10 June 2012 by Jack Devine
Sadly, I am an economics student in an enormous amount of debt so while I understand all that I probably can't actually come up with the killer idea, and even if I did I can't translate it to the world of click-throughs and shopping carts.
And so I philosophise. "Money isn't everything," I tell Eric and Ern, as they pop the tabs off yet more high-energy drinks, convinced that a brainstorm which lasts until 4am will be more productive than a normal one ending in time for, say, a quick round of cheese on toast followed by Countdown.
In reply, Ern shows me the front page of today's paper, predicting tortilla-flavoured financial Armageddon. "We're the generation with no jobs and no prospect of home ownership. If money doesn't do it for us, what will? About the only people in the world with any sense of security are Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. And Posh Spice because she can always go back on the road for a reunion tour. Me and Eric, we've got to create a business. And quickly because all the good ideas are going fast."
"A bit like cocktail sausages on the party table," muses Eric. "They always go first. Can we make money out of student parties? You know, delivering beer and pizza?"
Ern Googles swiftly; idea already gone.
"Well, can we make money out of taking them to hospital afterwards? Or cleaning up the place?"
Another quick Google. "It's all too labour intensive," says Ern. "We need something online, where the punter does all the work. Look at facebook: it claims to offer a service but it's actually you dong the servicing. Now what could we create that does that? What is it that students don't realise they want but that we can deliver via an app where they have to develop the product themselves and I can charge them for it?"
Eric smirks at the naked exploitation on display here. As an economist I must say I am impressed.
"Help with writing essays," I offer.
"Yeah, but the way to make money out of that is to create a programme that rewrites stuff you've nicked off the internet so the plagiarism checkers don't notice. And that's like the subject of a masters thesis anyway. I'm already doing one degree, I don't want to do another."
"They want to know what's the latest band to watch and if they're going to the coolest places and what they should be wearing to fit in," says Eric. Ern makes a face. "What? Students are very conventional. So in the sixties they were all protesting even though half of them didn't believe it and in the eighties they all wanted to work as investment bankers and in the 2010s they all want to be famous."
"Yes," muses Ern. "That's right. They are tribal, too, which means you could segment your site so the Goths never meet the Indie kids and there'd be a real feeling of exclusivity and you could charge more. But how to get that info cheaply? You could hire a bunch of researchers but that's expensive - how do you get the punters to do the work themselves?"
"You could probably devise something that identified what celebrities were wearing and drinking and the places they were going to from paparazzi snaps."
"Yes, that's not bad," says Ern. "And you could get fashion and journalism students to do the initial research for free and tell them it's work experience! And later you'd get link-ups with the retailers so they would give you the codes and pictures for their new ranges which you could programme straight in. But it's still quite a lot of work. Come on, think guys: we need a product or a game where it's the punter who puts in the effort."
"Well, I say, "we could create another virtual kids game where they are consumers - you know, Club Penguin or Binweevils where they earn money by doing tasks and selling services and spend it on stuff - so the punters pay you to play and create the world at the same time - but the twist is that you charge financial institutions for the right to experiment on them."
"Oh my God what do you mean?" asks Ern, obviously having visions of small children strapped in front of laptops being shown unpleasant images - egg sandwiches, maybe, or bedtime at 6.30pm.
"No, you idiot, financial modelling. The EU could test exactly what it would mean if Greece dropped out of the Euro by banning a whole group of players from using the normal currency. Or any country or bank could test the effects of a really severe shortage of money - or water, or doughnuts, or anything, really."
"Oh my God the boy is a genius," says Ern. "Two revenue streams and the whole thing runs itself. We are rich, my boys, we are rich."
As Eric and Ern dance round the room a cold hand clutches at my heart, and I wonder if they will remember it was my idea when it comes to the IPO.
"I'm not an engineer. I can't write it," I say, bluntly.
Eric stops dancing. "You are an honorary engineer, my man; we couldn't do it without you."
An honorary engineer. My dad would laugh his socks off. Mostly because engineering and being honoured aren't two concepts that sit together very often. Still, I'd be some sort of engineer. A stealth engineer. Now there's a thought.
Posted By: Jack Devine @ 10 June 2012 09:27 PM General
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