So Far: The Best of the Why Didn’t I Think of That? ® Blog
Just as I was posting our latest story on Snappy Socks, I noticed something- it was the Why Didn’t I Think of That?® Blog’s 99th post! So that makes this–help me out here, math majors–our 100th post.
I figured a little celebration was in order. So I’ve selected some of my favorite stories to present you with: The Best of The Why Didn’t I Think of That? Blog.
A lot has changed since we first launched the blog in late 2009. Back then, Why Didn’t I Think of That? was little more than an idea and a website. Today, our short-form audio feature plays every day on radio stations across the country, and we’re adding new stations every week. We’ve also started a long-form podcast. And we’re just warming up. We’ve got some great surprises on the way, not the least of which is a fresh batch of new, titillating blog stories.
I’ve enjoyed writing this blog for the past two years, and I’m looking forward to working with some great writers to provide more content than ever before. But, as my girlfriend recently informed me, I’m not infallible. I’ve made some errors in judgement (say, claiming the iPad would more or less be DOA) and I’ve gotten pretty excited about some businesses that, well, just plain-old failed (I’m looking at you, Lasermonks and Heritage Web Solutions). But hey, start-ups are, by their very nature, high risk. So covering emerging start-ups can be a little risky too. But risk is what makes success all the sweeter.
So to celebrate our own success, and in honor of our little milestone, I’ve gone through every blog story we’ve posted and picked out three of my favorite stories in each of the following categories: Cool Businesses, Business History, Marketing History, and Technology.
For those of you who are new here, consider this your Why Didn’t I Think of That? crash course.
First- our bread and butter. Unique or quirky businesses that make you say Now why didn’t I… Well, you know where this is going. Here are some of my favorite WDITOT businesses. Take a look.
1) Make Your Own Lucky Break: Synthetic Wishbones – December 1st, 2009
Sometimes, the greatest business idea can sound… Well, stupid. Plastic wishbones? Are you serious? But think about it- breaking the wishbone can be the best part of Thanksgiving. Why should we have to kill a turkey every time we want to enjoy the ritual? That’s what Ken Ahroni thought, and it led him to start this multi-million dollar business. Read the story here.
2) Home Depot – March 2nd, 2010
Home Depot may seem like a massive corporate entity rivaling some government superpowers, but it wasn’t always that way. When it started, it was just a couple guys who had been laid off and wanted to try something new. With enough time and hard work, they went from having their kids wandering the parking lot of the first Home Depot, handing out money to anybody who was willing to come in, to being the proud founders of a $71 Billion business. Read the story here.
3) Confidence and Cheesecake: The Story of Café Barcomi – July 11th, 2011
Cynthia Barcomi moved to Germany and decided to open a cafe selling New York style Cheesecake. But when she went to get a loan, she found that there were a few problems: She was a woman, she didn’t speak German, and Germans didn’t know what the heck cheesecake was. But she was determined. Through perseverance, confidence, and some good old common sense, she overcame all the obstacles in her way. Today, German press likes to call her “Miss American Pie.” Read the story here.
As many cool businesses as there are popping up these days, some of the greatest stories are from the distant past. Every once in a while, we like to take a look at how “ancient entrepreneurs” took their own ideas–many of which seem like common sense now, but were revolutionary at the time–and turned them into reality.
1) The Business of Ghost Towns – March 9th, 2011
What kind of deranged weirdo would buy a ghost town? The same kind who would invent the theme park. Walter Knott was a lot of things. He was a berry farmer by trade–a pretty bad one–but it was the chicken shack that he and his wife opened on the side of the road that would eventually become Knott’s Berry Farm, one of the earliest models for the modern day theme park. Read the story here.
2) No Answer: How and Why AT&T Killed the First Answering Machine – December 3rd, 2010
The conspiracy-theorist in me believes that some big corporations do not want certain technology to become popular. I’m talking about products that would make the world a better place: affordable electric cars, consumer-grade jet packs, etc. And I have good reason to believe this. Why? Well, it’s happened before. Many people know about automobile manufacturers dismantling the electric streetcar system. But do they know that the Answering Machine was almost a similar casualty? Fifteen years before answering machines became mainstream, Bell Labs had a working prototype. But they were afraid that such an invention would kill off the telephone. So they buried it. Read the story here.
3) The History Factory – May 21st, 2011
While this business isn’t historical by definition, I’ve included it for three reasons. One: It’s a great story. Two: There are plenty of more historical stories in the Marketing section, below. And Three: Bruce Weindruch’s whole business is founded on corporate history- researching it, preserving it, and putting it on display. Find out how one man turned his hobby and passion into a million dollar business. Read the story here.
Sometimes, even the greatest ideas can fall on deaf ears. How you market your product can be almost as important as the product itself. Here are three stories–case studies, as it were–of businesses who employed unique marketing campaigns to get their product’s name out there.
1) What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of? – October 20th, 2009
Today, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is the mainstay of my diet, and a pretty successful business to boot. But it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when it was just a little Vermont-based startup looking to expand into a major market, Boston. Another ice cream maker, Häagen-Dazs, saw this as a threat. So their parent company, Pillsbury, threatened to pull Häagen-Dazs out of grocery stores unless it was the exclusive premium ice cream. That could have been the end for Ben and Jerry, if it weren’t for their refusal to give up, an ingenious grassroots marketing campaign, and a healthy dose of anti-establishment rebelliousness. Read the story here.
2) A Marketing Lesson From Apple, circa 1984 – April 20th, 2011
What the heck is a personal computer? That’s the question Steve Jobs found himself running up against as Apple geared up to launch the Macintosh computer in 1984. But people weren’t asking the question the way they might ask, How can I make a million dollars from home? It was more like, What is that weird beeping thing and get it out of my face before I slap you. There was a resistance to computers back then. People thought they were expensive, unnecessary, and overly confusing. And they were right. Steve Jobs believed that the Macintosh was different. To convince others, Apple took out a 16-page full color advertisement in Newsweek Magazine, explaining what a computer did, how the Macintosh was different, and why people couldn’t live without it. This piece covers numerous aspects of Apple’s mid-80’s marketing efforts, and includes all 16 pages of their infamous Newsweek ad. Read the story here.
3) Coca-Cola and the First Coupon – November 16th, 2010
Give them a free taste, and you just might hook them for life. It sounds like an old crack-dealer adage. And it is. But it applies to more than just addictive substances. Some businesses can’t stand the thought of giving away their product for free. Doing so is a long-term investment that requires a strong belief in your product. Just ask Asa Griggs Candler, who bought the Coca-Cola Company in 1888. Candler took the risk of giving away free glasses of Coca-Cola, and, in the process, created the first coupon. It worked too! (Though now that I think about it, Coca-Cola did contain significant amounts of cocaine in those days… Best not to over-think these things). Read the story here.
I’m a geek at heart. Okay, I’m a geek everywhere. But that’s not the only reason I like covering tech news. It’s also because technology, progress, innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit are all deeply intertwined. Some of the greatest ideas to emerge in the past twenty years would have been impossible a decade earlier. Below are samples of the three types of technology stories we run here at the Why Didn’t I Think of That? Blog: 1) Cool, emerging technology poised to radically change an industry or industries; 2) Successful tech start-ups that push boundaries; and 3) Practical technology that budding entrepreneurs and small businesses can use to their advantage.
1) Virtual Reality, Mind Tweets, and Robot Eyes… Oh My! – November 23rd, 2009
One of the nicest things about cutting-edge technology is that, even years later, the tech still seems pretty cool. Here’s one such piece that looks at three ‘futuristic’ technologies. The first one, Microsoft’s Project Natal, hit the market place one year ago under the name Kinect, and it’s been a pretty big hit with Xbox gamers. The second item–telepathic typing, more or less–may seem just as futuristic as it did in ’09. But it’s a lot closer than you’d think. Some children’s toys–like Mattel’s popular Mindflex game, where kids make balls “levitate” using only the power of thought–employ this EEG technology. Then there’s the Electric Eye, which promises to bring partial eyesight to the blind. Read the story here.
2) The Story of Flickr – June 2nd, 2011
Here’s a more traditional “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” story about the immensely popular photo-sharing site Flickr. It’s owned by Yahoo now, but it was once just a “spin-off” idea from a less successful business: an online role playing game! It was called Game Neverending, and the most popular thing about it was a little feature that allowed gamers to share photos… Who knew? I did, for starters. That’s how I wrote the article. Read the story here.
3) Three Things Small Businesses Should Know About Google Voice October 11th-20th, 2010
Technically, this is three stories. But, after trying Google’s unique (and free) service Google Voice, my mind was running away with the possibilities. And while I wrote the stories almost a year ago, Google has been so preoccupied launching its own social network and beefing up its patent portfolio that there haven’t been too many innovations since the articles first ran. No worries. It’s still the most robust and comprehensive free service of its kind. If you run a small business, it’s definitely something you should know about. The series covers how small businesses can use Google Voice for voicemail management, call routing, and computer-smartphone integration. Read the first story here.
Phew! That was a lot more work than I thought it would be! Hopefully you found at least one story here that will tickle your brain or inspire you in some way. But I assure you, it’s only the beginning. We’ve got plenty more stories, in all of the above categories, coming your way soon. So keep checking back. And if you’re not following us on Facebook, please do! It’s our favorite way to keep in touch with our readers and listeners. You can also follow the Why Didn’t I Think of That? Blog on Twitter.
That’s all for now. Let’s do this again sometime. Say, one hundred blog stories from now?