5 Crazy Ideas That Resulted in Million Dollar Paydays

From time to time I enjoy reading some of the interesting and often inspiring stories in Dmitry Davydov’s blog Uncommon Business.

Uncommon Business features people who make money online selling unusual, strange and sometimes bizarre things or provide curious services.

For example, in the past Dmitry has featured stories on businesses that cater to neo-survivalists looking to outlast the end of the civilized world as we know it, as well as a relatively new company out of Norwell, Massachusetts, that is in the business of financing only weddings.

Don’t laugh. Sometimes, these odd businesses and business ideas end up earning their owners millions of dollars over a relatively short amount of time.

In fact, at a companion site of his called MadConomist, Dmitry has highlighted ten particularly nutty – but very profitable – business ideas that resulted in million dollar paydays for the proprietors. Here are five of my favorites from that list:

1. Million Dollar Homepage

Back in the summer of 2005, twenty-one year-old Alex Tew had a really asinine stupid retarded idiotic crazy business idea: establish a website homepage and sell one-million pixels at one dollar a pop. I mean, who the hell would pay somebody a buck to own one tiny pixel on Tew’s website homepage? Answer: Enough people to make Tew a millionaire in less than five months.

How did he come up with the idea? According to Tew, “After an hour or two of jotting random things on paper, the idea seemingly popped out of nowhere. Almost like my subconscious mind had been ticking over in the background, working it all out. So it just kind of happened. That’s about it. I scribbled it down and within about ten minutes a picture of what needed to be done had emerged.”

I hate you, Alex.

2. AntennaBalls

Back in the summer of 1997, Jason Wall saw a Jack In The Box fast-food commercial that said the company had sold more than three million antenna balls.  That’s when Wall decided to try and come up with a few designs of his own.  His designs quickly caught on and before he knew it he had penetrated the auto accessory and novelty industries.

Wall originally used gas stations to sell over four million of his creations.  Today his, um, balls are sold nationwide at retail stores including Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, Circle-K, Walgreens, and Hot Topic.  You can also get them online at a website called – what else? – HappyBalls.

In retrospect, it all seems so obvious. After all, who doesn’t like happy balls?

3. FitDeck

Former Navy SEAL and fitness instructor Phil Black had a rather wacky idea. Create a unique deck of 56 playing cards containing illustrations and instructions describing over 50 different exercises, stretches, and movements without the need for special equipment and then sell them for $19 a pop. Laugh all you want but Black reported sales of $4.7 million in 2006.

Laugh all you want but Black reported sales of $4.7 million in 2006. The cards are reportedly still selling like hot cakes, albeit at the reduced price of $14.95.

4. Lucky Break Wishbone Co.

“Why, at traditional Thanksgiving meals, when there is a bounty of food, is there but one lonely wishbone?” asks Ken Ahroni, president and founder of the Lucky Break Wishbone Company. According to Ken, “There had to be a better way!”

So, not long after the start of the new millennium, Ken invented a mass-producible plastic wishbone so “everybody, including vegetarians, could have a chance to make a wish” during Thanksgiving.

A pack of 10 plastic bones runs $8.49.

I bet you wish you thought of that idea before Ken did. I know I do.

5. Doggles

Who would have ever guessed that making and selling protective goggles for dogs would be a money-making venture? I still ain’t buying it, but it doesn’t matter what I think.  Just ask the millionaire-next-door owners who were smart enough to think of the idea.

The dog glasses can be found for under $20.  No word on whether their research and development department is currently working on doggie contact lenses. Heh.

Hmm. Hey; do ya think maybe, just maybe

I know. That’s just plain crazy.

Forget I even brought it up.

44 comments to 5 Crazy Ideas That Resulted in Million Dollar Paydays

  • It just goes to show you that even if the idea sounds silly it could make you a million dollars. Hell look at pet rocks, it was just a rock in a box. At least these folks actually did something.
    .-= Kyle C.´s last blog ..Holy Crap, I Suck… Or Not =-.

  • The Million Dollar Homepage is a real kick in the nuts. It’s such a simple idea that ANYONE could have done. But kudos for him for being the one to think of it.
    .-= Mike – Saving Money Today´s last blog ..What Scrooge McDuck Taught Me About Finances =-.

    • @Kyle: Yep, and I’ve got my thinking cap on right now too, Kyle. You have to give all of these folks credit – no matter how silly the idea. The guy who invented the cardboard windshield shade is another smart guy laughing all the way to the bank.
      @Mike: The Millionaire Homepage was an absolutely brilliant idea. So simple, yet so effective. It is a wonder why he stopped after completely selling out the first million-dollar home page – but, as far as I can tell, he did. No reason to rest on your laurels. I bet in retrospect he wished he had called it the 100-million dollar homepage! ;-)

    • One minor caveat: It’s not thinking up the ideas that made these folks millionaires; it’s doing something about it.

      Honestly, I come up with business ideas all the time, sketch them down and set them aside. Ideas are cheap. I’ll eventually throw some away and develop others a little more each time. The idea for Clarifinancial came to me in 2007, but it wasn’t doing any good on a piece of paper.

      • Forrest

        Very true! Its acting upon your Ideas, If people only knew what they could accomplish there would be a ton of more successful people of there today.. living there dream…

  • Jenna

    It’s amazing how the most ticky-tacky stuff always makes the most money! Super jealous though.

  • kt

    the million dollar home page was the craziest idea. He doesn’t even have to do much work apart from putting up the adverts. I guess tuition and entertainment is paid for no problem
    .-= kt´s last blog ..robert kiyosaki’s conspiracy of the rich- my criticisms =-.

  • I’ll give you a crazy idea. Start a blog about personal finance, write three times a week for a couple of years, and make enough every day to buy a good McDonalds meal a day after all that effort.

    Bitter, moi? (Not really – I started doing it for fun and love!)

    I like the crazy business idea blog, thanks for that.

    • @Jenna: Agree, sister! Me too.
      @kt: The funny thing is he dropped out of school shortly after selling out his homepage. Ironic since the original impetus for coming up with the idea was that he was trying to come up with tuition money!
      @Monevator: I think there is a grain of truth in what you say, Investor. If this was 2000 blogging would have probably made the list! One thing late-to-the-party bloggers like you and I are cruelly – but justly – penalized for is our inability to capitalize on those precious first-mover advantages that our earliest predecessors enjoyed. But that’s business! :-)

      • It’s true, I get the feeling we’re in a big pyramid scheme sometimes… and our envelope is most definitely not in the post.

        Never mind, we’re far sexier and funnier and stuff than those guys, right. Right? RIGHT? Everybody!?!
        .-= Monevator´s last blog ..The biggest threat to long-term wealth =-.

        • @Roshawn: Tew’s pixel idea was absolutely brilliant. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been copied either, to tell you the truth.
          @Kevin: You are absolutely right. I think luck has a lot to do with it too.
          @Aaron: Agree! The secret is having the gumption to act on those ideas. My laziness has cost me twice.
          @Squirrelers: Glad you enjoyed the article!
          @CarCoach: Patents are a funny thing. My first patent is 3.5 years and one office action (completed) running. No end in sight to getting to the finish line. I hope my second one goes more smoothly, but I am only about 18 months in on that one. I have coworkers who took 5 years to get their patent through and others with patents that breezed through in 16 months. E-mail me anytime: Len@LenPenzo.com
          @Monevator: Yes we are, brother! I bet you’re not surprised the Million Dollar Homepage kid is British! I wasn’t. :-)

  • I’m with you Len, I hate you too Alex! ;) As for crazy ideas that are worth a million bucks, I wish someone would pick up one of mine and pay me the money…..I’m not kidding here. I have plenty of hair brained ideas, some have been put into action (like FROG) and others I’m working on. Okay, I have to be honest, these are not really my ideas, but my husband’s. I can say they’re mine, though, right?
    .-= Little House´s last blog ..Tuesday Tips, Week 9 =-.

  • I think with a lot of these ideas, it’s best to get in and then sell out. Who knows how long people will buy antenna balls for example? Cash out and figure out what the new fad will be.
    .-= Jennifer Barry´s last blog ..Home Sweet Home or Debt Trap? =-.

    • @LittleHouse: FROG is *your* baby? Congratulations! I hope it makes you millionaires (if it hasn’t already!).
      @Jennifer: Agreed, Jen. Although I think there will always be a market for happy balls. But that’s just me. ;-)

  • Len,
    Here is an idea: make a large plastic hoop and see if you can keep it gyrating around your midsection by making the motions of a hula dancer. I could call it “hoop hula”. What do you think?
    .-= Joe Plemon´s last blog ..How Minimum Credit Card Payments Will Keep You in Debt Forever =-.

  • Hmmm, Someday, once I’ve got more saved up, I’m going to have to try to invent something. It would be nice to leave a mark on society. Or write a book :)
    .-= Money Reasons´s last blog ..Lemons to Lemonade – Mowing To Excercise and Save Money =-.

    • Well, Don, the “hula hoop” idea just got claimed by Joe. Seriously though, all you need is a good idea. If it is good enough you should be able to find a bank or some venture capitalists to back your new product/invention! Or you can just write a book. :-)

  • Len, how about recording your own voice into a greeting card. I swear I had that idea 8 years ago, but apparently Hallmark doesn’t believe me.
    .-= Car Negotiation Coach´s last blog ..14 Extreme ways to lower your car insurance premiums =-.

    • You snooze you lose. I’m in the same boat, unfortunately. I’ve shared these two ideas I had on another blog, but I haven’t shared them on my own blog yet.

      Sad Story #1: In the mid-1990s I had an idea to start a website that catered to rotisserie sports aficionados. This was long long before rotisserie sports became the phenomenon it is today. I even did my MBA thesis on it and wrote a business plan up. But I never acted on it because I was making decent coin in my regular engineering job. If I did, I would be wealthy now – no doubt about it.

      Sad Story #2: I am the family cook. For at least 10 years I have complained to the Honeybee that I need to invent a tool that easily breaks up ground beef when it is frying up in the pan. Last year, what do I see in a magazine? A tool that does exactly that.

      I’m a loser. LOL

      (Although I do have two patents pending right now in the US Patent Office – with two more in work, but the rights and profits to all of them will go to my company once they are issued.)

  • I love posts like this. As someone mentioned earlier, don’t automatically discount an idea just because it is conventional. I still cannot get over Alex Tew’s pixel idea.
    .-= Roshawn @ Watson Inc´s last blog ..Uncommon Money News (Vol. 93) & Round Up =-.

  • Not to throw cold water on these success stories, but I’d bet serious money that for every million dollar success story, there’s a million non-success stories we’ll never hear about.

    Every one of these is the product of hit-or-miss, and these hit. But it’s all about timing and marketing. No doubt there are far better ideas for much more useful products that never get out of the starting gate because the timing wasn’t right, or the developer lacked marketing expertise.

    I’d rather be a great marketer than a brilliant inventor.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Why Leasing a Car is a Bad Deal =-.

  • Great topic, I enjoy posts such as this.

    Len – I agree with your comment above: You snooze, You lose. Many of us have a great idea that we could have done something about….but didn’t, allowing someone else to do it and profit from it. Ideas are great, they have to be acted upon.

    The Million Dollar homepage idea is something else…

  • I recall a story that the founder of FedEx had written about the idea in a college term paper and failed. He was told it was too expensive and the logistics too complex to compete with the post office.
    Crazy idea, indeed.

  • these sure are some crazy ideas – just goes to show if you dream it up and have the capital to make it happen you can really make some good money. Good for all of these folks.

  • Coming up with the ideas is the easy part. Doing to work to make it a real product is the hard part.

  • Mike Louis

    And what about that “guy” who made Money Means Nothing. No one knows who he is and is earning more than 1,000 dollars a week. And not even is selling anything. Is it legal?

  • Leonardo

    Don’t fall for the rich and fame gig. They are the ones
    who get rich and famous. Always do your research before
    proceeding with idea. That’s genius.

  • Charles

    What a great little site. I too come up with with the occasional idea and like most everyone else fail on the execution. Setting aside product ideas what about book or movie ideas? In the 1990′s I came up with what I thought were three novel ideas. If you could somehow sell a broad basic movie idea to someone else the payoff might be smaller but any check received is better than nothing.

  • foodslut

    Alternative to the FitDeck concept: shuffle a regular deck, deal yourself 20 cards face down, flip them up one at a time, and do that many (pushups if red, situps if black) before flipping over the other card. How cheaply can you buy a regular deck of cards in a dollar store these days.

    Thanks for the inspiration, though!

  • Pedmard Mercure

    I can’t sit my ass down until I become the next Steve Jobs.

  • SevenH

    Hi Len,

    I’m sure you’ve heard this before but what kind of advice do you have for a first timer with a million dollar idea. i need contacts this sucks. i feel so lost knowing my idea is worth millions but not knowing who to trust. pls email me whenever u have time id love to further discuss things with you.

    Thanks:
    Steven Holland

  • Dustyn

    Do you think this will make a million dollars???

    http://www.milliondollardot.com

  • Len,

    Good posting. One thing to keep in mind is that having a good idea is one thing, but you need good execution to make the idea a reality. For example, the antenna ball is a good idea, but you would need capital and follow up to do the manufacturing and marketing.

    Thanks,

    James

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