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Five start-ups that are tackling life’s annoying problems

Monday, 4 March 2013 | By Oliver Milman

feature-common-problem-thumbThe ‘keep it simple, stupid’ principle may have been devised by the US Navy in the 1960s, but it’s a catchcry that has aided many business leaders over the years.


Speak to any start-up mentor and they will tell you one of the first things they look for is whether a new business is solving an actual problem. If you’re not taking away some sort of pain or inconvenience in your customer’s life, why should they bother with you?


Some start-ups focus on solving specific irritations in our day-to-day lives.


There’s even a venture in the US, called Quirky, that is dedicated to inventing simple but brilliant devices, such as the bendy power board, the multifunction wine opener and a clever way of separating egg whites from the yoke.


Here are five other start-ups, from Australia and overseas, looking to cash in on everyday annoyances:



1. Lost house keys




Do you ever get paranoid that you haven’t locked your front door? Do you panic if you lose your keys? US start-up Lockitron is aiming to solve both of these conundrums.


The business has created a device that you can put on your front door that’s connected to a smartphone app.


This has multiple uses – you can lock and unlock your door using your phone, dispensing with the need for a key.


It also informs you, again via your phone, whether your door is locked or not, wherever you are. It can even send you an update if someone unlocks your door, such as an errant child.


Lockitron is currently available on pre-order, with the enterprise pencilled in for launch in May.



2. Odd jobs




TaskRabbit is a business specifically for the small, tricky jobs that you don’t have the time or know-how to do.


The start-up acts as an online and mobile marketplace that allows people to “live a smarter and more fulfilling life” and is gaining serious traction in the US.


It connects users with people in their neighbourhood who can help them complete the tasks on their to-do list.


Users simply post a task, including the maximum amount they are willing to pay for it, and the TaskRabbit who makes the lowest bid is assigned to run the task.


TaskRabbits are paid online, so no cash is needed, with only a small percentage going towards a service fee.


TaskRabbit says it is forming a “virtual neighbourhood”. A similar service has been launched in Australia by a start-up called Airtasker, which is attempting to gain a foothold in the local market before any potential international expansion by its larger rival.


It will be interesting to see how the story plays out for TaskRabbit and Airtasker in 2013.


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3. Underutilised car




What should you do with a car that you only use once a week? You could let it sit there losing its value or, hope the founders of RideEco, you will use their collaborative consumption model.


RideEco was founded last year by Melbourne entrepreneurs Ian Yong, Samantha Quah and Edwin Koh. It charges car owners to be part of a scheme where other people can borrow their car for short periods of time, in return for a fee set by the owner.


Yong feels that there is a significant gap in the market between hire cars, taxis and car sharing services. Users get a car for an hour, while car owners get paid for their asset.


“This is very much aimed at the owners of underutilised cars,” he told StartupSmart last year.


“You have around a $7,000 a year depreciation on a car and that is a waste of money unless you are making some sort of return on it.”


“For the borrowers, yes there’s Flexicar and so on, but the rates are a bit pricey. We have no booking fees and people pay based on the number of hours they use the car.”



4. Phone charger woes




Ever got a new phone only to find that your old charger doesn’t fit it, causing you to shell out for a new charger?


If so, the endeavours of US start-up uBeam will interest you. It has created a device that charges multiple devices at once, wirelessly.


Your devices don’t need to be plugged into anything or even touch the charger. The charge will be ‘beamed’ across the room. Electricity via the cloud, if you like.


uBeam’s canny invention is still at prototype stage, but we’re hoping it gets to market soon.



5. No time to Tweet




It’s the ultimate first world problem. You’re having so much fun at an event or party that you simply don’t have the time to document it with a picture and tell the world about it via social media.


Thankfully, a hotel in Washington presented an elaborate solution when it marked the 2013 presidential inauguration by offering guests a $47,000 luxury package, which includes a “social media butler”.


The Madison Hotel, located in the heart of downtown DC, offered the Inaugural Town and Country package, described as a “one of a kind experience”.


The package includes a social media butler to “chronicle your Inaugural experience so your friends and family can follow your adventures on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest”.


“The social media butler will post on all of your accounts so you don’t have to fumble for your phone to catch that perfect Facebook profile picture,” the hotel said in a press release.