Many of us have, at one time or another, concocted a hare-brained scheme. But how many of us have actually seen it through? Well, some of those people who did put their faith in a laughable idea are the ones that are now having the last laugh – all the way to the bank. Yes, these people made or did weird stuff that eventually earned them a fortune. So have a good chuckle and then perhaps shed a tear over the fact that you didn’t think of these things first.
20. Roni di Lullo, Doggles inventor
What do you do if your dog keeps squinting? Buy it a pair of sunglasses, obviously. This isn’t a bad joke; this a genuine produce known as Doggles. And while the Doggles idea has made it into various “most useless inventions” lists, its inventor Roni di Lullo managed to get thousands of shops around the world to stock the pet accessory. In fact, in 2012 Doggles earned $3 million in revenue.
19. Alex Tew, milliondollarhomepage.com founder
No student wants to finish his or her studies in thousands of dollars of debt. And that’s exactly why in 2005 21-year-old whizz-kid Alex Tew came up with the ingenious idea of selling off one million pixels on the homepage of his website in order to raise funds for fees. Ingeniously, he asked for $1 per pixel and sold them in 10×10 blocks costing $100. Strangely, though, advertisers flocked to the Million Dollar Homepage and bought up space for web links within a matter of months. Tew’s final gross income? A cool $1,037,100.
18. Jason Wall, antenna balls designer
They might just be a load of balls, but in 2000 Jason Wall sold his at a rate of 500,000 a month – which made him a multi-millionaire. Wall came up with the idea of designing his own car antenna balls in the 1990s after seeing a Jack in the Box commercial. This got Wall’s wheels turning, and his antenna balls now adorn cars everywhere. However, in the beginning Wall couldn’t even score an investor.
17. Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami, icanhascheezburger.com founders
When jokers Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami posted a silly cat picture online with the caption, “I Can Has Cheezburger?” they ended up laughing all the way to the bank. Yes, they started a website with a domain name to match their original “fat cat” picture caption, and in 2007 they sold the website for $2 million. Which just goes to show that uploading ridiculous cat pictures might not be so pointless after all.
16. Maddie Bradshaw, Snap Cap creator
When Maddie Bradshaw’s uncle gave the ten-year-old girl 50 bottle caps from his old coke machine, he never could have predicted that she would turn them into millions of dollars. But she did – $1.6 million a year, in fact. She started off painting and sticking magnets on them so she could decorate her school locker. Then she developed a necklace with a metal pendant that attracted the caps. But in 2013 Bradshaw sold more than 60,000 of these themed, collectable “Snap Cap” necklaces per month across more than 6,000 U.S. stores.
15. Rick E. Hunts, Flowbee inventor
You might think that the idea of a hair-cutting attachment for your vacuum cleaner kinda sucks. And you’d be right – but not in a commercial sense. Because between the launch of Rick E. Hunts’ mad idea in 1988 and the year 2000, no less than two million people had bought Flowbees. This was in spite of how scary it looks and rather mixed reviews from users.
14. Ken Ahroni, plastic wishbone inventor
Cries of “it’s not fair, I never get to make a wish!” are no longer heard around the Thanksgiving tables of America, thanks to Ken Ahroni. After all, he too was frustrated that he never got to make a wish. So, to ensure that no one got left out again, he set up the company LuckyBreak, and in 2005 it produced 30,000 plastic wishbones every day. At one point, the fake bones, which look and sound like the real thing, netted Ahroni’s company annual sales of $2.5 million, no doubt making all of his wishes come true.
13. Jenna Marbles, YouTube vlogger
In 2010 Jenna Nicole Mourey – under the pseudonym Jenna Marbles in honor of her dog Mr. Marbles – made a video for YouTube called “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.” Within a week, it had been watched more than 5.3 million times. Now her YouTube channel boasts more than 14 billion views and more than 16 million subscribers. Despite – or perhaps, because of – the often ridiculous content of her videos, which have titles such as “Shaving My Eyebrows,” her net worth is reportedly around $2.5 million.
12. Chris Clark, pizza.com owner
In 1994 when the internet wasn’t as huge as it is now, a speculative man named Chris Clark bought the domain name pizza.com. He hoped that at some point he may be able to sell it on to some pizza company or other. Therefore, he kept the site for the next 14 years, paying only the annual fee of $20. Then one day, he decided to put the domain up for auction. This sent pizza companies into a bidding frenzy, and it netted Clark $2.6 million.
11. Stuart Anders, Slap Wraps inventor
It’s amazing what a high-school shop teacher can rustle up with the help of a few steel ribbons. Yes, Stuart Anders, with the help of two associates, introduced prototypes of the Slap Wrap bracelet at a toy fair. And by 1990 his firm Main Street was up to $8 million in profits thanks to the worldwide phenomenon. In fact, the company started selling so many of the bracelets that it stopped counting them and kept track of orders by weight instead.
10. Rich Bailey, Billy-Bob Teeth inventor
Nothing says, “Give me a passionate kiss,” quite like a set of Billy-Bob Teeth. In 1993 Rich Bailey, a student of dentistry, met ex-college football player Jonah White at a football game. At that time Bailey had already made three pairs of the rotten chompers, but it seems he and the entrepreneurial White together were a match made in yucky-teeth heaven. Yes, the Billy Bob Teeth Company was born, and it has, to date, produced no less than 20 million pairs.
9. Gary Dahl, Pet Rock inventor
Like many great ideas, the Pet Rock came about in a bar. In fact, when Gerald Dahl sat listening to his buddies complain about their pets, he remarked that his pet rock was the perfect specimen. However, he then decided to find out if other people would agree. And it turned out that they did. After all, the hassle-free “pets” arrived nestling in hay along with a hilarious instruction book. Fortunately, too, each $3.95 sale earned Dahl a $3 profit, making him an estimated $15 million within six months.
8. Ken Hakuta, Wacky Wall Walker inventor
Little did Ken Hakuta’s mom know that the gooey little toy from China that she gave her son would make him no less than $80 million. But Hakuta was clearly happy with the gift, as he spent $100,000 buying the rights to the toy, which seems to crawl down any wall it is thrown at. Hakuta then set about selling to sell it in Washington D.C. After initially slow sales, an article in The Washington Post hyped up the toy and within a few months Hakuta had sold 240 million of them.
7. Jennifer Telfer, Pillow Pets
It’s a pillow and a stuffed animal in one, and it made this loving mom millions. But how did it happen? When Telfer’s son kept flattening down his favorite stuffed toy so he could rest his head on it, Telfer realized that there could be some cash in his idea. So in 2003 she had a Chinese company manufacture 8,000 stuffed animals that could unfold into pillows with little faces. But it wasn’t until 2009 that her company aired its first TV commercial. Then within a year, sales of Pillow Pets had reached $300 million.
6. Peter Hodgson, Silly Putty
An accidental invention in 1943, Silly Putty didn’t take off as a novelty product until consultant Peter Hodgson started marketing it in 1950. In fact, when Hodgson died in 1976 his estate was valued at $140 million. After all, it was by 1990 estimated that nearly 70 percent of American households were home to these squidgy, evidently quite useful, lumps of gunk. It even went up into space in 1968 on the Apollo 8, where astronauts played with it and used it to hold stuff in place.
5. Abe Bookman & Albert Carter, Magic 8 Ball
Named by Time in 2011 as one of the “All-Time 100 Greatest Toys,” the Magic 8 Ball is simply a liquid-filled ball with a 20-sided dice inside it. The trick is that each face on the dice offers a different answer-like statement, but only one face is seen at a time – making it a fun way to answer any question. The toy actually started out in 1944 as a tube-shaped “Syco-Seer.” Then in 1950, Abe Bookman redesigned it for Brunswick Billiards in 1950 to provide the company with a promotional novelty item. Today, Mattel owns the rights to the Magic 8 Ball, and it claims to sell over a million a year.
4. Richard James, Slinky inventor
Despite being around since 1943, the slinky is still a favourite for many kids today – perhaps in part due to its appearance in the movie Toy Story. Inspired by the way a spring moved when he accidentally knocked it to the floor, engineer Richard James developed the toy, all 400 of which sold within the first couple of hours of it hitting the shelves. Then between 1945 and 2005, more than 300 million Slinkys were sold, raking in around $250 million.
3. Franklin Loufrani, Smiley Company
No doubt smiles are contagious. Harvey Ross Ball designed the first smiley face in 1963 to help his boss boost company morale. Later Bernard and Murray Spain added the slogan “Have a Happy Day” and copyrighted it in 1971. The brothers went on to sell 50 million buttons in that year alone. But French journalist Franklin Loufrani was the most savvy of all. After all, he trademarked the smiley face and set up the Smiley Company in 1972. The company now makes over $130 million a year selling “Smiley” merchandise and licensing rights to use the face for promotional purposes.
2. Scott Boilen, The Snuggie
Who could have predicted that a bathrobe worn backwards would make $40 million in its first few months and go on to sell 20 million in its first year? Still, the Snuggie – basically a blanket with sleeves made with Vellux or fleece fabric – achieved a kind of cult status. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres wore them on their shows and people went on “Snuggie Pub Crawls” and gave them for gifts as a joke. Well, this “joke” has now reportedly made its inventor over $500 million.
1. Zhang Yin, cardboard capitalist
It might look like a pile of old cardboard to most people, but to Hong Kong entrepreneur Zhang Yin it looked like a pile of dollar bills. On realizing that China’s exports were mainly packaged in cardboard, she began buying up scrap paper from the United States and recycling it – to send back to the U.S. as packaging. Her firm, Nine Dragons Paper Holdings, has since become China’s biggest paper maker. Furthermore, with $4.6 billion in the bank in 2010, she became the wealthiest self-made woman in the world.