Admit it: Most of us don't think of our ideal success story as "Work hard for 40 years and earn enough for a modest retirement." We want to hit the home run and get rich while we're still young enough to enjoy it. And most of us aren't exactly knocking ourselves out looking for our million-dollar idea -- it's more about hanging around and hoping a reality-TV producer will decide to turn our life into an even less eventful version of Jersey Shore.
Well, we have to admit that does sometimes happen. Here's your inspiration, slackers:
Sometimes, the more blatantly intelligence-insulting an idea is, the better it works. Perhaps nowhere is this as true as within the world of advertising, where the dumbest ideas can bring fame and fortune, to the point where it seems that the ad companies flat out don't give a shit about anything anymore. The good news is that you don't need to be a snazzy ad executive to get your piece of that sweet, sweet money cake. Hell, you don't even need to work.
You can even afford to eat cake that doesn't taste like retired currency.
Just ask Jason Sadler, who decided in 2009 to see if companies would pay him money to wear their T-shirts as a human billboard of sorts. He set up a website, came up with seemingly arbitrary face-value pricing for his "services" (the first day of the year costs $1, January 2 costs $2, and so forth) and set to "work." Literally the only thing he had to do was to put on a shirt when he woke up.
Sadler made $83,000 in his first year.
We guess he spent it all on people who take their shirts off for a living.
This prompted him to double the prices for 2010 -- which sold out as well, bringing in a quadruple income, as he had actually even hired another dude to work for him in the difficult trade of wearing a shirt. 2011 (also sold out) saw Sadler's IWearYourShirt.com employing four T-shirt wearers aside from himself, meaning the income should be 2009 times 10 (five wearers as opposed to one, double prices). He is now selling 2012, and unfortunately appears to have already hired this year's team of professional T-shirt wearers.
"Says here on your resume that you spent your 2012 wearing an AsianBeauties.com T-shirt. When can you start?"
Even taking into account that some of the other T-shirt wearers might work only part time, that would make his total earnings somewhere in the upper tier six figures. For wearing a shirt.
Still, at least Sadler does something for his money -- unlike Alex Tew, who set up the Million Dollar Homepage more or less as a "please give me money" joke in order to pay for his tuition. It was a simple concept: a blank slate website with a million pixels, which Tew sold for ad space at $1 a pixel. It was such a ludicrous, no-effort idea that it couldn't have possibly worked.
"Do you remember the Internet in the '90s? Yeah that, except we make money from it."
But work it did. The sheer ballsy stupidity of the plan made the Million Dollar Homepage Internet famous in no time, and Tew sold out his million pixels in under four months, actually having to auction the last 1,000 ones on eBay for the hefty sum of $38,100. The gross total of the Million Dollar Homepage earnings was $1,037,100, which left Tew with roughly $700,000 after taxes, costs and some charity donations. The site is still up, proudly displaying its advertisers as a monument to gullibility.
Websites are like women -- the best names were already gone by the mid-'90s. But unlike today's parents, who have turned to made-up words and geography in their search for good names, the Internet has turned to commerce. Domain names are a huge business, with professional investors and manuals and everything.
"Chapter One: Beginner Time Machining"
And holy shit you could have made some serious coin if you happened to jump on the train before anyone even realized there was a train. Take Chris Clark, the guy who registered the domain name Pizza.com in 1994, hoping this newfangled "Internet" thing would help his consulting company score a deal with a pizza business somehow. He ended up maintaining the domain for $20 a year for 14 years, using it as a small time advertising directory, until one day he realized that both pizza and Internet seem to be doing alright and someone might actually be interested in paying a buck or two for his domain. The second the domain name went up for auction, every pizza company in the world went apeshit and a bidding war ensued.
The man eventually netted $2.6 million.
We bet all you grad students out there are feeling pretty dumb.
That story is far from the only one. The whole reason Clark even thought to sell his domain was because a very similar chain of events took place with Vodka.com, for an even cooler $3 million. And man, we don't even want to go into the eight-figure lawsuit-riddled mess that is the history of Sex.com.
But although we're talking about a multimillion dollar business (think the gold rush, but quite a bit sadder), the biggest blows are dealt not to the wallet, but to the pride. This has been experienced by several countries, whose bureaucratic machinery has slowly figured out that they should probably have an online presence -- only to find out enterprising individuals have already registered domain names such as Russia.com, Brazil.com and Malaysia.com and are peddling them to the highest bidder.
It's probably best to claim countries that won't try to murder you in your sleep. Like Belgium.
Companies aren't any safer: A list of top-selling domain names shows us Facebook buying its shorthand fb.com for $8.5 million. That seller could have been you, if you'd thought to buy a bunch of two-letter combinations in the '90s.
Phil Ozersky, a longtime Cardinals fan, genetic researcher and caretaker of his paralyzed father, just happened to be sitting at Busch Stadium when Mark McGwire hit his 70th home run. Like everyone else who cared even vaguely about baseball at the time, he was caught up in the home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, when bounce ... the ball that broke the record plopped from a coworker's hands into his own.
So, that's a nice souvenir, right? Maybe something to give the kids when they grow up? Ha, no. It turns out that sitting in that specific seat (out of 47,000) on that particular day meant he was about to get "You don't have to work again" money.
Which is probably just as well, because your colleague is going to poison your coffee.
Not that it was easy. At first, Ozersky was politely led into a meeting room after the game, where the Cardinals' officials (who recognized the ball's future value) tried to persuade him into handing it over. Just ... givin' it. And maaaaybe, if he was sweet, they'd give him some signed McGwire gear for his generosity. Phil Ozersky wasn't having it.
When persuasion and weak-ass bribery attempts failed, they started getting demanding and dickish, flat out denying the only thing Phil really wanted from the ball: to meet Mark McGwire in person. Think about that for a second. Phil Ozersky had a gold mine in his hands and he would have gladly handed it over to meet Mark McGwire ... a player so boring that only illegal performance enhancers could make him interesting. And if McGwire and the Cardinals had not been dicks about the whole thing, he probably would have just given the ball back to Mark for free.
Meeting a fan would have cut into his tight schedule of being red and bulgy.
Instead, Ozersky held onto the ball and later auctioned it off. For $3 million freaking dollars. More money than most of us will make in our entire lives, because a baseball landed in his lap.
He used the money to buy his dad a handicapped-accessible house and to pretty much become a philanthropist, including making generous donations to Cardinals Care, the team's community foundation. So he wasn't the only one who got lucky on that bounce, is what we're saying.
It's amazing that something so small could buy so many hot tubs filled with strippers.
So you're rumbling through a thrift store when you spot a cheap-ass-looking copy of the Declaration of Independence. What do you do? If your answer is, "What the hell? How is that even a question? Of course I will leave that shit where it lies," then good for you! You just saved $2.48. If you say, "Of course I'll buy the shit of that shit. Shiiiit," then congratulations! You're Michael Sparks, and you've just earned yourself $477,000.
Just a few tea mop-ups and it'll be as good as old.
It turns out an actual, official copy of the Declaration of Independence that was commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820 was found slumming in the thrift store circuit. But surely this is just a one-off fluke? It's not as if there are dozens of copies of the Declaration just hanging around, waiting to be found, right?
Think again: 201 of those 1820 Decs were printed, and only 31 have been found so far. And if you want to up the ante a bit, there's always the Dunlap broadside, which was a version of the Declaration that was printed even earlier. Again, some 200 copies were produced -- and a mere 26 have been found. It's not even that they've all succumbed to time, as the latest emerged as recently as 2008.
"Well, we're out of rolling papers. But I found this weird old thing in my grandpa's garage."
So, barring fire, moisture, paper-eating dogs and overzealous neat freaks, there should be well over three hundred copies of the Declaration still out there, waiting for someone to find them anytime now. And just in case you didn't realize it, when we say "out there" we mean at some garage sale or flea market, waiting for you to find one and, like with Mr. Sparks, find all of your money problems suddenly and spectacularly solved.
Just be glad you're not Mr. Sparks' document's previous owner, Stan Caffy, the pipe fitter who hung his genuine Declaration of Independence in his garage as a decorative poster for 10 years before finally donating it to a thrift store (especially because it'd mean you have really bad taste in posters).
"No worries. I think my authentic 'Garfield smokin' a doobie' poster will make up for it."
Imagine you're a chef looking for a new job. You're no newbie in the business, and in fact you command a pretty decent salary -- it's just that you feel like doing something different. Out of your employment options, one company sticks out in particular. They're not offering you anything spectacular -- in fact, the salary would be roughly half of what you're currently getting -- but there's health benefits, and the owners seem like a pretty decent bunch. They're a fledgling software company, and they want you to come cook in their cafeteria.
"No, don't worry about OSHA certification. We're a wacky company with scooters that plays against the rules."
Adorably, the new company even offers you a bunch of stock options you can cash in should they ever hit it big. It all seems pretty cute, so you accept their offer. Startups are always happy to throw around stock options as an incentive (it's risk-free, because the options are worth nothing, and will continue to be worth nothing unless the company takes off). So, you run the company's cafeteria for several years, no big deal.
Less than 10 years later, you cash in your stock options and leave a cool $26 million richer.
Because the company in question was a little operation called "Google."
You should Bing it.
The above scenario played out in full for Charlie Ayers, Google Employee number 53. He was among the many millionaires generated by the company's meteoric rise, thanks to the generous stock options they threw around like Monopoly money back before the company was on anyone's radar. Charlie was one among the many to take the bait in 1998, and capitalized heavily despite technically having precisely nothing at all to do with the actual work that made Google Google.
For example, he has never once set fire to a puppy for ad revenue.
However, a warning to those of you who are planning to attempt this: The strategy is starting to get noticed by the companies as something that can potentially bite them in the ass big time, and some are trying to bail out of the whole "potential millions in stock options" thing they promised their employees in exchange for petty wages back in the day. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is the FarmVille juggernaut Zynga, who have actually started to arbitrarily demand that the employees they deem unworthy (i.e., low level) give back their stock options on pain of getting fired.
"You make a compelling offer. May I counter with 'Fuck you, yacht time'?"
You know, in case you needed another reason to hate FarmVille.
If good fortune were a finite resource, the amount Joan Ginther has been hogging would be responsible for the misfortunes of the entire Third World. This Texas math professor made her reputation as a goddamn human cloverleaf by winning the Texas lottery in 1993, winning a cool $5.4 million.
Then she did it again in 2006, this time winning $2 million.
Then in 2008, she buys yet another lottery ticket because what the hell, she can afford it. And she wins again, for $3 million this time.
"I only do this to see what the poor people do with their meager disposable income. It's a hoot."
Seriously, now. What the hell are the odds of somebody winning three tim --
In 2010, she won again? And for the biggest jackpot yet -- $10 million?
OK, there's a lot of ways to describe that kind of luck. "Uncanny," perhaps. "Unbelievable," sure. "Unfair," definitely. She's got to be cheating somehow. We mean, she's a math professor, right? Surely, she's devised some sort of ingenious counting system that enables her to score a jackpot whenever she feels strapped for cash. Hell, two of the tickets have even been bought at the same store! Shenanigans, we tell you!
Or X-ray vision.
But here's the thing: Three of her victories have come from scratch tickets, which, according to experts, are impossible to cheat with, short of actually stealing a bunch and physically scratching them all. But whether Ginther is merely a compulsive gambler who plays with vast amounts of money, or has figured out some sort of secret code to cheating the system, or is the embodiment of Fortuna, the goddess of luck, the fact remains that she's beaten unbeatable odds four times in 17 years.
That phrase usually coincides with surviving cancer, but right now all we feel is bile and rage.
What adds to the annoyance of the cynics is that she flat out doesn't care what anyone else thinks about her almighty capacity for luck. In fact, she purposefully remains a complete mystery and refuses to discuss her system (if she even has one). But neither would you, if you had made a deal with Satan.
For more ludicrous ways for you to make bank, check out The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Anyone Ever Got Rich and 5 Ways to Get Rich (Without a Single Discernible Skill).