Chronicling The Near-Misses Of Innovation Genius At Fast Horse

December 22, 2016

We’re a creative bunch — I like to think it comes with the territory. Clients turn to us to come up with big ideas to solve some of their most puzzling marketing conundrums. In turn, we need to look at the world with a different set of eyes, shifting our perspective to examine unmet needs, surface opportunities to simplify complicated systems or even capitalize on existing needs that require better solutions. (Spoiler alert: the secret formula is not always kittens, puppies and tears.)

While that perspective shift nearly always benefits our clients and allows us to come up with some kick-ass creative ideas, it also inspires the Ponies to innovate in our personal lives. Well, nearly innovate…

Many of the Ponies have come up with new ideas, devices or methods to solve to their personal needs or inconveniences in their lives… only to have their innovation scooped or thwarted by someone else in the process.

Following is a sneak peek into the almost-innovators of Fast Horse, and a glimpse at the fun, interesting and wacky things they think about in their spare time.

Some of my own include:

  • Inspired by Urban Outfitters selling very short denim shorts, I coined the term Jundies – also known as jean undies – and came up with a concept where denim underwear could be worn in place of the hot shorts typically seen on patrol in the windows of American Apparel and the streets of Uptown during the first warm days of summer. Shortly afterward, Rihanna made us all uncomfortable in a denim thong. My fashion dreams were dashed.
  • My first foray into the Whole 30 made me realize how difficult it is to plan, prep and pack compliant, delicious food for the workday. Most food subscriptions focus on dinners, but I always found a lot of people would carve time in their evening to make or pick up dinner. Lunch was different. It’s harried. Hectic. And if you don’t prep and pack a lunch, you end up with a $13 grilled cheese made with American cheese singles and premade guac. What if there was a company that offered a subscription for lunches? You could choose to a) prep for the week with the provided ingredients and instructions or b) receive pre-made lunches and snacks that would please the palate. Enter Origin Meals and a whole host of other options. Opportunity has quickly turned into a very crowded marketplace.
  • Our annual Fast Horse Dinger Pool left me hankering for an app that allows you to add players to your team and track their home runs. It’s 2016, there has to be a better way to track home runs than going to each individual player page on ESPN and tallying them up. Well, there still doesn’t seem to be an option, so time’s still on my side!

Norway’s CycloCable bike escalator. Photo credit: CycloCable

Joe Rstom: Our local ski hill had chairlifts to take mountain bikes to the top, and I couldn’t help but think how amazing it would be to have an escalator for bikers to go up steep city streets. Until I realized that my idea probably wasn’t economically viable, and was already being developed in Norway. (See article here.)

Jen Knoch: When I had my virtual concierge business, Radar, I had an additional/offshoot service idea percolating. With the many relationships I developed in the local retail, restaurant, design, art and overall entrepreneur community, I wanted a place where ideas, skills, lessons could be shared and taught in a classroom-type, small group setting. Logistics of venue options, list of people and service ideas were coming together, and then, LAB Mpls launched:

Laura Schraufnagel: Before food delivery services – Bite Squad, Postmates, etc. – were a thing, I thought it would be a genius idea to be able to text in your food order while enjoying a baseball game. All you would need to do is share your seat number, fork over the cash and enjoy the fact that your beer and brat were delivered and you didn’t have to miss a beat of the game. Well, there is truly an app for everything. Introducing SeatServe, the app that delivers everything to your seat so “you don’t have to miss any of the action.”

Andrew Miller: When I was a senior in high school, I worked at the Best Buy in Sioux Falls, S.D. in what was then known as the “media department.” I sold video games, DVDs, CDs. (We also were to upsell by offering this DVD mail service called “Netflix,” but most folks weren’t having it.) This was 2003, and CD sales were already beginning to slump and digital piracy was rampant. So, one day in AP Government class, I drafted up an idea for a subscription music service. Users would have unlimited access to a streaming music library, and their monthly fee would go toward a revenue pool split among musicians and based upon how often their works had been streamed. I shared the idea with the general manager of the store who I’m sure stored it in his circular file. Today, it’s called Spotify. And Apple Music. And TIDAL. I’m not saying I came up with this business model, but…


The initial landing page sketch and logo for Buyers Keepers.

Cydney Strommen: In late 2010, in the heart of the daily-deal craze, my friend and I had our big business idea. All sorts of sites were popping up with amazing deals, but I was having trouble remembering where I bought which deal, and keeping track of when it expired. Was it LivingSocial? Or Groupon? Or TwinCitiesDailyDeals? Or Yipit? Half of my deals were expiring before I could even use them. Out of this frustration, an idea emerged – what if we created a website that tracked all of your daily deal purchases? One place you could log in and see every deal and every expiration date. We declared it genius, and got to work. I came up with a catchy name (Buyers Keepers), my tech-savvy friend got us in touch with tech consultants and engineers, and we tapped a friend to design the logo and start the landing page. Everything was going swimmingly and we were having dreams of Silicon Valley riches until we hit our roadblock. We were banking on the user data we would need to be available through the current APIs, but it wasn’t. And to convince each company to update their API to provide the user data we would need would mean door-knocking and convincing each company our service would help sell their product. As 24-year-olds on entry-level salaries, the idea of going all-in and risking it all wasn’t in the cards. Considering an estimated 700-plus daily deal sites folded in late 2011, I’d say we dodged a bullet.

Melissa Bertling: An Airbnb model for parking spaces to avoid outrageous parking fees at the airport or events.

Mickey Gibson: After traveling back from Madison on I-94, I noticed the large amount of 18-wheelers transporting cargo interstate and pondered how that was still a job required by humans. My idea was to automate the shipping industry similar to what was happening with self-driving cars and drone delivery. Lo and behold, not two weeks later, I noticed an article online that an automated shipping startup was purchased by a large corporation for millions of dollars. Effing missed it.

Maggie LaMaack: I would like to invent airplanes and hair salons where you’re not allowed to talk. This still doesn’t exist so just putting it out into the world. 

Alex Gaterud: What Maggie said. In addition, I would pay at least $100 extra per flight for a guarantee that there would be no children under 16 on the trip. Sayin’. Also, if you are a fan of business-idea misfires, I’d highly recommend Comedy Central’s “Nathan For You,” available on Hulu. It’s like this entire post in visual form.