Why didn’t I think of that?

Yeesh! Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

FitDeck is a unique deck of 56 playing cards containing illustrations and instructions describing over 50 different exercises, stretches, and movements.

These ‘no-equipment’ FitDecks contain exercises that require only your bodyweight to perform. ‘FitDeck Bodyweight’ is our flagship product in this popular series of ‘no-equipment’ FitDecks.

This idea emerged from an accident. Here’s more about that from a Shine on Yahoo! article:

It [FitDeck] is the brainchild of Phil Black, who got the idea when a card game in college turned into a push-up contest.

Based on the Shine on Yahoo! article, the FitDeck seems to be selling well. I’m a big believer in ‘boot camp’ style exercises. You can get a full body workout in a short time and they help strengthen muscles that reduce injury and aches and pains.

The biggest problem with a boot camp routine is deciding which exercises to do. If you are deciding that for yourself it’s easy to get distracted and lose focus and you end up not getting as good a workout.

That’s why classes and DVD’s are popular, because the instructor keeps you on a set, goal-oriented path. The FitDeck is another way to solve that problem.

Another product featured in the Shine article is the Knork (fork/knife combination). It’s not really a knife (wouldn’t want to slice the inside of your cheek). It’s just a fork with a beveled edge, rather than a sharp edge, to make it easier to cut through food.

I believe my brother had this same idea years ago, which is proof to the phrase that the difference between a good idea and a good business is hard work.

Small businesses are dead capital

Often, when I’m reading a Forbes article and I think to myself, “This is a darned fine article,” I look at the byline to find it is another good article by Daniel Fisher.

That happened recently while reading, How the Government is Helping Hedge Funds Make Billions off IPOs.  This paragraph caused me to glance at the byline:

Hedge fund managers can thank Congress and the SEC for the opportunity [to buy early stakes in companies before they go public]. Some call it “regulatory arbitrage”: well-meaning but inherently flawed laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley that were designed to protect small investors from the next Enron have imposed such heavy costs on public companies that many private ones are delaying their initial public offerings. Venture capitalists, employees and early investors who want to sell out have little choice but to sell their shares to lightly regulated funds, which can buy stock in the next IPO at a steep discount to what retail investors ultimately will pay.

Innovation has a lot of headwinds these days. Most of it caused by (to borrow Fisher’s words) ‘well-meaning but inherently flawed’ ideas.

But I find the well-meaning and inherently flawed ideas around investing in small businesses especially annoying.

In this country you can easily sign up for an online brokerage account and buy and sell slivers of ownership in thousands of publicly traded companies on the various stock exchanges for as little as $4 per trade, with some assurance that the presence of the Securities and Exchange Commission has lowered your chances of being defrauded.

You can just as easily make personal loans to people who need cash now using Prosper.com.

You can donate money to loan to small businesses and create jobs (and make money). Well, at least you get a bracelet with that one.  Or you can lend money to entrepreneurs all over the world. You can also donate to individuals who need help funding the creative projects like a large tortoise that looks like a trading post.

But, if you want to invest with entrepreneurs here at home, it’s not so easy. You need to know somebody who wants to start a business. Or know someone who knows someone. Or you need to know a venture capitalist. Start-up investing is an opaque network of angel investors and venture capitalists.

This, folks will tell you, is for our own protection because there will be too many con men out to get you to invest in their bogus company.

But, I’d rather make it easier for everyone to invest in start-ups and let the market develop solutions to help people from being defrauded. The SEC currently makes trading equity in unregistered companies very difficult. This basically makes small businesses dead capital.

Prosper.com and Kiva.org use simple approaches to limit your risk.  First, you lend in small amounts to individual borrowers — for example, $25 — and you can diversify across many borrowers. So, if you lend to one deadbeat who doesn’t repay you, you’re not out your life savings.

Second, these sites act as an SEC and rating agency of sorts by qualifying borrowers and setting appropriate interest rates based on credit risk. Kiva.org works with organizations that administer the loans with the entrepreneurs with full disclosure on that organization’s track record.

We could use the Prosper/Kiva/Kickstarter models bring start-up and small business capital alive. A similar service could act as registration agent of sorts and market maker to connect investors and business owners and allow users to invest as little as $5 directly with entrepreneurs.

Why not? I’d rather invest directly in an entrepreneur with a chance, even if it is ever so slight, of getting a return on that investment than donate it with the assurance that I won’t.

Online Dividend Reinvestment Plan Investing?

Here’s an idea:  Sharebuilder.com + Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRPs)

There are some online accounts for DRPs, but what I’ve seen so far are clunky.  It seems like there’s potential to retail the idea.

If anyone knows of anything that I’m missing, please let me know.

Crowd source venture capital, please

I read this Wall Street Journal story about a Silicon Valley startup, Loyal3, with great interest.  This paragraph describes its business model:

Loyal3 has created an online app that would let companies sell, or even give, shares of stock directly to the public, with no brokerage fees, through a website or on Facebook, in increments as small $10. Small investors wouldn’t even have to buy a whole share. Loyal3 would let them buy and sell fractions of a share.

I thought it might be a step toward crowd sourcing venture capital.  Prosper.com has made it possible to crowd source loans.  I think crowd sourcing startup equity investments would be another good idea.  Essentially, to have a Shark Tank that you don’t need to be a billionaire to participate in.

I’m no expert, but I believe SEC regulations do not make this easy, or maybe even possible, mainly to protect small, unsophisticated investors like myself from being bamboozled by snake oil salesmen.

As I read on in the Wall Street Journal article, I realized that Loyal3 wasn’t the Prosper.com of equity investing.  Rather, it’s a bit more like a Sharebuilder.com, looking to fill a specialty niche in the investing market for small investors and for companies wanting to give out stock as a marketing campaign. A while ago, I believe you could buy shares in beer maker, Sam Adams, from the boxes of its 12 packs. Loyal3 basically helps with that.

I wish we could crack the crowd sourced venture capital nut.  Given low-interest rates and equity investments that do not seem all that diversified anymore, it would be nice to have another market for our investments.

And, with lotteries and casinos where you are almost assured to blow your money, I don’t buy the argument that we need to be protected from snake oil salesmen.

We shouldn’t have to donate to create jobs either.

A crowd sourced venture capital market might produce a few jobs and a few products and services that make our lives better in the process, as well as give investors access to early stage, higher reward (and admittedly higher risk) investing.

Product idea for a gym and parks & rec departments

Most gyms have class rooms that are used by instructors and personal trainers to lead various exercise classes throughout the day like boot camps, aerobics, yoga, Zumba and Pilates.

I wonder if any gyms have experimented with putting a large, flat screen TV in those rooms so patrons could select from a menu of recorded workouts when live classes are not in session.

I’m sure something like that could also be used by live trainers to broadcast their classes across multiple gyms as well and multiply their class sizes and geographic footprint.

This idea might work in a public space, like a park, too.

Working Out

Working Out (Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums).

Millennium Park in Chicago has the tall, water fountain/splash park with video screens of people making faces from behind the falling water.

I can envision something similar in regular parks.   I envision a “class pad” (flat area with rubberized ground surface similar to most high school tracks) in a park, near the playground equipment, equipped with a video screen that has a menu of different workouts to choose from.  Then the neighborhood moms could let their kids play on the playground and gather for a 20 minute yoga class nearby, or something like that.

Personal trainers could also schedule some of their classes at such facilities.


Harvard econ professor, econ textbook author and sometimes New York Times columnist, Greg Mankiw points out that his Intro to Econ course, or Econ 10, is the largest course at Harvard.  Story here.

I wonder if Mankiw has given any thought to following in the footsteps of Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, who taught their Stanford intro to computer science course online to 165,000 worldwide students.  Given the demand, Thrun gave up his tenure to start his own online university, Udacity, with novel goal of teaching people who want to learn how to program.

There are a few people who could stand to learn basic economics.  Perhaps Thrun has a spot for Mankiw on his faculty.

The price of education

I don’t recall learning during my 13-year attendance in K-12 public schools how much that education cost and where the money came from.


Priceless (Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr)

I remember having a vague notion that the funds for education came from “the state”, but I really didn’t know what that meant.

That’s a shame.  I believe if students and parents better understood that the cost to educate a student in public schools runs between $8,000 to $13,000 per year they may appreciate it more.

Further, many don’t realize that this cost is relatively consistent across public school districts.  I’ve had many conversations where taxpaying individuals could not believe that the spending per student in a well-reputed school district, was less or about the same as a poorly performing urban school district.  It was eye-opening/myth debunking for them.  Several of them would utter, “I guess it’s not about the spending then.”

Knowing this information may allow them to better understand that it’s quite a privilege, they should try to get the most out of it and not take it for granted.

Further, if students better understood that their education was funded by their families and neighbors, through property taxes, and how much was paid in property taxes, that might make students a bit more appreciative of the sacrifices their neighbors make to ensure they have a better chance to become self-sufficient and contributing members of society.

Schools could further reinforce this by establishing a code of conduct, primarily based on courtesy and respect, for this privilege.  For example, for receiving a $10,000 per year education, you are expected to be courteous, clean and respectful.  If you cannot maintain this standard, you will lose your access to this privilege so others can gain maximum benefit.

Maybe if parents couldn’t ensure a cooperative student, they would be billed for a portion of the cost of the child’s education or have the choice of removing the student from school.

Perhaps, each year, the schools could provide students and parents with a report showing the cost of their education.  This would be similar to what companies do with an annual total compensation report that shows associates the total value of the wages and benefits they receive for employment, which I always take to mean, “quit complaining, you cost a lot!”

The same could be said for college education.  When attending an institution with heavy funding from tax dollars, it would be nice for the students and parents to know what the true cost of that education is.