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10 Stupid Business Ideas That Made Millions

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Let’s face it. For every ten or even a hundred stupid business ideas ever considered as a serious business venture, at least one succeeded. Against all odds, these once-laughable business ideas defied logic, market expectations and plain old commonsense, allowing their creators to get the last laugh, all the way to the bank.

Below are ten of our personal picks, not in terms of profit but for the sheer wackiness of the idea:

1. The Pet Rock

Ah yes, what childhood in the 1970’s would be complete without the “perfect pet”: a rock. Just think of it: they don’t need to be fed, watered, walked or bathed. But to seriously sell them, and expect people to pay?

Gary Dahl, an advertising executive from California, apparently thought he could. So he bought a bunch of stones from a builder’s supply store, packaged them in cardboard boxes with holes (so the rocks could “breathe”), and marketed them as serious “pets”.

For a production cost of less than a dollar, Dahl sold each rock for $3.95. And sell them he did. By Christmas of 1975, pet rocks were all the rage, with owners proudly displaying how their pets could “sit” and “stay”. As for Dahl, his aptly-named Rock Bottom Productions was rolling over…. in profits.

2. The Million Dollar Homepage

A pixel is the lowest unit in a display screen. In 2005, one enterprising student came up with the unique business idea of selling website ads per 10 pixels, like billboards do per square meter. Except for one thing: a typical LCD monitor typically displays over 1,024 pixels.

This means that buying ad space roughly the size of an avatar will cost you big-time. And yet somehow, the idea took off. In less than a year, the million-dollar website, composed entirely of mish-mashed ads  resembling a quilt done by a blind person, brought in $1,037,100 in gross income.

3. Holy Ink

At the risk of being excommunicated, this doesn’t refer to ink cartridges blessed by the Pope and sold on eBay. But something close. Like monks in brown robes, refilling used ink cartridges.

Father Bernard McCoy found his printer dry one day, and searched around for reasonably priced alternatives. Finding none, he did what any monk would do: he started his own ink-refilling business.

And so the eight brothers in the monastery of Cisterian Abbey in Monroe, MO got down to work. In between singing Gregorian chants and contemplating, they fill used plastic cartridges with black powder. From $2,000 in 2002, sales of the holy refilled ink soared to an astonishing $2.5 million in 2005.

4. “Positive” Attraction

Many couples try to find a common ground, such as a mutual hobby or favorite sitcom. One business idea for a dating website went a bit further, by making sure it provides only “positive” matches.

HIV-positive, that is.

Paul Graves and Brandon Koechlin started PositivesDating.com in 2005. The website offers anonymous matching services, catering only to HIV-positive members. Within a few years of launching, PositivesDating was able to attract over 50,000 members.

5. Plastic Wishbones

Is humanity that desperate for luck that we need artificial wishbones? Apparently, we are.

Starting from a (dim) lightbulb in his head, Ken Ahroni founded Lucky Wishbone Co. to cater to the worldwide demand to divine one’s destiny. The company now produces 30,000 plastic wishbones daily, each retailing for about $3.

6. Doggles

The boom in the pet care industry has extended to all kinds of items, from goodies and “cribs” and even to pet clothing. But goggles for dogs?

It turns out there IS a market for everything. For cool canines who don’t dig the sun, Doggles is the answer. The company has been featured on CNN, The Today Show and National Geographic. And in the age of Facebook, cute pictures of pets sporting sunglasses isn’t hurting their sales, either.

7. Exercise Cards

If the military had the “Iraq’s Most Wanted” playing cards (with El Moustache himself as the Ace of Spades), why not make a version for lazy civilians in need of a good workout drill?

So went the thinking of ex-Navy SEAL and gym instructor Phil Black. And not a bad idea it was. The $18.95 deck of cards, featuring various exercise routines, reported sales of $4.7 million in one year.

8. Working Vacations

Most people take a vacation to escape the worries of the workplace. Vocation Vacations begs to differ.

The company proposes that you use your priceless time off to try a different job, preferably your dream job. Always dreamed of harvesting crops instead of virtual ones on Farmville? How about being a mortician? Launched in 2004, the website now offers over 125 unique jobs to “test out”, and boasts 300 mentors to help you make the career shift.

9. Santa Mail

People say Christmas has become commercialized, particularly Santa Claus when he’s used by a major soda beverage and countless toy retailers to peddle their products.

Well, it certainly doesn’t get more commercialized than this: register a postal address at The North Pole, Alaska, and charge parents $10 to send their innocent, clueless children a letter, purporting to be from Father Christmas.  Who would fall for such thing?

Oh, only about 200,000 parents. Since its launch, SantaMail has raked in around $2 million off the hopes of wide-eyed children who leave socks hanging every Christmas eve.

10. Aquariums… without the fish

A more sophisticated version of what the Pet Rock was in the 70s, the fancy-named “Ecosphere Closed Ecosystem” is the “perfect pet” for the 21st century. Perfect in that it doesn’t need to be fed, watered, walked or bathed.

That’s because the ecosphere is nothing less than an aquarium, without the fish. Each glass globe contains a self-sustaining ecosystem, where minute shrimp feed on the algae which in turn feeds on sunlight. No muss, no fuss. But no fun, either.


So whats the moral of the story? The market, just like humanity, takes twists and turns. What we deem “useless” right now might end up next season’s best-seller. It can be the product’s novelty, fun factor or sheer stupidity. Whatever the case, just remember there is always room on the market for an original business idea, one that just might earn you success… as well as a place on this list.


Lorna Li
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Lorna Li

Chief Evolutionary Officer at Entrepreneurs for a Change
Lorna Li is a business coach, entrepreneur and Amazon rainforest crusader, with a passion for green business, social enterprise, and indigenous wisdom. She helps changemaking entrepreneurs harness the power of the Internet to reach more people and make a bigger impact, while designing the lifestyle of their dreams. She is an Internet marketing consultant to changemakers, and works with innovative tech startups, sustainable brands, social enterprises & B-Corporations on SEO, SEM & Social Media marketing.
Lorna Li
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  • IamsuperSam

    This just comes to show how sad middle class and upper class people are, they will be willing to buy a pet rock or an empty aquarium intead of helping out poorer people.