The economy may officially be in the dumps, but you can still make a whole lot of money if you’ve got a great idea. In fact, there are many examples of strange — and often ingeniously simple — business ideas that have earned their owners millions of dollars over a relatively short amount of time.
With that in mind, here are five particularly nutty — but very profitable — business ideas that resulted in quick million-dollar paydays for their proprietors:
1. Million Dollar Homepage
Back in the summer of 2005, twenty-one year-old Alex Tew had a really asinine stupid idiotic crazy business idea: establish a website called the Million Dollar 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 homepage? Answer: enough people to make Tew a millionaire in just 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.
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 WalMart, 7-Eleven, Circle-K, and Walgreens.
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.
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 can be had for under $10.
I bet you wish you thought of that idea before Ken did. I know I do.
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 currently sell for about $25. No word on whether their research and development department is currently working on doggie contact lenses. Heh.
Hey … do ya think maybe, just maybe…
I know. That’s just plain crazy.
Forget I even brought it up.
Photo Credit: andresfranco.net
It’s amazing how the most ticky-tacky stuff always makes the most money! Super jealous though.
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.
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!?!
Len Penzo says
Yes we are, brother! I bet you’re not surprised the Million Dollar Homepage kid is British! I wasn’t.
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…
Sam Monroe says
Being able to afford to act upon it is the rub 🙁
David @ VapeHabitat says
I am ready to sell 10,000 pixels lol
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.
Mike Louis says
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?
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.
Kyle C. says
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.
Mike - Saving Money Today says
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.
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.
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…
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
Little House says
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?
Jennifer Barry says
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.
Joe Plemon says
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?
Money Reasons says
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 🙂
Car Negotiation Coach says
Len, how about recording your own voice into a greeting card. I swear I had that idea 18 years ago, but apparently Hallmark doesn’t believe me.
Roshawn @ Watson Inc says
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Len Penzo says
Right back at ya! I really like your alternative.
Pedmard Mercure says
I can’t sit my ass down until I become the next Steve Jobs.
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.
Len Penzo says
Not a chance. But if it does, let me know. 😉
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.
Tom Smykowski: It was a “Jump to Conclusions” mat. You see, it would be this mat that you would put on the floor… and would have different CONCLUSIONS written on it that you could JUMP TO.
Michael Bolton: That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life, Tom.
Samir: Yes, this is horrible, this idea.
Office Space – I love this movie.
Ah. The million dollar homepage. Such a stupid idea that he got so much free press for it that it took off.
Key lesson there is that then as always it’s all about the distribution. It’s not “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” It’s build something good enough to be useful and crazy enough to garner free distribution and marketing and sit back and rake in the money…
Sassy Mamaw says
Hmmm. I came up with the “debt snowball” over 30 years ago…I jus had no idea there was a way to make money off of it besides paying off one’s own debt. (When explaining it to my hub, I said, “I know this is a little backwards…)
I also thought cup holders on baby strollers would be nice after pushing a stroller with two young children! My friends thought that was the dumbest idea ever. lol
Len Penzo says
Many years ago I proposed creating a special tool that quickly breaks up ground beef in the pan as you cook it. A few years ago I came across an actual device designed to do that.
In the mid-1990s I had an idea to start a website business that catered to rotisserie (now called “fantasy”) sports aficionados. This was long long before fantasy 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!
That being said, I do have two US patents — but they just didn’t make me independently wealthy.
The moral of the story is it’s not good enough to just come up with the idea — if you expect to make any money, you have to act on it too! And even then it may not work out.
Cool ideas, Len. I am thinking what business can make me a millionaire like Steve Jobs.
Just found your blog, Len. I really enjoy it! Keep up the good work!
Portible hospital room with a ventilator for homes.
At home vaccine maker
Cruiseship air bnb. They should be cheap now. I like air 5th wheel better. Rent camper when not in use.
vaccine and passport shop
3D print shop
Combine zoom and ebay
Drone warrior security system with face recognition and password. Loaded with tazer technology. Ring camera on it. You can fly it inside your house when gone.
Overnight luggage never carry it on plane again.
How about an app that can answer my phone and redirect it to another spam caller. Instead of answer button it is a redirct button. Oh just figured it out. Pound my phone to a google number.
This is tough I really dont need anything. I have never had a friend say I am happy, I just made a million dollars.
Len, you are funny. Thank you for the funny post. Those antenna balls are probably in the ocean as plastic pollution by now.
Karen E Kinnane says
A person can admire all five of these folks for taking advantage quite legally and straight forwardly of the gullible American public which continues to buy things of no use, no value at a hectic pace, with money they often don’t have. Could this be why we are seeing long lines at food pantries after 3 weeks of the quarantining? Could this be why the average tenant or overstretched home owner is already telling the landlord or mortgage company that they have no money to pay what was due April 1?. Could this obsession with useless junk be why so many Americans don’t have $400. saved up in an emergency fund? Totaling the 5 items (Assigning $4. as the median price for an antenna ball.) you get $60. wasted for useless, non biodegradable plastic junk without adding the sales tax which would be paid on $59. of the dollars. I have $60. plus the unpaid sales tax in my savings account because I didn’t succumb to the dubious lure of plastic junk and the absolutely pointless idea of giving a stranger a dollar. Obviously millions of my fellow Americans (Americans are the nicest, most well meaning and generous people in the entire world but they are mostly clueless, purposely ill educated and infantile.) have given good money for things which are worth nothing and pollute the universe forever with discarded plastic. It’s interesting and fascinating that four of the five brilliant inventors are men (Hat’s off to you boys for creativity!) and one was a woman. Doggles were invented by Roni Di Lullo after she noticed her dog, Midknight, squinting in the sunlight. If the brilliant don’t take money from the sheep, someone else will. Actually the doggie goggles appear to have some real benefit to the animals so I’m sticking up for my sex as “we” invented the only one of these which actually might have a legitimate purpose! In the meantime folks go out and shear those sheep with my blessing, before someone else beats you to it! Then put the money you’ve earned into paying off your debt if any, buying silver or gold, buying a house with some land and a good water source, or some other worthwhile place.
Crazy? This is crazy. Several years ago I visited my daughter who was working with a guy training and selling horses. She lived on a billionaires huge estate in VA with multiple mansions, gated property, several guys who worked as full time security detail, etc etc. His name is Fred. Fred invented the extended warranty.
Len Penzo says
Wow. I would have figured the “inventor” of the extended warranty would have died long ago.
Now I need to do a little research to find when the first one was offered …