In 2005, a 21-year-old named Alex Tew, launched a website called The Million Dollar Homepage. Concerned about the possibility of having to take on student loans to pay for a three-year business management course, Tew came up with the idea to create a website and sell a million pixels in advertising space for $1 per pixel. After 5 months, the website made a gross total of $1,037,100. After costs and charity donations, Tew’s net income from the project was estimated to be between $650,000-$700,000.
2. Pet Rock
In April 1975, Gary Dahl was at a bar and was listening to his friends complain about their pets. This inspired him to come up with the perfect pet: a pet rock. So he packaged smooth stones in cardboard boxes, complete with straw and breathing holes, included a humorous 32-page training manual, and marketed it as a live animal. By February of the next year, Dahl had sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks for $4 each, earning him about $15 million.
3. Yellow Smiley Faces
The iconic yellow smiley face that is now a ubiquitous part of pop culture was designed by American graphic artist Harvey Ball. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the one who made millions off his design. Instead, it was two brothers, Bernard and Murray Spain, who bought the legal rights to the image along with the tag line “Have a Nice Day” and produced mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and many other products. They sold about 50 million products with the image, generating a substantial profit. Then they opened the first Dollar Express store, where they continued to sell smiley products until they sold the chain in 2000 to Dollar Tree for $500 million.
4. Charlie Ayers- The Google Chef
When Google asked Charlie Ayers to be their executive chef, Ayers had no idea how rich he was going to be. Google was still a small start-up with less than 50 employees and had only brought in $220,000 in total revenues the year Ayers was hired. But as the company grew, so did the value of the stock options Ayers was given. When Google went public on August 19, 2004, Ayers’ 40,000 shares were worth $3.4 million. Today, this chef has an estimated net worth of $46.2 million.
5. David Choe- Facebook artist
In 2005, Facebook invited David Choe to paint murals for their new offices and offered him a choice between a few thousand dollars in cash or the equivalent amount in company stock. Even though Choe believed Facebook to be “ridiculous and pointless”, he chose the stocks. This turned out to be a wise decision—when Facebook went public in 2012, his shares were valued at around $200 million.
6. Joan Ginther- Serial Lottery Winner
For most people, winning the lottery is a statistical improbability. But for Joan Ginther, it seems the odds are tilted in her favor as she is one of the special few who have won multiple lotteries. In fact, she has won lotteries of $2 million or more FOUR times to win a total of $20.4 million. However, these wins have less to do with luck than with meticulous planning and intelligent analysis—Ginther, a former statistics professor with a PhD from Stanford, has figured out which locations would likely contain a winning ticket and buys tens of thousands of lottery tickets using money from previous wins.
7. Flea Market Declaration of Independence
When a Philadelphia financial analyst bought a painting for $4, he didn’t know that it would bring him millions. He purchased the painting because he liked the ornately carved frame but didn’t like the painting itself. When he took it apart to remove the canvas, he found a folded document which turned out to be a well-preserved, first-printing copy of the Declaration of Independence, known as a “Dunlap Broadside”, of which only 23 copies out of 500 were known to exist before his find. In 1991, the copy was auctioned by Sotheby’s and made the owner $2.42 million richer .