It is amazing how many stupid ideas over the past 50 or so years have made their inventors a good bit of money. Some of these inventors have earned millions for ideas that seem stupid but people ran out to purchase them.
A piece of metal coiled into a tubular shape made millions of dollars. It is hard to believe, but Slinky, the toy that appears to walk down steps and springs back into shape is a million dollar business idea. An engineer working on a spring for ships invented the slinky when he noticed one fall and appear to walk down an incline. The idea hatched and Slinky was born. Over 300 million Slinky toys have been sold since the toy first appeared on the market.
Kim Levine was a stay at home mom with small children. One day she was watching her husband put out deer corn and a light bulb went on. Why not sew up a pillow, stuff it with corn and then heat it in the microwave. The corn would hold onto the heat. And, Voila. She had created a nice warm pillow for kids to snuggle with. At first, she sold the pillows at local stores and at craft fairs. Her nice idea went big time when she landed a contract with Saks Fifth Avenue. She has made millions, written a book called Millionaire Mom and has her own website soliciting “million dollar ideas” from the world at large.
Yellow Smiley Faces
Yellow smiley faces are everywhere, on t-shirts, sticky notes, car tags, and more. There are emoticons for the yellow smiley face. The original version, created in 1962 by a New York radio station was slightly different because the smile was crooked. Then, in 1963, a commercial artist created a happy face for an insurance company and the iconic smiley face was on its way.
Antenna balls (or antenna toppers) go back to the 1960s when Union Gas started putting out an orange ball with the logo “76” on it. Disney produced a Mickey Mouse antenna ball in 1991 and went on to produce over a hundred different kind of balls. In 1995, Jack in the Box began its smiley face antenna ball campaign. The cute little creatures sport antlers for Christmas and helmets for football season. They claim to have sold 17 million of the cute critters. Even WalMart has its own lucrative line of antenna balls. Unlike some of the other businesses on this list, the humble little ball has made a lot of people very rich.
If you are a child of the 70s, you probably owned a pet rock. The simple idea of a pet that needed no care became a huge hit. Gary Dahl worked in the advertising business and came up with the idea to market a rock as just such a pet. His clever idea to put holes in the packaging so the pets could breathe was behind his success. He made millions on a rock in a box. Complete with a care manual.
The pet industry is exploding in every direction, from doggie clothes to pet strollers. Now, dogs have goggles. These sunglasses made like goggles fit over the dog’s head and protect the eyes from sunlight. They have been on various television shows, like CNN and The Today Show. Doggles show that even when the economy is bad, pets do not suffer.
Billy the Big Mouth Bass
Somewhere in the back of many closets or up in attics, it is very likely that Billy the Big Mouth Bass is lurking. Joe Pellettieri of Bass Pro Shops came up with the idea in the late 1990s. The animated bass looks like a mounted big mouth bass; however, it contains a motion sensor that caused the bass to start singing when activated. Billy the Bass earned millions of dollars during the early 2000s.
For some reason, people find it funny to launch farting sounds, thus the iFart app for the iPhone. Infomedia launched the iFart app in 2008 featuring a variety of farting sounds and modes, such as going off at set intervals. When first released, the app brought in more than ten thousand dollars a day. This is definitely a stupid idea that made millions.
Wacky Wall Walker
In the early 1980’s,Ken Hakuta took some squishy, elastic material (elastomer) and formed it into an octopus-like shape. When you threw the thing against the wall, it appeared to “walk” down. Nicknamed “Dr. Fad”, Hakuta began marketing the cute little wall walkers in Washington, D.C. Sales were underwhelming until The Washington Post ran a wacky piece on the equally wacky toy. Within months, millions and millions had been sold (Kellogg’s put them into cereal boxes as toys) and Hakuta made a cool $80 million. Now, if he could figure out how to get the thing to walk back up the wall.
It’s as simple as putting on a bathrobe backwards and an idea so ridiculous it is not patentable. But the Snuggie, which sold 20 million items in its first year, is no laughing matter. How did the silly two for $19.95 blanket with sleeves shove aside its Slanket and Freedom Blanket predecessors? Some think the “cult of Snuggie” came to be through an abundance of advertising. $10 million worth of infomercials in a down economy will do the trick.
Fill a sack with beans, give it furry ears, and name it something cute like Patti the Platypus or Splash the Whale. The result? A toy empire bigger than Hasbro and Mattel combined—Beanie Babies. While many initially scoffed at Ty’s under-stuffed animals and referred to them as ‘roadkill,’ the haters were quickly hushed when 30,000 were sold at the first toy show in Atlanta.
The way Ty Warner built his empire is remarkable. He never advertised his products or sold them in major chain stores, like Toys-R-Us. This made the toys harder to obtain and thus more desirable. In addition, Ty would retire certain models after the initial stock-run had sold out, making the few that existed prized possessions.
At the peak of the Beanie Baby craze, Ty reportedly raked in $700 million in one year. Call it a scam, but Ty’s line of collectibles created the most insane fad frenzy of all time, and he now sits on billions.
Think of a vacuum cleaner with hair clippers attached and you have the idea. Run the electric clippers through your hair, get a really bad haircut, but no mess. The Flowbee is a hair clipper with a hose that attaches to a vacuum cleaner. It was the brain child of California carpenter Rick Hunts, who patented the Flowbee in 1987. At first he demonstrated the thing at State Fairs and then moved on to infomercials. By 2000, he had sold 2 million.
Here’s an idea. Start a website for funny cat pictures. With captions. Picture a hysterically funny cat (a LOLcat) with a caption that says “I can has cheezburgers” and then invite others to submit funny cat pictures with sayings. That’s just was Erica Nakagawi and Kari Unebeasami did in 2007. Inspired by a meowing cat, they grew the site to 10 million views a month and then sold it to a group of investors for $2 million. Icanhascheezburger.com now has nearly 100 million views a month, has spawned 6 blogs and is one of the most popular websites out there. Can you imagine the original pitch to investors. “See, it’s this web site, with funny cat pictures.”