March 20, 2012 at 9:46 AM ET
Have you ever seen a product or business and thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?” While people daydream every day about striking it rich, only some have been lucky enough to come up with a million-dollar idea.
Some entrepreneurs have found success with everyday products, like clothing and food. Others have dreamed up creations that are a bit more astounding. It may be a simple concept or one that is unique. Either way, they may surprise you and will probably make you jealous.
Here we take a look at 10 surprising ideas that have earned more than a million in sales, and how the entrepreneurs behind the creations made it happen.
These goggles for dogs are the brainchild of Roni Di Lullo, who stumbled upon the bright idea one day in 1997 at the local dog park. Her border collie, MidKnight, was sensitive to the light and was having a hard time catching a Frisbee. “I had on my sunglasses and was like, why didn’t he have something on his eyes,” she said.
So Di Lullo set out to try to make her dog his own pair of sunglasses. At first, she tried adjusting regular goggles with various straps. Then she dug into her personal savings, designed a different model that would fit a dog’s face, and Doggles was born. Now, dogs can hang their heads out of car windows with abandon — not only do Doggles offer 100 percent UV protection, they also protect against dust and debris.
Di Lullo’s company, MidKnight Creations, has since branched out to include backpacks, floatation jackets and cat toys. It’s pulling in about $3 million a year in sales.
Gauri Nanda liked her sleep, and liked to hit the snooze button … a lot. So when it came time to design a product for a class project at MIT Graduate School, a moving alarm clock came to mind. Outfitted with two wheels, the clock rolled off the nightstand and across the floor when the snooze button was hit — forcing its groggy owner to get out of bed to turn it off.
Once Nanda graduated, she dusted off her prototype, got funding from family and started selling the clock commercially. Now, Clocky is sold by thousands of retailers in over 45 countries, earning nearly $10 million in sales since its inception. It has also spawned Tocky, a wheel-less version of Clocky that rolls off the nightstand using its own momentum.
Billy Bob Teeth
These fake teeth were designed to transform anyone into a bumpkin. Jonah White first laid eyes on them at a college football game in 1994. A man with “terrible teeth” was “talking trash” during halftime, White said. It turned out that man was Rich Bailey, friend of a friend, and the teeth were fake — he had made them in dental school. White saw an opportunity and had Bailey make him a set.
At the time, White said, he was living in a cave behind his parents’ house, working odd jobs to pay off his student loans. Soon, White and Bailey went into business, selling the Billy Bob Teeth one set at a time. Bailey left the company to pursue his dental career a few years later.
These days, White has expanded into sandals, headwear and other Billy Bob products. He’s also moved into nicer digs thanks to the over $50 million in sales his company has generated since Billy Bob Teeth were first sold.
If you’re tired of using both a fork and a knife while eating, the Knork may be just what you’re looking for … it’s a fork AND a knife all in one.
Mike Miller first got this “cutting edge” idea in the eighth grade while trying to eat pizza with a fork. While he was struggling, he noticed how an employee was easily cutting a pizza with a beveled pizza cutter. He thought a fork that had a beveled edge would do the same.
However, Miller didn’t think to turn his idea into an actual product until he was in college in 2001. He borrowed $10,000 from his grandfather, established his company and developed a prototype using one his mother’s forks and car modeling compound.
A few years later, the Knork hit store shelves and mail order catalogues. These days, the Knork has company at the dinner table — the line has been expanded into a full place setting. Knork Flatware saw nearly $2 million in sales in 2011.
Think of SENDaBALL as a different type of greeting card. It started when Michele Sipolt Kapustka saw a bin of bouncy balls in a store, wrote “Have a BALL with your new baby” on it, stuck postage to it and mailed it to a friend.
Over the next few years, Kapustka and her sister Melisa Sipolt Moroko sent them to other friends for various occasions. One day at the post office, a man in line asked Kapustka if she would send one for him. That’s when the sisters realized they were onto something. In 2003, they created a website, and opened up shop in Kapustka’s garage, where the office is still located. So far, SENDaBALL has racked up $1 million in gross sales.
Todd Greene used his head to come up with HeadBlade. After he started losing his hair in his 20s, he decided to shave his head. That’s when he realized there had to be a better shaver to do the job. “If I could just take a blade and put it in my hand, it would be a much easier, more intuitive way to shave,” he said.
So in 1998, he made a prototype that would fit comfortably in his hand and found a designer to help him perfect it. Greene dug into his savings and borrowed money from family and friends to launch his company. He found a manufacturer, designed his own website and learned e-commerce and marketing.
Things really took off for Greene after Time magazine named HeadBlade one of the best designs in 2000. Now, it’s in 15,000 to 20,000 stores across the country and has annual revenues $7 million to $10 million.
Lucky Break Wishbone
This plastic wishbone may seem like a simple idea, but it’s one that has earned millions. Ken Ahroni came up with the concept during Thanksgiving dinner in 1999. He realized there was only one wishbone at the table, and it would have to dry out before it could be broken. He thought a fake wishbone would solve sibling squabbling and allow everyone the chance to make a wish on Thanksgiving Day. So he did his research and found a “secret formula” that allows the Lucky Break Wishbone to break just like a dried wishbone.
By 2004, the product was in 10 stores. Now, Lucky Break Wishbone is in about 800 stores nationwide and has generated about $4 million in sales since it was introduced.
The Uglydoll may not look pretty, but it has resulted in some good looking sales receipts — it’s raked in over $100 million in retail sales since its debut.
Uglydoll is not only a success story, it’s a love story. It began in 1996, when Sun-Min Kim and David Horvath met as students at Parsons School of Design. They were separated a few years later when Kim moved to Korea, but they stayed in touch by writing letters. In one of those letters, Horvath drew a little orange character, named Wage, at the bottom. Kim surprised him by sewing a handmade doll of Wage as a gift. When Horvath took the doll to an Asian pop culture store in L.A., the owner asked for more. The new dolls, which Kim sewed by hand, took months to make but sold out in one day.
Kim and Horvath haven’t looked back — not only did they start their company, Pretty Ugly, in 2002, they have since married.
This million dollar idea gives new meaning to the term “wild goose chase.” In 1986, David Marcks was working at a golf course in Greenwich, Conn., and battling with 600 Canada goose living on the property. Nothing he tried worked to chase them away, until he came up with the idea of using a border collie. So he got a dog, trained it and soon the geese were gone. Word spread, and other golf courses began asking for his help. So Marcks started Geese Police and began ridding properties of the pesky geese.
Eventually, Marcks quit his job to focus full time on the business. The company has grown to include 11 franchised locations around the country. Marcks’ office currently has 38 dogs and brings in about $2.8 million in revenue a year.
“Who knew I could go out and make millions playing with dogs,” Marcks said.
This card game isn’t meant to be played sitting around a table — it’s designed to get its players in shape. The deck contains over 50 exercises that require no equipment. It is the brainchild of Phil Black, who got the idea when a card game in college turned into a push-up contest.
Black didn’t start his company right away. First, he went into the Navy SEALs and then attended business school. After graduation, he took a desk job at Goldman Sachs but quit after six months to follow his passion. He used his life savings and incorporated his Navy SEAL training to create his first FitDeck. Now, there are 37 different card decks.
While the company won’t release exact sales figures, Black says he’s sold “hundreds of thousands of decks” that have earned “several million dollars” since FitDeck started.
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