The 18 Stupidest Startup Ideas of the Past 10 Years

Stupid Tech Startups


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Stupid Tech Startups


Scrappy new companies are always trying to make our lives a little bit easier. But sometimes the products or services they roll out are more head-scratcher than must-have. From odd gizmos and perplexing apps to wacky services no one ever asked for, here are some of the most unnecessary, controversial, or just plain bizarre startups from the past decade.



If you find folding laundry relaxing, Laundroid, on display at the 2018 Consumer Electronic Show, is not for you. But if you'd rather do anything than stack your T-shirts, this sleek robotic folding machine can do it for you. Sound great? Okay -- you'll just need to shell out $16,000 (though the company hopes to bring the cost way down for mass production). One more snag: Just one T-shirt can take up to 10 minutes to fold. So if you're in a hurry, your low-tech hands might be a better bet.



The jury is still out on Bodega, which launched in the fall, but there's no question the company's name has become synonymous with startup stupidity. This brainchild of former Google employees seems to want to make small convenience shops obsolete by stocking unstaffed pantry boxes of nonperishable food and toiletries in central locations. Critics have quickly slammed this goal -- turns out people want to support mom-and-pop businesses -- and logistics look like an uphill climb, too.

Lyft Shuttle


Walk to your stop. Get picked up. Pick up others along the way. Get off at another predetermined stop. If it drives like a bus and it sounds like a bus, is it a bus? No, it's Lyft Shuttle -- and it was widely panned during its launch last summer for trying to reinvent public transportation with a glossy startup sheen. Others have noted something a bit more insidious about the service: It lets wealthy ride-hailing app users avoid public transportation and poor people more likely to rely on it.

Dog Parker


In this day and age, helicopter parents aren't just for kids. New Yorkers who don't want to tie poor Fido or Fifi's leash to the bike rack for a few minutes while they run an errand can instead rent a Dog Parker, a climate-controlled, camera-monitored smart doghouse. It costs $25 a year to buy a membership, and 20 cents a minute to use the doghouses, which started popping up in Brooklyn in 2016. Whether the idea thrives or sputters remains to be seen: Fortune has its doubts and The New York Times staked out a Dog Parker for a few hours without seeing anyone use it.



About $120 million in funding couldn't save Juicero, a Keurig-like smart juicing system launched in 2016. Though the $400 cold-press juicer started out seeming like it could be a justifiable splurge for true juice lovers, it turned out that the packets of fruit and veggies required by the machine could actually be squeezed by hand just as quickly. The company shut down in 2017, just a few months after that revelation.

Pause Pod
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Gotta get away from it all, even when you can't get away? That's where Pause Pod, launched last year on Kickstarter, comes in. Billed as "the world's first pop-up space suitable for ALL your relaxation needs," the Pause Pod is shown popping up at home, work, and outdoors -- and even has a dedicated pouch for your legs if you want to stretch out completely. Of course, Twitter users and other Internet critics have gleefully pointed out that despite the company's insistence to the contrary, Pause Pod is just a glorified tent.

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You already pay your water bill, but Reefill, launched in late 2016, is willing to bet New Yorkers will pony up another $2 a month to more easily stay hydrated on the go. Instead of buying a pricey, wasteful bottle of water, asking for a glass of tap water at a restaurant or -- horrors -- finding a water fountain or sink, Reefill users will have access to a network of Bluetooth-connected water dispensers stationed around Manhattan that they can unlock with their phones. The head-scratcher: They'll still be getting tap water.

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In-Tail, first spotted at the Consumer Electronic Show in 2016, hopes you'll shell out $350 to make sure that when you get the urge to wear a tail, it's "painstakingly designed to provide a level of realism, movement, durability, balance, and comfort that is unsurpassed compared to other wearable tails on the market." But if you just can't conceive of a tail that isn't smart, never fear: The company is working on a Bluetooth-enabled smart tail that moves at a blistering 135 wags per minute.

Potato Parcel
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The concept behind Potato Parcel, founded in 2015, is simple: Potatoes are funny. Getting a message on a potato is funnier. For $10 a pop, this company will ship a potato with a custom message anywhere in the United States. Though the founder's girlfriend called it the "stupidest idea ever," the business was raking in $25,000 a month last year and is still going strong. (Now you can even send a picture on a potato, or a celebrity's face.)

Ship Snow, Yo
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Living somewhere sunny, but miss the white stuff? The geniuses behind Ship Snow, Yo, started in 2015, will hand-pack real snow into foam coolers and ship overnight so you can have your very own snowball fight in Florida, or wherever you may be. The snow, which comes from Vermont, Colorado, and Massachusetts, is guaranteed to arrive as snow and not a melted puddle. Prices start at $100 for 10 pounds. If snow isn't your thing, the founders have expanded to coal and fall foliage.

Vitality Air
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Even before the founders of Reefill started charging for tap water, Vitality Air, started in 2014, decided to bottle air. Granted, it's "100% Pure Rocky Mountain Air" from Canada, but -- yep -- it's still air. Before you laugh too hard, note that Vitality Air is still very much in business (it charges $32 for an 8-liter aluminum can of air from Lake Louise National Park) and has apparently connected with a big market in infamously smog-plagued China. Not bad for a company that started as a joke on eBay.

Steve Debenport/istockphoto


Sure, there are plenty of people who scramble to scrape together quarters on laundry day. Yes, the change machine at the laundromat is almost always broken. Alas, these problems still weren't dire enough to convince people to shell out for a subscription service called Washboard, launched in 2014, that would ship them quarters on a monthly basis. The kicker? $10 in quarters cost $15, or $20 in quarters cost $27. Washboard lasted about two weeks before people realized that banks are still a thing.



Yo, a smartphone app, faced much justifiable mockery upon its debut in 2014. The app's users could tap to say "yo" to others, who could respond in kind. And … that's it. Somehow, the app still managed to amass substantial funding despite its limited scope. Even more surprisingly, it's still around, albeit with slightly increased functionality: Users can now "yo" others a photo or their location.



Who needs an alarm clock when you've got an app called Wakie? Released in 2014, this "social alarm clock" let you receive short wake-up calls at a designated time from users all over the world. The theory? Hearing a stranger's voice would jump-start you more quickly than any sort of beeping or ringing. The app is still around but appears to have broadened its horizons: You can now connect with a random Internet stranger for "any question, moment, or life situation."

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Drink too much? Smoke? Slap on a Pavlok wristband and see how long the bad habits persist. The wristband actually shocks you (well, you shock yourself) when you do something you're not supposed to. Ouch. Founded in 2013, Pavlok has appeared on "Shark Tank" and is on the market, but with very uneven Amazon reviews. (It's also worth noting that experts say rewards are better than punishment when it comes to changing behavior long-term.)



Those pizza coupons and flyers for Chinese takeout won't throw themselves away. The folks behind Outbox raised millions in 2013 in the hopes that people are just too lazy to sort through their own snail mail. Instead, for $5 a month, Outbox employees would come grab the mail and digitize it, giving you a chance to discard it without ever holding it in your hands (or, in the case of something important, have it redelivered). Strangely, people didn't exactly jump at the thought of strangers going through their mail, and Outbox shut down within a year.



Easy access to reviews of products and businesses has become a hallmark of the internet. But what if that concept was extended to people themselves? That was the thinking behind Unvarnished, which launched in 2010 with the aim of collecting anonymous reviews of professionals. Unfortunately, it also gave those people no option to take false reviews down. The idea was pretty much universally panned (TechCrunch called Unvarnished "a clean, well-lighted place for defamation"). Unvarnished later became, but the rebranding didn't do much for the site, so it remade itself into TalentBin, a tool now owned by that scrapes the web for job recruiters.

Recurring Payments


Looking back, it's hard to understand what made people think Blippy, founded in 2009, was ever a good idea. The concept? Everyone could share their credit-card purchases in real time and see what friends were buying, and they could like or comment on the transactions. Unfortunately, it turns out no one cared -- or even if they did, it wasn't enough to open their own wallets to the prying eyes of the world. (The credit card numbers of a few Blippy users also showed up on Google, too -- yikes.) Blippy failed about 18 months after launching.