"There's an app for that." These five little words completely changed the world of inventing things.
Prior to the iPhone, inventions were a physical object, some sort of contraption that would change your every day life. After the iPhone, it seemed like every new invention was delivered in app form. As inventions became smaller, going from a physical object to a button on a screen, the value props somehow grew bigger. This app wouldn't just change your every day life, it would change the world.
But what got lost in the shuffle was the most fundamental part about business. In order for almost all businesses and products to succeed, they have to solve someone's problem. So yes, an app that automatically takes a selfie right before you sneeze would be really cool, and the pictures would be hilarious, but the only chance of financial success is from the sheer entertainment value. Since it's not solving a problem, the app has to be so fun that millions of people flock to it and either pay directly or you would have to sell ads on the platform. Your business model is essentially crossing your fingers and hoping that people have a long-term interest in sneezing selfies.
Which makes me wonder if maybe the fastest way to success for an inventor nowadays is actually running in the opposite direction. No apps. No software. Just a good old fashioned physical invention. Instead of starting with, "Wouldn't it be cool..." start the sentence with, "What's a really annoying problem that a lot of people experience."
The problem that stood out to me was on a Saturday morning. I brushed my teeth, went into the kitchen, and poured a glass of orange juice. Took a sip and there was one of the worst possible tastes you can ever experience. I would put eating fruit or drinking a glass of orange juice after brushing your teeth as maybe the worst taste on the planet. It's right up there with Malort or one of those prank jelly beans.
So, what do people do with this problem? Throughout history, people would make the decision to brush their teeth after breakfast, which was a reasonable solution. But then something happened. Starting in the early 2000's (totally pulling that number out of thin air), breakfast was pushed back a few hours and converted into the biggest social event of the week: Brunch.
Millennials dress up for brunch like it's somewhere between church and going to the Kentucky Derby. The brush your teeth after breakfast strategy works when it's me in my sweatpants having an Eggo waffle and a glass of orange juice at home. But when people are going out with friends for brunch, taking photos, posting on Instagram, there's more pressure to have brushed your teeth prior to leaving the house.
But that means no fruit. No orange juice. No mimosas. All staples of a good breakfast or brunch menu. Brunch goers either skip these menu options or go in with the no brush + Altoids cover up; a close relative of the "no shower + spray of cologne" move that served me well through middle school. Eh, and Mondays as an adult.
What has me scratching my head, though, is why have we accepted this "I can't have fruit after brushing my teeth" rule? Isn't there a way to change the chemicals in a toothpaste? I mean we have Doritos and Lay's who can make their potato chips taste like anything. Literally anything. We have 750 different variations of mayonnaise. We have the McRib. I've got to believe that if Crest or Colgate spent one week in the science labs at any of these places, they would have more than enough inspiration to create a different toothpaste.
The whole thing has me feeling like Rob Lowe in Thank You for Smoking. The big science problem should be solved with one easy line of dialogue. "Thank God we invented the, you know, whatever device."
I did some quick research myself, and by "research" I mean that I Googled, "Why does orange juice taste weird after brushing my teeth" and clicked the first article I found. Turns out the guilty chemical in toothpaste is called sodium laurel sulfate. "SLS" blocks the taste buds responsible for sweet flavors and "breaks up phospholipids, the fatty compounds that help reduce bitter tastes." Or, simply put, sodium laurel sulfate is what makes the fruit taste weird.
It turns out there are already toothpastes out there without SLS. But the marketing and branding is non-existent. Like, look at this one. CloSYS Sulfate-Free Fluoride Toothpaste Mild Mint? Even the fun part is mild. Is anyone going to pull that off the shelf without specific orders from their dentist?
Here's how to build it. First step: Change the name. Call it "Toothpaste for Breakfast" or "Brunch Brush."
Second step: Set it up like Dollar Shave Club. Deliver customers a monthly tube.
Need some inspiration? Check out the company Quip who has been labeled "the Tesla of Toothbrushes." Also, if you're wondering if toothbrushes and toothpaste could be a profitable startup, check out how much money Quip has been raising.
Third step: For customers and non-customers alike, send regular emails highlighting top breakfast and brunch spots to try in their city or town. Connect with popular brunch spots and have a station setup in the bathroom. Here, brush your teeth with this, and go order a mimosa.
Will it change the world? Not really.
Will it solve a problem for millions or passionate brunch goers? Absolutely.
Sounds like a good business to me.
As always with the ideas in this series, these are totally free for the taking. If it works, send me a check that seems fair. If it doesn't, hey, why not try the sneezing selfie app? For more ideas, tune in the last Monday of every month or catch up on previous ones below.
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