According to a Credit Suisse report, as of December 2017, there are 36 million millionaires in the world. And while many of them amassed their respective fortunes through traditional means—investing, inventing, inheriting—a small cadre have earned spots on the financial pantheon through more, let’s say, inspired tactics.
For instance: the brothers who sold chicken in a parking lot. Or the man who spent decades gaming the lottery. Or the woman who recycled her way to billionaire (yes, with a B) status. Herein, we’ve gathered the 20 craziest, wackiest, most inventive manners in which people have crossed the million-dollar line. Don’t try to copy them, however. Most of these methods will only work once. So, when it comes to preserving your own financial status, brush up on the 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.
By selling pixels.
In 2005, Alex Tew registered milliondollarhomepage.com, a 1,000 by 1,000-pixel blank slate. He sold off each pixel for a buck-a-piece (many companies purchased by the dozen and parked ads on top) and, within a few months, became a millionaire. Tew ultimately used his profits to launch Calm, the popular sleep and meditation app. If you want to follow in Tew’s footsteps, start by mastering the 10 Ways to Focus Better During Meditation.
By creating a meme.
It’s the meme that stole the Internet’s heart: “I can has cheezburger,” a simple photo of an open-mouthed cat, asking for a cheeseburger. This photo was shared roughly 352 jillion (estimated) times, and served as a cornerstone for an army of websites, ultimately earning creator Erik Nakagawa a fortune—to the tune of $10 million. For more silly Internet-specific quips, don’t miss the 30 Funniest Memes of All Time.
By registering a URL.
Domain squatters—folks who register potentially URLs at low costs, then resell at a serious uptick when a buyer comes along—are not uncommon. What’s uncommon—unprecedented, even—is netting $2.6 million for a single address, which is what Chris Clark earned when he sold pizza.com in 2008. Clark originally purchased the URL for $20 in 1994. (Fun fact: the screenshot above is what pizza.com looks like today.)
By selling chicken wholesale.
In 2009, brothers Mike and JC Conrad started selling chicken in a Spokane, Washington, parking lot for $1.49 per pound—then half the national price-per-pound average—under one condition: buyers had to purchase 40 pounds.
Within 2 days, the brothers sold 80,000 pounds, and went on to launch Zaycon Fresh, a full-scale business based on the model. Currently, Zaycon employs about 80 employees (and is headquartered in an office building in Spokane Valley). For more creative ways to make money, check out the 20 Lucrative Side Hustles For Putting Your Savings on Steroids.
By selling auto parts.
Back in the ’90s, John Koon opened up Extreme Performance Motorsports, an automotive parts shop in New York City. Normally, this wouldn’t be remarkable—save for three Hulk-sized factors. One, the company specialized in importing rare tuning parts from Asia. Two, at the time, it was the only shop in NYC of its kind. Three, Pimp My Ride, that old MTV reality show, became one of the official buyers, careening Koon into millionaire status.
By selling office chairs.
It’s rare to hear a story about someone turning $500 into seven figures. It’s nigh unheard of to hear a story about a 14-year-old pulling it off. But Sean Belnick struck gold, in 2001, by launching office chair retailer bizchair.com.
By 2005, the site reported annual revenue of nearly $14 million. By 2008, that number tripled.
By selling a baseball.
On September 27th, 1998, legendary—and since disgraced—St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire hit his 70th home run of the season, shattering at-the-time records. Philip Ozersky happened to catch the ball—and auctioned it off for a cool $3.5 million three months later. As Ozersky told Sports Illustrated, reporters still call him every year on the homer’s anniversary.
By gaming the lottery.
To be sure, winning the lottery is no strange pathway to seven-figure status… unless you do it 14 times, like Stefan Mandel.
Starting in the ’50s, Mandel bounced around global lotteries—from Romania to Australia—and would scoop up every available ticket, guaranteeing a win. Eventually, this led to his personal crown jewel, in 1992: a $27 million dollar bounty, in Virginia, which he scored by purchasing 7.1 million tickets. Sadly, this process can’t be repeated today; the possible combinations have grown too large. However, you can winnow your chances for this Saturday’s drawing by brushing up on the most common Powerball winning numbers.
By “inventing” a new “pet.”
The perfect pet, according to Gary Dahl, would never need to be fed or walked. It would never require a trip to the vet or groomer. And, oh, it would never, ever die. Certainly no cat nor dog fulfills these rigid requirements… But a rock does! So, in 1975, Dahl actually ran with this idea, and started selling rocks for pets. He sold each one at a dollar profit margin. Within a year, he had sold more than a million units, making him a bona fide millionaire.
By collecting cans.
After Curt Degerman—a man who, according to the Daily Mail, got by by collecting and reselling tin cans—died, his family discovered a £1,000,000 ($1.36 million USD) fortune. Apparently, he had compounded his fortune, originally earned through his cans, by playing the stock market.
By inventing Doggles.
Roni Di Lullo was playing frisbee with her dog, when the pup failed to make a catch—something that had never happened before. Di Lullo reasoned that the sun got in her dog’s eyes, so she invented a pair of dog-specific goggles: or Doggles. Quickly, K9 units and canine ophthalmologists started using the product; Di Lullo secured a patent and moves, as reported by CNBC, more than $3 million of Doggles annually.
By accidentally creating a toy.
As the legend goes, naval engineer Richard James, in the midst of designing springs for sub-nautical balance (stuff to help keep things upright on a submarine), accidentally dropped one of his designs. He watched, fascinated, as it coiled end-over-end around the room. It was one of those proverbial lightbulb moments, and, within 18 months, the spring was on shelves, sold as a toy. To date, it’s among the most recognizable of all time: The Slinky.
By reviewing toys.
Evan, from YouTube (no last name, like Adele, or Prince), allegedly rakes in more than $1 million annually in ad dollars on his channel, EvanTubeHD. Now, YouTube megastars are by no means uncommon; Daniel Middleton (DanTDM) and Jordan Maron (CaptainSparklez) are both multimillionaires, for instance. But they’re both well into their 20s. Evan is 9 years old.
By helping people say “yo” to their friends.
Indeed, starting a social media platform is among the most high-profile pathways to a million-dollar bank account. In fact, founders of Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and, of course, Facebook have joined the exclusive three-comma club. But there’s one platform that may have slipped surreptitiously through your newsfeed: Yo.
With Yo, you can tap a button and send any of your friends, so long as they have the app downloaded, too, a “Yo” message. That’s it. That’s the whole app. Of course, Yo quickly fell out of the zeitgeist—but not before making millions for its founder, Or Arbel.
By restructuring dessert.
Fact: Everyone loves ice cream. But not everyone can eat it, thanks to dietary restrictions. In the early 1980s, David Mintz found a workaround, by making ice cream out of tofu. The flavor and texture was nearly identical to the real thing, so Mintz was able to tap into an at-the-time—such cuisine alternatives weren’t as popular then as they are now—entirely untapped market.
By selling secrets.
“Secrets are the currency of intimacy.” That’s the tagline of Post Secret, an “ongoing community art project,” wherein folks mail in postcards containing their deepest, darkest secrets. The founder, Frank Warren, posts the 10 best every Sunday—and has been doing so since 2005. The site is ad-free; Warren made his millions by selling six compilation books over the years.
By playing video games.
Yes, you can rake in millions by playing video games. Don’t take it from us. Take it from Kuro Takhasomi, who’s earned $3.5 million—$2.4 million in 2017 alone—playing on Germany’s international DOTA 2 team.
By hunting treasure.
As it turns out, treasure hunting isn’t relegated to on-screen romps, like Uncharted and Indiana Jones. Throughout the 20th century, Mel Fisher spent decades diving off the Florida Keys, seeking treasure. He eventually stumbled upon the sunken Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which contained a $450 million haul of gems and precious metals. Immediately, Florida’s state department seized the assets, but the ensuing legal argument eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who award Fisher three-quarters of the fortune, much of which today is preserved in the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
Zhang Yin is the fourth wealthiest woman in Mainland China, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion—putting her cleanly in the three-comma club. And she earned it all thanks to recycling.
China may be the world’s leading exporter, but recycled paper—necessary to create boxes for billions of exported products—quality is low. So Yin headed stateside, purchased recycled paper and cardboard, and sent it back across the Pacific, where it’s ultimately turned back into boxes—which are then shipped to the United States, creating an apparently billion-dollar cycle. If that doesn’t inspire you to go green, nothing will.
By rolling the dice.
Joan Ginther won the lottery—four times, amounting to a grand haul of $20.4 million. And while it’s possible she may have deployed a similar tactic as Mandel, it’s equally possible that her winnings are due to sheer luck: Ginther has never answered questions about supposed “strategy.” So earn your wealth with luckless strategies, instead, by mastering the 52 Ways To Be Better With Money.
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