The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Small Business

Venture capitalists love this one weird trick—double your startup “runway” time and reduce employee salaries dramatically while improving quality of life at the same time!

The issue:

Many companies (especially tech-related ones) are located in extremely expensive cities.

If a company in a major metropolitan area could easily relocate to a nearby but outlying area, then employee salaries could be cut by 25%, yet the employees would still have more after-tax/rent income.

So essentially, the company would both be more profitable and the employees would be earning more.

Of course, it has always been quite difficult and inconvenient to move a company.

Until now, that is!

Proposal:

Instead of having a standard office building, a company can be based in a large number of slightly-modified truck trailers (Fig 1).

truck-flat

Fig. 1: Here we have three 18-wheeler trailers in gray and one truck cab in orange.

Three separate trailers would make for an oppressive and inefficient workspace, so the trailers are specially modified so that 1) the side walls can be removed and 2) a floor plate can extend out to bridge the gap between trailers. Figure 2 displays a single office room that is created out of three trailers.

truck-cube

Fig. 2: The three trailers from figure 1 are combined into a single large room. Specifically, the side walls of each trailer can be lifted up, allowing multiple trailers to be combined.

There are countless advantages of this plan over a traditional office building:

  • Easily relocate your business to an area with lower cost-of-living / lower rent
  • Makes it easier to threaten to relocate your business to another state / country in order to (hopefully) extract tax breaks from the local government.
  • If your business becomes crowded, you can add more trailers as needed.
  • If you over-bought and your office is too big, you can downsize the office by simply removing a few trailers.

Figure 3 shows a possible office layout inside the three-trailer example office.

office-furnished

Fig. 3: Inside the three trailers, a standard workshop or office space can be configured, as demonstrated here. Note that the floorplan is free to ignore the boundaries between trailers—it’s effectively one large room, just like a regular office.

The only issue with treating the space as a single unit (rather than 3 trailers) is that if the office were to be moved, you’d need to make sure all the furniture fit within single trailers (or you could cut your furniture in half, and put the halves into two separate trailers).

cut-aware

Fig. 4: If you want to move your company, you just need to push the furniture so that it doesn’t span multiple trailers. Furniture that is in danger of being chopped in half is illustrated here with the “scissor-cut” icon and green highlighting. For most businesses, this would be an easy task (unless heavy machinery or elaborate cubicle arrangements are involved).

PROS: Makes it easy to relocate your company for both cost-of-living reasons and for tax purposes.

CONS: A multi-story building would be difficult to manage. Most layouts would be limited to a single story.

Advertisements

Does your business require customers to agree to a “terms of service”? Run this incredibly illegal “INFINITE LENGTH CONTRACT” idea by your legal department! They will be impressed with your legal acumen.

Background:

Many web sites require a user to agree to a long and incomprehensible “terms of service” before they can use the site.

Since these contracts are dozens (or hundreds) of pages, everyone just scrolls to the end and clicks “AGREE.” (See two examples in Figure 1).

While you’d think that a company could slip in some secret contract clauses somewhere (e.g. “you agree to give up your first-born child to MegaCo Inc.”), this isn’t usually feasible—someone will EVENTUALLY find these clauses and cause a public relations disaster.

legalese

Fig. 1: Left: a relatively short contract that fits on one page. Right: a longer contract that no one will ever read.

Proposal:

Here is a secret method for putting totally unreasonable terms into a contract and preventing the user from being able to read them.

The secret is: the contract is literally INFINITE in length, so no one can read it all!

Details: the terms of service operates as follows (see Figure 2):

  • The first N pages are the real contract.
  • After the real contract is over, additional pages are randomly generated with legally-valid but meaningless legalese.
  • The contract has no scroll bar, so the user has no idea how long the contract is.
  • To accept the contract, the user clicks the “scroll to end and accept” button.
  • Thus, anyone who accepts the contract cannot have read the whole thing, since it is infinitely long.

Using this dirty trick, when a user has agreed to the contract after reading M pages, the company that wrote the terms of service can simply start putting the super-unreasonable contract terms on page M+1 and beyond.

 

legalese-infinity

Fig. 2: The “infinite contract” looks almost exactly like a real contract, except that there is no scroll bar or indication of how many pages the contract has. (This is because new randomly-generated “legalese” pages are created whenever the user clicks the “next page” button, so the user can never legitimately scroll to the end.)

Conclusion:

The only downside to this plan is that it is almost certainly totally illegal in every jurisdiction.

PROS: Would probably be an interesting “future law school textbook case” if it were ever tested in court.

CONS: You will probably go to prison if you implement this idea.

Do you know of a company that offers rebates by check and is also unethical and hates its customers? Here’s one weird tip for that company that is ACTUALLY USED IN REALITY and is incredibly annoying!

Background:

When a company offers a rebate (“buy this widget, get $50 back”), only a fraction of customers will actually deposit the rebate check.

If customers don’t deposit their rebates, then the company can keep the money.

So it would be useful if there was some sort of dirty trick to reduce rebate deposit rates. Read on for details!

(Note: this is not a novel idea—it was inspired by an intentionally bizarre rebate check I received that could not be deposited online by at least two different banks.)

Proposal:

Normally, when a customer receives a rebate, it’s standard-format check (Figure 1). The customer’s banking app certainly knows how to read this format, so it is deposited with no problems.

good-check

Fig. 1: The BankApp online deposit system has no problem reading this straightforward check.

The rebate-issuing company may really want the check to fail the depositing process (Figure 2), which adds hassle and inconvenience for the check-depositing customer.

rejected

Fig. 2: If the customer’s banking app can’t read the check, then the check is much less likely to be deposited: now the company will never have to pay out the rebate! (Unless the customer actually goes to an ATM or bank branch.)

So the solution is simple—tweak the format of the checks a bit (whatever is still allowable within the law and/or banking agreements) and try to make a new check that is:

  1. Legal!
    • This is the most important aspect—the company’s checks definitely need to be 100% legal, so the company can later blame the customer instead of taking responsibility.
  2. Acceptable to the banks and/or conforms to whatever check-format specifications exist
  3. Difficult for a computer to read (so it can’t be deposited online)
  4. Superficially OK looking to a human, so it isn’t obvious that the check wasn’t intentionally made to be difficult to deposit
    • Also, this gives plausibly deniability to the whole business: if the company is called out on its actions, a PR person can go online and post “Oh, we didn’t realize that our rebates couldn’t be deposited online. What an unintentional—yet profitable—oversight!”

Popular ways of doing this may include:

  • Weird check sizes
  • Strange watermarks leading to odd contrast
  • Superfluous extra characters in the deposit-amount field (like “AMT: ****123.45 $” instead of just “$123.45”)
  • Irregular size (some checks are more square-shaped than “check” shaped)
  • Odd or elaborate font choices

Conclusion:

Although the specific checks depicted below (Figs. 3 & 4) probably violate the “check” specifications somehow, they may be useful for inspiration.

weird-check-purple

Fig. 3: This check looks vaguely legitimate to a human, but an online deposit app is unlikely to be able to read it.

weird-check-orange

Fig. 4: Can a check be a weird futuristic hexagon? Probably not! Customers will definitely know they’re being scammed if they receive weird checks like this one.

PROS: Saves money on rebate checks! Rebates can be made more generous, since it’s now extra-difficult for anyone to redeem them.

CONS: Customers might find out about it and get slightly annoyed and call the company’s customer service line to complain. If each rebate-receiving individual wastes 20 minutes of customer service time complaining, this check technique might no longer be profitable.

Never get a contagious disease from a coworker again with this one tip. Use the healing power of crystals and bears to naturally fight off disease. OSHA hates it!

Background:

Sometimes, your coworkers will come to work with obvious contagious diseases, coughing everywhere and spreading disease and pestilence throughout the land.

Proposal:

The best situation in this situation is for you or your boss to say “hey you, sick individual, go home!”

This should save time and money by preventing others from getting sick, but is sometimes not an option.

Instead, the following technical solution is proposed for office-related jobs: for diseases in which the afflicted individual needs to blow their nose (Fig. 1, left), they are likely to at some point access a tissue box placed somewhere in the workplace.

Instead of just letting that individual take a tissue and return to disease-spreading, the idea is to ensnare the sick individual with a (non-injurious / non-lethal) trap at that location (Fig. 1, right).

2-plain.png

Fig. 1: Left: A standard tissue box. Useful for a person with a runny nose. Right: a possible type of tissue box trap: essentially a bear trap (but with rubber grips instead of bone-crushing steel jaws).

2-snap-side-by-side.png

Fig. 2: Illustration of the closing process. This non-injurious “bear trap” modification will hold the sick individual until they can be humanely released back into the wild.

1-diagram

Fig. 4: A) tissue box. B) non-injurious padded rubber grips to hold onto the tissue-grabbing individual’s arm. C) support for the grabbing arms. D) to prevent the sick individual from just going back to their desk and working with a bear trap on one arm (and continuing to spread disease), the bear trap should be secured in place somehow.

PROS: Saves workplace productivity and reduces the spread of disease.

CONS: Won’t be effective in non-office jobs or for diseases where the plague-ridden individual doesn’t blow their nose.

Five things your haircut says about you, without you even realizing! The first thing it says is: “get your hair cut by a robotic hair cut helmet.”

Background:

Haircuts can be time-consuming and expensive. Somehow, even though modern robotics have resulted in quad-copters, robotic surgery, and an alarm clock with a hand that slaps you in the face, the dream of automated haircuts remains elusive.

Proposal:

Behold, our salvation from laborious non-automated haircuts: the mechanical “haircut helmet.”

haircut-helmet

Fig 1: Functional AND fashionable, the haircut helmet’s stylish exterior hides dozens of small rotary blades on the inside.

The exterior of the helmet hosts a lever that allows the length to be adjusted. (Perhaps, for version 2, there could also be a second lever to select a style.)

haircut-blades

Fig 2: Internally, the haircut is accomplished by a number of shaving-razor-style rotary blades on adjustable tracks. The blades can move around and adjust their distance from the helmet-wearer’s scalp to ensure the perfect haircut every time!

haircut-progress

Fig. 3: Tame the unruly hair at left with the haircut helmet (center). Right: the result. With minor touch-ups, this fashionable individual will be ready for their business meeting / film shoot / wedding.

PROS: Would save millions of dollars and millions of man-hours per year.

CONS: May put all hairdressers out of business, leading to massive unemployment and civil unrest. Also, it might cut your ears off.

ad_fishstopper

SPONSORED LINK: FISHSTOPPER: Eco friendly plastic soda six-pack ring recycling option for the ultimate in sustainable fishery. Are you worried about overfishing, the calamitous collapse of fish stocks over the past 150 years, ocean acidification, or any other so-called “scientific” scaremongering? Now you can make up for the inexorable environmental devastation by recycling some soda six-pack rings! Don’t get scammed by goat-related charities; only FISHSTOPPER is the real deal. Remember: “Teach a man to fish.” —FISHSTOPPER.

 

Shield your mind from the horrors found in a shared breakroom fridge with a futuristic conveyor-belt-based refrigerator! What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Background:

Have you ever had to deal with a shared refrigerator? If so, you may be familiar with the issue of old food items piling up in nooks and crannies of the fridge and never being removed.

Periodically cleaning the fridge will fix this, but it’s a hassle to figure out which food is old and which is new, especially when opaque containers are involved.

fridge-to-trash-just-trash-can

Fig. 1: Philosophers theorize that rotting food should ideally go into the trash, rather than the shared fridge.

The issue:

So how can we AUTOMATICALLY clean out a fridge without any effort?

The old-fashioned solution is to have people label food with a date (e.g. “Oct 14 leftovers”). But unless every single item is clearly labeled, we have only slightly reduced the fridge-cleaning problem.

fridge-overview

Fig. 2: A fridge with three shelves (from top to bottom: orange, purple, blue).

Proposal:

We can use a conveyor-belt-like system to automatically clear old items out of the fridge.

The way it works is quite simple: each shelf is attached to a track, which can move the shelves up and down. Every day (or other interval of time), the shelves move up one shelf-height, and all the food on the top shelf is thrown into the trash. That top shelf now becomes the bottom shelf, and the cycle continues.

fridge-to-trash-4x

Fig. 3: A) The default state of the fridge; casual examination reveals nothing unusual about this setup. However, the orange (top) shelf is about to be automatically cleared of rotten food and expired leftovers.

B) First, the top of the fridge pivots open (#1), then all the shelves travel along a track (not shown) that elevates them by one shelf-height. The orange shelf is now outside of the fridge entirely.

C) In step #3, the orange “to be cleared of trash” shelf is pivoted up and shaken violently, causing the old food items (#4) to fall into the trash can.

D) In step #5, the top of the fridge closes, and the now-clear-of-trash shelf (#6, in orange) is placed on the top of the fridge. Someone will have to manually put this shelf back into the fridge (where it will become the new bottom shelf). The purple shelf is the next to-be-trashed shelf.

Summary:

If each shelf moves up one shelf-sized slot per week, and there are three shelves, then it means that the food on the very bottom shelf would be safe for 3 weeks before being automatically trashed.

Therefore, as long as a motivated fridge-using individual can be bothered to check in on their food at least a couple of times a month, it will be preserved.

But any food item that isn’t shepherded to a lower shelf at least once during the course of the food-deletion period will be mercilessly thrown away.

PROS: Prevents strife from blaming your coworkers for throwing out your “no you guys, it’s totally still fine!” two-week-old leftovers.

CONS: May be slightly on the Rube-Goldberg-esque side of mechanical over-complication.

AN IDEA TO MAKE THIS PROPOSAL MORE PRACTICAL system could be reformulated as a no-moving-parts system with color-coded shelves (e.g. “the red light has turned on in shelf 2b, that means all the food in there is “condemned”) or even something as simple as a piece of paper labeled “everything on THIS shelf will be thrown out on Friday afternoon.

fridge-to-trash-outline

Supplementary Fig. A: Original concept for the conveyor-belt-auto-trash fridge.

 

You’ll never believe this weird trick for getting a table from a laptop user at a coffeeshop! Why wouldn’t you believe it? Well, it’s because of your excessively skeptical nature.

Background:

If you go into a coffeeshop in a major city, there is a good chance that you will find it entirely colonized by patrons with laptops who use the shop as a “home office.”

Even if you wait for half an hour, you might never get a table. Woe!

Previously, this issue could be mitigated by either:

  • Not providing WiFi, which is now obsolete due to phone tethering and/or built-in cell radios in laptops.

or

  • Restricting access to wall outlets (which worked very well in the era of 3-hour laptop batteries). But improved battery technology has rendered this approach ineffective as well.

laoptop-normal

Fig 1: This laptop has unavoidably occupied an entire coffeeshop table.

Proposal:

It is difficult to politely kick out a customer.

So we turn to a technical solution to discourage long-term laptop use: harsh overhead lighting.

Specifically, we propose strategically arranged spotlights (Fig. 2) that will be generally acceptable but will cause unbearable screen glare when reflecting off a laptop screen.

laoptop-view

Fig 2: The array of ceiling lights (blue) is calculated to cause maximum laptop glare at all screen angles.

laoptop-shinylaptop-glare

Fig 3: At left, we can see the reflecting lights in the (turned off) laptop screen. At right, note how the glare makes the computer unusable (compare to the laptop screen in Fig. 1).

Conclusion:

If you own a coffeeshop and hate your customers, you should give this plan a shot!

PROS: Increases patron turnover and discourages long-term occupancy of tables.

CONS: It is possible that the substantial fraction of a coffeeshop’s patrons only go there to use their laptops, so cutting off this revenue may deal a fatal blow to the shop’s profitability.