Another brilliant startup idea

I’m going to need some investors (also, people who know how to build a really good app and how to create and maintain mission-critical messaging infrastructure). Because I have had one of those Can’t Possibly Miss ideas.

You’d like to turn off your phone during off-hours. But there’s always a chance that you’ll miss a message that genuinely can’t wait. And if you leave it on and tell people only to contact you in case of emergency, the definition of the word “emergency” tends to fall seriously out of sync and then, there you are, in an expensive restaurant, telling someone that if the office printer is out of paper, and there’s none in the storeroom, then maybe they should go out to OfficeMax or something.

To solve this problem, I’ve come with a new messaging app: “Message Against The House,” or MATHmessage.

Here’s how it works. Your whole phone works the same way it always did. But when you don’t wish to be disturbed, you launch MATHmessage. It sends all phone calls to voice mail and mutes all alerts created by other messaging apps. Until you turn MATHmessage off, it’s the only source of incoming messages…either messages transported by the app network itself, or with the app as a go-between for voice and text.

When someone attempts to message you, they get an automated response. The message has been received correctly and is being held in quarantine. MATHmessage will not alert the user and display the message until the sender places the sum of $100 in escrow. All they have to do is tap a button to authorize the hold of funds.

Once the payment is confirmed, the app releases the message to the recipient. If the recipient thinks that this message really was worth having to excuse themselves from a family wedding, then he or she taps the thumbs-up button and the sender gets their $100 back. If not, then the money goes to a charity, randomly-selected from a list of 50 that the recipient approved when they installed the app.

(Minus a small transaction fee that supports the MATHmessage service and lets me buy a couple of Teslas.)

See? It’s brilliant. It forces the sender to wager his or her own cash against the question “Will the recipient agree that my message was worth their time at attention, during a time when they asked not to be disturbed?” Hence the name: they’re betting $100 against the house, aka my goldmine of a messaging service.

I guess an arbitration process will be necessary. Otherwise, recipients could choose to just be jerks (albeit jerks who want each of their incoming messages to generate $100 for a cancer-related charity). I have no set plan for this, but I imagine it’ll be a variation on the Instant Replay rule. There has to be some additional skin in the game to prevent people from just asking for arbitration every single damn time.

Mere details. The core concept is perfect: the idea is to force the sender to put some skin in the game before they try to get in touch with you at a time when they’ve been told you don’t want to be disturbed. “Your kid has been taken to the emergency room” – justified. “I know we’re meeting tomorrow at 10, but I wanted to make sure you had my latest thoughts before I left the office for the day” – that’s going to cost you a hundred bucks.

After a successful soft-launch of MATHmessage, we offer a companion product for restaurants and theaters. MATHmessage users who don’t wish to be disturbed except in an emergency use the app to scan a QR code at the maître d’ station.

What happens next:

  1. The escrow amount doubles to $200.
  2. Incoming messages are encrypted and held by an iPad at the maître d’ station.
  3. The recipient’s phone never receives any alerts under any circumstances. The app activates an iBeacon-like feature that allows a restaurant staffperson to locate the MATHmessage user via a directional app on the iPad.
  4. The message is released securely and privately to the user by bringing the two devices in contact with each other, and then deleted securely from the iPad.
  5. Upon successful delivery of the message, the restaurant receives a fixed dollar amount regardless of its disposition.
  6. This mode automatically turns off when you pass by the iBeacon that’ mounted mezuzah-style on the restaurant’s doorway.

This idea can be applied to all sorts of public spaces in which patron use of phones is to be discouraged. A blanket ban on phone usage can be applied and enforced while still allowing those with a legitimate interest in emergency communications (presidents or dictators of the more popular nations, anyone employed to keep reality-show participants from getting any sort of attention) to remain on the grid without disturbing the experience for other patrons. Theaters, for example, can simply intercept MATHmessages and only make them available for retrieval inside the lobby, during intermission.

Thank you, Dragons. I am now prepared to hold open this empty pillowcase for as long as you desire to throw bundles of $100 bills into it. I have brought nineteen of them and I’m not sure that’ll be enough.

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  1. Pingback: Newsletter: July 11, 2014 | Notes from MWhite

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