The Goofiest Ways People Made Millions
Currently, there are 36 million millionaires in the world. While some people become millionaires through stocks, inventions or inheritance, others find funny and creative ways to make millions — such as creating a cat meme, auctioning off a baseball, or making dog goggles. Some people never think they’ll be able to rake in millions, but their wild ideas end up becoming super popular.
Check out some of the goofiest ways people became millionaires. Maybe one will inspire you to come up with your own million-dollar idea.
If you were to flash back to 2005, you’d see people using Sidekick phones, buying cassette adapters for their cars, or struggling to choose their top 8 on MySpace. In 2005, college student Alex Tew, now founder of the relaxation app “Calm”, was brewing a plan to pay off his student loans. He came up with the idea to create a website filled with one million blank pixels, and to sell each pixel for a buck. When a business or person bought space on his website, they could promote their logos and links on his site.
Creating a Cat Meme
Before Grumpy Cat, there was the “I Can Has Cheezburger?” cat. It all started in 2007 when Eric Nakagawa was having a bad day at work. Nakagawa asked his friend, Kari Unebasami, to send him a photo of something to cheer him up. Unebasami sent Nakagawa some cat photos with phonetically spelled phrases, also known as LOLspeak.
Selling Chicken in Bulk
Brothers Mike and JC Conrad made a fortune when they started selling chicken in December 2009. The brothers charged an inexpensive rate of $1.49 a pound, but required customers to purchase 40 pounds to get the discount. The Conrads’ plan was to promote their offer at their church, collect payment in advance, drive to a farm to buy the chicken and deliver the chicken to their customers in the church parking lot. The plan worked! 1,000 customers signed up for the sale, prepaying with checks and cash. From their first sale event, the brothers took home $40,000.
Selling Car Parts
Imagine starting a business at age 16 and catching the attention of MTV's reality show "Pimp My Ride." In 1998, Koon opened Extreme Performance Motorsports, the first shop of its kind in New York City. As you can imagine, Koon didn’t sell typical car parts. The young entrepreneur sold special car-tuning parts like stereo systems and custom body kits from Asia.
Auctioning a Baseball
Do you think you could sell a baseball for $3.05 million? If your name is Philip Ozersky, you can. Legendary Cardinals player, Mark McGwire, hit his 70th home run on September 27th, 1998, breaking the record for the most home runs in a single season. When Ozersky caught the ball, baseball officials asked for it in exchange for a signed jersey, bat, and ball from McGwire. Ozersky reportedly requested to meet McGuire, but his request was denied.
Inventing the Pet Rock
The perfect pet wouldn’t make a mess or need a bath. It also wouldn’t get sick or cause allergies. This type of pet exists, according to Gary Ross Dahl. He’s not talking about a cat or dog, either: Dahl is actually referring to a pet rock. Dahl came up with the idea after hearing his friends complain about their pets. Believe it or not, pet rocks were a big deal in the 1970s.
Inventing Dog Goggles
We’ve got great news for people who are worried about the sun getting into their dogs’ eyes. Thanks to Roni Di Lullo, dogs can rock dog goggles, best known as Doggles. The goggles prevent a canine’s eyes from drying out in the wind and protects against the sun. Currently, Doggles makes $3 million in sales a year.
Creating a Bouncy Toy
What’s a toy that can walk, bounce, spring, flip and jiggle? As the advertisement goes, “Everyone knows it's Slinky!” In 1943, naval engineer Richard James invented the Slinky by accident. Originally, he was trying to design springs to keep equipment upright on a ship. After some of the designs accidentally fell off a shelf, he watched in amazement as the spring continued moving around the room.
Today, it’s possible to play with toys all day and get paid to do so--even if you aren’t technically old enough to hold a traditional job. This is especially true for seven-year-old Ryan, a YouTube star who reviews toys. According to Business Insider, Ryan made $11 million in revenue in 2017. One year later, the young toy reviewer doubled his income to $22 million.
Sending “Yo” Messages
Can you believe that a simple text message saying “Yo” became a million-dollar idea? Or Arbel, a 32-year-old app developer, wanted to reach his assistant without having to call or text her. In eight hours, he created an app that sent notifications saying “Yo.” That was the only function of the app.
Ice cream is, arguably, one of the best desserts in the world. It’s a great way to keep cool and happy during the hot summer. Although many people enjoy eating the sweet treat, not everyone can eat it due to dietary restrictions: that’s where David Mintz comes in. In the 1980s, he wanted to make a kosher dessert for his business catering bar and bat mitzvahs. A kosher diet doesn’t allow meat and dairy to be eaten together.
In 2004, Frank Warren handed out postcards to complete strangers, inviting them to mail in their deepest, darkest secrets about “regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation.” Warren’s weird plan became PostSecret, a website where he reveals the anonymous secrets. Every Sunday, Warren puts up 10 of the best secrets on the site.
Playing Video Games
Yes, video gamers can make millions. The richest esports player in the world is Kuro "KuroKy" Takhasomi, a 25-year-old Dota 2 player from Germany. In 2017, the video gamer raked in $3,740,477. Many popular esports athletes like Takhasomi receive high-paying sponsorship deals, with sponsors covering expenses such as tournament fees, living costs and coaches.
Na`Vi Dota 2 pic.twitter.com/drG8OwekaS— KuroKy (@LiquidKuroKy) July 20, 2013
Hunting for treasure doesn’t only happen in the movies. In real life, a person can actually stumble upon buried treasure and become an instant millionaire. Mel Fisher, a diver, spent decades looking for treasure in the Florida Keys. In 1985, he found a sunken ship, which happened to be the Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora de Atocha.
Many people know that you can earn some money recycling, but a lot of people don’t know that recycling can make you a millionaire: in this specific case, it can make you one of the wealthiest women in China. The story starts in the 1990s, when paper quality in China was poor. But Zhang Yin found a way to make better quality paper products for boxes used to pack toys, electronics and furniture.
Playing the Lottery
One lucky woman, Joan Ginther, won the lottery four times in Texas, for a total of a $20 million payout. However, some people don’t think she’s lucky at all, believing Ginther may have used a gambling strategy to help her win the lottery. Ginther hasn’t answered any questions about her strategy, but Harper’s Magazine writer Nathaniel Rich investigated Ginther’s winnings and found some interesting details.
Making a Pillow Look Like a Pet
After watching her son sleep with his stuffed animal like a pillow, Jennifer Telfer came up with the idea to create stuffed animals that unfolded into plush pillows. As a result, Telfer invented the Pillow Pet, a snuggly and comfortable pillow that won’t easily flatten.
Connecting Plastic Together
Joel Glickman risked his family’s entire company to create a plastic construction toy — and luckily it paid off. It all started when Glickman attended a wedding and began playing with straws. During the crowded and noisy evening, his straw fiddling and connecting gave him the idea to invent a plastic construction toy. But to produce the toy, Glickman chose to close part of his family’s plastic business.
Making Smiley Faces
Although Harvey Ball is the original creator of the iconic yellow smiley face, he failed to get it trademarked and only received $45 for the design. Instead, brothers Bernard and Murray Spain made a fortune off the symbol. The brothers added the slogan “Have a Happy Day” to the smiley design and received the legal rights to the image and words in 1971.
Buying a Toy that Walks Itself
Ken Hakuta didn’t create the Wacky Wallwalker, a popular gooey toy that appears to walk on walls. However, he did purchase the complete rights to the toy. In 1982, Hakuta’s parents gave him a sticky eight-legged toy from Tokyo. When he threw the toy on the wall, Hakuta watched the toy stick to the wall and walk on its own.
Creating a Blanket With Sleeves
Have you ever received a weird-looking blanket with sleeves on your birthday or for Christmas? Scott Boilen made this blanket with sleeves, best known as the Snuggie, very popular though advertising. One video advertisement featured a family complaining about their arms getting restricted in a blanket, and finding a solution by wrapping up in Snuggies instead. The video went viral on YouTube.
Couples with the same Snuggie® have it right. Everyone knows a couple that matches together...stays together! pic.twitter.com/8xwoqXYiab— Snuggie® Blanket (@OriginalSnuggie) January 28, 2016
Inventing Stuffed Toys Filled With Tiny Beans
In 1993, H. Ty Warner thought stuffed animals filled with cotton were too stiff, so he created flexible toys filled with beans called Beanie Babies. Initially, many buyers didn’t like his idea and called the toys “roadkill.” However, Warner eventually made $280 million from Beanie Babies by the end of 1996, shutting down all the haters.
Making a Fish Sing
Believe it or not, a singing plastic fish sparked international mania in 2000. This famous fish was called Big Mouth Billy Bass. Billy looks like a real mounted catch, but suddenly he would face his audience and start singing. He only performed two songs: “Take Me to the River” and Bobby McFerrin’s hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’d be an understatement to say that customers found Billy amusing.
Creating a Shaking Dumbbell
Johann Verheem invented the shaking dumbbell, otherwise known as the Shake Weight. Verheem claimed the Shake Weight would give customers a great upper-arm workout. The product received worldwide attention due to its phallic appearance and silly commercial. Have you seen the funny video yet?
Growing Chia Seeds on a Figurine
“Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!” From the 1970s to the 1990s, many people owned a Chia Pet, a figurine used to grow chia seeds. Over a few weeks, the chia seeds sprout on the figurine, resembling animal hair. Chia Pet’s success all started when Joe Pedott marketed the product with the catchy phrase. "Ch-ch-ch-chia!," came from a night of drinking. Pedott’s friend jokingly stuttered, but Pedott thought it was a great phrase.
Making a Talking Hamster
Furby, the furry talking electronic toy that looked like a hamster mixed with an owl, became the hottest toy in the late 1990s. Dave Hampton and Caleb Chung, inventors of kids’ best friend and parents’ worst nightmare, took nine months to create the talking toy. Furby was a must-have toy at the turn of the century, raking in $500 million.
Creating a Rubber Ball
Remember the rubbery Koosh Balls? In the 1980s, Scott Stillinger wanted to invent a ball that would be easier for his children to catch than a traditional baseball or football, as foam balls slipped out of their hands and bean bags weighed too much. As a result, Stillinger started tying 2,000 rubber strings together to form a ball.
Selling Business Chairs
How often do you hear a story about a person starting with $500 and growing it into a million? Would you believe us if we also told you a 14-year-old boy accomplished this? In 2001, Sean Belnick started selling office chairs on his site Bizchair.com part-time. Belnick launched the business from his bedroom at his parents’ house, but he moved the company to a warehouse in 2004, right before reaching adulthood.
Making Weird Fake Teeth
While most people try to come up with a product to improve their customers’ looks, Jonah White did the exact opposite. White’s big idea involved creating ugly false teeth. His product, Billy Bob Teeth, became a worldwide hit! Since 1993, White has sold more than 20 million sets of Billy Bob Teeth.
Selling Virtual Pets
In the ’90s, when parents didn’t want to buy their children a real pet such as a dog or cat, they had the option of getting their kids a virtual pet — a step up from the Pet Rock of the ’70s. These digital pets, called Tamagotchis, were initially created to give teen girls a taste of motherhood. But in the mid-’90s, everyone wanted a Tamagotchi. Since their release in 1996, 76 million Tamagotchis have been sold worldwide.