it solves a real but underserved problem, with the company raising £20m in funding to date.

People will always need to cope with the thought of death, whether it’s their own or that of a loved one.

Banish those negative thoughts and encourage ideas to flow naturally – if you prepare your mind, you’ll start to see them everywhere, and in ways you might not expect.

When it comes to wild startup ideas that work, you don’t need to be innovative – but it can certainly help. After all, startups are associated with fresh ideas, with an ability to embrace risk and transformation.

Fashion accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity while sucking up more energy than aviation and shipping combined.

Manufacturers are working on reducing the environmental impact of the clothing they produce, so there may be opportunities for startups to come up with unique ideas that can work as a business.

Mykkö is a startup that’s taking advantage of this need for sustainable clothes and textiles by tapping into fungi, foraging for tiny fungal threads known as mycelium, which it can cultivate into large quantities.

The founders – French fashion designer Aurélie Fontan and British product designer Ashley Granter –saw an opportunity in the massive fashion industry to take advantage of with a bit of creativity and invention, built on top of a sustainability trend that is only going to grow.

Suppose you’re looking to innovate in a particular space.

In that case, you’ll need to test your idea by carrying out a thorough research and development process, spending your time immersing yourself in the industry your prospective business occupies so you’re aware of your customer’s needs.

One of the best things you can do is start a business that matches your hobbies and interests. You’re your own target market, so you’ll know what your audience is after.

As a child, David Sonubi listened to inspirational church gospel sounds and had a deep love for music, which carried on as he grew up.

Fast forward a few years, and he set up Recess club nights, which focused on bringing hip hop, r’n’b, dancehall and Afrobeat to black millennials.

When lockdown hit in spring 2020, David pivoted his business to launch an innovative, independent, but massively popular radio station called No Signal.

It has plugged into the fact that young black communities didn’t have a radio station that represented them.

And that’s not just in the music played, but in who’s delivering that music.

David’s vision expanded beyond the radio station, with the launch of the No Sounds Academy, a training scheme aimed at the next generation to develop technical skills for a career in broadcasting and audio production.

Starting a successful business will be easier if you’re making or creating something that fills a need or demand.

In addition, it always helps if you enjoy your work and feel passionate about what you do. It’s the driving force behind developing your business.

Farewill, Mykkö and No Signal are living proof that bold, original ideas succeed.

Today, you and the world are looking for hot entrepreneurship opportunities. Google’s 2021 Year in Search said people searched for how to start a business more than how to get a job.

Instead of working for someone else, maybe it’s time to grab opportunities with your own hands, get creative, and explore whether you can turn that spark in your brain into something real.

If you have a solid motivation to solve a problem in the world, it might be worth looking at it from a weird and wonderful direction.

Test your idea out – you never know what could happen.

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