Discover Small Business Opportunities By Taking an Old Idea and Making it New Again

Old Made New Through Technology

Not long ago a friend was reminiscing about how he and his wife bought their first video camera when their son was about to be born. It’s a common story for a certain generation.

At the time, they were on the cutting edge of the technology because they purchased a camera that took MiniDV tape cassettes. (I would bet that many reading this won’t know what MiniDVs were.)

The fascinating thing about personal video is that today everyone records video almost daily, but almost no one goes out and buys a video camera. The function still exists (although it has evolved greatly) but the means of achieving it has changed dramatically.

Old ideas made new through technology

This type of evolution is important to understand because it often provides business opportunities. New businesses are founded and old businesses are transformed or enhanced by recognizing how a new technology (or changing social conditions) can be applied to an old idea. Let’s look at some.

The agora

In Ancient Greece, the agora was the public space where local residents would find the market. It could also be a meeting space. Pull this idea forward a couple thousand years and you have eBay, Facebook, Etsy and other public markets and meeting spaces.

The overarching concept that you need to grasp is that people have a built-in need to trade, buy, and meet freely in groups. This human need will never change, but the means for fulfilling it will change as new technologies are developed.


If you’re a big fan of “A Christmas Story,” you’ll remember the scenes where the family gathers around the radio to listen to their favorite programs. Podcasts fulfill this same function today. The difference is that by virtue of the Internet, we’re able to listen to programs that interest us on our schedules – we don’t have to adhere to the schedules of the broadcasters.

Small business owners should note the rising popularity of podcasts. Think back to those old-time radio shows. What is notable about them? They usually had one single sponsor. If you establish a podcast, you will be that single sponsor. They can be great advertising.

Home delivery

There was a time when milk trucks ran morning routes and the neighborhood grocer would deliver your order the same day you phoned it in, or sent your kid down with a list of items. The rise of the supermarket killed home grocery deliveries to a great extent, but technology is bringing it back.

Amazon and others are working hard to leverage technology and logistics to make home deliveries common again. Lots of innovators are busy in this area and I suppose it won’t be long before drones or self-driving vehicles are out making deliveries all day long, and it won’t be just groceries.


With this one, I’m not going to harken back to “the good old days.” I’m just rolling back the technology to an earlier era on the Internet. For many of us, the first Internet messaging app we used was ICQ. When you say the letters it sounds like, “I seek you.”

Slack and HipChat are taking the basic messaging function and tossing in the kitchen sink by integrating it with a wide array of other apps. This is less a case of the old being made new, and more a case of the “slightly tired Internet technology given a new life.”

There are probably many commonly used web technologies that are just waiting for updates to revitalize them.

Want ads

We know that newspapers are suffering financially and we tend to think the reason is because people are getting their news from the Internet. But do you know that the most-read section of newspapers has historically been the want ads? Through the years, more people pour over the used car and help wanted listings than the lead story on the front page. Of course, that front-page lead story costs money for the publisher while the ad for the used car makes money for the publisher!

Today there are all kinds of online want ad listings. Craig’s List is a general “catch all” Internet version of newspaper want ads, but there are also listings that specialize in job openings, automobiles, rentals, homes for sale and more. There are probably more opportunities in this area.

Health care

The transitions we’re witnessing in health care are almost mind numbing right now. It seems impossible for anyone except industry insiders to keep up with what’s happening in the health insurance industry, but there are a couple of developments that should be of interest to the average consumer.

I think home visits from your family physician disappeared about the same time as the milk man stopped making rounds in your neighborhood. However, doctors today are leveraging the Internet to “examine” their patients. More routine appointments with your doctor may be conducted over Skype rather than at his or her office in the near future.

New health care insurance regulations have also seen an old style of “doctoring” come back into vogue. Many physicians are chucking all the hassles of dealing with insurance companies and adopting a retainer-fee based practice model. This gives consumers a single dedicated primary care provider rather than having to deal with a slate of physicians via an HMO. It makes medical care more personal again.


Tutoring and private lessons are getting a technological upgrade. I recently wrote about a startup that was applying high-level software to establish an online piano lesson system. All kinds of e-learning systems are being developed.

However, it doesn’t always have to be that sophisticated. I know other private music teachers who are leveraging two Internet services ­– Craig’s List and Skype – to offer lessons to students around the country and perhaps around the world. They advertise their services via Craig’s list and then conduct their lessons via Skype.

Can you think of other “institutions” that have been updated through advances in technology or other societal changes? Share them in the comments section below. And remember, new business ideas don’t have to always come out of the blue; sometimes they can simply evolve from something we’re all familiar with.