Dumb Ideas Sometimes Make Money

Can You Make Money With Dumb Ideas?


A lot of people struggle in Internet marketing.  Sometimes it’s about trying to find your marketing niche or your place within it.  Other struggles might have to do with how to monetize; that is, how to actually make the money.  Then every now and again, you read about someone who came up with a really dumb idea and is making so much money with it that they’re getting covered in the mainstream media about it.  When that happens, people start thinking – can I make money with dumb ideas, too?

dumb ideasThe latest among dumb ideas to come along and make someone a lot of money is Potato Parcel.  For roughly $10, a guy in Texas will write a message of up to 140 characters on a Russet potato and mail it, anonymously, to anyone you want.  That’s his entire business model; it’s all he does.  You pay him and give him a message, and he’s going to write it, by hand, on a potato and put it in the mail to your chosen recipient.  This “dumb idea” is currently earning the site’s owner, Alex Craig, about $10,000 per month after expenses.  Can dumb ideas be duplicated?  Can some other dumb idea work equally well?  Are we overthinking things by trying to come up with smart ideas instead?

Not All Dumb Ideas Work

We all remember the dumb ideas that work.  Back in the 1970s, someone came up with the idea of a Pet Rock. This was literally a rock that came in a small box with instructions regarding how to care for it.  This dumb idea made millions for the guy who thought it up.  We’ve seen a few others over the years, and they all stand out because they’re simple, they’re obvious, and they’re insanely profitable.   Potatoes, after all, are very inexpensive.  The bulk of Alex Craig’s expenses probably consist of shipping charges.  Yes, he’s currently raking in the cash.


What we don’t remember, however, is all of the dumb ideas that don’t work.  Not surprisingly, there are far more of those than there are profitable ones.  I was once in a grocery store that specialized in selling discounted items, outdated items and stuff that was being taken off of the market.  I came across something called “Brownie on a Stick.”  The product was as the name suggests, a brownie on a stick.  You’d eat it like a Popsicle.  OK, but why would you want to?  A brownie is already something that you can eat with your hands, so why do you need to put it on a stick?  There was not obvious reason for this, and not surprisingly, Brownie on a Stick quickly disappeared.

dumb idea - potato parcelIn order to make money from dumb ideas, you need to come up with one that for whatever reason, manages to resonate with people.  In the case of Potato Parcel, it likely resonated precisely because it was so dumb.  In fact, Craig’s girlfriend told him that she didn’t think he’d sell the first potato, let alone thousands.  In truth, he probably wouldn’t have, but he got lucky, and he got lucky in a way that’s really hard to duplicate:

He managed to get a post about his potato business on the first page of Reddit.

Reddit, for those who don’t know, is one of the most heavily visited sites on the Internet. It’s essentially an online forum for just about anything.  The site looks like it dates from the early 1990s; it’s not visually appealing.  But there are millions of people who visit the site daily.  Most of these visitors are in smaller parts of the site, known as “subreddits”, but any single post can move up or down within the site as a whole depending on the number of upvotes the post gets.  If people like it, they vote it up.  If people don’t like it, they vote it down.  If your site gets a sufficient number of upvotes, it can move to the front page of the site.  When that happens, you can potentially get hundreds of thousands of visitors to your site from that site.

For whatever reason, Potato Parcel got those upvotes, and he was swamped with traffic and visitors from Reddit.  With that came the national exposure, which, in turn, gave him more traffic and more business.

luckyA lot of this is serendipitous and is very difficult to duplicate.  In short, the guy got lucky.  Chances are that he’ll make some money from this, but the business of putting potatoes in boxes and mailing them to people is likely to die out very soon, for the following reasons:

1. People are going to get tired of it.  All novelties eventually become tiresome, which is why no one has pet rocks or Tamagotchi anymore.

2. His idea will be duplicated.  Soon, if it hasn’t been done already, copycat businesses will pop up.  Other people will be selling potatoes with messages.  Then we’ll see people offering messages on turnips or watermelons.  The copycats will help speed up the process of everyone becoming tired of the whole “message on produce” thing.

Dumb Ideas and You

You can make money with dumb ideas.  I’m not attempting to dissuade anyone from doing that.  Innovation is what makes the world work and I applaud anyone who can take a ridiculous idea and make money from it.  The problem is that you’ll never know when a dumb idea is going to attract someone’s attention.  For every dumb idea that works, there are a hundred of them that don’t work and they’re no better or worse than the one that succeeds.  It’s not something that you can control, because you simply cannot force the public to get excited about something.  You certainly can’t intentionally get your idea on the Reddit home page. That happens on its own.

What can we learn from this?  Not much.  If you’re the sort of person who comes up with a lot of dumb ideas that you think are potentially profitable, Potato Parcel might give you added incentive.  For the rest of us, it won’t do us much good, and we’ll likely just sit at our desks, thinking, “Wow.  Why didn’t I think of that?”

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