A business opportunity helping the hungry

In my job, I’m working on building a specific product line of Urbanspoon, and as such, our channel partners sometimes get a little confused about what the company does.  I’m asked pretty frequently, what is Urbanspoon?

Generally I say that it’s a web and mobile dining guide and Rezbook is our reservations product.  That’s ok, but I’ve been thinking I need something sexier.  So I was in the shower this morning and it hit me.  It helps hungry people find a place to eat.  That drives home the point about geo-location and immediacy that our users seem to find most valuable, and reminds our merchants that we are the place people are looking.

But, obviously you can’t say you are a website dedicated to helping hungry people if you aren’t doing anything about feeding people who don’t get enough to eat.  That’s pretty insensitive, no matter how marketable.  This lead me to thoughts about our growing disparity in wealth, burgeoning underclass (new census reports today say that we now have 15% of Americans below the poverty line… which I think is like at $1,100 in annual income for a household).

These are the hungry, although, maybe not as much, because they also are disproportionately the obese – disregard that for a moment and I came upon something that could be a potential business idea.

A mobile app dedicated to finding out about wait times at various soup kitchens and homeless shelters.  It’s called Hunger Helper, that, or Line Spotter, or maybe No Wait, and of course these will all have their vowels removed.  HngrHlpr, LnSpttr, NWt…. et al

Ok, your first reaction is that I’m both a jerk and an idiot – homeless people don’t have cell phones!  Perhaps right now, the homeless are mostly analog -and- maybe waiting in those lines is something social that gives them some structure to the day (bad and mean-spirited joke aside, maybe it does??).  They may not be mobile phone users (and certainly not web enabled smart phone users), but this is the time to anticipate what mankind in the future might need.

With the crippling unemployment rate at over 9% and probably not coming down anytime soon, a very uncertain economic future, and the impending sense amongst the young that the future is not getting brighter — there are unfortunately going to be more and more homeless.  Now, couple that with the overwhelming and skyrocketing trend of smart phone adoption and maybe this idea isn’t so crazy?   These young dissafected kids who spent $200 on that iPhone, and another $100 per month on service, are becoming increasingly addicted to their phones.  Even without a job or income, they will find a way to keep that phone.

I can see this being a common conversation held in the future between a young man and himself.

“It’s just so good and man, it gives you everything you need, Angry Birds, like, I can check my gmail account, and all those fast-twitch muscles I’m working means I could be like a Navy Seal or something maybe, plus the thing stays charged for over an hour, and it’s so warm, at least my hands are warm…. so I’ll need to find a shelter with an available power outlet.  Better bring up HngrHlpr!”

The time to invest in this is now, please send your check or money order to me immediately and I will promise to continue to think both very long and very hard about this.

Maybe he isn't on a smart phone yet... but "smart phones" now account for over 73% of the cell phone market in America (ok, I made that statistic up, but really, 34% of all statistics are made up on the spot).

In all sincerity, this is a nice article if you want to feel bad about today’s news:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/14census.html

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